Birding blog trip reports usually are rousing stories of success against incredible odds, or at the very least spectacular failures that make the reader laugh. The fact is that we seldom write about the more mundane everyday failure of plans and circumstances. I’m not talking about dips of mega-rarities or disasters where camping grounds are washed away or cars break down in the middle of nowhere. I’m talking about going somewhere, even somewhere you’ve been several times before, and just not seeing very much. And much like the negative results that are seldom published in academia, it skews the literature and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Gods that write these kinds of stories always get something.

For example on my trip to Australia earlier this year I borrowed the car one day to drive to Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, a location that proved fruitful for Clare later in the year. And while it was initially promising, with a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos, that was pretty much it for the rest of the day. I only saw a few species I could get in the small park near where I was staying, and not even as many as I could have gotten there. A pretty place no question but not very bird.  It’s frustrating (more so if you write because you are always looking for something to write week in week out), but it happens.

Which brings us to yesterday. The  objective wasn’t even birds, it was fur seals. My brother is in town for a few days so I decided to take him to Red Rocks on Wellington’s South Coast to look at the seal haul out. In five years of living here and I haven’t made it there yet, though I have tried a few times. This time I was determined. The day was sunny and calm (a novelty), and the time of year is right for seals. We walked along the coastal road to the start of the beach walk, but as we reached the entrance we were blocked. They were shooting pests in the park that day, and all the trails were closed. We might have chanced it, but you know, guns. Once again I’d failed to get to Red Rocks. And the story I’d been planning to write (having a brother around has stopped me working on this) also vanished.

In the distance you can see Red Rocks- access denied.

Instead we turned back and investigated the rock pools along the coast. They are now protected by Taputeranga Marine Reserve, a marine reserve created in 2008 and to protect marine life around Wellington. I’ve spoken before about the positive impacts marine reserves are having around New Zealand, so it is nice to have one around here. It wasn’t fur seals, or even eciting birding, but it was fun to poke around.

A sea hare, something of a novelty for me.

Every rock-pooler loves starfish!

Eastern Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra) are usually associated with the tropics but are found across New Zealand.

Looking east to Wellington Harbour’s entrance

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.