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 ☺.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

2017 Birdathon!

3am came in the form of Joe stomping into the lounge and turning the lights on, while the more sane neighbours slept on. Not us though, and I rolled off the couch and coaxed my body into reluctant action. I had a quick breakfast of cheese and crackers, (the breakfast of champions) washed down with an oddly warm Up & Go, and grabbed my gear. I crammed my supplies into “Georgie” - Donald's wonderful vehicle - and we hit the road.

So why were we getting up at such an obscene hour? For the 2017 Birdathon of course! Our team - the Crakeless Spotters - consisted of Michael Burton-Smith, Joe Dillon, Oscar Thomas, myself, and driver Donald Snook, were setting out to break the Waikato record of 73 species seen in 24 hours. Much like camel polo or cardboard tube fighting, this was a hotly contested competition with a promise of eternal fame and glory, so we were taking it very seriously.

We headed south from Donald's house in Whangaparoa, and as soon as we crossed the Auckland-Waikato border, our count began, at bang-on 5:00am. It was unsurprisingly dark, and unpredictability foggy so we would need to be uber-focused. A certain team member, however, didn't see it that way and fell asleep. Lightweight.

Our first stop was Whangamarino Wetland, where as we rolled along the road a small flock of Spur-winged Plovers became Bird Number One on the trip list, at 5:09. As we continued along the road less travelled, we saw a Pukeko and a few Black Swans, bringing the total up to a whopping 3 birds! 70 to go. We stopped at Coal Bucket Marsh, where the birds began to flow in. While we couldn't actually see anything due to the thick fog, we heard some of the common passerines and more notably a Fernbird, the only one for the trip. We sped on to Falls Road, where a Sacred Kingfisher and a pair of Eastern Rosellas were spied. We pulled into one of the many pond tracks and followed a beaten-down trail into the wetland. As we approached one of the maimais a Dunnock began singing - number 19. Australian Shoveler and Grey Teal were both present, along with a few Mallards and confusingly mucky hybrids. Two Feral Pigeons were present in one of the maimais, and a New Zealand Dabchick flew into view (the first time I have seen one in flight). On our way out we heard a Spotless Crake bubbling away, followed by its characteristic prrrrrr. We heard an Indian Peafowl or two, then moved on to the Falls Road Lookout, where we added Black Shag, White-faced Heron and confirmed Pied Stilt, along with a few more common passerines and a Shining Cuckoo to pad our total out to a nice 37 species, and we were well on schedule.

Next stop was Miranda Shorebird Centre, where we arrived at around 7:30 to catch the falling tide. On our way to the Centre, we made good use of Georgie’s sunroof, and Michael spotted distant Greylag Geese in the southern paddocks. Keith Woodley generously let us hire some decent scopes, and almost immediately we added Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, and South Island Pied Oystercatcher. After a little more searching, we spotted Wrybill, New Zealand Dotterel, LOTS of Pacific Golden-Plovers (almost a hundred if I remember correctly) and Ruddy Turnstone. After scanning the distant shellbanks White-fronted and Caspian Terns became birds 51 and 52, respectively. Black-backed and Black-billed Gulls made an appearance, although to my surprise no Red-billed Gulls. At the Stilt Hide, we managed to pick out five Banded Dotterel, one in beautiful breeding plumage. This was a relief to me, as last month I unwittingly sent two Texan birders on a wild goose chase (hehe) up the coast after Bandies, only to find out they were all in Aussie! 5 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were probing the mud on the other side of the Stilt Pools, and soon after we made our escape. Somehow we missed Banded Rail in the mangroves, but we had no choice but to suck it up and press on.

