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Five birds to see on Rakiura

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October 2019 Issue

Bird watching guide Matt Jones shares his favourite birds to spot on Rakiura/Stewart Island

Some of the world’s most precious species of birds can be seen on Rakiura and they exist amidst tales of great conservation success and care.

1. Southern brown kiwi/tokoeka

Of the five kiwi species, the tokoeka is the only diurnal kiwi, which means, if you’re lucky, you may see one of these flightless birds during the day. It’s likely to be snuffling in the bush or at the beach, feeding on invertebrates, worms and beetles. You may see one at night around Oban but keep your distance, respect the bird and private property. Your best bet to see one is to book a kiwi spotting tour or head to Mason Bay, a popular tramping destination on the island’s west coast. There’s 280km of walking tracks in Rakiura National Park and trampers regularly report crossing paths with tokoeka.

2. Southern New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu

Despite being a critically threatened species, the dotterel does not receive the level of attention that other, more charismatic species do. Breeding only at Stewart Island, less than 200 of these small brown waders remain. They can be seen at Mason Bay.

3. Kākā

A curious and intelligent bird, the kākā is easily found. Enjoy a coffee in Oban and watch their antics or see them in a more natural setting at Ulva Island.

4. South Island saddleback/tieke

In the 1960s, the South Island saddleback population was a paltry 36. Shifted from their rat-infested habitat on Big South Cape Island, a conservation success story was in the making and the population now exceeds 2000. This rare endemic bird can be seen on Ulva Island, a pest-free open sanctuary home to many rare birds and plants, and easily reached by water taxi. Accompanied by nature’s soundtrack, meander the gravelled walking trails among Ulva’s ancient podocarp forest.

5. Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho

The largest of three penguin species that breed at Stewart Island, the hoiho is also the most endangered penguin species in the world. The bird has striking yellow eyes, yellow feathers around the eyes and pink feet. The best way to see one is to get on a boat. The surrounding waters offer seabirds aplenty, skimming the waves or diving into the blue.

– Matt Jones lives on Rakiura/Stewart Island where he is a bird-watching guide.