Anyway, Saturday dawned bright and painfully early, as the wake up call for our dawn was 4:45! I say I woke up, but what I really mean is that I was moving. My brain only caught up with my body a few hours later. So we wolfed down our brekkie like a flock of caffeine-fuelled gulls, and grabbed our various bird-nerd odds and ends, including notebooks and (of course!) binoculars. I'm surprised no-one slept with them on. I jumped in one of the vehicles and we drove to the Miranda orchard, a site of much bird-banding over the past few years, mostly due to the Miranda Field Course. When I got there people had already set up the mist nets, and us newbie banders were shown the ropes by the amazing Michelle Bradshaw, a (the?) Bird Banding Officer for the Department of Conservation. Using 3D printed plastic legs we practised putting bands on birds of different sizes, learning about different types of band, the equipment used, how to take bill and wing measurements, and how to 'read' a bird's wing moult. After an hour or so, I felt ready to work with a real bird, and before long a rather unhappy Silvereye was placed in a cloth bag in front of me. More and more birds were coming in, and at one point a flock of around 20 Silvereyes managed to get stuck in a net. We had to call for reinforcements, and almost the whole team came to this one net to extract and bag these birds. While I only got to band Silvereyes, 'the team' managed to catch, extract, process and release Sacred Kingfishers, Song Thrushes, Eurasian Blackbirds, House Sparrows and Goldfinches. Not only that, but Indian Peafowl, Spotted Doves and Shining Cuckoos were all present near the orchard, so we could do a little birding as well. At around 11:30, we got hungry, packed up the nets and headed back for lunch.
After a delicious lunch, we were told that we had some 'downtime' and that we should all get some rest... yeah right! We all went birding instead.
We were driven out to the hides by the amazing supervisors, and set up the scopes for some serious birding. Acronyms were thrown out like stones, as we spotted PGP's (Pacific Golden Plovers), VOC's (Variable OysterCatchers), SIPO's (South Island Pied Oystercatchers), BBG's and RBG's (Red and Black Billed Gulls) as well as Royal Spoonbills, and lots and lots of Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knot. The total was climbing rapidly, with a stunning Kotuku or White Heron standing practically right next to the path! We continued counting and ticking and checking and counting again, going over the flock of birds with a fine-tooth comb until... "CURLEW SANDPIPER!" Oscar called out from the other end of the hide. This would be a 'lifer' for me, so I raced over to where Oscar was and just stopped myself from kicking him off his own scope for a look. Selfish, I know, but I'll admit 'other people' was well at the bottom of my emotionally charged list of priorities. I composed myself, and Oscar found the bird again and stepped aside to let me use his scope (cheers Oscar!). Frantically I pushed my eye up against the eyepiece, and desperately scanned the Red Knots for an out-of-place bird. It seemed that some divine force had decided to strike me 'bird-blind' and so my panic grew exponentially, as the flock started to get restless. Again, I steadied my nerves and took a fresh look... and there it was, in the middle of the scope! As soon as I managed to splutter out "I see it!" , the entire flock took off again, and I was never to see that bird again. Boom. Bird 191. Elated, I moved back to my previous haunt, and with renewed eyes I continued my searching. Gillian, one of the supervisors, had taken pity on us and brought some delicious filled rolls (God bless her!), of which I duly wolfed down, so I was fully distracted when the big event happened.
|Wrybill on the shellbanks|
|Pacific Golden Plover in foreground, Red Knots in background|
"SHORE PLOVER!" George yelled, using Ian's superior scope. What? I thought George must have made some mistake, as only 6 days ago I had made a trip especially to Rangitoto Island to see these birds. I couldn't believe it, and neither could George! The whole crew took turns to view this incredible bird (which you can read a bit about here), and I was there smug... not a lifer for me! Regardless, this was an incredible rare bird, as there are only around 175 left in the world! This makes them one of the rarest in New Zealand, so George was justifiably ecstatic, as were we all. So there it was. As the sun went down, the light died on the rarest bird I have ever seen. It would not be seen again at Miranda. Ephemeral, just like the population itself.
Needless to say, we got to bed quite a bit earlier that night. Another 5am start tomorrow.