Global Big Day - New Zealand Style
Global Big Day on May 9 was the first annual fundraising event for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird, and bird conservation efforts worldwide.
The Global Big Day saw almost 14,000 birdwatchers from more than 130 countries record their bird sightings on eBird in the space of 24 hours. Together, they recorded over 60% of the world’s birds, with the total number of entries forming a staggering 6,029 birds for the day.
Aside from the numbers, one thing that particularly strikes me is the efforts from New Zealand. Despite coming a modest 51st in the overall numbers, we submitted more lists than countries with much higher populations such as the UK, Germany, Spain and Ecuador. The passion for wildlife and a fondness of the natural world has really struck me since moving to New Zealand from the UK, and is something that has driven my passion for wildlife to another level.
There are literally thousands of volunteers and wildlife enthusiasts in New Zealand, all setting out to protect the country’s unique flora and fauna. For me, the efforts of New Zealanders on the Global Big Day was testament to this sheer determination to protect and support the local wildlife that has been embraced by the nation.
As a small country we managed to record 107 birds in 24 hours (of which I was lucky enough to see 67) but more importantly, 36 of these species were endemic. There are so many wonderful birds in this country and New Zealand is often the envy of the world when it comes to its wildlife. A passion that runs through the veins of the people fortunate enough to live here and many of the people who come over for a visit.
My global Big Day was entirely Auckland based, but included some cracking birds! My favorite of which has to be the clumsy North Island Brown Kiwi that offered a mere glimpse as it ran into the bushes for cover. Other major highlights on the day included the bold Tui with its brash yet melodious call, the usually shy Fernbird that decided to pose for a photo, and the unique Wrybill with its unusually sideways curved bill. All these birds are commonly found in the Auckland area but were ones that I just couldn’t rush away from despite being in pursuit of more species. There are some birds that are just too good, where it doesn’t matter how often you see them, they deserve to be observed rather than just ticked off on a list.
But as always with birding, there were a few surprises along the way. Some being misses like the unusual disappearance of my Kookaburra friends that I always see on the way to Tawharanui. However, this was more than compensated for by great sightings of some local rarities such as the Grey Tailed-Tattler, Australasian Grebe, Black Fronted Dotterel and Little Egret, the latter being a bird that is so common in Europe nowadays but seems to attract only a bit of attention in New Zealand.
The most magical of all places for me has to be Tawharanui. It’s literally covered in birds and I only wish that I had allowed more time here on this day as it would have increased my total count significantly. Not only is this one of the most reliable sights for the kiwi, but also provides great viewing opportunities for Takahe, Bellbird, Whitehead, Morepork and many other of New Zealand’s critically endangered endemic bird species. It’s a truly magical place with a mix of enchanted forest, stunning beaches and incredible bird life - both on land and out at sea. It’s a place that I now visit frequently having first come with Tristan for an unforgettable trip.
In my opinion, the Global Big Day was not only a great day for conservation, but if you are like me and submitted sightings, I bet you had fun doing it, too! That means this day allowed more than 13,000 people across the globe to have an amazing day and with unforgettable experiences like I did. A great day all-round for conservation, for the enjoyment of wildlife and for New Zealand.
Can’t wait till next year!
Experience NZ through conservation volunteering
Imagine getting up close to endangered birds and helping to re-introduce wildlife to some of New Zealand’s most beautiful areas, or contributing to the stunning country’s natural environment by planting trees that are vital to the ecosystem.
There are a number of unforgettable conservation volunteering opportunities available to visitors around Auckland, from small local replanting groups to major island and mainland conservation efforts.
New Zealand is one of the greatest success stories in conservation history, with areas that had seemingly been destroyed during the post-colonial, being returned to their prime through volunteer projects.
The life-changing volunteering experiences are some of the best ways to enjoy nature in a country famous for its natural beauty and wildlife, and at Habitat Tours, we can help you plan your memorable visit.
