Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Cruise: New Zealand, the Tasman Sea and Australia

An Antipodean Adventure

2024 Narrative


In 2024 we offered a weeklong extension before our scheduled Australia-New Zealand Cruise. As the cruise ship tour commenced in Brisbane, we based the pre-tour week there as well, taking in the coastal area around the city and then heading inland and just across the Great Dividing Range for some dryer-country birds. The trip capped off with several days up in the beautiful Border Ranges between Queensland and New South Wales, where we stayed at the justifiably famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat tucked up in an expansive tract of upland rainforest.

We regularly visit many of these areas on our annual Eastern Australia trip, but for this pre-tour were able to reach further to the west and experience the joys of true summertime birding. After a delightful breakfast at our hotel near the airport we struck out for our first birding around the mangroves around the Port of Brisbane. We began the day by exploring the mangrove boardwalk and adjacent coastal forests in Wynnum. Here we found Mangrove Gerygone and Tawny Grassbirds in full song and display modes just around the carpark. The shallow lagoon just inland of the mangrove forest held a nice selection of wading birds and herons, with a few migrant Gray-tailed Tattlers joining the resident Pied Stilts, Australian White Ibis, Chestnut Teal and White-faced Herons. Australian Magpies, Gray Butcherbirds and Noisy Miners were conspicuous around the trail system, many with recently fledged young in tow. We even located a very cooperative group of Gray-headed Babblers garrulously chorusing along as they rooted around at the base of some paperbark trees, doubtless terrifying the local insect and small lizard populations. We then walked over to the mangrove boardwalk that meanders through excellent coastal stands of grey mangrove for roughly a kilometer down the coast. Here we quickly encountered one of the main targets of the morning, with a quietly perched Torresian Kingfisher just a few feet off the rail. This husky kingfisher was split from part of the old Mangrove/Collared complex, with a range that encompasses coastal north and northeast Australia and a bit of the adjacent New Guinea coast. This can be a hard species to see well, as they generally prefer to remain buried in the mangroves, calling loudly but staying in inaccessible haunts. We found Mangrove Gerygones to be vocal and conspicuous (much more so than we typically do in the spring), and along the walk we picked out a nesting Black-faced Cuckooshrike with a large chick peering over the nest wall, a pair of sprightly Gray Fantails, several busy groups of Silvereye bouncing around in the canopy, a wonderfully cooperative Gray Shrikethrush and a less cooperative but very vocal pair of Striped Honeyeaters.

We then moved over to the nearby Port of Brisbane Boat Ramp, where on a small patch of exposed shoreline we teased out our first Great Crested Tern, Pied Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Far Eastern Curlew and Whimbrel (here of the Asian subspecies variegatus). A group of distant Pied Cormorants were sitting on a wooden structure out on the bay, and the occasional Australian Tern (a recent split from Gull-billed Tern) was drifting back and forth along the edge of the mangroves, waiting for the tide to reveal breakfast. The parking area occupied us for a little while too, with a perched White-breasted Woodswallow on some overhead wires, and Crested Pigeon and Pied Butcherbird bouncing along on the lawns. Acting on a tip from a passing fisherman we checked out a nearby pond adjacent to the actual port. Here we enjoyed excellent looks at our first Royal Spoonbills, a nice array of ducks including a few dozen Hardhead (Australia’s answer to the Canvasback), some handsome Chestnut Teal and our first Pacific Black Ducks and Eurasian Coots. The lawns along the pond margin held foraging Dusky Moorhen and Australasian Swamphens, and over the pond we were happy to see nearly a dozen Fairy Martins joining a few Welcome Swallows foraging on a recent insect hatch. A trio of quite vocal Mangrove Honeyeaters were chasing each other around and occasionally splashing down in the water, but they annoyingly remained on the far side of the pond, making our views distant. By this point in the morning the summertime heat and humidity drove thoughts of cold drinks and an early lunch into our minds, so we headed a bit inland for an excellent café in the somewhat trendy Seven Hills neighborhood just a bit south of downtown Brisbane. Our original plan was then to continue birding at a small marshy reserve but given the heat and lack of small bird activity we decided to head back to our hotel for a bit of a rest.

We met back up in the mid-afternoon and set out for the nearby wetlands along Sandy Camp Road. This small “pocket park” protects several vegetated freshwater impoundments lined with tall paperbark forest, patches of open swamp and weedy thickets and a few manicured sports fields. It’s a diverse area, crisscrossed by well-maintained walking paths and a couple of viewing platforms. Here we wandered slowly around the ponds, taking in nesting Australian Darters with ungainly fuzzy white young still in the nests, and Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants. The ponds held our first Maned Duck and Gray Teal and a quite tame Comb-crested Jacana, as well as a smattering of Moorhens, Swamphens and Coots and a few dozen Pacific Black Ducks. Rainbow Bee-eaters and a prodigious number of loafing Tree Martins were sitting up on bare branches or wires along the trail, and we teased out our first White-throated and Brown Honeyeaters and a trio of stunning Fairywren species. After our views of male Superb, Variegated and Red-backed Fairywrens in quick succession there was a bit of discussion as to which was the fairest of them all; with (I think) the consensus being the Red-backed; a striking crimson and black bird with adorable bright red bloomers. As we strolled along, we picked out a few more retiring species as well, with the undoubted standout being a Spotless Crake that was lurking down in a patch of water-logged grass, occasionally showing off its coal body, red iris or brownish back as it slowly moved around in the shadows, staying about a foot or two inside the grassbed. This is a widespread species around much of coastal Australia, but is one that generally remains well-hidden; far often heard than seen well. An adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle remained placidly perched near some nesting Ibis for quite some time before eventually taking off and being trailed by a mob of irate parent birds. This wasn’t the only raptor present though, as near the back of the complex we spotted a circling Osprey that was clearly patrolling some of the more open water in search for unwary fish. The ponds held a healthy population of impressive Australian Water Dragons as well, with several colourful males showing well as they lounged on branches over the water, occasionally dropping down to the ground (or the pond) at our approach. We finished the walk with two Magpie Geese flying over the park and then landing in some of the emergent trees out in one of the ponds. These large and gangly “geese” are not actually geese at all, but rather a relict species of waterfowl that is not closely related to any other extant species and is placed in a monotypic family. With their knobbed bony skulls, long legs and largely unwebbed feet (which were visible in our scopes as one bird tried to balance on some small branches in the treetops). All in all, it was a great introductory day to Australia birding!

For our second day of the extension, we packed up and left the busy metropolis of Brisbane, marveling at the dense incoming traffic as we cruised north and glad that we weren’t faced with such a tedious daily commute. Our destination for the morning was to be the small community of Toorbul, tucked on the northern shoreline of Moreton Bay just inland from Bribie Island. At or near high tide the shoreline along the esplanade in town can be heaving with wintering or migratory waders, all conveniently close to the road. Upon our arrival (timed nicely to coincide with an hour after the peak tide) we found the water to still be too high for waders to have commenced feeding. A few Pied Oystercatchers, loafing Australian Pelicans and a small group of Pied Stilts were sitting up in the grass, but in general waders were conspicuous in their absence. We turned our attention to the mangroves and open lawns around town, where we were happy to spot our first Eastern Grey Kangaroos, including an impressively large and muscular looking male and some half-grown joeys that were feeding in the shade near their mums. Many of the well-kept yards along the coast road had ornamental flowering plants and bird feeders, and around these pleasant suburban oasis we enjoyed close-up views of a sitting Dollarbird on some roadside wires, Peaceful, Bar-shouldered and Spotted Doves, Crested Pigeon, Rainbow Lorikeets and a stunning Pale-headed Rosella that lingered for a bit of a photoshoot; much to the amusement of the local dog-walker crowd which stopped to find out what all the fuss was about “we have those here all the time!” During a brief stop at the public rest area we scanned the channel offshore and picked out a few distant Australian Humpback Dolphins with their characteristic small and somewhat rounded dorsal fins foraging near the far shore. Overhead we picked out soaring Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea-Eagle, as well as the occasional passing group of shorebirds checking out the tideline. We spent a bit of time up at the northern end of the esplanade, where along a thick edge of mangroves we turned up an adult Striated Heron, several perched Torresian and Sacred Kingfishers and (at last) an up-close-and-personal Mangrove Honeyeater. Just before leaving the coast, we decided to make a second pass of the main roost site, this time hitting the tide perfectly. Hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwit, Far Eastern Curlew and Whimbrel, along with dozens of Great Knot and three Common Greenshank were loafing on the narrow strip of exposed sand just a few meters from the road. The flock would occasionally fly up when a raptor passed, in an impressive whirl of buffy and gray wings and a real cacophony of loud calls. Estimating numbers for this huge congregation of birds was difficult, but we felt that there must have been 2-3 thousand birds at a minimum, with additional hundreds of Black Swans out on the shallow waters of the bay. A small freshwater marsh along the road back to the highway occupied us for quite some time, as by scanning from a nearby side road we located a couple dozen Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, our first Glossy Ibis and Pacific Herons, two or three perched Australian Pipits and several Australasian Grebes paddling around in the more open patches of water.

After lunch at a cozy café that was surprisingly tucked into an impressive school campus we arrived in the picturesque Samford Valley. This bucolic area has been colonized by nearby Brisbane, with the small farming towns now hosting weekend markets and local wineries and breweries, and spa-type small retreats popping up seemingly everywhere. It still retains a lovely rural charm though, with small farmland and open horse and cattle pastures. The area around the huge reservoir is protected by Brisbane Water, and as it contains not only open grasslands, patches of drier forest, rainforest pockets and the shoreline the area supports an amazing diversity of birdlife. We concentrated mainly on two small areas near the lakes Southwest corner. The first was along an undulating road that passed through patches of forest before opening up into some expansive and natural looking rolling savannah. Here, in swales that were retaining water fringed with thick seeding grass we located our first Chestnut-breasted Munias and Golden-headed Cisticola, as well as both Red-backed and Superb Fairywrens, displaying Tawny Grassbirds and (on the way in) a Common Bronzewing, a big and largely terrestrial species that flushed up off the road and then thankfully lingered in a nearby tree for several minutes. We then moved over to a short road that leads down to the main lake. The land on either side of the road is all controlled access, but the road ends at a small public cemetery, offering access to a nice patch of edge forest, and views of the lake. Admittedly the small open area around the cemetery fence doesn’t look particularly productive; but we easily spent an hour here, racking up an amazing number of species. We scanned the lake, picking up Great Crested Grebes, Wandering Whistling-Duck and a couple of Australian Shoveler, as well as a couple of Great Cormorant and a circling Whistling Kite. It was the forest edge though that proved really productive, with perched up Cicadabird and Olive-backed Oriole, nesting Red-browed Firetail, vocal and eventually cooperative White-throated Gerygone, Brown Thornbill, Large-billed Scrubwren and Lewin’s Honeyeaters, and even a pair of Australian Brushturkeys strutting around the headstones!

We still had some ground to cover to reach our hotel in Toowoomba and since we were nearing rush hours back in Brisbane, we elected to take the more northerly route inland, winding up and over the impressively large forest of D’Aguilar National Forest and its extensive sub-tropical rainforest before dropping down into the Lockyer Valley to the west. Recent rains in the region (several months prior to our visit) had resulted in the often quite dry region becoming verdant, with seeding grasses and thick undergrowth covering much of the landscape. The local cows all seemed hale and hearty though, and the reservoirs and basins still held a remarkable amount of standing water. Around Atkinson Dam (which is sometimes the only large local water source) we stopped to admire our first Plumed Whistling-Ducks and Straw-necked Ibis out in some flooded fields, and a small group of Yellow-rumped Thornbills bouncing around the trees near the lakeshore. We finished our day’s birding around the uncharacteristically expansive waters of the nearby Seven Mile Lagoon, where we were astonished by the sheer number of birds visible from our chosen vantage point. Most were species that we had encountered several times before, but we were thrilled to spot all three species of Australian Ibis foraging in the shallows together, little groups of passing Silver and Pink Galahs, a flying Black-shouldered Kite and perched Nankeen Kestrels and Black Kite. We reached Queensland’s “Garden City” of Toowoomba a bit later than planned, and after checking in we walked over to a nearby pub to enjoy dinner.

