In busy, noisy Auckland around 9am, we picked up Harry B, an international twitcher who knew his stuff with a life list of 2000 plus birds. Now fully loaded, we headed north, braving the wind and rain in our search of birds. First stop: the vast Kaipara Harbour, just north of Auckland. On the way, however, Harry's sharp eyes spotted a pair of Cape Barren Geese - extremely rare for this area, and indeed, New Zealand. Not only that, but rare Mute Swans were also there. However, something was definitely wrong. Surely there was no way we would see both these species in one place... then I spotted the Ostrich and Emu in the same paddock, as well as three giraffes further on... Dangit. Definitely not wild then. Some rich collector was having a laugh at our expense!
A quick Subway pit stop, and we headed down the winding gravel roads, forever alert for a sign of the Australian Pelicans that had turned up here in March/April. The pelicans were nowhere to be seen, but we made it to the (now very muddy) vehicle access to Big Sand Island, where instead of risking Russ's new car we got out and readied ourselves for a few hours of birding. Our target species here were the Nationally Critical Fairy Terns, of which there are only 40 left in New Zealand! We were also hoping for some rarer waders, and maybe some surprise tern species. As soon as we got out of the car, a Dunnock revealed itself with a thin, reedy warble. New Zealand Pipits and Skylarks were in good numbers, and once we had walked out to the south end of the island Bar-Tailed Godwits and Wrybill were nice and obvious. Banded and NZ Dotterels were around, and as we got closer to the main flock of birds we saw not one, but SEVEN Fairy Terns! As we were watching these, two Little Terns also terned up (sorry). What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.
|Black-Fronted Tern with a Fairy Tern|
|Terns at Kaipara|
Black-Fronted Terns are a small, grey tern species that are found in the braided river systems of the South Island. Occasionally, one or two would turn up to Wellington, and they have been recorded in the Bay of Islands and even sparingly in Auckland. So what happened next was not entirely unprecedented. But undoubtedly no-one was expecting it. Just as we were about to leave the small flock of Fairy and Little Terns, Michael gave a yell, pointing to a bird overhead. And, just like magic, the exquisite, handsome Black-Fronted Tern glided down to land only a few metres in front of us! Tick! This one was a lifer for Michael and I, and one of the most northerly records ever. According to eBird, it was the third most northerly record in history, with the first in the Far North, in 1986, and the second at Langs Beach in 2004. Bird of the trip! Not only that, but now Michael had an almost unshakeable hold of the book Russ had offered...
Elated, we walked to the north end of the island, although we failed to see anything amazing save an albino oystercatcher. The tide was coming in with a vengeance now, and we hastily crossed back over to the mainland (and seeing some pretty cool jellyfish as well), and left Kaipara with a whole lot of birds on the day list, as well as wet shoes :\
Next and final stop for the day was Waipu Wildlife Refuge. The wind had picked up dramatically, with 50km/h winds and even stronger gusts, making conditions ideal for seawatching the east coast. We set up scopes on the beach, and watched daring Australasian Gannets plummet into the violent ocean, but we couldn't see anything else. Then a huge, dark shape appeared offshore, coming out of the fog to fill our scopes. Northern Giant Petrel! This almost albatross-sized seabird was the third lifer of the trip for me, and was a satisfying end to the birding day. We made our way to the bach we were staying at, left our bags and gear there, and went out for dinner. When we came back, I tried to watch the rugby, but I was quickly reminded why I don't like watching rugby, so I went to bed after 5 minutes.
The next morning we were up at 6, scoping out the dam below us for any signs of Australian Little Grebes, but the grebes were too far away for anything definite. Russ learnt that I still hadn't yet ticked Peafowl, so we first headed north to Waipu Caves, where several rather windy Indian Peafowl were running across the road. Cheers Russ, that was quick. We then headed to Ormiston Ponds to see the resident Aussie Little Grebes, and, like magic, they were there. Two lifers and we were just warming up, it seemed. As we headed south, with even stronger winds buffeting the coast, I was met with the crushing revelation that I had left my leftover pizza in the bach fridge. Quickly spiralling into the cold depths of depression, my teammates realised that they had to do something, and fast. So we stopped in Wellesford and I bought a banana, for an amazing 16 cents. Crisis averted.
Pulled out of my pizza-craving stupor by a mixture of carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B-6, we could continue on our journey. We went on to Ruakaka Wildlife Refuge for another seawatch, but saw only gannets both diving into the rolling ocean, and the less-brave ones taking shelter in the river.
As we moved further south, Harry received a call from Oscar T, a fellow Young Birder, who was very excited to share that he was looking at a Kookaburra! Released by Governor Grey in the 1860's, Laughing Kookaburras never really took off, but were still holding on in the north. This would be a lifer for myself, and a new one for NZ for both Michael and Russ. Naturally, we raced down there
Disappointed, we went down to Tawharanui Regional Park, where we finished the day off with birding in the bush, lagoon and seawatching. Bush birding highlights were the 12 North Island Saddlebacks and 2 North Island Robins, and we saw Brown Teal and Banded Rails in the Lagoon. Seawatching was mostly fruitless, although not vegetable-less, bread-less or indeed bird-less, as we still saw numerous Fluttering Shearwaters and two Northern Giant Petrels.
|Pied Stilt at the Tawharanui Lagoon|
We finished the day with a Grey Teal at Straka's Lagoon, our final 'bogey bird' dealt with. Total count for the weekend was a whopping 74 species, and 5 lifers for me.