For thousands of years, New Zealand was a bird haven, free from rodents and snakes. The group of islands belonged to the beautiful birds that filled both the ground and the skies. Some birds didn’t even need to fly because predators were not a threat, including the iconic kiwi and takahe.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, and there are a number of locations around the region where the eradication of pests and reintroduction of wildlife has been a resounding success. About an hour from the city, Tawharanui Regional Park is one of the North Island’s most successful conservation examples, and it is now a world-class bird watching destination.
Imagine just 13 years ago, the area was predominantly farmland and the birdsong had disappeared from a once thriving endemic bird habitat. Volunteers, along with the local council, embarked on a mission to free the area from pests, with a 2.5-kilometre predator-proof fence along the peninsula. And today, as a result of that effort, the stunning beaches, lush farmland and coastal bush are home to an abundance of wildlife with beautiful birdsong ringing from the trees again.
Eighteen species have been reintroduced or returned to the area, including the kiwi, takahe, pateke and saddleback. The beautiful peninsula has reverted back to its pre-colonial days, when Captain Cook famously noted, “it seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned”.
The importance of the islands
The Hauraki Gulf off the coast of Auckland is a popular spot for day tours and boat trips, with dolphin and whale watching, water sports and island visits. The islands that dot the gulf are important conservation destinations for endemic birds, wildlife and native flora, and thousands of volunteer hours have been put into the rehabilitation of the landscapes, with the reintroduction of endemic birds and replanting of native trees.
Probably New Zealand’s most well-known conservation success story is Little Barrier Island – the most intact ecosystem in the country. It is such an important and vulnerable sanctuary that human impact is kept to a minimum, special permission is required to land on the island.
Experience it for yourself
Despite the major success conservation has had in New Zealand over the past few years, it is an on-going initiative and there is always plenty to do. From forest and wetland restoration and monitoring animals to planting and pest control, there are a number of opportunities to choose from.
Habitat Tours supports a vital volunteer organisation at Tawharanui, which involves monitoring newly-arrived takahe, as well as weeding and planting. The stunning, colourful ground bird was thought to be extinct in the late 1800s and early 1900s until it was rediscovered in the 1940s, and it is extremely important to continue protecting and supporting the magnificent species.
You can join us on the first Sunday of every month for an unforgettable volunteering experience, which includes a morning of conservation work, followed by a BBQ and then a guided tour of the park. Along the way, visitors learn about New Zealand’s flora and wildlife, including, of course, some incredible bird watching opportunities.
For eco tours in Auckland and amazing bird watching experiences around the region, look no further than Habitat Tours, where you can always expect a wealth of knowledge from our local expert tour guides
Find out why Auckland’s beaches are the best in the world
From black sand surf beaches to pristine golden bays with crystal clear water, the greater Auckland region is home to three harbours and hundreds of kilometres of spectacular coastline, covering a range of diverse landscapes.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet white sand beach to stroll along, an exciting surfing adventure, an unforgettable hiking trip, or a world-class bird watching experience, this stunning piece of paradise in the southern hemisphere is the perfect beachside holiday destination. And as a local eco tour company, we know all the region’s best kept secrets.
Here’s why we think Auckland’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world…
The sheer diversity
There is a huge variety of choices in the greater Auckland region, from the stunning white sand beaches right on the city’s doorstep to the dramatic sea cliffs on the West Coast.
Within easy reach of Auckland, Whatipu, at the entrance of Manukau Harbour, is a spectacular scenic reserve at the Waitakere Ranges, with native bush, black sand, caves, cliffs and marshland covering the untamed landscape. It is the perfect place for a relaxed day of sightseeing and walking, with interesting history and outstanding views along the way.
If you’d rather a bit more of a lively atmosphere, the contrasting Long Bay, with its stunning white sand beach, lush parkland and fantastic walking trails, is home to a thriving local community – popular with local and visiting families. It is home to 28 hectares of community parks and protected heritage sites, with magnificent views across the Hauraki Gulf.