We met up the next morning for breakfast at a nearby café and then headed out to the Northwest of town, bound for the more arid and open pastoral region of Oakey. Our principal birding area was to be a series of unpaved farm roads a bit west of town that wind through fallow fields, open grasslands, patches of dry Eucalypt Forest and denser scrub. It’s a well birded route, especially by Brisbane based birders as the quiet back roads offer access to several species of birds near the eastern edge of their range. It didn’t take long before we were picking up new species, with some displaying Brown Songlarks and a Singing Bushlark hovering over a particularly grassy field, little groups of Zebra Finches, Yellow-rumped Miners and Superb Fairywrens along the fencelines, a trio of admittedly distant but still impressively large Wedge-tailed Eagles and several passing Black and Whistling Kites. Just around the corner we flushed a pair of Brown Quail off the road edge, following them in the bins as they headed out to the relative safety of the savannah, soon dropping out of site in the tall grass. In some of the more treed areas we picked out perched Red-rumped Parrots, Pale-headed Rosellas and a pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo as well as over a dozen Cockatiels that were actively courting; taking advantage of the abundant food resources in the area due to recent rains. Seeing these little ashy gray parrots with their sunny yellow cheeks and wiry crests out in the expansive wild rather than sedately sitting in a cage was an especially appreciated treat. Near the back end of the road, we were thrilled to spot a passing Australian Hobby that was being chased by the local Australian Magpies. Eventually we reached a small privately owned block of dense native scrub, and were very happy to quickly locate a couple of Painted Honeyeaters foraging in some large fruiting clumps of mistletoe. This strikingly attractive species is clad in bold blocks of black and white, with bright yellow wing edgings and a thin red bill. It’s a globally vulnerable species which may soon reach the official endangered list, as habitat fragmentation of its preferred breeding habitat (open box-ironwood forest) and widespread clearing of its non-breeding habitat pose serious threats to its long-term survival. It’s a species that we only irregularly see on our normal WINGS tours, and one that instantly jumped up to near the top of everyone’s favorite honeyeater list. Here too we encountered our first Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters; another flashy species with streaked underparts, a pale blue eye, bright pink bill and apricot-washed chest, and a truly impressive number of busy groups of Superb Fairywrens bouncing along the roadside edge; or even right in the middle of the road. Once back in the small town of Oakey we stopped on a suburban street when we noticed a flurry of Apostlebirds parading around in a driveway. With their seemingly overstuffed bodies and sweeping wide tail movements they somehow remind me of portly old country gentlemen lounging on a chaise; they are just missing their petty waistcoats and monocles. After lunch at an unassuming bakery in the nearby town of Highfields that justifiably earned its 4.7 rating, we went for a short walk in the upper part of the Highfield Falls Park. We concentrated on the drier upland section of the park, and, perhaps due to the overcast conditions found bird activity to be incredibly good for early afternoon. Along the entrance road we (finally) got eyes on a singing Brush Cuckoo and tracked down our first Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters. A patch of seeding grasses near the carpark was attracting the attention of a small group of Double-barred Finches, a small black and white bird with plumage fit for the most fashionable Parisian runway. One pair was actively nest building; putting the finishing touches on their well-constructed woven nest. Like many species of birds in Australia Double-barred Finches are facultative breeders, and may produce multiple broods in quick succession when environmental conditions are good.

Once on the trail we found progress to be quite slow, as new birds were appearing at every turn. Lewin’s Honeyeaters, with their striking yellow ear crescents and machine-gun rattling calls were common, and the dense understory hosted a mix of smaller birds including elegant Australian Rufous Fantails, chattering White-browed Scrubwrens and Brown Thornbills and a couple of Red-browed Firetails. Up in the open canopy we teased out both Spotted and Striated Pardalotes. These jewel like waifs of the upper strata of the forest are widespread in Australia but far more often heard than seen. One pair of Spotteds came down to nearly eye level providing excellent views of this jewel-like little sprite of a bird that has entirely too much pattern and colour packed onto its diminutive body. At the same spot as the pardalotes we noted a busy flock of orange-winged birds clambering around the upper branches like a group of frenetic nuthatches. As no species of nuthatch has reached Australasia we knew that these must be Varied Sitellas, a widespread but never common species throughout much of Australia. From deeper in the underbrush, we could hear the distinctive duetting call and answer of a pair of Eastern Whipbirds, and no sooner than I had expressed the sentiment that we would have to wait until O’Reilly’s to see this usually retiring species we were thrilled to spot both the male and female crawling up out of the dense understory and showing off their bold olive, black and white plumage! Perhaps the most admired species of the walk though was the handsome Black-faced Monarch that lingered just overhead for several minutes. This large and showy monarch flycatcher sports and oversized silvery gray head, little black goatee and pumpkin- coloured underparts. Shortly after we admired the monarch the clouds parted and the bright sunlight activated a nearly deafening chorus of cicadas which immediately drowned out the bird noise. Back at the car we stopped to watch a series of birds coming into a small flowering tree. It was a busy scene, with a young White-throated Gerygone, Gray Shrikethrush, Brown Honeyeater and Scarlet Myzomela and Double-barred Finches admired in turn.

Our last birding area for the day was the forest around the nearby Cooby Dam. We started off on the northern end of the lake, birding along a quiet road that winds along near the shoreline. Here we found a wealth of new honeyeaters including both Little and Noisy Friarbirds and Brown-headed Honeyeater. The hulking Noisy Friarbirds with their distinctive black unfeathered heads, knobbed bill and silvery chest ruffles lived up to their name. Along with the honeyeaters we were happy to locate a busy flock of Weebill. This diminutive thornbill is the smallest bird in Australia, with an upbeat and cheery call and perky demeanor. Out on the lake we obtained closer views of Great Crested Grebe and Great Cormorant, as well as admired an impressive number of Eurasian Coots and Black Swans. As we headed back towards the main road we came to a quick stop when a giant bird scuttled off the roadside edge and disappeared into some thick grasses. Its jet-black body, rufous mantle and oversized tail identified it as a Pheasant Coucal (the world’s largest cuckoo). Luckily for us the bird soon popped up onto an eye level branch just downslope, and lingered there for a productive photo session. It’s a truly impressive bird, possessing a bill which spells doom for legions of invertebrates and small vertebrates that likely live in terror of their feathered largely terrestrial avian overlord. We drove around to the southern part of the lake, where we located a beautiful Black-fronted Dotterel along the shoreline and a female Musk Duck trying to do its best to blend in with a raft of loafing coots. Here too was a single Pretty-faced Wallaby out along the forest edge, and a hovering Black-shouldered Kite over a small vineyard. With some ground to cover we left the Toowoomba region behind, reaching Warwick, our base for the next two nights, in time for a short break before dinner.

Warwick is the council seat of the Southern Downs, a relatively rich agricultural area of rolling hills just inland from the dividing ranges. Initially we had planned to spend our nights about 100KM to the east in the much smaller and less prosperous town of Inglewood, but as we couldn’t secure enough rooms at Inglewoods hotel we wound up in Warwick (which proved a much more hospitable location). This change did mean that we had a bit of a drive on the next morning to reach our birding destination, so we set off just before dawn bound for Mosquito Creek Road; a quiet country road about 85KM to the east.


We arrived at the base of the road about a half-hour after sunrise, and spent the full morning slowly exploring the area. At first glance this unpaved road looks like a normal, nondescript country road, but from a bird-perspective this first impression is quickly disabused. It is perhaps the premier site in the entire council area, with a birdlist of well over 200 species. The first several kilometers pass through open grassy paddocks and fields, with tall trees, low shrubs and seeding grasses lining the road. We commenced the day by walking the roads first kilometer or so (which took several hours due to the near constant influx of new birds). Some of the taller eucalyptus trees on the road edge had large clumps of fruiting mistletoe dangling in their crowns. The fruit was popular with honeyeaters and parrots, with groups of pugnacious Noisy and Yellow-throated Miners, Musk and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets and the occasional troupe of Blue-faced Honeyeater rummaging around in the canopy. At one of the fruiting trees Vicki spotted a larger bird perched around the back of the tree which proved to be one of our principal targets of the day; a Spotted Bowerbird. This husky species occupies a large swath of the more arid parts of Eastern Australia, but gets no further east than roughly this location and thus is missed on international birding tours that visit the more familiar coastal and near-coastal sites in Southeast Queensland.

The open fields afforded an excellent vantage for scanning, and we picked out perched Australian Hobby, Australian Kestrel and a hunting Spotted Harrier out in the distance. Big flocks of Galah and Little Corella passed by at regular intervals, livening the skies with their raucous calls and colours. A few other new parrot species graced our binoculars as well, with the garishly emerald green and crimson Red-winged Parrots and much more subdued (but still sharp-looking) Greater Bluebonnets appearing regularly as we walked. We were thrilled to also spot a pair of shaggy Emu out in the savannah. Initially the birds were foraging with their heads down, but eventually they popped up and then trotted off with their shaggy bustles flouncing around behind them; a quintessential Australian sight! The road edge itself proved productive too, with Apostlebirds and Gray-crowned Babblers being pleasingly common, and a small group of Squatter Pigeons (here near the southern limit of their range) foraging in a shaded section of seeding grasses. Superb and White-winged Fairywrens were dotted about as well, and in one section of particularly lush seeding grass we flushed up a small group of finches which happily for us then sat up on the fenceline. Several were Double-barred, but the bulk of the group were our hoped-for Plum-headed Finch. This attractively barred species with a deep purple-black crown is an uncommon bird of the western side of the Great Dividing Range. We were able to watch a pair that were gathering feathers to line a nearby nest and repeatedly landing on the fenceline at close range. This sighting represented a life bird for the entire group (and me) and more than that was the first time a WINGS tour had ever recorded the species (it was the 9044th bird species for the running WINGS global list)!

Further to the north the road winds through several sections of state forest, and at a small creek crossing just inside the first of these sections we stopped to investigate some motion just off the road. This impromptu stop soon stretched to nearly 45 minutes, as the underbrush and canopy along the creek was simply full of birds. Among the new species for the trip were Restless and Leaden Flycatchers, two species of flashy monarchs that put on a good show for us as they zipped around overhead, landing with quivering tails. A group of Varied Sitellas, here of the distinctive white-headed subspecies were clambering around on the trunks, and a family of Gray Fantails were dashing around in the canopy. Here too we enjoyed views of Rufous Whistler, Scarlet Myzomela, Spotted Pardalote and Yellow Thornbill, not to mention a passing Swamp Wallaby!

A bit further down we passed some ranch houses tucked away along a little creek; an idyllic if remote location to make a living. We passed a couple of friendly local ranchers who gave us a bit of a quizzical stare but a wide smile and wave as we passed. The few cattle that we spotted in the area all looked plump and well cared for, doubtless enjoying the rich palette of fresh grasses available in abundance due to the recent rains. A bit after the ranch houses, we stopped along the edge of another state forest patch. Here we enjoyed good views of a pair of Laughing Kookaburras (oddly our only ones for the day), as well as a family of busy Jacky Winters (a rather staid gray Australian Robin with a flashy white edged tail and quite approachable demeanor) and two new honeyeaters, White-plumed and Fuscous. We then headed over towards Inglewood for lunch, stopping once to admire a little flock of Weebill that were busily foraging along the road edge. The flock contained several Buff-rumped Thornbills as well, and thankfully they showed off well, revealing their pale irises, speckled crown and yellowish-apricot rumps.

After our lunch at the local pub, we decided to do a bit of exploring around the edges of the town. This proved most productive, with several Rufous Songlarks displaying along the edge of town, a large flock of over a dozen Plum-headed Finches (which included lots of unbarred juveniles) and several Zebra Finch and a very cooperative flock of Galahs in the town park which allowed for some close photography. After securing our spots as top 10 eBIrders for the town (!) we drove back to the east, stopping along the shores of Coolmunda Dam a few times to scan the somewhat choppy open waters and shoreline. Here we had a nice selection of waterbirds, with the only new species for the trip being a couple of distant Whiskered Terns and a dazzling male White-winged Fairywren in its full breeding dress. The birds that we had seen along Mosquito Creek Road earlier in the day were all pale sandy brown, so this electric blue male with his starch-white wings was a real knockout!

Our last stop of the day was along a small dirt road in the Durikai State Forest, where the undoubted highlight was our time spent staking out a small puddle in the road. A steady stream of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters was coming in for a late afternoon drink or bath, and with them we picked out a pair of Common Bronzewings, a single Eastern Rosella, the odd Brown or Fuscous Honeyeater and a single Black-chinned Honeyeater. Nearby we ran into a big group of foraging Rainbow Bee-eaters, several of which perched right over the road and gave us an excellent chance to take in their complicated plumage. The feeding Bee-eaters seemed to attract a few of the other locals to the road edge, and among the several other birds we were happy to spot a pair of Brown Treecreepers and a family group of Eastern Yellow Robins bouncing around near eyelevel. We then headed back to Warwick, more than satisfied by what had been an incredibly productive day of birding in a section of the country that few visiting birders are fortunate enough to ever see.

The next morning, we enjoyed a cooked breakfast in the rooms and then packed up and headed a bit out to the west to spend some more time in the Durikai State Forest. This time we concentrated our efforts on a more southerly section of the woods, which involved driving for several miles through some quiet back roads that passed through remarkably lush ranchland and some impressively large and well-kept houses. Out in these more open areas we were happy to spot a pair of wheeling Wedge-tailed Eagles that were being harassed (rather ineffectively) by an overly optimistic crow. An ethereally white Black-shouldered Kite kept pace with our van for several hundred meters, staying low and even with our windows so that we could really appreciate its buoyant flight and nearly translucent wings. Along some of the fencelines, we found perched Fairy Martins that were showing their tawny heads off to excellent effect. Roadside trees held the occasional perched Sulphur-crested Cockatoo or Eastern Rosella, and in one denser grove we stopped to admire the antics of a flock of Gray-crowned Babblers that were having some kind of dispute with a boisterous bunch of Noisy Miners and a family of Gray Butcherbirds. The drive in produced a couple of nice mammals as well, with several mobs of Eastern Grey Kangaroos and a mother and joey Red-necked Wallaby.

Once we reached the forest boundary we drove in a very short distance and found a wider spot to park. Within seconds of hopping out of our van we heard the descending whistles of a troupe of White-winged Choughs coming from just around the corner. These very communal and unique birds superficially resemble crows, but their odd gait, red eyes, weak looking downward curved bills and small heads belie that comparison. Extended family groups of Choughs assist in building their large and perfectly formed adobe nests (in a more skilled fashion than I could manage with opposable thumbs), and the flocks forage together with near constant chatter between individuals. We watched them as they dropped down to forage along the edge of the road, flashing their wide white wing patches as moved around from tree to tree. After this auspicious start to our visit, we elected to walk down the less travelled side road into the forest, heading towards a small watercourse that we could see on google maps. The trail meandered near the edge of the forest, alternating between closed canopy but open eucalyptus and small grassy clearings. We initially found Noisy Miners and Fuscous Honeyeaters to be annoyingly common, but soon after we walked past the last large clearing they all but disappeared. Almost immediately the bird activity began to pick up, with several perky Jacky Winters sitting atop short trees in the understory, a pair of Dusky Woodswallows coursing overhead and Rainbow Bee-eaters sitting on bare perches over the trail. We were thrilled to spot a small family group of White-browed Babblers bouncing around in the canopy. Initially they stayed stubbornly tucked into denser sections of leaves, but eventually they dropped down into the open so that we could clearly see their smaller size and dark crowns. A few hundred meters further down the track we came to the watercourse and found it to be quite active. After admiring a very vocal pair of White-bellied Cuckooshrikes (our only ones for the tour) we set to work and soon located a responsive Speckled Warbler which happily perched up on some bare branches for us to ogle for several minutes. This largely terrestrial thornbill is much more attractive than the field guides would have you believe, resembling a bizarre cross between an understory Asian Babbler and a Louisiana Waterthrush. After the bird dropped back down into the understory we tuned in to a high-pitched whistle and were soon looking at a Diamond Firetail (surely one of the most evocative of bird names in the world) sitting on another nearby bare tree. This incredibly attractive finch is sharply patterned in white, black and crimson, with a scarlet bill and eye-ring. It’s generally scarce across its somewhat limited range, and like most species that prefer these inland drier forests is a species of conservation concern. As we started the walk back towards the car the forest gifted us with one more avian treasure. We spotted a male Turquoise Parrot quietly sitting in the understory, and thankfully when the bird noticed us it merely moved up a few feet into a more shaded and secluded section of the tree. We were able to watch him at length in the scope, taking in the birds’ rainbow of primary colours, with an especially bright blue reflective face and lovely reddish wing patch. Turquoise Parrots are small, and generally unobtrusive, preferring to feed quietly on the ground near the edges of inland forests between NE Victoria and just north of the Queensland border. Often the visiting birder has to settle for quick flight views or very distant birds perched high up in the canopy, so our lengthy view of a nearly eye-level male was truly exceptional!

After plumbing the depths of the bird diversity of the Durikai we headed back to Warwick, where we finished checking out of our hotel and grabbed lunch at an excellent nearby café. We spent the afternoon driving east towards the town of Canungra which marks the beginning of the twenty-mile-long driveway up into the Border Ranges and our home base for the remaining days of the extension up on the O’Reilly’s Plateau. About halfway to Canungra we made a quick stop at Moogera Dam where there had been some recent eBird reports of Little Lorikeet around the end of the road. Although we didn’t connect with any Little Lorikeets there were plenty of Rainbows and a few Scaly-breasteds to ogle. Some fruiting fig trees were laden with a prodigious number of Australian Figbirds and Noisy Miners. Our best find here though was in one of the smaller fruiting figs down on the shore of the lake, where we enjoyed lengthy views of a male and a female Pacific Koel foraging on fruits. These large cuckoos are often very secretive, but this pair seemingly forgot the rules; with the satiny black male staying in the open for over ten minutes and the strikingly patterned black and white female even coming down to the edge of the lawn and bouncing around at the base of some shrubs seemingly oblivious to our stares and near constant camera shutters. We took back roads over to Canungra, which allowed us to stop at a few roadside pools to admire a selection of waterbirds such as breeding plumage Eastern Cattle Egrets, a pair of Australian Shoveler and some very obliging Grey Teal. We reached Canungra in good time, stopping near the creek overpass where we visited with the local Flying Fox roost. Thousands of large bats were dangling from the trees along the creek, with many squabbling or even flying around in the late afternoon sun. Most were Gray-headed Flying-Fox, but with some scanning we picked out a few Blacks with their darker body and face and nearly jet-black wings. The stop produced a little group of White-headed Pigeons, a heavy set and distinctive species that is sparsely distributed in the region. Along the creek we also spotted our only Kookaburra of the day, several bright orange and black Damselflies (Golden-fronted Riverdamsels) and a couple of large Australian Water Dragons. We finished the day by tackling the slow 30KM road that winds up to O’Reilly’s lodge. Recent work on the various switchbacks and overhanging hillsides has resulted in a faster (and largely wider) drive, but given the windy nature of the road it still takes nearly an hour to reach the top. Initially the road passes through the valley floor, dotted with large homes and even a vineyard owned by the O’Reilly family. It then heads uphill, switchbacking through open eucalypt forest with a largely grassy understory. Suddenly though as you near the top there is a transition to dense rainforest, clad with bromeliads, the odd Araucaria, or Hoop Pine, tree (a holdover from Gondwanaland) and tree ferns. The sprawling resort immediately abuts Lamington National Park and serves as a comfortable (in many ways opulent) base to explore the network of park trails. We spent a bit of time admiring our first Crimson Rosellas, Australian King Parrots and a single tubby Wonga Pigeon around the carpark and then checked in; eager to explore this justifiably famous region over the next two days.

We began our full day around Lamington National Park with a short pre-breakfast walk around the lodge grounds where we caught everyone up on the common birds that frequent the clearings around the lodge. Quite a few of the participants mentioned that when they awoke and opened the blinds, they were already tallying lifers from (and on) their balconies! It’s certainly nice when the common birds include such absolutely iconic species as Regent and Satin Bowerbird, Australian King Parrot and Crimson Rosella, Superb Fairy-Wren, Pied Currawong and Red-browed Firetail! It’s not just the species list here that make an impact, but the tameness and approachability that a visiting birder can revel in. Instead of quietly lurking in the underbrush and hoping for a quick part-view of a calling Eastern Whipbird here one just scans the lawn or holds out some walnuts and one may well waltz in without a care. It is, simply put, an amazing experience, akin to the Galapagos Islands in some respects. We found conditions to be a bit different to those of spring (when we normally visit), with paradoxically colder and wetter weather. A lot of the local birds were finished breeding and undergoing their post-breeding moults, and there seemed to be fewer flowering and fruiting trees than we generally find in October. Nevertheless, the birding was great. On our first pre-breakfast walk we concentrated on the periphery of the lodge grounds and down around the nearby campground. Perhaps due to the damp and blustery weather a lot of birds were foraging on the ground in the clearing, and by slowly keeping an eye out on the forest edge we soon enjoyed excellent (at times just a few feet away from our shoelaces) views of Yellow-throated, White-browed and Large-billed Scrubwren, Brown Thornbill, Brown Gerygone, Eastern Yellow Robin and Lewin’s Honeyeaters. We even spotted a quietly foraging Eastern Whipbird that was rooting around in one of the flower beds just outside reception! Once we reached the lower parking lot a young Brown Goshawk put on a good showing as it circled overhead a few times, showing off the rounded tail and large head that helps to separate this species from the similar Collared Sparrowhawk. The campground area was extensively renovated during COVID, with a lot of upscale African-safari style tents and some substantial clearing around the edges. It still held a few birds though, with an instructive comparison of Rufous and Grey Fantails foraging in some fallen branches at eye-level, and close views of a female Satin Bowerbird with her incredibly violet eyes flashing in the morning light. By this point though our thoughts had turned to breakfast, so we walked back up to the main lodge to partake of their bountiful buffet.

After breakfast we set out to explore the border track and treetop circuit trail which loop out from just across the road from reception. Due to the misty and overcast conditions it was pretty dark in the forest understory, but as quite a few of the birds that we wanted to see were hopping around right on the trail we did pretty well! Along with repeated views of the pre-breakfast birds we found a calling Brown Cuckoo-Dove, a pair of handsome Black-faced Monarch and several very cooperative pairs of Australian Logrunners. These odd primitive passerines belong to a tiny Australasian family. They prefer upland rainforest with extensive leaf litter and spend most of their lives using their oversized feet and seemingly double-jointed legs to kick out the undergrowth from underfoot in search of prey. It’s an attractive bird too, with beautifully patterned scalloped upperparts, a colour coordinated sex specific throat (starch white in the male and tawny-orange for the female). Near the end of our sojourn out the border track we came upon a group of widely spaced Green Catbirds giving their admittedly humorous and quite distinctly cat-like calls. They stayed stubbornly tucked into the canopy, with one bird only briefly seen as it shifted between perches and then dropped down out of sight. We also marveled at the assorted humanity that had reached the same distance from the lodge. A few made sense, well-kitted-out hikers obviously bound for some distance, or the curious couple intent on learning a bit about the forest. But the joggers, occasional loud family carrying to-go coffee cups or clutch of pre-teens with an aimless air were all a bit surprising. As we neared the end of our loop walk we took a back way out, and on this short stretch found an incredibly photogenic Eastern Yellow Robin, a Yellow-throated Scrubwren that literally bounced around between our feet and another approachable Eastern Whipbird. Just before we reached the carpark we noted some motion at the edge of the trail and were shocked to see that it was a Noisy Pitta! We waited for several minutes, and eventually it bounded into view again, briefly stopping in full view in the center of the trail before slipping back off into the forest. As we had just been walking for a couple of hours, hearing only one brief call from this most desirous species having one basically volunteer itself for our viewing pleasure was a special treat; even if our views were mainly of its leaf-green back and red vent as it bounded off.

Elated with our Pitta, we headed off towards the back of the property, with a discussion about the differences between Antpittas and true Pittas along the way. As we neared the top of the Wishing Tree Track we heard a short snippet of guttural whistles coming from just inside the woods; our hoped for Albert’s Lyrebird was nearby! Unfortunately, the trailhead was closed due to some construction on the bridges lower down, so we tried our best to find a vantage point along the top of the trail. We couldn’t find a reasonable angle, but the curious company of several Australian Brushturkeys and several quick glimpses of a furtive Bassian Thrush were nice consolations. The Lyrebird called a few more times, and we eventually decided to check the first 100 meters of trail (just below the staff quarters). As soon as we were back in the woods we noted huge numbers of recently fallen purple cherries littering the forest floor. The bounty was obviously attracting a wealth of wildlife, with several Red-legged Pademelons (a diminutive kangaroo relative) bounding off at our approach and another Noisy Pitta (this one lingering a bit longer so that we could take in its tawny and black striped crown and buffy underparts) just a bit off the trail. It took several minutes to pin down the area where the Lyrebird was feeding, but after finding just the right angle we were able to we watch the bird as it foraged along a fallen log, occasionally showing its shimmering cobweb-like tail, or bright rufous back as it passed into the open. Albert’s (and the closely related Superb) Lyrebirds are the worlds largest (and among the worlds oldest) passerines. Accomplished mimics, they are perhaps best known for their starring role in many a nature documentary concerning Australian wildlife. As they are generally winter breeders and can be quite tricky to locate when not displaying, we felt fortunate indeed to have enjoyed some time with one. Back in the carpark we were thrilled to cap our mornings outing off with point-blank views of an Eastern Spinebill foraging in some red flowered grevilia shrubs. This spritely honeyeater sports an amazingly complex plumage pattern, with a colour palette that would make any paisley-loving fashionista jealous.

