Monday, 23 April 2012

Stewart Island part 8, wildlife

Stewart Island is renowned for its wild life and it really was spectacular. Tons of birds and prolific sea life. While you may have seen the odd one during the previous posts, I have tried to gather them all in here.
Starting with the birds. Lots and lots of Bellbirds around. They sing lovely songs, ALL the time. And to each other. The one is the photo below was singing with two other bell birds nearby. I have also added a shaky video (partly the wind’s fault, not all mine...).

Next are the albatrosses, or Mollymawks to be exact. Amazing and impressive creatures. They provides hours of entertainment during watches while at sea. The way they soar over the waves, and hardly ever flap their wings make them very majestic. I think they were used to feeding from fishing boats coming into Port Pegasus, as we had several of them following us for a while, each time landing right behind Sophia. 
Oystercatcher are noisy and territorial birds hanging out on the shore. Almost all the ones we saw were black, but many are also while and black. I like their super bright orange beaks. There's a photo of a mussel covered rock further down, so there's definitely no shortage of food for them.
Little Robins were cute and quite tame, especially on Ulva Island (second photo). I'm not sure if what were saw were South Island Robins, or Stewart Island Robins, possibly both. 
The Kaka is a forest parrot, related to the Keas. There were lots and lots of them around Oban, so probably they like humans and the food that goes along with that, just like Keas.
We only ever saw a couple of Yellow-eyed Penguins in the water a distance away from Sophia. They always duck into the water right as I get my camera out, just like Little Blue Penguins. We had hoped to see them on land as well, they must have been hiding. This particular one was at our anchorage in Sailors Rest in Paterson Inlet.
Before moving on from the birds, you might wonder if we saw any kiwis! The answer is YES, but that story deserves a whole separate post (plus this post is already super long).

In the Magog tramp post I mentioned we saw sharks. Sophia was anchored just inside Seal Creek (also called Cook's Arm) behind a little island. The water wasn't quite as clear as some the other anchorages, but you could still see the bottom when it was about 4 meters deep. Anyway, when dinghing along further into the creek, looking for the start of the track, we suddenly saw a big shark-looking fish near the shore. We turned the dinghy around and tried to see it again. We were wondering what it was. A little further along we saw another big something , and agreed it sure did look like a shark. Pretty cool! Then suddenly there were at least 10 of them swimming around on the bottom, just 3-4 meters deep! Wowsa. The bigger ones looked bigger than Cherry (our dinghy, 2 meters long)! They were greyish with white spots and a broad nose and only a very small dorsal fin. We both got very excited and tried to turn around and spot more and get photos, and we did see a few more, but not the same amount. It's also really hard to get a photo through the water. But you can definitely see a grey something in the photo. We later found out they are Broadnose Sevengill Sharks.

Seafood lovers would love Stewart Island. Tons of mussels everywhere, as well as paua (abalone) and scallops if you know where to look. Unfortunately Phil and I aren't big fans (read what crime we did here).
 Stewart Island also has lots of Sea Lions and Seals (bit tricky to tell the difference, but apparently sea lions have ear flaps which seals don't). This one below was really cute, super curious, he (or she?) slowly came closer and closer, popping its head up every so often to look again. By then we had come ashore and he was halfway out of the water thoroughly checking us out.

However, our first experience with seal (lions) at Waterlily Bay wasn't quite as cute and fuzzy. When Phil got in the dinghy to get the stern line set up, this big sea lion came charging out from the beach. Phil quickly retreated back to Sophia and he (gotta be a he :-) ) swam right out to us and underneath the dinghy. He then went into the other beach and Phil tried again, but with the same result! It was pretty obvious that this was his bay and we were not welcome. Finally he left the bay and we could get our stern line set up. After this experience we always carried our fog horn with us when we went ashore, but luckily we never needed it.

If we're not seafood lovers, but we love fish, and especially Blue Cod. Yummy yum. And they were so easy to catch! Definitely not like the Marlborough Sounds. I had to restrict Phil when he went fishing, only one or two. We had fish as much as we wanted, pretty much every second day, or more even. The limit on Stewart Island is 30 a day per person! According to Phil, the fisherman on Sophia, they live on rock, so often you just got to dinghy a bit away from your anchorage (usually sand) to a rocky outcrop and you'll be able to see them, the water is that clear and there are that many. Phil would usually use some soft bait and catch a Spotty and use that as bait for the Blue Cod.

We had thought we'd snorkel more than we did. We only went once together, and Phil once by himself. We had lots of excuses though: cold water (brrrr!), angry sea lions, swarms of red jelly fish with tentacles and sharks :-) We eventually did go and it was actually really nice (albeit a bit cold), heaps of little fish, and lots of big kelpies and spotties. Phil also speared a delicious butterfish (and I cut his hair immediately after taking this photo!).

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