Many of us love to travel, and when we do, we often enjoy the birds and wildlife of far away places. Flo Foley and Nancy Brown spent six weeks traveling from Tahiti to New Zealand and Australia. In this blog, they will share some of their photos and experiences traveling the world “down under.”
If you have taken a trip and enjoyed doing a bit of bird watching, please send us an email as we’d love to share your story and photos! Thanks!
We left the U.S on November 13, 2018 for a 41 day adventure to the Southern Hemisphere. Besides learning about the natural and cultural histories and experiencing new foods, we looked forward to the new birds we would hear and see along the journey! We started with a world bird life list of 718 birds, mostly North American with some European and African birds from our previous trips to those continents. The question would be, how many species could we see while traveling two weeks on a cruise followed by a three week land tour?
In preparation, I did some research using ebird.org to match up the locations we’d be visiting to hot spots and bird sightings in those areas. Next, I temporarily upgraded an app I use called BirdsEye to the World Edition ($4.99/mo) so our phones would have a world bird identification guide and access to live data from eBird. Finally, I reviewed our daily itinerary to find free time when we could hire private bird guides to best use our time to see the most birds. I picked five locations and through the wonderful world of Google, was able to find and hire experienced bird guides.
When you start to observe birds anywhere in the world, you will start to notice there are similarities. Having even just basic knowledge of birds, the novice birder can begin to recognize the different families of birds: shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey, kingfishers, parrots, hummingbirds, etc. At this point, you can start to make more specific observations and use the tools to determine which species are found in the location you are in. We find taking a photograph of the bird is often the best answer when we are in the field and don’t know what it is. Then we can take the time to do the research without having to rely on our memory!
Before each excursion, I would use the Wi-Fi on the ship or hotel (since cell service was not always an option!) to pull up an eBird list of the area we would be visiting. Between this and the BirdsEye bird guide, we could narrow down the species. For example, when we saw a bird that looked similar to our Black-bellied Plover, we could easily determine that it was a Pacific Golden-Plover.
We arrived in Tahiti and spent a couple relaxing days at a beautiful resort before joining our cruise! Just walking around the property we were able to identify many new and interesting birds, from Chestnut-breasted Munia to the Lesser Frigatebird. Once on the cruise, we were birding not only while visiting each island, but also while cruising! The hard part about the pelagic birds is they are often a good distance away and there are often several species within a family, like the petrels. But it was really fun when the Masked Booby flew right over the top deck of the ship! A man standing next to me asked what it was, then laughed when he said, “this was one booby his wife wouldn’t yell at him for photographing!” Our one planned birding event on the cruise was to be on Norfolk Island, a territory of Australia. We were so excited, as there are several birds endemic only to this island. However, as this was a port we would take tenders and the waters were very rough, so the captain pulled anchor and we missed the stop entirely!
There are a few iconic birds that everyone thinks about when they think of Oz. The first that comes to mind in a song, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” is a type of Kingfisher. Then of course there are the beautiful parrots, cockatoos, rosellas and lorikeets we think of as exotic birds found at pet stores and zoos. And of course there are the large flightless birds like the Emu and Cassowary, neither of which we saw in the wild during our trip.
We hired guides in three locations: from the rocky shores of Melbourne to the rainforest of Cairnes and then the Blue Mountains of Sydney. Not only were we able to enjoy hundreds of species of birds, but we saw the natural wildlife of Australia like Kangaroos, Wallabies and Echidnas, and the beauty of the countryside. The bonus was meeting three very unique individuals who could share their knowledge of nature and the country with us. We were “Happy as Larry!”
Our final country to visit was the land of the Kiwi! And of course yes, the iconic birds here are the flightless birds. Until visiting, we never realized that the only native mammal to New Zealand was two types of Fruit Bats. And because there were no natural mammal predators, birds evolved to be flightless! Then, once the Polynesians and Europeans began to settle, they brought with them domesticated and non-domesticated mammals. Rabbits took over the island, so stoats were brought in, which found it easier to prey on the flightless birds then control the rabbit population. Today, there is a concerted effort to develop protected areas and reinstate native flora and fauna.
As for our birding on the north and south islands, we were fortunate to visit a Australasian Gannet Colony, a protected natural area in Wellington called Zealandia, boat trips on both Marlborough Sound and Milford Sound, and Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown. Our final adventure of the trip was an afternoon/evening nature tour in search of North Island Brown Kiwi. We had a great, but long, day of nature and birding, and walked through the forest with red lights on our head after dark at 10 pm. Although we never actually saw the Kiwi, we did hear at least six males calling not far from the path.
During our 41 day adventure to seven countries, we saw a total of 241 bird species and added 207 birds to our world life list. It truly was a trip of a lifetime and we will always enjoy our memories and photos of this fabulous trip!
Submitted by Nancy Brown