Auckland has some of the world’s most amazing beaches, and Habitat Tours will give you a first-hand taste of what can be found across the region.
The forest meets the sea
Just 40 minutes from Auckland city centre, the incredible Waitakere Ranges cover a stunning 16,000 hectares (39,000 acres) of rainforests and coastline, and it is the ideal setting for an unforgettable day tour. Within the spectacular region, there are 250 kilometres of walking and hiking trails with breathtaking views of unspoilt beaches as well as an open sea that separates New Zealand from Australia. The area is a surfer’s paradise, with pounding waters rolling onto the iron ore-rich black sand. Being an area of such outstanding natural beauty, you might even catch some filming underway. The Piano and Xena: Warrior Princess are just two examples of some of the many productions that have taken advantage of the beautiful filming location.
The spectacular wildlife
From rare birds to giant marine animals, Auckland’s beaches and waters are home to an abundance of wildlife. The stunning peninsula, vibrant farmland, long, sandy beaches and majestic Pacific Ocean at Tawharanui Regional Park are perfect for picnics, walking and swimming, but above all else, the area is a utopia for bird watching. The park is home to a protected breeding area of very rare New Zealand dotterel birds, with an ecology trail beginning on the beach, continuing onto farmland and then into a valley with a native forest. At night, the skies offer some world-class stargazing opportunities, and you might even see the famous but secretive nocturnal kiwi in its natural habitat.
Besides endemic and rare birds, the bays and harbours across the vast stretch of greater Auckland coastline are lucky enough to be visited by beautiful sea creatures, including bottlenose and common dolphins, and the particularly magnificent orca.
The amazing islands
There are 47 stunning islands dotting the Hauraki Gulf, which stretches between Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island. The islands can be reached by ferry and make fantastic day tours packed with hiking, bird watching and unforgettable sightseeing. The volcanic Rangitoto Island is home to the world’s largest pohutakawa forest and visitors can see the black lava caves while climbing to the summit.
For wine lovers, Waiheke is an absolute must – known as the island of wine, because of its many wineries and vineyards. There are plenty of tasting and tour opportunities on the island, along with beautiful beaches and scenic cycling and walking trails.
Leave the world behind for a truly incredible experience on Great Barrier Island, a sanctuary of untouched wilderness, with wonderful native forests, pristine sea coves, quiet beaches and peaceful walking trails.
The Department of Conservation, Auckland Council and volunteers have put an enormous effort into the conservation and restoration of the region’s spectacular islands. The projects have been particularly successful on Tiritiri Matangi, Motutapu and Motuihe, with the reintroduction of native wildlife.
The best ways to explore Auckland and its beautiful surrounding beaches and landscapes is with a local who knows all the secrets and hidden gems of the region. Habitat Tours offers intimate eco day tours and bird watching tours with passionate expert guides.
Why the Brits might want New Zealand stoats
They prey on our native birds, reduce the numbers of at-risk species such as bats and land snails, and are considered by many to be New Zealand’s ‘public enemy number one’.
The stoat, a member of the mustelid family, was introduced to the country in the 1880s to control the rabbit and hare population, but has since been considered a pest for its preference of preying on endangered wildlife.
So why are British researchers talking about bringing this locally hated pest back into the population in the United Kingdom?
According to an article published in a recent edition of Molecular Ecology, the British native stoat population was decimated by the Myxoma virus that was introduced to control the rabbit population. This means that the stoat species in New Zealand now holds more genetic variation than those in the UK.
The study found that New Zealand stoats had four mitochondrial haplotypes that were not present in the British sample.
Genetic diversity is typically considered to be beneficial to the ecosystem, which is why the article concludes by saying that “the genetic diversity conserved in introduced populations may also be considered valuable and therefore worthy of re-introduction.”
That said, New Zealand continues to make ongoing efforts to control the numbers of stoats for their threat to our native wildlife and other species.
The Tawharanui Regional Park is a prime example of effective pest control. A 2.7 km pest-proof fence isolates 550 hectares of the peninsula, where it has eradicated seven of the ten pests that once inhabited the area.
