On the 19th of May this year, a single drake Northern Shoveler was spotted on the Stilt Pools at Miranda. This bird was the precursor to a whole spate of sightings, all drakes, from anywhere from Christchurch to Nelson, to Hawkes Bay. In total, at its peak, the Northern Shoveler incursion had peaked at six birds. Incredibly, this was almost half of the total number of accepted sightings ever!
The day after the Miranda bird was spotted, I managed to score a lift from my girlfriend's parents to go and try to see the bird. Despite my fast response, all I got were comments of "You should have been there this morning", and the prestigious title of Bird of the Trip had to go to the Kotuku (White Heron) in the mangroves. No shoveler for me.
The sightings continued to roll in, and it seemed that every birder I knew had seen that bird. My inbox filled up with rare bird alerts, all pertaining to the multitude of shovelers. A few weeks and I was convinced that I was being taunted by this bird. With typical bad timing, my mid-year examinations started straight after I dipped, cutting my days down to school, study and sleep. With slothlike sluggishness, that horrendous time passed, and so I again turned my thoughts to that miscreant bird. Every day could be its last in the country. But miraculously, instead of flying over the horizon, another shoveler turned up! My hopes soared, and I fought for a chance to twitch once more. Of course, my parents were baffled, as to them a duck is a duck. But I must have done something right, and so one Sunday morning, on the first of July, my wonderful mother let me drive us up to the stilt pools once more. After some pretty non-committal comments from Keith Woodley, I ventured out with a scope on my shoulder. No stone was left unturned, no Australian Shoveler unchecked. At ten I hunkered down in the hide, straining my eyes and holding my breath as I surveyed the far-off ducks on the shellbank. This was the spot that had been the most reliable in the past six weeks, and as you can imagine I was almost shaking. While the Royal Spoonbills were nice enough, the duck remained elusive as others came and went. It had been sighted only two days prior, and so it seemed to be just my luck that this was a seemingly invisible bird.
The heat haze shimmered in front of two shovelers, one obscuring the other, as I tracked them at 60x magnification. The front bird was an Australian Shoveler, the back bird... I would find out in the next few seconds. As one slowly overtook the other, I began to see the all green head and white body of a Northern Shoveler! At first, I had to blink a few times to confirm that it wasn't a hallucination conjured up by my racing mind. After pinching myself, it was still there in all its glory! Tick! I had a good look for about half a minute, then took my eye away from the scope to record the bird. When I searched for the bird again, it was gone. Ephemeral, almost dreamlike, a needle in a stack of haystacks. Mine was the second-to-last sighting, and the bird has not been seen since. No photos for me, no field sketches. Just a mark in a book and a second-rate blog post. Birding in its arguably purest form. As I wandered back to the Shorebird Centre, the Kotuku put its head up from its position amongst the mangroves and watched me go.
So who is this weirdo?
Hi! My name is Liam and I am a beginner birder living in Glen Massey. I first became interested in birds after a 6-month missions trip to Papua New Guinea in 2016, and my interest grew from there! I am now a member of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand and Young Birders New Zealand (OSNZ and YBNZ respectively ). So now, I'm starting this blog so I can share my birding adventures with anyone who will listen ☺.