The early morning Bar-tailed Godwits
We powered up to Te Puru on the Coromandel Peninsula, ticking Red-billed Gulls (finally!) on the way. A huge colony of Spotted Shags followed, probably more than a hundred birds. We pulled over and hunkered down for a seawatch, and pretty soon I spotted a dark gull-like bird chasing a tern. “SKUA!” I called out and watched in awe as it performed some superb aerial acrobatics. The others got onto the bird soon after and it was decided that this bird was an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger). This led to a small crisis when a certain team member accidentally recorded it as an Arctic Tern and unwittingly triggered rare bird reports around the nation, but Joe shall remain nameless. Anyway, I realised that we had seriously missed an easy species - Gannet! So we strained our eyes for the glimpse of one, and finally, one was spotted far off on the horizon, diving into the sea. Australasian Gannet was number 59. On our way down, Oscar suggested that we should have another try for Banded Rail, so we headed to the Karaka Bird Hide in Thames. No rails except those of the model train, however, so we tried to transform one of the numerous White-faced Herons into Reef Herons, to no avail. We were about to leave when I suggested that perhaps this would be a good spot for Brown Teal, so we checked the Mallard flock that was almost at our feet… and lo and behold! A single Brown Teal, right in front of us! Bird number 60! We continued our long southbound journey, and on the way finished off our shag set with a Little Black Shag.

Arctic Skua on left, White-fronted Tern on right. Photo courtesy of Donald Snook.
White-fronted Terns and Spotted Shags
View from the Karaka Bird Hide (Thames). Can you spot the Brown Teal?
We wound up crossing Lake Karapiro, where I again utilised the fantastic sunroof and we spotted New Zealand Scaup on our way to the southern end of Maungatautari. When we arrived at the maunga a pair of California Quail ran along the path while a New Zealand Pigeon swooped from one of the huge rimu trees. As we went deeper into the native bush North Island Robins and Tomtits called as a Kaka screamed overhead. A small flock of Whiteheads buzzed near us, and we began to climb the 16m viewing tower. A Bellbird called, as did Saddleback and Stitchbirds. A New Zealand Falcon zoomed over the canopy, screaming before stooping at unimaginable speeds towards some hapless animal. Number 72, and we were now 2 birds away from claiming the Waikato record! We walked up the Rimu track in search of the elusive Kokako and noisy Yellow-crowned Parakeet, but found neither, and left Maungatautari at about 4:00, heading north again to Cambridge.
We realised that Canada Goose was still missing from our list, and eyes were peeled as we again crossed Karapiro, until finally, Michael spotted a small flock bobbing on the lake. High fives all around, as we were now on the threshold of glory. We arrived at Lake Te Ko Utu with high expectations, and claimed Eurasian Coot as number 74! We made it, despite dipping on so many species (Wild Turkey, Banded Rail, Lesser Redpoll). We all grabbed pizza in Cambridge and drove up to Maungakawa to eat it, where we were promised Redpoll. It seems, however, that we had been duped. No Redpoll here. We soldiered on, to the North End of Maungatautari where once the sun went down we ticked Morepork, our last bird of the day - number 75. We searched for kiwi but no luck, we would have to be content with 75. It was a nice round number anyway.

We got out of Maungatautari at 10, and I finally got to bed at 11:30, buzzing from the thrill of being champions of the Waikato (the V helped too!). Credit must go to Donald Snook, our fantastic driver, and to Georgie, his fantastic van. And of course, to the idiosyncratic and ineffable Michael, who planned the entire trip.

Biggest dips were a few of the Arctic waders, Fluttering Shearwater, Lesser Redpoll, Banded Rail, Australasian Bittern, Royal Spoonbill and… Wild Turkey! We couldn’t believe we missed that one. Next time eh?

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Hakarimata slog

My interest piqued by reports of kaka in the Hakarimata Ranges, I decided to have a bit of a look for myself. Well, a lot of a look. I got dropped off at 8am at the Rail Trail, in Ngaruawahia, and headed up into the bush with my binoculars and my new/old camera that I picked up off TradeMe for a steal. I followed the track and ascended 80 metres to the ridge trail, where two New Zealand Pigeons (Kereru) swooped majestically above my head, while Shining Cuckoos filled the air with their sweeping whistles. No kaka though.

