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WINGS Tour Leaders – Brent Stephenson

Brent Stephenson

Image of Brent  Stephenson

Brent was born in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, in 1974 and was brought up in Hastings. He was interested in the outdoors and nature at an early age, taking his first photos of birds at about the age of 8 and then starting to bird soon after. During a family holiday to the UK in 1984 he began birding in earnest, keeping a record of the birds seen. This began the habit of a lifetime!

Birding and photography soon became serious infatuations, and his first sale of bird photographs was made at the age of 16. Starting a Bachelor Degree in Zoology at Massey University, led to birding taking a little bit of a back stage for a while, but it soon returned and during Brent’s Masterate on the ‘Ecology of Morepork’ – a small owl from the Ninox genus – birding once again became an infatuation.

Several trips to Australia soon started off a respectable Australian list, and in 1998 a trip to the UK and South Africa, began to build the foundations of his World List. In 2000 Brent took a trip with several mates to Queensland, Australia, managing to make it to the tip of Cape York and seeing some pretty sensational birds along the way. Another trip to Victoria, Australia in 2001 led to an Australian list tantalisingly close to the magic 500 species! This even includes a first for Australia, when Brent and his mate Rohan Clarke managed to find a chaffinch on Phillip Island near Norfolk Island.

In late 2001, Brent began the BIRDING-NZ newsgroup, to help with the exchange of birding information in New Zealand. Brent was also Regional Rep for the Hawke’s Bay OSNZ from 2000-2002, and was the webmaster for the OSNZ’s website for more than 10 years, creating the website from scratch in 2000.

On 24 January 2004, Brent left on possibly his biggest adventure to date, sailing with the John Ridgway ‘Save the Albatross’ Voyage 2003-4. The boat set sail for the Falkland Islands, rounding Cape Horn on the way. During the voyage Brent recorded and photographed the seabirds seen, as well as helping with the sailing of the boat – the English Rose VI. He then spent six weeks on the amazing Falkland Islands, where he realised that it was possible to work at sea. Later that year a trip to the Kermadecs with Mike Imber in search of the Kermadec storm-petrel, led to a boost in Brent’s NZ list, and he finished the year with the ‘record’ year list for New Zealand of 189 species – see the Birder’s totals page. This was however eclipsed in 2006, being the first person to reach 200 species in a calendar year, with 206 species.

Brent started a PhD on the ‘Ecology and breeding biology of Australasian gannets’ at Cape Kidnappers in 1999, and as can be seen from the trips listed above didn’t let it get in the way of his birding or travelling. Hence the thesis was not handed in until January 2005, much to the concern of his supervisors.

As with Sav, Brent was also a key player in the rediscovery of the supposedly-extinct New Zealand Storm-petrel, organising and participating in the trip in January 2003 when the species was initially resighted. The photos taken by Brent on that day were the first ever taken of a live New Zealand storm-petrel and led to the realisation that the bird seen wasn’t actually a black-bellied storm-petrel – see the photos and read about the rediscovery here and the latest information here. Since the discovery, Brent was initially involved in ongoing research on these birds, capturing six of these birds at sea, but is no longer involved due to other commitments.

Since finishing his PhD Brent has worked in a number of different areas, having worked for Department of Conservation (Boundary Stream Mainland Island), contract research work for proposed Windfarm projects, involvement in the Cape Kidnappers and Ocean Beach Wildlife Preserve, and work on small Expedition cruise ships. Since 2006 he has worked on small Expedition cruise ships for a number of different companies, in Antarctica, the Arctic and many places in between (38 countries in 2008 alone!), all started from a seed sown in the Falkland Islands. Currently, he spends a large part of his year overseas on these small ships, juggling that work with guiding here in New Zealand, and his photography business – most of the photos on this site were taken by him. The highlight for 2013 was publishing his first book – Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide. His present adventures and photos can be found on his blog:

Updated: March 2019