After the longest time at the wheel I’ve ever had, my family and I crawled out of our smelly, cramped Ford Fiesta into the glaring Bay of Plenty sunshine. After an early lunch of famous Maketu Pies, we headed to the mouth of Maketu estuary, where I watched stunning White-fronted Terns speed past masses of Red-billed and Kelp Gulls. The piping of Variable Oystercatchers was carried along the wind as my excitement grew, as it had been far too long since I had associated with these beautiful birds. After walking a while with my family, I struck out on my own onto the sandbanks, festooned with binoculars and camera and scope. In the distance, partially obscured by the heat haze, newly arrived Bar-tailed Godwits rested on the sand. Meanwhile, some movement on the sand a few metres in front of me alerted me to several pairs of New Zealand Dotterel running in circles madly. They were absolutely beautiful in breeding plumage, with a lovely orange wash on their breast feathers. While I wasn’t fortunate enough to see any nests or young, no doubt these birds were breeding or would be soon. An irritable White-faced Heron croaked at me and took off, fish in its bill. As I wandered further out onto the wet sand, the shimmer over the sand receded, and I was able to pick out a flock of Royal Spoonbills, forty of them! Two were nearby, again in stunning breeding plumage with a crest of pure white feathers and a pale orange breast. I admired them further for a while, watching their bills move side to side as they sifted through the water. At this point, a group of five titchy Wrybill fearlessly approached me, coming to well within three metres. Watching them, and a fair distance from the main dotterel flock was an odd-looking bird. It seemed a shade smaller than the NZ Dotterel, with dark patches under the eyes and an entirely grey-and-white body. For a few minutes I attempted to get a few closer photos of this bird, thinking it to be perhaps a Greater Sand-Plover, but after running it past some experts they all concluded it to be an immature New Zealand Dotterel. Oh well, one day I’ll find something actually rare! As I turned back, I scanned the godwit flock with my binoculars. Dissatisfied with the view, I tried to open up my tripod, catching my fingers in the process. Eventually, I had the ungainly legs of my tripod in a satisfactory position and examined the hundred-or-so tired-looking birds. Nothing stood out as being particularly odd, though, so I left them alone and returned to the car with nothing to show except a sore finger, sandy feet and a few photos.
|The estuary mouth|
|The rocky shoreline to the east|
|A stunning New Zealand Dotterel|
|A White-faced Heron|
|Wrybill on the sand|
|The confusing second-year NZ Dotterel|
|A regal-looking Royal Spoonbill|
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable excursion, and I hope to return when all the birds are back from the Northern Hemisphere!