A supplejack knot

I continued along the track for about 2 hours, my pack getting heavier on my aching shoulders. Eventually, I arrived at the Summit Lookout, where I got some stellar views but no birds save one or two Grey Warblers in the canopy. After a break, and some beef crackers and about half a litre of water, I started on the second leg of my journey. Almost immediately I heard the cheerful ti-oly-oly-oly of a male Tomtit, a new bird for my Ngaruawahia list! As I continued along the rutted path I kept hearing these birds, and I ended up with a total of at least 11 distinct individuals. Considering there is very little pest control here I was pretty pleased with that! While in a lot of the country these small robins are common, I had been on a lot of bushwalks and hadn't heard these before. Sadly I didn't manage to see one, but it is good to know that they are there. New Zealand Fantails continued to make their presence known as they followed me, searching for any insects I might have disturbed, while Silvereyes zipped through the undergrowth and male Chaffinches made their pink-pink-pink-chewy-chu calls. Yellowhammers laughed at me as I counted Black Swans floating on the distant oxidation ponds, making an unlikely addition to the trip list.

12:30 - still walking, no kaka
1:00 - still walking, no kaka
1:30 - still walking, no kaka

At about 2 I arrived at the southern lookout, finished off the lunch and the last of my water, and prayed that I wouldn't have to walk much further. A pair of Tui screamed past, chased by... an Australian Magpie - no Falcons ☹. And, no kaka.

The gorgeous view from the Southern Lookout

Sadly there was nothing out of the ordinary for the rest of the walk, and the most exciting thing that happened to me was some trouble with the eBird app... I finished up around 2:30, almost too exhausted to make Goldfinches the last bird on my list, bringing my total to 25 species.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


My last exam was finally over on Thursday 23rd, and I was well and truly on holiday! By Friday afternoon, I was packing my bag with binoculars, scope and field guide. My parents drove three of us young birders up to Miranda Shorebird Centre, pausing at Whangamarino Wetland on the way just to check for bittern. No luck, but we were undeterred. After some 'shortcuts' from Dad, we arrived at the Centre, where we were greeted by a friendly Keith and shown our dorms.

Now, I have just written a really long 3-part post on Miranda from about this time last month, so I won't repeat everything. This is just the highlights... I also must admit these are not my photos - I wish! They were taken by the other two YB's - Adi and Joe.

Saturday morning we walked up to the shellbanks and stilt pools, where we got to try out the new hides (Stilt and Wrybill hides). Along with the common ducks etc we saw a few New Zealand Dotterel, a single Banded Dotterel (our only one for the trip) and a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Now, Keith had promised us free accomodation if we found a new bird for New Zealand, so we desperately tried to turn some of the dotterels into Kentish Plovers and some of the godwits into Marbled Godwits, but to no avail. At the main (Godwit) hide, we saw a beautiful juvenile 'Sharpie', and a Curlew Sandpiper along with the innumerable Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knot. White-fronted Tern were common along with Black-billed Gulls. What can only be described as 'oodles' of Pacific Golden-Plovers were also present, the most I had ever seen at one time. Of course, we learnt that if only we had been a little earlier we would have seen a Cattle Egret in beautiful breeding plumage - that would have been a new bird for my NZ list...

White-faced Heron with an eel

One of the upsides of birding in New Zealand is the sheer number of pelagic or ocean-going birds. However that one came back to bite us when Joe spotted a dark seabird sitting on the ocean in the distance. I opened my guide, only to find that the bird could be any of the following:

  • Grey-faced Petrel
  • Black Petrel
  • Flesh-footed Shearwater
  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Short-tailed Shearwater
That is New Zealand for you! With no chance of ID'ing it, we kept watching the distant ocean until Joe (again!) saw two Skua harrying some unfortunate terns, which with the help of some other birders we identified as Arctic Skua (or Parasitic Jaegar). Number 112 on my year list!

I had the awesome privilege of being able to show some Texan birders some of our extra-special birds such as NZ Dotterels and Wrybill, and it struck me as odd how we had such different reasons for coming. We were both birding, but Martin was on the lookout for Wrybill - a common bird here - and here I was getting excited about the solitary Curlew Sandpiper we had! When they described their common shorebirds in Texas, they more or less named some of the rarest waders in NZ, none of which I had seen. Anyway, they gave us a lift back to the Centre, where we parted ways - they only had a day and a half in NZ!