While house mice, hedgehogs and rabbits remain on the peninsula, stoats have been driven out. Since the fence was completed in 2004, native birdlife has been able to thrive, which is a large part of the reason why we see kiwis on 70 per cent of our night-time tours there.
4 things I learned on my Habitat Tours adventure
When I got in the Habitat Tours van next to tour leader Tristan, I admit I didn’t really know exactly what to expect.
I was excited, sure, but what experiences would I cover in the next few hours? What would I learn?
As it turns out, I would learn these four things…
1. It is’ called a tuft, not a bib
Walking up the track in the Tawharanui Regional Park, I could feel the last of the sun as it set against my back, I could hear the melodic clamour of bellbirds on all sides like surround sound, and I could see the fluttering of tuis close enough to clearly catch the white feathers on their chests.
I said I liked the bib bit.
Tristan reminded me that it’s called a tuft. He says he’s not the real bird expert at Habitat Tours, but his knowledge of the trees and birds is encyclopaedic – a fact obvious by how easily he can answer any question our group can throw at him. I think he’s a bonafide twitcher. That’s the word for a serious birdwatcher, you know.
2. Moreporks are posers
As we sit down to our delicious home-cooked, beach-front, sunset-lit picnic, Tristan briefs us on the adventure we’re about to take. He says the main goals of the night are to find a kiwi, spot a morepork (the southern boobook) and potentially track down a weta or two. None of this is guaranteed.
We get started on our walk, hopeful but realistic. Barely a few minutes in, a morepork flies directly at us from the path ahead, landing on a near branch so we could get a look at him.
And look we did. And look, and look, and look.
Five grown adults, standing in perfect darkness and absolute silence, out of cell phone coverage, pointing one red-cellophaned torch directly at a handsome feathered poser mere metres away. We must have stood there for almost five minutes straight before we gave up the staring competition and wandered off first.
3. Wetas are as scary as spiders
Tristan did a great job at checking a tree trunk for spiders for me, even though I didn’t believe him when he told me it was spider-free as I pathetically crouch-ran under it.
A little further down the track, Tristan disappears into the scrub to look for wetas, New Zealand’s endemic giant crickets.
“Come on in”, he says, “there are plenty here”.
I enter the creepy clearing only upon the insistence and outright peer pressure of my fellow tour members, more afraid of potential spiders than the wetas themselves.
In seconds I am out again, running from the wetas and their gangling sprawling legs and unearthly bodies.
4. Walking in silence is really hard
When you’re looking for wild kiwi, being quiet as a ninja is very, very important. It’s also way harder than they make it look in the movies.
Every now and then we stop and stand in silence before switching on the torch to look into the scrub. I crouch down for a better ground view and my knees click.
We keep moving, but trip over our own feet, crunch on gravel and scuffle through leaves. Backpacks jostle, the sound of a sheeny raincoat swishes and I try not to cough.
It makes me wonder how long it actually took people to discover the kiwi. If we know how it’s done, know where they are, know to stay silent, and have the power of a torch, how did anyone actually manage to spot this elusive creature in the first place?
Somehow, in a moment of silence created more from chance than skill, we stop, flick on the torch, and see the rounded tawny backside of the North Island brown kiwi running ungracefully off into the scrub.
He’s the noisiest thing in the forest.
Our Anzac Day bird challenge was great fun and included some fantastic birds. We undoubtedly proved the Auckland area is one of the best places for birding in New Zealand. So here's how it went...
We began the day at Mangere, which provided us with an excellent start including 51 birds within the first few hours.
Our first stop was the bird hide in Ambury Regional Park, where we were treated to a smorgasbord of feathered creatures.
Waiting to greet us in the car park were pukekos, Barbary doves, fantails and grey warblers. Once we got to the mudflats, we added wrybills, New Zealand dotterels, banded dotterels, bar tailed godwit, pied stilts, variable oystercatchers and South Island pied oystercatchers to the list. From the telescope we could also pick out some distant royal spoonbills feeding.
