Overnight birding trip to Tiritiri Matangi

ARRIVING ON Tiritiri Matangi, we have a short introduction from Dave, one of two permanent Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers on the island, and then Vic who’s been volunteering here for 30 years gave us a guided walk. His depth of knowledge was astounding and his passion palpable.

We’ve come as a group of passionate Forest and Bird members, New Zealand’s largest independent conservation organisation so our focus is birdspotting. Our first sighting was a red crown parakeet, which Vic said was apt because this was the first bird released on the island. The parakeets were a little bedraggled and Vic said they had a disease caused by too little oil, and that’s despite stealing all the flax seed heads. It was odd seeing all the flax without seedpods. Then came tui, saddleback, stitchbird and bellbird. And then a real treat – a rifleman flitting in and out of a nest in an ancient pohutukawa. Then Richard spotted a kaka sitting in the tree, we could have easily have missed him. Further along the track a robin was sunbathing with all his feathers puffed up. Vic explained that this was one way that a bird uses to get rid of mites from its feathers.

By the time we reached the lighthouse it was after 2pm and we were all ready to settle in to the very comfortable bunkhouse and have our packed lunch. Then the afternoon was free, some went round the East Coast Track and even braved a swim – it was freezing to start with but like a bath if you stayed in long enough and the crystal clear water made you feel cleaner than a shower. Richard was quite excited to find coastal mahoe at North East Bay.

In the evening we had a shared meal and Richard’s prescribed “random is best” turned out brilliant with such a range of delicious offerings. Joining us for dinner was researcher Chris who’s on the island studying the mating habits of the hihi. He regaled us with the antics of the aggressive male pursuers – debatable as a suitable subject at the dinner table!

That night, having already walked the best part of the island, we gathered after dark with our red cellophane covered torches for the great kiwi hunt – guided by the lovely Mary-Ann, who manages the shop and guiding operation on the island. As we crested a hill and saw the lights of Auckland and the sky tower, the juxtaposition of city folk living it large in the casino and us silently searching in the dark for our treasured feathered friends was surreal. Someone said “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in a group at night.” Though we heard kiwis and came close to a sighting at the beginning, they were hiding from us. Well all but a few of us, Chris and Joe saw a big one briefly near the beach, lucky beggars. However, we were rewarded magnificently for coming out late by two sightings of tuatara, one about a half a metre in length that Mary-Ann said was about 20 years old. There were also signs of grey-faced petrel and we spotted several blue penguins on the beach hiding under or between rocks.

After a late night, nine hardcore members got up at 5am for the dawn chorus and were treated to a cacophony of birdsong with tui and bellbird dominating the first half hour and later the stitchbird and even the haunting song of the kokako pitching in. After breakfast, during which Flynn gently strummed his guitar in the courtyard, we were off to do our bit for the island. Armed with knives and secateurs we set about trimming back the flax that was encroaching on the first stretch of the East Coast Track.

By 12 noon with the sun out in full force Richard declared us finished and we were free to go and enjoy the tuis fighting for space at the sugar water feeder near the shop, stock up on Christmas presents in the shop, try to find the takahe, rewalk some of the tracks where we had so many sightings or have another refreshing swim.

Getting there Tiritiri Matangi is an hour from downtown Auckland using the 360 discovery ferry. Because of its predator-free status, birdlife is rich and every ferry is met by guides who offer a guided bird walk. Most visitors are daytrippers but you can stay overnight if you book ahead. You need to book the bunkhouse through DOC well ahead, possibly as far as a year out for a summer visit.

Text and photos by Josie Stanford. Click to enlarge or view as slideshow.

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