Me in front and Joe behind - counting Pacific Golden-Plovers

One of the PGP's in question

In the afternoon, we walked up to Kaiaua where we saw.... lots of White-fronted Terns. We were hoping for the ironically named 'Common Tern' or 'Arctic Tern', but no luck. We had fish and chips and headed back.

White-fronted Terns

A greedy juvenile Black-backed Gull

Variable Oystercatcher and NZ Dotterel

The next morning we got to the hides earlier to catch the Cattle Egret, but it again eluded us. The only bird of note that I haven't mentioned earlier was a Brown Teal off on the shellbank. Our time here was over, and the holidays had started out with a hiss and a roar.

Welcome Swallow by the hide

Monday, 27 November 2017

Australasian Bittern at Lake Rotokauri!

Technically, I was studying on Wednesday morning. Indeed, I ticked many of the boxes. I was up early, ate a decent breakfast, picked up a book.... and jumped into the car.... (If you are reading this, Mr Thomson, sorry)

7:30 and I arrived Lake Rotokauri Reserve, spotting scope over my shoulder and binoculars around my neck. The sun crept into the flawless azure sky, and the common passerine birds were in full swing. Before I even got out of the car I heard Silver-eyes, Greenfinches, and Song Thrushes, along with other abundant suburban birds. For a solid 5 minutes I just stood there, picking out the individual songs and honing my ear-birding skills (who knows, I might go blind one day!). As I ambled along the track I fantasised about flushing a Japanese Snipe from the nearby raupō, or watching a Little Egret fly overhead (Yes, birders have boring fantasies). I was brutally dragged back to the real world by the booming of a male Australasian Bittern! I say booming, but these birds sound exactly like someone blowing air over the top of a glass bottle very loudly. Totally unmistakeable! I couldn't believe it at first - these birds were a 'year lister' for me and I was only a few minutes from Hamilton city centre! I thought that this bird must have been a fluke, but almost immediately after the first another bird answered from the other side of the lake! 2 bitterns in 20 minutes! Hoping I would see one, I edged my way around the track to the lake itself, where I deployed my scope and went into full nerd mode, ticking the Black Swans and Canada Geese dotted around the lake along with the trio of Pied, Little Pied and Black Shags. I also scanned the lake edges for dabchick, but no luck. Mallards were of course present, however no Grey Ducks. I played a Spotless Crake call and soon heard the prrrrrrrr of a nearby bird answering. Another wetland bird!

There is a bittern somewhere in this picture...

The lake itself

Then, another bittern began booming to my left, and I balanced precariously on the very top of the bench trying to see it. No luck, but every time I stepped down from the bench, ready to give up, it began again. After a good 20 minutes of yo-yo-ing I ignored the bittern and began to walk around the lake. Much to my disappointment I couldn't walk all the way around the lake, so I backtracked and went the other way, the bittern taunting me all the way. In the satellite ponds around the main lake I saw White-faced Herons, and Spotted Doves around the houses and gardens, reminding me just how urban this area is. Siamang Gibbons from the nearby Hamilton Zoo briefly caught me off guard, hooting and howling, before I realised what they were. As the day warmed up, Skylarks began their almost endless summer song, while a Shining Cuckoo whistled from a huge oak tree. It was around 10am now, and I headed back, on my way to the lakeside bench. On my way I heard 4 distinct bittern calls from very different points around the lake, bringing my bittern count up to at least 4. And then, as I snuck along the boardwalk, I startled a bittern sitting on the path! It took off frantically, crashing into the nearby rushes, while my heartbeat slowed to sensible levels. Naturally I was ecstatic, as I hadn't seen a bittern in over a year, and certainly didn't expect to see one. Only a few minutes later, another bittern took off from the boardwalk, this one much bigger and greyer. This was crazy!

The only other bittern I have seen, at the Ohautira Wetlands near Raglan.

Nothing amazing after that excitement, and I still didn't get a photo of a bittern, but nothing could get me down after the awesome privilege of two bitterns in a few minutes...