With around 40 different species already noted, we continued our search in another location close by and discovered even more excellent birds. There was a huge range of waterfowl including New Zealand scaup, grey teal, paradise shelduck, grey duck, black swans and New Zealand dachicks. We also had an early highlight of two rare birds; a black fronted dotterel and - after a bit of scanning with the telescope - a grey tailed tattler that was a first for us both at this location.
The dawn chorus of the tuis was beautiful providing a melodious sound track while we scanned hard for more waders. It felt like we had already seen as much as we could at the Ambury Regional Park, and being aware of our tight schedule we decided to press on.
The next stop was the Waitakere Ranges. This was a little harder in terms of finding birds, especially it was a busy Saturday, but the area provided some excellent scenery all the same.
That said, we did manage to locate the Tomtit, although we didn’t find a sulphur crested cockatoo as we’d hoped. With daylight quickly passing, we decided to head to the next stop.
We were off to Matakana for a quick lunch break and a mind to track down a laughing Kookaburra. Unfortunately, we only managed to tick off the lunch portion of our to-do list here, despite this normally being an easy bird to find in the area.
As we drove into Tawharanui for our final destination of the day, we counted that we were already up to 58 birds out of our initial target of 60. We were feeling more positive than ever, but we knew that no job is done until it’s done – particularly in the world of birdwatching!
We were rewarded early on in our Tawharanui visit with the sight of Buller’s and fluttering Shearwater off the coast with the telescope.
But it didn’t stop there. We soon added more birds to our list, including bellbirds, red crowned parakeet (letting us tick off one of New Zealand’s eight endemic parrots), whitehead and saddleback. These noisy birds are particularly vocal and therefore easy to spot!
At this point we were most thinking the same thing: Could we get 70 birds?
We continued on and found a pair of rare and endangered brown teal out on the water behind the bushes. A moment later, a few screeching Kaka soared overhead (the second species of NZ’s endemic parrots that we see).
That took us to a total of 69 birds. Things were getting interesting, but daylight was fading fast.
As we walked up the woodland path a few rustles in the bushes caught our attention. Peeking deep into the bush we could see a large creature with a bright green back and a bright red bill. It was the Takahe (kerchinggggg!).
We had smashed our original target and made it to 70 birds! It was a big high five on what was a magnificent 70th bird of the day, and very appropriate as there are only 260 of these birds remaining in the world!
We decided to have a spot of dinner and continue on with hopes to find our final two targets, the North Island brown kiwi and the morepork (NZ owl). These would usually be considered as fairly easy ones for the area, but you never quite know with birding.
So off we went in the cold dark woods as the rain started to fall. Within just a few minutes, we spotted Morepork above our heads hunting for moths.
All we had left now was the Kiwi, which would round off an excellent day.
But it seemed as if our luck had run out. There were countless moments of rustles in the bushes, reports from other visitors about a sighting further up the track, and more and more rustles as we walked up and down the path five or six times, we normally have good success with finding kiwi, this one time that it really mattered – were we going to hit the jackpot!
That is, until we caught the tiniest glimpse of a ball of feathers off in the bushes. We held our breath, waited, and excitedly watched as it finally moved. It wasn’t the best view we’d ever had, but a view is a view and we felt like we’d hit the jackpot.
After 17 hours and 72 birds, we decided it was time for a break and some much-needed sleep.
We’re proud of our efforts and excited to prove that all of these fantastic birds were found near New Zealand’s biggest city.
Thanks to the huge conservation efforts by a number of New Zealand organisations, there is plenty of wildlife within the greater Auckland region.
The birds are there - you just need to look for them.
We’re sure we are going to do this again soon, and maybe we could get a few other cities on board too. Who knows, maybe in the summer with a few more daylight hours we can see more.
But that story might have to wait till next time.
Harry & Tristan from Habitat Tours
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist