Like some of the other beat writers around here I’ve been roped into keeping a year list this year, and inspired by the other lists I looked at I thought about what I wanted to achieve this year in birding. As opposed to my usual position of seeing whatever I see. It is a scary line of thought, let me assure you.

I began by playing down expectations; on my list I state that I would be very happy to reach 300 birds for the year. I live in New Zealand, and while we have some spectacular birds, we don’t have very many. Insularity and isolation have left the islands with many interesting endemics but not the large numbers you’d get on a continent. We have only two landbird migrants, both cuckoos and both hard to see. And I don’t know how or where I might get out of New Zealand this year, so it seemed realistic not to expect to beat anyone.

But as I walked around my local wildlife refuge seeing all my local birds for the first time it occurred to me I’d fallen into a competitive listing trap. I couldn’t beat people who lived on continents, so why bother trying? I was dismissing participating in my own hobby not because I couldn’t do something I wanted but because I wouldn’t stack up to other people’s efforts. I wasn’t very impressed with myself.

On the same walk I got to thinking about birding in New Zealand in general. I generally see the same birds most of the time, but there are a bunch of birds that aren’t found in the Wellington Region that I haven’t seen in, well that I haven’t seen in the five years (to the month) that I have lived in New Zealand. Many of them are not hard birds to find if you look in the right places, it is just that I haven’t been looking in the right places. Most of them are South Island specialists, and I have only been to South Island twice in the last five years, but that is of itself not an excuse. It isn’t that far away, really. I can see it from Wellington on a clear day.

Among the birds I haven’t seen…

South Island Specialties

Yellowhead (Mohua ochrocephala) (CC & GFDL User:C00ch)

Relative of the Whitehead that is common here in Wellington, this canary-coloured beauty is rarer but found in the forests of the southern part of South island. It is one of several species I saw while backpacking here 12 years ago but haven’t seen while living here. South Island also has the related Brown Creeper.

Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) (CC Daniele Sartori)

I’d have to go to Dunedin to see this bird, but if I went there it would not be a hard one to see, or see well. No excuse not to, especially as I could also see Stewart Island Shags and Northern Royal Albatrosses, so not going to the Otago Peninsula would be some kind of crime I think.

Rock Wren (Xenicus gilviventris) (CC 57 Andrew)

The alpine relative of the Rifleman is one of the harder species on this list, but not impossible. It will have to be summer or spring, as no one is certain where they go in winter. This is one species I have never seen, period.

Kea (Nestor notabalis) (CC Evan Goldenberg)

 The trick to finding a Kea is to go to any tourist destination in the Southern Alps. Not seeing a Kea would actually be the harder trick, and it is one I have managed in the last five years by not going to the Southern Alps.

All Island birds

(South Island) Tomtit (Petroica macrocephala) (CC Michael)

The only species on this list that I have seen in the last five years, but two brief sightings in five years is a pretty poor effort. Especially as they do occur around Wellington.

Yellow-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus auriceps) (CC Martin)

I’ve seen plenty of Red-crowns, and there are Yellow-crowned Parakeets around, even if they aren’t common. I just need to go find them. Although they can occur in North Island they should be easier down south.

Fernbird (Bowdleria punctata) (CC Eric de Leeuwn)

 I’ve heard these guys, but as New Zealand’s only real little brown job I haven’t put the effort into finding one. I really should.

North Island Specialty

 New Zealand Dabchick (Poliocephalus rufopectus)( CC by Kaimai Kid)

Another almost inexcusable species to miss. They are not massively common but they are found in the Wellington Region. I just have to go and look.

So therein lies part of my birding resolution of he year, to make an effort to see some of the birds of this country I’ve been too lazy to look for for the last five years. The other aim to is to see over 110 species in New Zealand in one year. This is roughly as many species as I have seen that I have on eBird. It is a hard number to reach, but do-able I think. Both these goals are realistic but will require effort, even if they don’t look much by the standards of other locations. Bird your terrain, not the terrain you wish you had.

So, what are your birding resolutions?

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.