We took lunch at the O’Reilly’s café, enjoying the occasional Regent or Satin Bowerbird, Lewin’s Honeyeater or Pied Currawong that came down to inspect the tables or even nick the odd bit of French fry from an unsuspecting diner. After a bit of a break (during which the rain kicked in in earnest) we met back up for a short trip in the late afternoon. We started off with a visit to a nearby active Satin Bowerbird bower near the edge of the lodge clearing. Generally, when birders think of bowerbirds or birds of paradise they think of New Guinea, but both bird families are represented in Australia as well. Rather than advertising their fitness through intricate song or flashy plumage (though the purplish-black males with their impossibly violet eyes have flashy plumage in spades) male Bowerbirds are the architects of the avian world. Carefully constructing a short runway bordered by walls of small sticks and ending in a wide flat mat lined with dried grass and straw these portly birds then decorate the mat with all manner of blue objects. Naturally a rare colour, blue used to be restricted to certain fruits or ephemeral flowers, and amassing and curating those hard-to-find objects would have made a Satin Bowerbirds job as an interior decorator difficult. These days however people have introduced all sorts of perennially blue objects that the male birds can collect to set their potential mates hearts aflutter. Bottle tops, drinking straws, bits of plastic bags and the odd bright blue zip were carefully festooned around this bower. Apparently some of the Australian drink makers have recently decided to switch away from blue lids as evidence suggests that some bowerbirds have been somehow managing to get the seals stuck around their heads; a sign of the environmental consciousness of corporate culture. After admiring the bower we hopped in the car and drove less than a mile down the road for a walk along the Python Rock Track. This level trail winds through some more open rainforest and as the valley drops off a bit to one side one gains a bit of an elevated vantage point relative to the canopy. It can be an excellent spot to look for Paradise Riflebird as they rummage around in the canopy bromeliads. Our run of excellent luck held, and about a half-kilometer down the trail we heard the rasping call of a riflebird emanating from over the trail. The bird, a female, showed briefly but well as it clambered around some high vines. The males of the three Australian riflebird species are all quite similar, but the females are distinctive. Recent research has shown that the Birds-of-Paradise likely initially evolved in Australia, retreating uphill and into the humid montane forests of New Guinea as the lowlands began to dry out and Australian rainforest patches shrank. Although the Paradise Riflebird is now the most southerly-distributed species of BoP it is quite probable that a hundred thousand years ago there were many species present in the mountains of southern Queensland, and even further to the south. The trail produced a pair of very close White-throated Treecreepers and yet another Black-faced Monarch (a species that is generally not present around O’Reilly’s during our regular tours, but that seemed to be in full breeding swing during this summer visit. Just as we were debating continuing on down the trail or not the clouds closed in and it began to rain; decision made, we headed back to the hotel, reaching the carpark just as the rains really intensified. We took shelter under the roof (along with one or two Australian Brushturkeys that seemed to be enjoying the drier conditions as well. A couple of Topknot Pigeons winged past bound for their own drier hideaways, but as things did not look like drying out we turned in for the day. After dinner a few folk investigated the simply deafening chorus of frogs calling from around the lodge buildings. We found an impressive 6 species, with the gaudy Orange-eyed Treefrog being the likely favorite.

The rains continued overnight, but thankfully by the time we met up again the following morning conditions had vastly improved. We found the sunshine to be a boon to the local birds as well, with a marked increase in the number of birds hanging around the forest edge (especially near reception where the daily bird feeding station occurs). We spent the requisite amount of time taking in the colour show and getting selfies of King Parrots, Crimson Rosellas and the incomparable male Regent Bowerbird perched on various heads and shoulders. Some flowering bottlebrush trees were attracting a steady stream of Lewin’s Honeyeaters and dapper Eastern Spinebills, both of which posed nicely for photos, at a range that even an iPhone could capture them! Leaving the masses behind we started a short walk around the periphery of the lodge grounds. Near the National Park Information booth, we were surprised to spot a thrush hopping gamely about on the lawn. With its rufous-tinged tail, lightly barred rump, broad pale tips to the coverts and somewhat short bill (relative to Bassian’s notably long one) we had no trouble calling this individual a Russet-tailed Thrush. Here too we were amazed to spot another female Paradise Riflebird that was climbing around in a distant leafless tree with lots of lichen. Amazingly she soon flew quite close to us, foraging in some small palms just at the edge of the road. As this bird was so much closer than our individual the prior day, we were really able to appreciate the long curved bill, lightly scalloped breast and rufous-toned mantle. After a minute or so she launched over our heads, spent a few seconds around the bird feeding area and then flew over the lodge building, quickly disappearing back into the forest. After spending a bit of time taking in the many approachable Satin Bowerbirds, Pied Currawongs around the pool and watching another guest have an interesting dilemma involving a King Parrot on her head and a coffee cup in her hand we headed over to the top of the wishing tree track; scanning down on the trail from the vantage of the employee carpark. The forest floor was still littered with purple cherries, but we couldn’t see much activity. A Green Catbird did appear like magic though, bouncing up through some dangling vines and then sitting just a bit over our heads and providing a much better view than those the previous day.

After breakfast we decided to head a bit downhill, seeking out a few species that we had not, as yet, connected with around the lodge trails. We drove slowly with the windows down, and a few miles into our drive we heard the upslurred whistle of a Spectacled Monarch emanating from the roadside vegetation. It took a few minutes to find a suitable parking pullout, but after we were in place a pair of Monarchs soon came into view. This is a small but handsome and active bird clad in Halloween black and orange with bold white tail corners and a silvery-grey back. While watching the pair of Spectacleds as they bounced along through some denser vines we heard a calling White-eared Monarch overhead as well. This somewhat scarce species has a large range across a narrow band of eastern Australia but is nowhere common, and we record it on slightly less than half of our regular Eastern Tours. Although this individual was in heavy moult we could still make out the striking black and white face pattern that somewhat resembles a feathered stain-glass window as it eventually worked its way to some thin branches just over the road. It’s not every day that you get to see two fancy new monarchs at the same location in less than five minutes! Continuing on down the road we checked out an area that has been productive for Bell Miners in recent years. Instead of the miners we heard a deafening chorus of cicadas, and with the still-early hour, sunshine and slow lunch service at the O’Reilly’s café the previous day decided to go all the way downhill for some non-montane species and lunch. We tried a few spots along the impressively swollen Canungra Creek, striking pay dirt on Double Crossing Road when we heard the maniacal cackles of a Pale-vented Bush-Hen coming from a thick tangle of Creekside grass. This is a very secretive moorhen-like species that prefers to spend life tucked into dense wet vegetation close to water. It is generally believed that most birds migrate out of Australia in the dry season, returning in the Australian summer, but some at least are seemingly resident. When not calling they are nearly impossible to detect. Amazingly this bird actually popped out of the grass for us, crossing the road quickly and then promptly disappearing into another dense patch of grasses. Leaving the still chuckling Bush-Hen to its vegetated haunts we headed a bit to the east, to check out an area that has had a large Bell Miner colony for several years. We parked, and as soon as the van doors were open, we could hear multiple birds calling from the nearby woods. We walked in a few meters and then set about the task of laying eyes on one of the noisy birds. These olive-green honeyeaters, with bright orange legs and bill, and loud pinging calls are often extremely frustrating to see well as they call from the mid to upper canopy. Bell Miners are a colonial, cooperatively breeding species that specializes on feeding on the concentrated and sugar rich waste of Scale Insects called Lerps. They are aggressive towards any potentially competitive species, excluding other bird species out of their large colony sites. This makes the Bell Miner society effectively an agrarian one, with the birds tending their lerp colony and preventing unwanted pests. Eventually the artificially enlarged Lerp population starts to damage the trees and the birds move on. It took a few minutes but we eventually pinned a couple of birds down, getting good views as they sat placidly in the canopy, occasionally giving their ringing calls.

By now it was lunchtime, so we set off back to Canungra to visit a locally famous café and bakery that seems to perhaps be the most efficient restaurant in all of Australia. Despite the queue when we arrived it took remarkably little time before we were enjoying burgers, pies, coffees, salad and pastries. After lunch we decided to visit one more lowland site for the day; the nearby Lower Beechmont Conservation Park. This large area (almost 800 hectares) protects a sheltered valley with extensive dry forest on the slopes, and a small patch of rainforest along a pretty shallow creek that runs along the valley floor. A convenient trail runs right along with the creek, and we spent an enjoyable hour or so wandering along the edge of the ecotone between the rainforest and dry forest. A few new species turned up, with a responsive Fan-tailed Cuckoo and a stunning blue and rust coloured Azure Kingfisher perched over a quiet bend in the river. We also enjoyed close views of a waddling pair of Bar-shouldered Doves, several chattering Spangled Drongos, and a male Cicadabird picking fruit out of the canopy (not to mention a sitting Common Archtail Dragonfly and an Ornate Rainbowfish). The drive back up the mountain was uneventful, and when we attempted to drop down a side road where we often find Red-browed Treecreeper we found the recent rains had left the road not safely passable for our two-wheeled drive van. We used the tail end of the day to get organized for boarding the ship the following day.

We began the last morning of the extension with another pre-breakfast walk around the O’Reilly’s lodge. Initially there was some light drizzle, but happily soon the sun came out and so did the birds. It’s really hard to overstate the magic of having a male Regent Bowerbird perched on your fingers, or an Eastern Whipbird or Eastern Yellow Robin picking up scraps from underfoot. I imagine that a sizeable percentage of the thousands of visitors whose first blush with Australian birds occurred here, and the lodges environmental awareness and message surely has sunk in for many of them. We enjoyed it too, but after a while decided to take a short walk around the boardwalk trail, bidding a fond farewell to a suite of birds that were by now quite familiar; Australian Logrunners, Australian Brushturkeys and Yellow-throated Scrubwrens on the forest floor, Eastern Yellow Robins and Golden Whistlers in the midstory, and the occasional flyover Topknot or White-headed Pigeon. After breakfast we packed up and started the roughly 2.5-hour journey to the Brisbane port, stopping about half-way down when we flushed a Pacific Emerald Dove off the road edge. Luckily the bird didn’t go far, and we were able to discern its bottle-green back, burgundy-purple underparts and bright orange bill as it tottered around through a small patch of viney forest for a few minutes and then flew right past the parked van as it headed across the road. Our last birding stop for the pre-tour was at a small wetland on the outskirts of Brisbane. Here we spent a quite relaxed half-hour taking in the wealth of breeding birds that were nesting around the margins of the lake. Most were Little Black Cormorants and Eastern Cattle Egrets, but there were many nesting Darter, Plumed Egret and Great Egret as well. The lawns were hosting flocks of grazing Eurasian Coots and Dusky Moorhen, as well as the occasional Australasian Swamphen or group of strutting Crested Pigeons and in the marshier sections of the lake shore we picked out a pair of Comb-crested Jacana, a small flock of loafing Magpie Geese and some very cute puffball Pacific Black Duck ducklings. It was nice to be able to quietly walk amongst all this birdlife, and I suspect most participants managed quite a few excellent photos as we strolled. The park produced our final addition to the triplist as well, as within the large flock of snoozing Little Corellas that were tucked up into some large fig trees, we found a half-dozen or so Long-billed Corellas. Long-billed are native to the open areas of the Southeastern section of Australia, but in many areas to the north of their native range (including SE Queensland) they are introduced and firmly established. This was to be our final, and 214th species for the trip, and soon after we packed up the van the final time, stopping for some final photos of Crested Pigeons and a singing Pied Butcherbird before driving into Brisbane, picking up our coleader for the cruise, Stephen Menzie, just before arriving at the port to board our cruise ship.


