Every Last Bird – The birds of Te Araroa Trail

Every Last Bird – The birds of Te Araroa Trail

Between November 2023 and March 2024, Natural History curator Colin Miskelly is walking the length of Aotearoa New Zealand on Te Araroa Trail – counting every bird seen or heard along the way. In this first blog of an intended series, Colin explains what the project is about.

The long pathway

Te Araroa means ‘the long pathway’, and is the name given to a 3,000 km walking route that stretches from Cape Reinga to Bluff (or Bluff to Cape Reinga, if you prefer walking with the sun on your face). Walking the trail requires shedding superfluous baggage, including unnecessarily long words.

‘TA’ literature is full of acronyms and abbreviations; I intend to be a SOBO (ELI) thru-walker – which means a south-bound traveller who walks the trail in one go (without taking long breaks between sections), and who walks Every Last Inch, without skipping the boring bits (this is sometimes abbreviated as EFI).

Te Araroa trail marker. Photo by Colin Miskelly

One of the reasons that I intend to be an ELI is that the main goal of my walk is to count every bird encountered between Cape Reinga and Bluff – and that can’t be done to the same level of accuracy from the window of a moving bus or car.

New Zealand Bird Atlas Scheme

The answers to the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘Why now?’ is that the summer of 2023–24 is the final summer of the 5-year-long New Zealand Bird Atlas Scheme.

This citizen-science scheme is based around observers contributing ‘checklists’ of birds counted at sites all over the country, with each checklist including a measurement of effort (time duration, distance travelled, or area covered).

The New Zealand Bird Atlas Scheme has its own portal within the global eBird repository, which is managed out of Cornell University. When compared with the two previous atlas schemes (1969–79 and 1999–2004), the 2019–24 atlas will provide information on the changing status and trends of New Zealand bird populations.

Equipment and supplies used to observe, record and collate data on the birds of Te Araroa Trail. Photo by Colin Miskelly

I intend to count birds along contiguous 2 km transects as I walk, plus undertaking point counts of nocturnal species heard calling from each campsite or hut. A GPS-enabled wristwatch will be used to alert me when each transect cut-off is reached, and to provide a midpoint to anchor each transect. The data will be entered into a spreadsheet, and bulk-uploaded into eBird after the trip.

Collating the data as I go will allow me to produce a running total of the number of birds and number of species seen, as well as summary statistics for each section (including the most frequently observed species and the most abundant species).

Each blog in this series will also feature the most unexpected bird(s) of the section, and other highlights (e.g. local rarities, species not seen previously on the trip), and will provide an ‘Endemic bird score’ for each section (as explained in Birds of the Great Walks of Aotearoa New Zealand).

The challenges of blogging from the trail

As I progress south, I intend to produce a blog roughly every week, usually when I reach civilisation (and cellphone coverage). I don’t fancy typing blogs onto a phone (the only device that I will be carrying), so will be writing draft blogs by hand, photographing them, and sending them to my ever-helpful PA (a.k.a. my wife, Kate), who has offered to type them and forward them to Te Papa.

We are deeply appreciative to the many photographers who have contributed images to New Zealand Birds Online and who have agreed in advance to their images being used to illustrate the ‘Birds of Te Araroa’ blog series.

Land of the long black squiggle

In addition to typing blogs, Kate intends to keep track of my progress on our rather daunting new piece of wall art.

Land of the long black squiggle. Photo by Colin Miskelly

As I provide a digital ‘sign’ of my whereabouts by text or phone call, Kate will update the map with ‘Sign here’ post-its and provide a photograph of the relevant map section, to illustrate each blog.

‘Sign here’ in Wellington. Photo by Colin Miskelly

Birding side trips

The bird count statistics will focus on birds seen or heard from the trail. However, I have a few birding side trips planned along the way, to catch up with some special species that I am unlikely to see from the trail.

I hope you find the occasional updates on the Birds of Te Araroa (and Aotearoa) of interest.

Further reading


  1. Wonderful!

    What do you think of the idea of a iNaturalist corridor with Te Araroa as its spine so all observations can be collated?

    Will yiu use iNaturalist or eBird or something else to record the bird observations?

  2. wonderful. i look forward to reading more

  3. Hi Colin. I am looking forward to the tales of your travels as your rather daunting trip unfolds.


  4. Good luck Colin. Maybe you will be the one to find/hear the elusive and presumed extinct South Island Kokako! How wonderful and fitting that would be.

  5. Hi Colin, I am currently walking Te Araroa (right now sitting on the edge of Mahakipawa Arm), I just hitched a ride from Picton to here with your sister in-law (amazing kind woman) whose name I unfortunately forgot but she said you were doing the TA and I was going to leave a message in the hutboook in the Richmond Ranges to wish you luck! So thought I’d do that here! When I saw the article posted to the TA Facebook group I immediately recognized your name from our conversation. Coincidentally I was hitching a ride because I’d hitched back to Picton after arriving near Linkwater and found an injured starling on the side of the road so took it back to the vet clinic there.
    I am a bit of an avid amateur ornithologist and hadn’t heard of the New Zealand Bird Atlas Scheme but might try and download a checklist and contribute some data along the way
    All the best with your walk and your project and can pass on my thanks again to your sister in-law in Linkwater for the ride!

  6. What a fantastic idea! I’m looking forward to reading your blog and watching your journey! I’ve enjoyed the birds i’ve seen so far in the trail!

  7. Good luck. We in Whanganui look forward to seeing you on your way through. I assume that you will have (intermittent) email reception on the way, so that we can help with local information if needs be. Make Bushy Park one of your side trips if you can (to see hihi, tieke, and others).

  8. Colin, Check us out before you get to Ngunguru in Northland. email ##########@gmail.com.
    We are OSNZ members with a smal but active wetland with Mātātā, Spotless Crake, Banded Rail, Pateke and lately , Australasian Bittern.
    We will be able to provide a bed and shower etc if we are home. Ph #########

    1. Kia ora Hilton and Melva, thank you for your offer – we’ll pass your details (removed for safety purposes) on to Colin.

      Te Papa

  9. In awe of this enormous project! Good luck and good health!
    (Honoured that some of my photos feature on the NZ Birds online website).

  10. All the best for your walk. It will be interesting to read of the bird species you find along the way.

  11. You’re a tiger for punishment!

    I look forward to receiving your weekly blogs.

    All the best


  12. Seems you get close to Whanganui. Kai Iwi Beach Holiday Park would totally put you up including a pick up and drop off if that helps. I’m sure many campgrounds would

  13. What’s the best way to get your weekly blog please? This is fascinating and I would love to keep up with your progress and sightings

    1. Kia ora Bryan, you can subscribe to the blog posts by adding your email to the Blog Alerts section at the top of this post.

      Ngā mihi, Te Papa

  14. I’m exhausted by the very thought of it. All the best Colin.

  15. Best of luck Colin and I hope it proves to be a wonderful experience… but hope you won’t be swimming the Cook Strait 😉

    1. How else will he count the seabirds if he doesn’t swim.

    2. Author

      Thanks very much Glenn
      I hope to cross Cook Strait on a privately-owned yacht, and so will be close to the water. However, Cook Strait is not part of the Te Araroa Trail, which stops at Island Bay, Wellington, and resumes at Meretoto / Ship Cove in outer Queen Charlotte Sound. So while I will be counting birds as we sail across, they won’t get added to the Te Araroa Atlas dataset.
      Ngā mihi

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