Every time I get out into the Hauraki Gulf, I’m amazed. It seems a little bizarre that so close to New Zealand’s biggest city, there can exist this absolute haven for wildlife. A few minutes out from the busy hub of downtown Auckland, you can expect to see throngs of seabirds and even cetaceans (although I’ve always missed the Orca when they come to play in the harbour!). Taking the ferry out to Tiritiri Matangi, one of the island sanctuaries in the gulf, we were surrounded by hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters rafting in the water and making their morning commute. Auckland is a region of contrast – how lucky are we to have this on our doorstep?
At the end of March I was roped in, last minute, as a teaching assistant on a field trip to Tiri. Score! I love visiting Tiri, especially leaving from downtown Auckland because the ferry trip is longer, so there’s more of a chance to see seabirds. The plan for the day was to take students around the island and have them record how the different bird species use food resources and habitat. It meant I had to brush up on my plant ID skills a bit! It was very similar to the work I’d done on a weekend field trip to Tiri two years ago, though, and I know the island pretty well.
Leading a group of students around the island, pointing out birds and teaching them about the different species meant I had little time for photography. It was a very different Tiri trip from what I usually do – spend all day behind the lens, following bird calls along the tracks, staying as far away from other people as possible! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and we had some really great sightings. Have you ever seen two wētāpunga (Giant Wētā) mating? If you check out the photo above, now you have. We saw this pair and another massive lone male on the Wattle track, which fascinated and terrified the students in equal measure. I’ve never managed to glimpse wētāpunga on Tiri before, so it was rather exciting!
The feeders were a frenzy of activity, with Bellbirds and Hihi everywhere. I noticed another Bellbird with white flecks around the face – on the trip two years ago I’d photographed another one with much more substantial white markings. We spotted Kōkako feeding in Karo trees, little flocks of Whiteheads flitting through the canopy, and Saddlebacks fossicking in the undergrowth.
We lunched in the shade of the Pūriri tree by the visitor centre, where a scrum of Tūī were feeding on the flowers. A young Kōkako joined them briefly but was chased out. It made eating under the tree somewhat dangerous, and a few people were splattered with sticky seedy droppings!
It was an overwhelmingly summery day – the sun wild and the sky clear. We wandered back down to the jetty through the old forest on the Kawerau track, enjoying the deep shade under the canopy of massive old Pōhutukawa and Pūriri trees. After a rush to get the days assignments marked and handed back to the students, we enjoyed the ferry trip back to the city, blinded by the spangling sea.
Fun fact – it’s hard to take photos of seabirds while holding a beer and standing steady on a rapidly moving catamaran. I managed, of course!