Cyberspace boosts West Coast bird-watching

Cyberspace is providing new opportunities for bird enthusiasts interested in the rich birdlife on New Zealand’s West Coast in the South Island.

www.Birdingwestcoast.co.nz is an interactive website dedicated to birdlovers and provides a comprehensive guide to the West Coast’s birdlife and tips on local bird-watching.

The website promotes guided and non-guided birding tourism in the Buller, Grey and Westland districts, and provides links to other New Zealand bird-watching areas.

Birding opportunities

While many birdwatchers visit New Zealand, not everyone is aware of the special opportunities on the West Coast.

"The West Coast is home to more than 70 bird species, some existing only in this unique part of the world," project consultant Hugh Canard said.

These species include the Okarito kiwi - an endangered species with only 300 birds remaining. This kiwi is only found on a small stretch of land along the West Coast.

The tawaki / Fiordland crested penguin is another rare bird species that can be seen on the West Coast.

Must-see birding

Tourism operator Richard Saunders from Okarito Nature Tours said that the West Coast deserved to be on birding "must-see lists" because of the "amazing variety of birdlife in a most beautiful scenic area."

Saunders hopes that the website will help to raise the region’s profile and promote the birding opportunities available.

"Birders are pretty computer savvy and organise their trips from home in advance - it’s too late to target them when they get to New Zealand because they’ve already planned where they’re going," Saunders said.

While average visitor stays on the West Coast are currently only 1.3 nights, birding offers a significant specialist area that could encourage visitors to stay longer, have a richer experience and want to return for more.

Accessible birdwatching

There is a vast range of easily accessible birding opportunities on the West Coast and it would be great to see more people making the most of them, Department of Conservation (DOC) technical support manager John Lyall said.

"Along with guided tours, there are also plenty of places where people can go out on their own and enjoy our spectacular birdlife and special places," Lyall said.

"We take a lot of things for granted that visitors will really appreciate, like just being able to stop at a car park and see weka wandering around."

Okarito tours

The birdwatching website is a collaboration between four Okarito birding businesses that was initiated under a regional tourism development project.

Okarito lagoon, between the West Coast towns of Hokitika and Franz Josef, is New Zealand’s largest unmodified coastal wetland. It is well known for its outstanding avifauna.

Okarito Boat Tours offers small personalised guided boat trips that cruise quietly among feeding birds, while exploring narrow waterways and ancient rainforest flora.

Okarito Kiwi Tours run nocturnal guided tours deep into Okarito kiwi country, offering a firsthand opportunity to see and hear New Zealand’s flightless icon.

Okarito Nature Tours provides freedom rentals and guided kayaking trips on Okarito lagoon.

White Heron Sanctuary Tours take visitors into the protected Waitangi roto nature reserve - New Zealand’s only white heron breeding colony.

The website also offers the opportunity for birdwatchers to to share information about birds and their environment, enable comments, share photos and videos, and engage on birding issues.

Background: Okarito kiwi

Okarito brown kiwi (Apteryx rowi) is the most critically endangered kiwi, with around 300 birds remaining.

Since 1900 the range has contracted markedly, and is now confined to the 11000ha South Okarito Forest in Westland National Park.

Okarito brown kiwi nest in burrows or hollow logs. Kiwi lay their eggs between June and January, and the chicks hatch fully-feathered after about 75 days.

Like all kiwi, rowi are nocturnal birds so are rarely spotted. However they can be heard in the dark, mostly in winter and spring, when calling to each other. The male call is higher pitched and clearer. The first few hours after dark are the best time to hear calls.

More information

Iconic New Zealand birds

Bird conservation in New Zealand

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