I was very excited when I deplaned in Aukland. I collected my bag, and took a cab to the B&B that had been reserved for me in Parnell. On the way, I was attentively looking for birds - any bird, and I started seeing them immediately! A black thrush, hopping around in the lawn in front of the airport. A brownish thrush flying across the road! What could these be? Something exotic, no doubt.
The bird book I had brought only listed endemic species, and these weren't in there. The first thing I had to do after checking in to my room was to find a bookstore and get a complete field guide. I anxiously opened it, and began pouring over the plates, in search of birds that fit the bill...
A European Blackbird.
A Song Thrush.
Both alien species. Imports from Europe. (Sigh.)
Oh well. Not to be deterred, I set out to a investigate a large park nearby, which appeared to be a heavily-forested mass of native-looking vegetation. I was positive I could find something interesting in there.
I walked slowly, binoculars in hand. I could hear a sweet, charming song, coming from the canopy. What could that be? Where was it? I strained my neck, and combed the area 50 feet above my head through binoculars. There it was... bright red with a bluish-gray head...
I would have been excited, had I never been to Europe. Had my grandmother not had these same birds in her backyard. Well, I did get a lifebird that day: a Common Mynah! I would see them in greater numbers as the trip progressed.
I picked up my rental car the next morning. Since I wasn't very comfortable driving on the left side of the road, I didn't want to explore Aukland any further, and opted to set out immediately for the Waitomo glow worm caves. That was where I saw my first Yellowhammer, another European bird, but a lifebird for me. In one of the many roadside ponds along the way, I also saw a Pukeko, the first native bird of the trip! This beautiful purplish rail is the native subspecies of the Eurasian Purple Gallinule. Soon I was also seeing White-faced Herons and Paradise Shelducks in the rolling green fields otherwise covered with sheep.
I had to be at the ferry terminal in Wellington within a week from that day. The route I had chosen was to go through Rotorua, Taupo, Napier, and Whanganui (hoping to get a better look at the volcanoes). It was a wonderful trip and a beautiful drive. My very inexpensive room at the motel in Rotorua came with its own hot tub! At Taupo, the view of the volcanoes and the lake were incredible (in spite of some low cloud cover). The rolling countryside was lush and green, and all the people I met were all helpful and friendly.
I arrived in Napier the next day. Napier is known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand, and the architecture certainly was beautiful. However, I was more interested in a brochure that I noticed while checking into the motel - something about a Gannet colony nearby!
The tour would have taken several hours, and would have required getting up early - so I opted to just drive south along the coast and look for birds on my own. It didn't take long to find a nature reserve, with an overlook in a marsh, and there I got a look at my first shorebirds: an Australian (Pied) Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, and a Masked Plover .
Opposite, there was beach access, so I sat on the beach and looked for seabirds. Sure enough, I soon noticed Silver Gulls , both a White-fronted and a Black-fronted Tern, as well as a Gannet! The Gannet fished by hovering over a spot, and then spreading its wings slightly, and suddenly dropping like a lead weight into the water, emerging seconds later with a fish!
The next day, I decided to take my car into uncharted territory: a gravel road that leads to Urawera National Park. As I made my way in that direction, I found myself trapped in a cattle drive, led by an dour-looking old cowboy, seated on a huge brown horse! I must admit that maneuvering a car through a herd of cows in the middle of a sub-tropical rainforest was a singular experience.
When I reached the park, I walked along a trail where I quickly encountered a flock of Riflemen! These tiny, brown birds with their delicate, barely-audible peep, are the most common member of an endemic family of New Zealand Wrens. Later on, I was treated to a flock of Kakas, a dark brown native parrot, as they flew overhead above the canopy. I was finally seeing true endemics, and it was thrilling.
After meandering through the central part of the North Island, I arrived in Wellington, and decided to visit the zoo. In the nocturnal house I had my first look at a kiwi - a Little Spotted Kiwi, I believe. That bird is even odder-looking in person - just a big brown hairball with a beak!
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