When you “look up” in your neck of the woods, what are you likely to see?
Last year Kaikoura was host to an international conference on seabirds. Most of the scientists present agreed that Kaikoura could accurately be called the seabird capital of the world, though one needs to be at sea to see most of them, one doesn’t need to be far out to sea.
From the deck of our house the most likely birds to be overhead are small ones, house sparrows, green finches, gold finches, chaffinches, blackbirds, starlings, yellowhammers and some natives get a look in with bell birds, waxeyes and fantails all being common. Swallows flit around most evenings seeking out insects.
We often see harrier hawks quite close overhead, and occasionally the native NZ falcon – a fearless predator, that has left deep gashes in the scalps of two of my friends who have gotten a little too close to falcon nests. Another friend hates them because they pursued his doves right into his living room and killed them all, one by one. Magpies are the most common predator here.
We also have occasional visitors to the section. I see dunnock most weeks, and tui, grey warbler, cirl bunting, tomtim, kereru (wood pidgeion), european pidgeons and kingfishers from time to time. Very occaisionally I have seen brown creeper, long tailed and short tailed cockoos on our section. Californian quail are a common visitor.
Last week I saw a flock of 12 royal spoonbills flying north from the kitchen window – something I see maybe twice a year here in Kaikoura.
We see red and black billed gulls, and black backed gulls flying overhead most days, and looking out to see I often see Hutton’s shearwater, fluttering shearwaters, caspian, black fronted and white fronted terns. Very rarely do we see albatross from the house, and it has happened a couple of times. To see them regularly you really need to walk about a mile to the edge of the cliffs and look out over the canyon and open Pacific ocean beyond. We have once seen an australasian grebe down in the bay. It stayed for a couple of weeks before going back to the lakes that are its normal home. I love watching the gannets diving from the deck, but haven’t seen any this year – whereas most years I see them most days during summer.
There are so many species of sea birds common here. Three species of penguin, blue, yellow eye, and fiordland crested in decreasing order of commonness – the blues breed here (both subspecies) (though I have yet to see any of them overhead 😉 ).
Many species of albatross, petrels and shearwaters can be seen if one spends time at sea. The albatross encounter tours will normally see about 12 different species, and I have seen about 35 all up.
Then we have all the shore birds. Ailsa has been doing an observation program on the NZ banded dotterel for 3 years. This year we monitored 7 breeding pairs, one of which laid 3 clutches, and 4 of which laid two clutches.
We have pied and variable oyster catchers, 5 species of shags common here. Then we have the godwits, curlew, turnstones.
We see ducks and geese and swans periodically. Mallard and paradise ducks are common, grey teal less so.
I have seen little owls here quite frequently, and have heard the native owl a couple of times.
I don’t have to walk far to see robins and rifleman (our smallest bird). It’s not a huge hike to the lake to see grebe and many species of ducks and geese and our black swan.
If one is an interested observer of nature, Kaikoura is an amazing place to live. I have even seen a shark, a whale, and a tuna overhead (or at least in the air not far from me and higher than my head). Had a 14ft Mako shark leap clear of the water about 40 ft away about 12 years ago – a slightly terrifying experience (had it landed on the boat it would have smashed it and sunk us). Have also had whales breech nearby much higher than me (both humpback and sperm whales), and one evening saw school of big bluefin tuna leaping about 15 ft into the air all around me – an awesome sight, and in all my years at sea I saw it only once (June 1980 about 50 miles off Westport), here in Kaikoura I have only seen the smaller tuna species get quite so aerobatic. And I have seen flying fish doing their thing quite often, even had one land in the nets in the boat, proving the lie to one of my dad’s favourite sayings “The only sure thing is fishing is, you can’t catch fish with you gear in the boat” (and it did only happen once).
Forgot the herons – we have blue and white faced common here, the reef heron is present on the rocky coast but not common, and we also have occasional sightings of the cattle egret and the kotuku are reasonably common visitors.