Although this trip was the third WINGS Australia-New Zealand Cruise aboard Princess vessels it was the first time we had used the port of Brisbane. The happily efficient boarding process took place in the recently finished and spacious Brisbane International Cruise Terminal. Once we had all settled into our various staterooms and attended the requisite safety training, we met up on the outer part of deck 7 for a short meeting and then some birding until near dark. As we waited for the ship to pull away for the dock, we managed to get a bit of birding in as the tide receded from the fringing mangrove-lined shore. This proved quite productive, as we added a significant number of birds to the actual cruise list. Probably the crowd favorites were the hunting Brahminy Kite and pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles that were slowly gliding over the mangroves. On the rapidly expanding beach we picked out Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel as well as a busy flock of Little and Great Egrets, Australian Ibis and Masked Lapwing. The dock structures hosted Pied and Great Cormorants, as well as an assortment of Great Crested Terns and Silver Gulls. The hauling Tugs escorted us out of the dock area, reversing at impressive speed as they kept pace with our ship. Near the north end of the harbour we were able to scan a few small ponds onshore, finding a selection of waterfowl including Black Swan and Chestnut Teal as well as a perched Osprey and a smattering of Pied Stilts. By this time, it was nearly 5pm, and we still had the rather large Moreton Bay to traverse before we could round Cape Moreton and enter the open Tasman Sea. The captain charted a surprising northerly course, hugging the shore of Moreton Island and then staying close to the mainland and heading towards the rapidly growing city of the Sunshine Coast. This route precluded much chance at “true” seabirds in the late afternoon, but near the end of the day we did pick up our first tubenoses, with a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a single Short-tailed Shearwater passing by the ship. The bay proved productive though, with nearly a half-dozen Parasitic Jaegers, several dozen Brown Boobies (many perched on close-by Buoys), a couple of Caspian Terns and a really distant Sooty Oystercatcher appearing in turn. We headed off to dinner as the daylight began to fade, eager to see where we might end up when we woke up the next day.

Our first (of three) seadays as we crossed the Tasman Sea bound for New Zealand was spent offshore of New South Wales. A medical emergency onboard the ship had occurred overnight, and the ship had been forced to come in closer to shore to allow a helicopter to pick up the patient. The end result of this incident was that when we started birding on the deck, we were just 30 miles offshore from the Queensland/New South Wales border. Although by the end of the day we had swung out to roughly 255 miles offshore we were still west of Lord Howe Island; a large island that is part of New South Wales and thus still in Australian waters. The birding was slow at times, as is common in warmer subtropical climes, but over the course of the day we amassed a nice collection of sightings. The most numerous species for the day were Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Grey-faced Petrel, and with some practice we were able to pick out the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater or Kermadec Petrel as well. One of the Kermadec Petrels was a lovely pale morph bird that was harassing a passing White-tailed Tropicbird like a heavy-bodied Parasitic Jaeger. The birds pale white wing flashes only added to similarity. Amazingly (likely due to the lack of coverage this far offshore) both species were county firsts for that county in New South Wales! A few species of birds more typical of warmer waters appeared, with two different Red-footed Boobies, a smattering of White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds (often soaring right over the ship), Sooty Terns and, undoubtedly the best of the group, two individual Tahiti Petrels. As we reached a bit more southerly latitudes we began to pick up our first of many smaller Pterodromas, with several dapper Gould’s Petrels, a striking species with a black cowl and white throat and a lot of more distant birds that we wisely left unidentified. As the daylight waned we found ourselves about 60 miles WNW of Lord Howe Island, a critically important breeding location for 14 species of seabirds and several endemic landbirds.

Our second day of the Tasman crossing commenced about 400KM SSE of Lord Howe, yet by a quirk of perhaps overly ambitious territorial claims we were still technically in Australia waters. The day was warm and for much of the journey the winds and sea were light, making for perfect conditions and a really pleasant day on deck. With the increase in latitude over the previous early evening we found a significant shift in the birdlife. We were still in subtropical seas though, so in addition to repeats from yesterday such as Gray-faced Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Red-tailed Tropicbird we also were thrilled to spot a couple of White-bellied Storm-Petrels and diminutive Gray Noddies. The bird of the day though was clearly Black-winged Petrel. We were on deck and birding for roughly 11 hours, and I suspect that at no point we did not have several Black-wingeds in view. The birds were mostly paired, and many chattering groups were using the updrafts created by the boat to arc up to the top of the ship; wheeling around and around in the ships slipstream. Many of the birds were chattering, providing a seemingly out of place avian soundscape to our journey. I suspect that most participants had to change camera cards once or twice with the digital trove of newly acquired Black-winged images. A few Flesh-footed Shearwaters and at least a couple Kermadec and Gould’s Petrels appeared during the course of the day as well. Rounding out the cast of birds we were treated to close up views of 6 albatrosses, many of whom came right in to the side of the ship (perhaps hoping that we were a huge fishing vessel) before veering clear or sliding along the side. Three of the birds were Antipodean Albatross (a recently split species from the old Wandering Albatross complex), two were White-capped Albatross and the last was another Wandering type which may have been an immature Snowy Albatross. The field identification of (especially) immature “Wanderers” is not fully elucidated, and at least three forms of the old complex occur regularly in the Tasman Sea. One final surprise treated us in the late afternoon with a single, and a bit later a pair of adult Australasian Gannets that flew past the bow. Checking the admittedly limited eBIRD data for the species in the central Tasman we found no records of this species within several hundred kilometers of our position, and given the rather uniformly deep water that we were traversing it was a bit of a mystery what the birds were up to so far from shore.

Our third (and final) day of the eastbound Tasman crossing found us in cooler waters as we began to near the South Island of New Zealand. We started off with several species of repeat birds to the prior day, with a few Black-winged and Gray-faced Petrels just off the side of the ship. Both species were around throughout the day, albeit in significantly lower numbers than the day before. Our third species of the morning was an all-dark Cooklaria-type petrel that made a quick pass and then thankfully a very close pass right by us at eye level. It’s relatively small size and dark plumage, paired with a dusky-tipped bill cemented the identification as a Black Petrel. This bird (or another) lingered around the ship for the rest of the day, slowly gliding along one of the sides or hanging at the stern. We picked out some more distant Pterodromas that looked like Cook’s Petrels, but it wasn’t until the end of the day that a few came close enough to really study. As expected, the cooler waters did bring a new suite of birds to us; with several dozen Albatross, a number of Sooty and Buller’s Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels and the aforementioned Cook’s Petrels. Most of the Albatross were young Wandering-Types. This complex of Great Albatrosses brings a raft of headaches to the aspiring seabirder, as immatures of the various taxa (now generally split into 4 species) are extremely similar. The Tasman Sea hosts both subspecies of Antipodean Albatross as well as the larger Snowy Albatross. Over the course of the day, with quite a lot of interpolation and photography we were confident that at least 2 of our birds could be safely called Snowies, and at least a half-dozen were Gibson’s (Antipodean) Albatross. We left the remaining birds as “Wandering-Type”, a testament to the difficulties of the field-ID of the complex. Happily, the ten or so White-capped Albatrosses were much easier to elucidate. After two days of relatively (or completely) Albatross-free birding it was wonderful to be able to watch these most elegant and effortless giants wheeling around the ship. At one particularly rich point we passed an area with some foraging Dolphins (too far off the ship to identify to species). The cetaceans were attracting birds, and we were treated to a large mixed flock of White-chinned and Black Petrels and over ten individual albatrosses were in sight concurrently! As the day drew to a close we just crossed over into the reporting area for New Zealand Waters, recording several close Cook’s Petrels, a very handsome Stage 2 Wandering-Type Albatross that came right in to check us out (or perhaps to pose for a photoshoot like a feathered model strutting the runway) and several passing Long-tailed Jaegers.

Our next day was advertised as a bit of a change of pace. Although we stayed on ship again for the day, this time was spent half out at sea and half inside the magnificent Fiordland National Park. This huge, protected area covers much of the Southwestern corner of the country, with towering mountains clad in thick forest and festooned with waterfalls plunging into the sea. The crown jewel of the area is the justifiably famous Milford Sound (apparently New Zealands top tourist destination, and the terminus of the journey of many a hiker in the Southern Alps. We awoke to find ourselves poised right at the entrance to the fjord, perfectly timed to watch the rising sun hit the tops of the peaks, illuminating the occasional waterfall or cloud covered valley. In this stunning backdrop we welcomed our first view of New Zealand, tallying Kelp, Silver and Black-billed Gulls, White-fronted Tern and lunky looking all-black Variable Oystercatchers as we slowly motored in to the head of the bay (or rather as far in as we could reach given the size of the ship). We scanned the beachlines and coves, picking up a few Paradise Shelducks (and Mallards), as well as our first New Zealand Fur Seals, a distant Great Egret and a few Pied and Great Cormorants. Once we were done soaking in the natural beauty of the area we headed back out to the Tasman Sea; spending about three hours heading south along the shoreline. We were constantly accompanied by a diverse range of Albatross, including our first few Southern Royals, a single Salvin’s, the occasional handsome Buller’s or Antipodean and a steady passage of White-capped! Along this stretch of the day, we also picked up our first of several Mottled Petrels; an exceedingly good-looking Pterodroma with a dark grey belly and very bold black underwing bars. Sooty Shearwaters were our most numerous seabird, with at least a few in sight at all times. We even managed to actually see three species of cetaceans well enough to identify (a relief after a couple of distant whales over the prior three days). A small pod of Dusky Dolphins cruised past the bow while we were still in Milford Sound, and just a bit to the south we encountered a busy group of Common Dolphin and a single small baleen whale which seemed to be a Minke.

In the early afternoon we again headed inland, this time to traverse the Acheron Passage, which winds south between the Breaksea Fiord and Dusky Bay, effectively encircling Resolution Island in the process. The shores of the somewhat narrow passage aren’t too far apart, making it possible to thoroughly scan the various beaches and islets on either side of the ship as we passed. We were hoping for Fiordland Crested Penguin, an endangered species which breeds in the area, and although we failed to find any, we did drum up a pair of loafing Little Penguins on the water, nearly a hundred Spotted Shag (a flashy species of cormorant with yellow feet and legs), several more pairs of Variable Oystercatchers, and even a Pacific Reef-Heron, a quite uncommon species this far south in the country. A few of the beaches were supporting healthy numbers of New Zealand Fur Seals lolling about on the boulders, and we enjoyed closer views of flying White-fronted Terns and a few Little Pied Cormorants.

We departed Dusky Bay in the late afternoon, and then started further south. With the time-zone change the sun didn’t set until nearly 9pm, so we were able to stay up on deck as we rounded the Puysegur Point Lighthouse and turned the corner towards the passage between the South Island and Steward Island. This stretch of the journey proved to be the most exciting for birds. We spent well over an hour motoring through staggering throngs of Sooty Shearwaters and Fairy Prions that were on all sides of the ship. Our estimates were almost certainly low, but we still tallied over 100,000 Sooties and nearly 1000 Prions during the afternoon. In addition to these mind-numbingly high numbers (we occasionally had flights of several hundred to even thousands of birds taking off in front of the bow, with their wings and bodies wonderfully lit up in the late afternoon sun) we picked out a few of fast-flying Common Diving-Petrels, a very close-range and photogenic Long-tailed Jaeger, a couple of diminutive Gray-backed Storm-Petrels fluttering over the waves like lost butterflies (it’s astounding that such a small and delicate looking bird can make a living out on the open Southern Ocean), good numbers of Buller’s Shearwaters, Cook’s and Mottled Petrels and a continuing trickle of Buller’s and White-capped Albatrosses. Throw in the fact that we had uncharacteristically calm seas and a following wind and it was no wonder that most of the group stayed out into the early evening hours. Indeed, by the time we finished birding we were between Stewart Island and the South Island, with the setting sun illuminating the clouds and the jagged islets just off the western tip of Stewart in a quite spectacular sunset.

The next morning, we awoke to find ourselves already berthed in Dunedin. We disembarked, eager to set foot on land in New Zealand, and after a short wait were met by our local guide Theresa, who greeted us with great enthusiasm. It’s always nice to meet people that love what they do, and Teresa (who has lived in the area for twenty years) clearly loves showing visitors the wilder side of the Otago region. With an astounding 120 cruise ships scheduled to call in at the Otago Harbour this summer she is certainly kept busy with day visitors. Leaving the port behind we stopped in at a small pond along the road, where we were able to ogle a group of roosting Royal Spoonbills as they sat up in the fringing trees waiting for the tides to recede on the adjacent estuary. Here too we were treated to close views of a foraging White-fronted Tern, which eventually caught a large minnow right in front of us and then flew off, presumably to feed it to a waiting chick. We then headed a bit uphill, with a quick stop at the wonderfully named Holy Cow Dairy, where in addition to picking up some fresh milk and mango lassis we were able to spot a few European Greenfinch and a stunning New Zealand Pigeon that was perched up in a tall tree behind the dairy building. This large, handsome and, it must be said tad portly, pigeon is clad in a mosaic of mossy-green, purple and white. It and the closely related Chatham Island Pigeon are New Zealands’ only native pigeons, but given its size and bright colours the two represent the family quite well. After a few stops along the ridgeline above the harbour, where we not only snapped the obligatory tourist photos but also tallied our first Starlings, Australian Magpie, Swamp Harrier and European Goldfinches we headed the last kilometer or so over to our main destination for the morning, the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a large fenced in preserve atop one of the hills above town. Here an incredible amount of volunteer sweat and hours has once again paid off, with some excellent regenerating native forest, a bit of true old-growth in the steeper draws and a very well laid out trail network to explore it all.

Once in the woods we found New Zealand Bellbirds and Tuis (the two species of New Zealand Honeyeaters) to be remarkably common as they foraged on natural foods and at provided feeding stations. Also pleasingly common were South Island Robins, a species which was translocated to the reserve from some nearby forest patches and that has responded remarkably well to their new home. Kakas provided some more aural and visual stimulation as they flew over the forest canopy uttering a bewildering array of calls. This large and understated but actually strikingly attractive parrot is the most widespread large parrot in New Zealand. In many parts of its range the birds have learned to pick apart the cones on the plantations of Monterrey Pines, an ever-increasing food resource in this country. A bit later on in our walk we were happy to watch a couple of Kaka using a feeder station and perching up in the trees just off the trail. The myriad browns, oranges, reds and yellows in their plumage can only be appreciated at close range; and happily these guys lingered for quite some time. Back in the woods it took a bit of time to track down a pair of Rifleman that would behave well enough for the group to get good views. These hyperactive little round birds are the smallest species in the country, and have a proclivity to move just as one gets a clear angle. With oddly long and thin bills they resemble some cross between a nuthatch and a kinglet as they clamber around lichen and moss-covered branches in the canopy. Their population at Orokonui has been steadily increasing since their translocation, with a marked upswing in numbers since our last visit. We heard several more pairs off the trail, and several groups seemed to be feeding young. It took a bit more time to track down our last of the local forest birds, but eventually we intersected with a family group of Pipipi (or New Zealand Creeper) as they busily hopped around in the canopy over the trail. This charismatic species is clad in a tawny-buff plumage, with a grey face and rusty tail. It is one of three species in the small New Zealand family Mohouidae, and is restricted to patches of lowland forest (mostly reserves and offshore islands cleared of introduced predators) on the South Island. With all the forest birds secure we headed up to a patch of grassland that is frequented by one of the pairs of reintroduced South Island Takahe that are managed in the park. It didn’t take long to track them down (they were right by the Takahe Sign)! These hulking and primitive looking flightless Gallinules were thought to be extinct until a small population was re-discovered in the late 1940s. It’s a species that has had extensive conservation work applied to it, but there are still only a little over 500 of them in existence. We got great views and photos of the family of four birds as they nibbled on snacks and had a drink at a small pool. Nearby we took a few minutes to point out a few native non-birds, from caged Jewelled and Otago Skinks to free roaming New Zealand Grass Skinks, a smattering of Damselfly and Dragonfly species and the striking New Zealand Red Admiral Butterfly.

All too soon it was time to head downhill for what proved to be an astonishingly tasty lunch catered by a local chef. It’s not everyday that one is served venison, tiramisu, fresh brie and apricot/pepper chutney! The meal was set up in a local community hall, conveniently adjacent to the Tomahawk Lagoon, so that we could dine and watch Black Swans, New Zealand Scaup, Paradise Shelduck and Purple Swamphen (as well as a confusing and varied array of hybrid-type Mallards) as we ate.

For the remainder of the afternoon we wound around the shoreline of the Otago Harbour and a couple of estuaries near the base of the Peninsula. The receding tide was revealing large expanses of open sand, and a plethora of birdlife was marching around in search of exposed crabs, intertidal invertebrates and patches of exposed algae. Some species, like Bar-tailed Godwit, (introduced) Greylag Geese and Caspian Tern were already well away from the road, but others, like Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatchers, Pied Stilt, White-faced Heron, Black Swan, Grey Teal and Australasian Shoveler gave excellent views as they foraged in the shallows just off the roadbed. It was nice to have close comparisons of the two species of mainland New Zealand Oystercatcher, with the larger size and longer legs of the Variable more easily discerned when a South Island Pied was nearby. In some marshier sections of the coastline we picked out quite a few Australasian Swamphen and Masked Lapwings, as well as a few introduced birds such as European Goldfinch, European Starling and Eurasian Blackbirds. As we drove closer to the deeper part of the harbour and more into a saline environment we were treated to staggering numbers of loafing Silver and Kelp Gulls, and a wonderfully diverse assortment of cormorants. By far the most common were Little Pieds, here of the rather bewilderingly variable New Zealand race, but we also found several Great Cormorants and Pied Cormorants, and on one particular roadside dock stopped to admire a stately Stewart Island (or Otago) Cormorant and several close-up Spotted Shags. The Otago is one of the rarest cormorants in the world, with a global population numbering at best a mere 1400 pairs, centered right around the nearby coast. Depending upon what taxonomy one follows it has been regarded as either a valid species in its own right or as a subspecies of Foveaux Shag (from the strait between the South Island and Stewart Island).

Once back aboard the ship we elected to meet up on deck 7 as we exited the harbour, a strategy that allowed us to pick out a few Fur Seals and another Little Penguin on beaches near Tairoa Head, as well as to admire the staggeringly large aggregations of gulls and terns lining the estuary coastline at low tide. Counting such numbers is never an exact science, but I suspect that our totals of roughly 30000 Silver Gulls and another 15000 Kelps was if anything a large undercount. As we neared the harbour mouth and waved farewell to a collection of New Zealanders who were ardently wishing us well from the coast we turned our attentions to the tip of the headland, where we could see dozens of huge Northern Royal Albatrosses up in the grasslands. This is the only mainland nesting site for the species in New Zealand, and although distant it was nice to see so many adults up on land and apparently doing well. As we motored away from land the seabird diversity began to really improve. The virtually windless conditions and flat seas made it quite easy to scan the waters, and a lot of albatross were lounging about on the water rather than making the effort to fly without the benefit of updrafts. We spent about two hours on deck, tallying Buller’s, Salvin’s, White-capped, and both Northern and Southern Royal Albatrosses (at one point we had four species visible at the same time!) Shearwaters were well represented also, with good numbers of flashy Buller’s, and more utilitarian Sooties, as well as our first Hutton’s. As we neared the shelf break we picked up Cook’s and Mottled Petrels, a few White-chinned Petrels and both Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels; making for quite an excellent collection of tubenoses for a shore day!

We woke up the next morning as the ship neared the wharf at Lyttelton (just a bit to the east of the city of Christchurch). The ship disembarkation process involved a shuttle bus, but all worked fairly smoothly and we were soon greeting our guide for the day; local birder and guide for Wrybill Birding Tours, David Thomas. Our day was to be spent in two quite different habitats, the Ashley River Estuary and beach and up in the Southern Alps at roughly 500m in elevation around Arthur’s Pass. Since scanning the sandy river flats and beachlines in the heat of the day can be tricky due to the typically high heat haze we opted to visit the estuary first. After a bit of a drive inland from Lyttleton Harbour we arrived at the carpark for the estuary and started to walk along the inner edge of the beach, scanning the wide estuary and its myriad channels and sandbars. It proved an exceedingly rich area, as within just the first few hundred meters we were already enjoying views of our first Double-banded Plovers and one of our most desired targets; the iconic Wrybill! This pale wader sports a unique bill in the bird world, with a sharp kink to the right which may help it to forage on biofilm under the flattened pebbles of the braided glacial river in which they breed. Not soon afterwards we reached an area with a sizable number of roosting terns. Most were White-fronted Terns, but among the throng we could easily pick out smaller and darker-grey birds with orangish legs and bills; Black-fronted Terns! This is another endemic species that breeds on the nearby glacial braided rivers. It’s sadly a declining species, with a global population estimated at roughly 4000 pairs. Over the course of our time here we spotted about 10 of these terns in total, including a couple of birds that were still in their quite colourful breeding plumage. After the terns we set about scanning in earnest, and it didn’t take long to spot our hoped for female Black Stilt well out along the shoreline of the river. This critically endangered wader is the rarest shorebird species on Earth, with a global population of only 115 birds. Their population fell dramatically with the arrival of humans and mammalian predators and is continuing to fall in part through hybridization with the increasingly common Pied Stilt. Intense conservation management is in place to try to stem the decline but has to date been effective at bringing the existing population size into nearly a steady state. This particular bird has been in the Ashley Estuary region since 2014 and has paired successfully with a Pied Stilt for much of that time. In addition to her we were able to watch several of her offspring, which have varying degrees of black in their underparts. With all three of the regional rarities successfully ogled we spent a bit of time getting largely confused by the local South Island Pied, Black-and-White Variable, Black Variable and putative hybrid and backcross Oystercatchers that littered the landscape. A few flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits, with several brick-orange males, a fairly pure looking Pacific Black Duck, incoming honking flocks of Canada Geese and passing Australasian Gannet and Swamp Harrier rounded out our scans. As we walked back we stopped to look through a larger flock of roosting White-fronted and Caspian Terns, and David picked out a single Common Tern (a local rarity) hunkered down in the middle of the flock. It took some time for everyone else to locate it as it was hard to differentiate from the surrounding terns, but eventually we were satisfied. Just before reaching the carpark, we were distracted by a male Yellowhammer sitting up on a bare shrub in the dunes. Although this is yet another exotic bird brought in by the Acclimatization Society its hard not to appreciate its bright plumage and harsh but cheery call.

Leaving the coast behind we began the long drive inland across the Canterbury Plain, bound for the heart of the Southern Alps and the scenically beautiful road leading up to Arthur’s Pass. The miles of dry grasslands and patches of non-native pines were a tad sobering, as historically much or nearly all of this landscape would have been forested. After about an hour we reached the foothills, and the road began winding up through impressively rocky mountains, with bare scree near the top and fantasy-novel inducing boulder fields scattered around in the valleys. We passed several rushing and clear gravel streams (complete with anglers catching introduced trout), and only the occasional evidence of a ski resort up above the valley floor intruded on the generally natural feel. Our main goal for this scenic adventure was to reach the small village at Arthur’s Pass. Here, at 500m or so above sea level there is an extensive area of natural Beech Forest, protected in the sprawling Arthur Pass National Park. The mountainous forest here supports a healthy population of one of the countries most iconic birds, the adaptable, hyper-intelligent and often mischievous Kea. Stories of these parrots are legion, from the birds learning to excise and eat the fatty livers of live sheep to less macabre tales of them stripping a car of all its rubber seals, or invading a tent and ransacking it for tasty morsels. The species has been extensively used as test subjects for animal intelligence and problem-solving research, and current thinking puts their basic IQ at an equivalent scale of a 4 year old human. Keas are confined to the alpine and upland forested areas of the South Island, and their current population size is around 5000 individuals. There are few spots in their lofty haunts that can be accessed by vehicle, with the small village of Arthur’s Pass likely offering the easiest access to the birds (or to the humans and their snacks from the parrots perspective). While finding a parking spot we noticed our first Kea sitting on a railing of the small roadside café. In the scant 15 or 20 minutes that we hung out with this bird (and its partner and likely young from last year) we witnessed them steal a full bag of crisps, scattering them out in the carpark and then picking the larger ones out one by one and devouring the spoils underneath a parked car, and grab an entire sandwich from a young girl; carrying that under a nearby bush which, when we investigated, contained at least a half-dozen sandwich wrappers. Obviously the copious signage all around the town about the risks of leaving food unguarded went consistently unheeded by the visiting tourists. It’s as if there is a significant degree in overlap between the intelligence of the smartest parrots and the dullest humans. After admiring the parrots for a little bit, and taking a few photos we spent a bit of time walking the edge of the adjacent forest. In the building afternoon wind we found things to be a bit quiet, though we did enjoy good views of another seemingly tame South Island Robin, and the vocal stylings of the local Bellbirds. With time starting to slip away we turned the van back towards the coast, stopping at another section of forest where we encountered a pair of New Zealand Fantails and our first (oddly) Chaffinches. Once back at the shuttle center in town we bade farewell to David, thanking him profusely for our experience with Kea, Black Stilt, Wrybill and Black-fronted Tern and boarded our by now quite familiar home; the Coral Princess. We had a bit of time for seabirding after finishing up the log and grabbing dinner, and over the last hour and a half or so of useful daylight managed to spot a couple of Parasitic Jaegers, and quite a few instructive views of Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwater (often close to the boat and in close proximity to one another).

We awoke the next day a bit shy of the Wellington Harbour, giving us a bit of time to enjoy the plush chairs in the Churchill Lounge before we were able to disembark the ship and board our shuttle bus into the city center. We then walked a couple of blocks, passing the national parliament and executive branch offices before reaching the funicular cablecar which takes people up out of the coastal section of the city and into the surrounding hills. When we reached the top of the cable we grabbed a couple of taxis and within minutes reached our destination for the morning; a reserve with the catchy name of Zealandia. Originally this valley above the city functioned as a water catchment for the municipal supply. But some enterprising local conservationists recognized that with some planning, fencing and effort the forested area around the dam could function excellently as a refugia for New Zealand wildlife. They created a 225-hectare, fully predator proof fenced preserve which serves as a testament to the perseverance of the country’s conservation community. New Zealand stands apart from the rest of the world in its proactive and intense efforts to save its remaining endemic species, remove introduced predators and plants and restore as much of the historic ecosystems as possible. This park is the world’s first fully fenced urban sanctuary, with many endangered species being reintroduced or protected inside the boundaries. The managers of the park claim to have a 500-year plan to restore the region to as close to its pre-human state as possible. Admittedly this makes the area feel a bit like a giant zoo exhibit, but to the wildlife contained within it is a haven from the ravages of cats and possums. The populations of several bird species here have increased dramatically, leading to a corresponding increase in sightings around greater Wellington as several species begin to expand into the surrounding suburban neighborhoods.

We entered through the quite fancy visitors center and then were ushered to the gate for a short biosecurity check. The staff are quite serious about keeping predators out of the park, and apparently over the last twenty years of operation these simple bag checks have actually revealed a half dozen animals (from mice to a rabbit) hiding out in visitor’s backpacks. Any incursion of a stoat or cat results in a massive (and expensive) trapping effort, and even with the fence in place the staff maintain an incredible number of poison bait and physical mammal traps throughout the park. We wandered slowly along on the well-maintained trails of the preserve (most are even paved), stopping wherever activity caught our eye. The main water catchment lake held a nice breeding colony of Pied and Little Pied Cormorants, many with young chicks in their bulky stick nests. We also picked out a few New Zealand Scaup with downy young in tow. The trail then meandered along a forested creek, with a short and wondrously diverse forest overstory. Although there were quite a few Blackbirds in the understory we found lots of native birds as well. Tui were likely the most common species, but along the track we found several little flocks of Silvereye, a few North Island Robins, and a healthy number of quite vocal and cooperative North Island Saddlebacks. It took a bit of time to locate our first Whiteheads (a busy midstorey bird related to the Pipipis that we had seen down on the South Island. Happily though, we found several more groups throughout the morning, with one particularly large flock of them lingering just over the trail for several minutes. One native species that seems to have really increased in population since our last visit here is the tiny Rifleman. We saw several family groups and heard a few more, and with the more open understory here (compared to Orokonui) we were able to watch them more at our leisure. Near the top of our walk we finally encountered a single, and then a pair of Stitchbirds as they sat quietly in the canopy picking at clusters of small berries. The male Stitchbird is a colourful beast, with a black mantle, head and breast, offset by a bright yellow-orange sash around its middle, a white eyeline and wingstripe and pale belly. It’s not closely related to any other extant bird, and the sole representative of its family. It’s a pushy and vocal bird, but one that has not fared well with introduced predators. Now restricted to about a dozen protected areas around the North Island it’s a species of definite conservation concern, and the population here in Zealandia is not growing appreciably despite the lack of mammalian predators. With almost all of the forest birds achieved we walked up a bit further to take in the view of the valley from the upper dam and then retraced our steps to the visitors center, stopping to admire some more Saddlebacks, Robins, Rifleman and Whiteheads along the way. At one of these impromptu stops we noticed some movement in the high canopy and were thrilled to discover that there was a pair of quietly foraging Red-crowned Kakarikis clambering around over the trail. This is yet another scarce endemic; a small and long-tailed bright green parrot with a scarlet band across its forehead and crown. They can be quite unobtrusive birds as they forage in the dense foliage, so our views of this adult on a large bare branch just overhead were excellent. On our stroll around the reserve we did also encounter two new species of introduced birds; the striking California Quail and understated Dunnock. We also were treated to an invertebrate battle, when a large walking stick crashed to the trail in front of us, dragged down by a hunting wasp. We separated the two and the stick insect ran for the cover of the nearby bushes, leaving a confused wasp hanging onto some pine needles that we had used to brush it off the insects back.

Once back at the park entrance we enjoyed lunch at the reserves café and then split up, with some folk heading back to the ship and other heading for the reserve gift shop or the shopping high streets of Wellington. At 5:30 we met back up for the daily log, happy to have had a bit of down time for laundry or sightseeing. Then about an hour later, once the ship had begun to clear the protected Wellington Harbour, we were back up on deck for some seawatching over the last hours of the day. It was much windier than on our previous days at sea, with lots of small whitecaps on the water and this meant that the birds were really cruising by at pace as we stood at the bow. We were travelling with the wind though, so the bow was quite sheltered, which made it comfortable for us but did not bring the birds in particularly close. The vigil proved productive, with excellent diversity as we crossed over some deep canyons and out around Cape Palliser, with good views of White-capped, Salvin’s, Northern and Southern Royal Albatrosses, Buller’s, Flesh-footed, Sooty, Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters, Cook’s Petrels and a couple more Parasitic Jaegers. The evening light and interesting cloud formations over the coastal cliffs made for an exceedingly scenic backdrop, and we were even treated to several groups of Common Dolphins that were coursing through the chop, and occasionally leaping out of the water in a playful manner as we approached them.

We arrived as scheduled in the small port of Napier by 7am. This time our driver was able to meet us right at the ship, making the transfer out of the secure area of the port quite seamless. We picked up our local guide for the day, Phil Hammond and were soon off to the south, winding through some small towns and along the coast of Hawkes Bay. Big flocks of Gray Teal and Kelp Gulls lined lagoons along the road, and the occasional Swamp Harrier was quartering over the fields. Our main goal for the morning was to ascend the rather steep and windy paved road up to Te Mata Peak. This grassy knoll sits high above the surrounding plain at an elevation of roughly 400 meters. Not only does the well surfaced road allow visitors up for the view (and joggers and bikers up for the exercise) but it also allows access to the higher elevation grass habitat that is preferred by New Zealand’s most newly minted endemic; the New Zealand Pipit. Southern Hemisphere pipit taxonomy has long been in a state of flux. For quite some time the Australian and New Zealand pipits were conjoined with the more widespread Richard’s Pipit of Eurasia. Roughly two decades ago they were split out (together) as Australasian Pipit, and then in 2022 the New Zealand birds were split from the Australian ones. Regardless of their tortuous taxonomic route to speciesdom New Zealand Pipits are widespread throughout the country, but accessing their preferred habitat generally involves a rather long hike. The road up Te Mata is substantially easier, and indeed, even before we parked in the small carpark near the peak we were treated to views of a single bird flying along with the bus! Around the margins of the carpark we found several more Pipits scrounging around in the gravel and generally ignoring our stares and camera lenses. With this easily secured endemic under our belts we retraced our steps and spent the rest of the morning birding the riverbanks and marshy ponds of the sprawling Ahuriri Estuary. The lower part of the estuary had wide gravel banks and islets that were hosting foraging Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, White-faced Herons and lots more Silver and Kelp Gulls. We scanned the edges carefully and turned up a couple of dapper Pacific Golden-Plovers and a few New Zealand (or Red-breasted) Dotterels. We walked further upstream, and after a little while reached an area that the locals call the Southern Marshes. Here we found a small impoundment to be overflowing with Grey Teal, Australasian Shoveler, Paradise Shelduck and Pied Stilts. A small mudflat held several dozen Double-banded Plovers and a single Black-fronted Dotterel (an exceedingly attractive species that is rare in New Zealand as it colonized from Australia only in the 1960s). We set up scopes and started to pore through the throngs, quickly finding our hoped-for Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers (a national rarity in New Zealand), and a single New Zealand Grebe. After such as successful half-day we decided to head back to the ship a bit early to enjoy lunch and some downtime. The ship departed a bit later than scheduled at 2:20pm, bound for Tauranga, our next port in the center-north of the North Island. About an hour after departing, we met up on deck seven for some seawatching. By this point we were still motoring over the relatively featureless and shallow Hawkes Bay, so the diversity of seabirds was somewhat limited. A few Cook’s Petrels, Flesh-footed and Hutton’s Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets joined impressive numbers of Buller’s Shearwaters (many of which were riding just under the rails of our ship for an hour or more) as we slowly headed out to the deeper waters on the other side of Portland Island. Once over the shelf break, we added a few more tubenoses to our experience, with a few Black Petrels, White-capped and Salvin’s Albatrosses, Parasitic Jaegers, and Grey-faced Petrels. With the rather limited winds a lot of birds were sitting out on the water, likely making their detection more difficult for us. Just at the end of our day we were treated to a pair of whales surfacing just off the ship. Their hooked dorsal fins, black bodies and pale gray saddle marks identified them as Short-finned Pilot Whales, our first actually close-range and identified whales of the trip!

As the next day dawned, we found ourselves moored on the wharf at Tauranga, a small city centered around a naturally protected harbour on the southern coastline of the Bay of Plenty. The region was settled by Europeans in the 1830’s, serving as a center for inland agriculture, but had been occupied by Maori drawn to its abundant coastal seafood for almost 700 years. We were the first folk to walk off the ship, arriving in the harbour a bit ahead of schedule. Our local guide Thom was already there though, and soon we were off on the roughly two-hour journey inland to the Whirinaki Forest Park. Along the drive, which passes through open pastoral land with patches of native forest and swaths of Monterrey Pine plantations we made a short stop near the town of Rotorua. This geothermically active town is nestled in a wide volcanic caldera, and is surrounded by a selection of over 16 lakes, some of which are highly mineralized or sulphuric in nature and quite colourful in aspect. We first stopped at Lake Rotoiti, where at a small boat ramp and dock we were soon staring at a nice assemblage of waterbirds including a raft of New Zealand Scaup, dozens of Black Swans, a mixed group of Little Pied, Little Black and Great Cormorants, Pied Stilts and Caspian Terns and some close New Zealand Grebes that seemed intent on trying to simultaneously break the avian records for most dives in an hour.

From Rotorua our path took us further to the Southeast, through quite large pine plantations and then up a somewhat windy road leading to the protected Whirinaki Forest Park. It’s a fairly vast and continuous area of lowland Podacarpus forest, with an impressively tall canopy and dense understory laden with ferns, mosses and a bewildering array of tree-ferns. The area was protected at quite a cost, with dozens of environmental activists actively campaigning for decades (even physically strapping themselves to trees) to save the region from logging activities. After spending much of the tour in relatively young forest it was a bit of a shock to see how tall the canopy used to be throughout much of the North Island. This forest has a definite Jurassic feel to it, making some participants think that there might be the odd dinosaur still lurking under a tree-fern somewhere along the track. Alas no terrible lizards appeared, and neither did any remnant population of Moa, but we were entertained by the gorgeous surroundings, and somewhat confounded by the virtually continuous calling of seemingly invisible Whiteheads and Tomtits from the high canopy overhead.

We walked about forty-five minutes in from the carpark, roughly paralleling the course of a rocky rushing stream before our local guide Tom decided to scramble down the forested bank in order to better scan a particular section of the river’s shoreline. To our delight he popped back up on the trail with the happy news that he had just seen a pair of Blue Ducks tucked in amongst the emergent rocks on the far bank of the creek. We shifted a bit further down the trail but when we scanned again the birds had mysteriously vanished. A bit crestfallen we gathered again on the trail only to hear a loud upslurred callnote coming from high overhead; a Long-tailed Koel! It took some jockeying around (and almost a lost shoe) to find an angle to set the scope up, but after a tense minute or two we all enjoyed multiple views of the bird as it sat placidly way up in the canopy, seemingly polishing off the remains of a large stick insect. This handsome cuckoo is a summer migrant to New Zealand, spending the winter months in the South Pacific. Amazingly for such a large bird its preferred hosts include species such as Whitehead, Yellowhead, Tomtit or Robin! After everyone had seen the bird well we hustled down the trail a little farther, soon coming to a wide bend in the river with lots of emergent rocks and patches of whitewater. Here we were more successful, enjoying 10 minutes or so of a pair of Blue Ducks which paddled around in the clear stream, perched up on rocks below the trail and even called (an odd high-pitched hollow whistle) back and forth to one another! This is a critically endangered endemic species, with a global population estimated at around 2500 individuals. This particular park hosts about ten percent of the global population, but with several miles of river and dense vegetation sightings are hardly guaranteed even here. The walk back towards carpark was punctuated by views of a couple of pleasingly plump and cooperative North Island Robins hopping about near the ground, a male Tomtit that obligingly (finally) sat out in the open for us as it fed in a short treefern just off the track, and a couple of small flocks of chittering Whiteheads. Over a nice picnic lunch of sandwiches, timtams and fruit we contemplated our options for the rest of the afternoon and decided to head back towards Tauranga, by way of the coast road and have a bit of time to check out the meadow around the Waikareao estuary in a somewhat quixotic quest for a heat of the day New Zealand Fernbird. On the drive we picked up another exotic introduction in the form of a large flock of Indian Peafowl, and enjoyed a refreshing ice cream at a roadside convenience store. When we arrived at the edge of the marsh we could hear a Fernbird ticking away just off the track. Amazingly the bird (and its partner) were not buried in the dense sedges but rather were moving around in a small copse of scrubby trees. We were treated to stunning and lengthy views of one of the birds as it clambered up into some bare branches just a few feet from us. For such a normally retiring species the experience was an exceptional way to end our shore time in Tauranga; perhaps looking for skulky bird IS best in the mid-afternoon!

Our ship left port a bit earlier than scheduled, and this meant that a few of us were back up on deck to see what the ocean might bring us. The seas of the Bay of Plenty were glassy-calm, with little flocks of Fluttering and Flesh-footed Shearwaters scattered all around the ship. Among these birds we picked up a couple of Common Diving-Petrels, a passing Sooty Shearwater, a few Kelp Gull and White-fronted Tern and even a lounging Leatherback Sea Turtle. With the rising moon casting a silvery shadow across the front of nearby Mayor Island, and a firey sunset ringed with a halo of clouds over the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula it was a magical end to a quite memorable shore day. The next morning we were already safely moored in downtown Auckland. After the previous week of shore excursions to much smaller cities the downtown core of modern Auckland with skyscrapers and bustling streets was a bit of a shock! Our local guide (again Phil Hammond) met us right at the dock and we were soon away (or as soon as the impressively congested city traffic would allow). Our goal for the day was to seek out any birds that we had missed on previous shore days, but as we had been consistently successful we didn’t really have too many birds left to look for. On our way over to a small marshy wetland a bit to the Northwest of the city we called in to an upscale golf club that abutted a large protected reserve. Our reason for the visit was the well-appointed loos, but while in the area we also tallied our first Eastern Rosellas and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos; two species of introduced Australian parrots, as well as a very excellent study of a flashy New Zealand Pigeon eating palm fruits near the clubhouse. Once at the marsh we scanned the edges carefully, sadly not locating a lurking Australasian Bittern in the process. Several pairs of mahogany-coloured Brown Teal were in attendance though, snoozing in the mid-morning sun (this species is largely crepuscular). Brown Teal is an endangered endemic species, largely occurring in protected reserves or offshore islands. The few ducks out in the wilds of the North Island are hard hit by mammalian predators and have a very low breeding success. This particular marsh held at least 4 pairs, a significant number as there are likely only 1000 teal remaining. The marsh held a nice selection of more common birds, and after admiring a few Black Swans and Australasian Swamphens, Little Pied, Great and Little Black Cormorants, New Zealand Fantails and Grey Gerygones we drove further north, bound for another marsh near the base of the Shakespear Nature Reserve. Once in place it didn’t take long for us to spot a couple of Buff-banded Rails along the roadside edge. Unlike many species of rails this is a bold and flashy species that is not particularly reluctant to emerge from cover. We were treated to three (at least) birds over our twenty-minute vigil, with two birds up on the paved road briefly, and another quietly foraging around a small open pool. While watching the rails we also noted several Tui flying over from the nearby reserve, and even encountered two Red-crowned Parakeets! The mudflats at the end of the road kept us busy for a while also, with a few Brown Teal out on the mud and a snoozing New Zealand Dotterel that provided close and extended views.

With no more endemic landbirds available to pursue we elected to take a chance and head about an hour further north to see if we could intersect with one of the remaining 32-40 New Zealand Fairy Terns that might still be lingering in the huge Mangawhai Estuary. This is a critically endangered subspecies of the Australian Fairy Tern (by current taxonomy), and quite possibly the rarest breeding bird in the country. Our course northwards took us through a lot of open farm and ranchlands, and on the way, we picked up three more exotic gamebirds, with several large flocks of Wild Turkey, a single Ring-necked Pheasant and even a covey of Helmeted Guineafowl (a free-breeding species that is not generally regarded as established). It made for an international feel, with exotic birds from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and North America all coexisting. We reached the estuary and spent an hour or so scanning from several vantage points. This tactic failed to produce any Fairy Terns, but we did locate a single Little Egret (apparently the only individual known to be in the country at the time of our visit), our first Red Knots, lots of New Zealand Dotterel and Bar-tailed Godwit and an impressive number of Variable Oystercatchers, showing off their quite variable plumage. We scanned the estuary at a few more places, but eventually decided that a nice cold ice cream and a tad early return to the ship would do us good. We arrived back in Auckland and bade farewell to Phil, boarding the ship and looking forward to what the return trip across the Tasman Sea might bring.

Our first of three days at Sea commenced at dawn, roughly even with Cape Brett, about 200KM north of Auckland. With the boat steaming steadily northwest along the tip of the North Island we wanted to spend some time as early as possible looking for a couple of species that we were rapidly leaving behind. The seas were amazingly calm, so we set up on the bow at deck 10 with the rising sun at our backs. At first, we were seeing mainly Cook’s Petrels and Buller’s Shearwaters, but as the light improved, we started picking up storm-petrels. It was a bit frustrating, as staying on these tiny swallow-like birds as they pattered around on the water was difficult. Eventually we all obtained clear views (and later much better views as we eventually tallied 72 birds though the day) of White-faced Storm-Petrels doing their characteristic pogo-stick hopping foraging flights. The birds in this region have ashy rumps and slightly forked tails and belong to a local breeding subspecies group that may well be recognized as a full species soon. Several particpants also managed to lock onto one of at least two hooded birds with limited white in the underwings and nice white rump bands; New Zealand Storm-Petrels! This was one of our hoped-for species, and a special one at that. Long thought to be extinct this population in the Hauraki Gulf was rediscovered in 2003. Conservation efforts are underway and seem to be building the birds numbers up from what was likely quite a low number. After the first two hours we were too far north for a real shot at more New Zealand Stormies, but we began picking up White-capped, Wandering (mostly Antipodean) Albatrosses, Flesh-footed Shearwaters and surprisingly large numbers of Parasitic Jaegers in a bewildering array of plumage states. At times dozens of Jaegers were in the air or sitting on the water out in front of the ship! At another point a Grey-faced Petrel flew alongside the ship for several minutes, with a small Pterodroma in tow. We took some photographs of both birds, and a quick review of them after the birds were gone made us suspicious that the smaller bird might well be a Pycroft’s Petrel. This local and scarce species is a near look-alike for the much more common Cook’s Petrels (which breed in the area in huge numbers as well). That night we sent the images out for review and our suspicions were confirmed. The chesty look, round head, dark cap and half-collar, lack of an eyeline and gray on the underwings all looked a perfect fit!

About midday we left mainland New Zealand behind and made a fairly close approach to the Three Kings Islands, an important seabird breeding area for several species. Numbers of birds really picked up, with rafts of Buller’s Shearwaters, two large flocks of Fairy Prions, several more Albatrosses including Buller’s, Salvin’s and a likely Snowy and ever-increasing numbers of Black-winged Petrels. With the seas still calm, and the air hot and humid we could tell we had left the colder waters behind us. This became even more apparent by our frequent sightings of Ocean Sunfish, the occasional dolphin or distant spout and flocks of flying fish. It took about two hours to pass through this obvious hive of activity, and by the time we were out into deeper water we were more than ready for a latish lunch. Throughout the rest of the afternoon birds came in little pulses, with a nearly full change-over from coolwater species to warm. With the El Nino conditions several species that are generally rare or absent from New Zealand waters were around, and in this vein, we found a few Wedge-tailed Shearwater, two Kermadec Petrels, and four White-necked Petrels! For much of the afternoon we had a couple of Black Petrels following in our wake, and just as we closed up shop for the day we were treated to views of a small group of as-yet unidentified dolphins (likely Striped) and several logging Short-finned Pilot Whales.

Our second day of the return crossing found us on the bow, roughly 360KM SSW of Norfolk Island steaming westwards at a steady 31kph. By the day’s end we were about 1000KM due south of New Caledonia; you know you must be out in the middle when your reference points are so far away! It was a peaceful day out in the deeper Tasman, surrounded by heavy towering clouds and a persistent humid condensation on deck. Fairly early in the morning two Cooklaria-type petrels came gliding by the ship. One was a Black-winged but the other had noticeably thicker black underwing bars, a dark cap and complete collar. We snapped a bunch of photos and upon review could make out the black primary bases that marked this as a Collared Petrel! This tropical species is scarce in the Tasman, as it breeds around Fiji and Vanuatu. It was to be our final addition to our impressive list of tubenoses in the genus Pterodroma; in all we encountered 10 species! The distribution of Cooklarias in the area is interesting, as by the latter part of the previous day we left Cook’s Petrels behind, picking up more and more Black-winged. On this second day we shifted from Black-winged Petrels being the most common Cooklaria species to Gould’s Petrels dominating as we headed west. The day brought us an impressive number (over 50) of White Terns; a pretty snow-white species that breeds on scattered islands across the tropical pacific. Other birds that tend to like warmer waters were about too, with several Sooty Terns, Kermadec and white-necked Petrels, and lots of flying fish. Our only albatross of the entire day was a very handsome immature Wandering type (likely Gibson’s) that had largely dark wings and a gingerbread-coloured body.

Our final day at sea, and of the tour, started early as we were anticipating that the best birding opportunities would come as we passed over the Lord Howe Rise in the morning. We were not disappointed! We began the day nearly due north of Lord Howe, and in the first few hours encountered a steady number of birds around the ship. One of our first birds was a young Red-footed Booby that gave the ship a close pass before heading back out to sea. By far the most common species of the day was Wedge-tailed Shearwater, whose languid arcing flight on bowed wings soon became quite familiar to all participants. We kept hour-long transect lists, and most lists throughout the day included a few Red-tailed or White-tailed Tropicbird, a few Tahiti Petrel, Parasitic and/or Long-tailed Jaeger and White and Sooty Terns. For the first few hours we took advantage of the calm winds and perched ourselves up on the deck ten bow. This position allowed us to survey directly ahead and also see down into the wave troughs, which made it easier to pick out Storm-Petrels as they fluttered away from our advancing ship. It was to be bu far our best day for this often tricky to spot group, with double-digit Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, a well-photographed White-bellied Storm-Petrel, two Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (a country level rarity in Australian waters) and a passing bird that was unfortunately a bit too far out in the glare for a positive identification (but that was highly likely to be a New Caledonian Storm-Petrel by its size and flight style). In the afternoon we neared the Queensland Seamounts (a line of extinct undersea volcanoes) and even though we only skirted the edge of the rise we were treated to a decided uptick in bird density and perhaps our most exciting bird of the day (and last new species of the trip); Bulwer’s Petrel. This uniquely shaped small dark petrel has disproportionally long wings that it often holds in an awkward crooked angle. It’s a species that has only been encountered in the Tasman Sea a handful of times (much like the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel) and as our 40th species of tubenose for the trip was a welcome find as it lifted off the water right at the bow giving good looks for all present. At our checklist the final evening over an occasionally raucous dinner at the Provence restaurant we offered our individual choices for trip highlights, and in a testament to the wide array of locations and experiences had answers ranging from the Blue Ducks along the rocky stream in the amazing tree-fern clad forests of the central North Island to the staggering flocks of Sooty Shearwaters and Fairy Prions flying away from the ship in waves as we passed through the Foveaux Strait and from the chattering pairs of Black-winged Petrels that lingered alongside the ship almost all day during our second full day in the Tasman to the comical Keas snatching food from unsuspecting tourists and the single Black Stilt foraging along the beautiful sandy shores of the Ashley Estuary. These cruises offer a simply excellent way of accessing some really remote areas that few humans ever get to see; who could pass up being able to watch wheeling Red-tailed Tropicbirds gleaming in the setting sun against towering puffy clouds, while munching on a lunchtime delivered club sandwich?

-          Gavin Bieber

Updated: n/a