Bird Spotting & Watching in Abel Tasman
Thanks to extensive predator control, bird life is returning to the Abel Tasman and Nelson regions, making this area one of New Zealand's bird watching havens. The rich estuarine flats backed by bush covered hills bring in thousands of birds, both native and exotic species. The relatively mild weather conditions here mean that any time of year is a great time for bird spotting, especially from a kayak which allows you to discover so much more of the stunning coastline in this area.
Kahu Kayaks offer freedom kayak hire and a range of guided kayak tours so you can explore all the nooks and crannies in Abel Tasman National Park. Paddling over the lagoons with the knowledgeable guides from Kahu Kayaks, you'll see and hear the bird life and learn about the area's unique cultural and natural history.
Wherever you are in Abel Tasman you're bound to hear the beautiful song of the bellbird or korimako. They feed on fruit, nectar and invertebrates and the sweet beech honeydew that can be found in the Park.
You're also likely to see plenty of curious weka, fantails flitting energetically from tree to tree, and the fat NZ wood pigeon or kereru hanging from the branches. You might also see the banded rail (pererū), commonly found in mangrove forests and salt marshes. The Mārahau Estuary is a great site for seeing these small, brownish, intricately patterned birds, mainly at dawn or dusk or when a falling tide has exposed the snails and small mud crabs that they like to feed on.
If you glimpse a brilliant green and blue flash of colour against the dark bush it's probably the small native Kingfisher (kōtare). They forage on the Park's estuarine flats or can be seen perched on overhanging branches waiting to ambush their next meal - crabs, small fish or even lizards and large insects.
You're also bound to see both pied and black oystercatchers as you paddle along the Park's coastline. They happily use the Abel Tasman as a wintering ground before migrating south to breed during the summer.
The white-faced heron, or matuku is another shoreline bird you could expect to see in the Park. It is a tall, elegant, blue-grey bird often seen stalking its prey in the estuaries along the Abel Tasman coastline.
The blue penguin, known as kororā in Māori and commonly called blue, little blue or fairy penguin is only found south of the equator (with the exception of the Galapagos Islands). They only come ashore after dark so if you're prepared to watch quietly and well hidden at dusk on a less-visited beach, you may be rewarded. You might also get lucky and spot a little blue off the coast while you're on the water taxi or in the kayak.
In September 2014, 40 South Island saddlebacks were transferred from Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds to Adele Island in the Abel Tasman National Park. With its brown saddle and distinctive orange-red wattle the saddleback is one of New Zealand’s most recognisable birds - but also one of the rarest. They are found only in New Zealand on predator free offshore islands and are a real highlight for birdwatchers.
Kākāriki or yellow-crowned parakeets are New Zealand's small, bright green, noisy parrots. They spend most of their time high in the forest canopy however their unfortunate habit of nesting in tree holes means that like the saddlebacks, they are vulnerable to rats and stoats. Kākāriki were once extremely common in the Nelson and Golden Bay area in the early 1900s but have been slowly declining since then to become one of the rarest birds in the Park today.
To improve the chances of the small remaining population, Project Janszoon and DOC have released captive raised kākāriki into the Park in an area under intensive predator control. Wild adults were caught from an island in the Marlborough Sounds to help found a breeding programme. The first 12 birds were introduced to an aviary at Wainui Hut in the upper Park and kept there for a couple of weeks before being released in 2014. A further 10 were released from the aviary in March 2015 and there are plans to release more. It is hoped that they will breed prolifically and Abel Tasman will be filled with the parrot's noisy chatter again but in the meantime, seeing or hearing them is still a special treat for a few lucky visitors to the Park.