Monday, 13 November 2017

Miranda Banding Camp! - Day 3

My dreams were rudely interrupted by another 5am start, followed by a mad dash to the first vehicle. As I was still almost entirely asleep, this was a race I lost, but eventually I was able to clamber into a car and we drove to the Miranda Orchard once again. Mist nets were up again, and banding started pretty soon after I arrived. Once again, I was struck by the realisation that New Zealand's avifauna must be almost entirely composed of Silvereyes, as somehow these were the only birds I got to band. Luck of the draw I suppose, but it was a bitter pill to watch others band Sacred Kingfishers, Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Thrushes, a Fantail and a Starling. Regardless, it was a fantastic morning for everyone, and we banded a total of 48 birds that day. I had the privilege of extracting a Fantail from the net, which was simply amazing. Excluding the tail, these are NZ's smallest birds, and to me this bird felt impossibly light and fragile. Again, all birds were extracted without a problem, and we celebrated another great banding session with another amazing lunch.

After lunch, we were given the option of more banding, or birding. As Michael assured me he knew a great spot for terns, I went with the birding option, and George, Michael and I headed to Ray's Rest with the incredible Paul, all the while dreaming of rare birds. Michael got doubly excited when he realised it was low tide, which "is the best time for terns". Like a fool, I believed him.

We saw a total of 3 terns, all Caspian Terns. This was after a 4km walk in the sun, and the price we paid for this infinitesimal victory was 'birder's burn' on our necks due to our ubiquitous binocular straps. Cheers Michael. We then walked on to the main hide, where we saw many more terns, although sadly only Caspian and White-Fronted Terns. No Arctics, Commons or Antarctics for us. We birded around the stilt ponds for a few hours, again seeing the Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper and Brown Teal among the more common birds. Despite earlier disappointment, this was a great time for birding, and we eventually returned to the Shorebird Centre exhausted, as the others regaled us with tales of banding success that afternoon...

After dinner was when the real excitement began. As the sun set, we strung mist nets over the fetid, stinking Stilt Pools, in preparation for Godwits, Knot and Pied Stilts. Adrian, the 'boss bander' of the weekend, staked out with a thermal imaging scope (so jealous 😀 ) while the procedure was explained to us. One or two lucky individuals would be selected to go with Adrian to retrieve the birds, and take them to the banding station we had set up between the two big vehicles. Then another person would have the honour of banding, while the rest of us would watch with envy. The first bird silly enough to fly at night was a Bar-Tailed Godwit, which we banded, measured, weighed and released again. Red Knots began coming in as well, plus a Pied Stilt and a few Wrybill. When it was my turn to band, I reached into the box, praying that whatever was in there didn't have teeth. My hand wrapped around a soft and smooth Godwit, and I drew it out of the box. The first thing that struck me was its leg, kicking to get away. The second thing was the oddly soft, rubbery bill and amazingly smooth feathers. I held the bird in amazement, and the infinitely gentle face contrasted with the seemingly limitless fury of the bird. Eventually it settled down, and I gingerly begun to put the band on, took my measurement and carried the bird out to the mudflats. There I released it, and left, never to see that bird again. But, if anyone ever sees ZUZ again, PLEASE let me know!

I then lay down in the damp grass for a kip, wrapped in my jacket, and got up when it was time to pack up the net. Got into bed at 1am, and for once got up at a sensible hour the next morning, at about 8am. We finally left at around 2pm.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Miranda Banding Camp! - Day 2

The sharp ones among you may have noticed the amount of time that has passed since Day 1... Maybe you are thinking the smart thing to do would be to post day 2 the day after day 1... I blame school.

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.

The Kotuku

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.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Miranda Banding Camp! - Day 1

After an incredible Sunday on Rangitoto Island, it was back to school for me and the other 799,000 students around the country. But unlike most of them, after a long and dreary Friday afternoon I crammed into a car with 3 other young birders (yes, there are more of us) and our driver, and we headed north. It was wader season!

The beginning of spring heralded the arrival of the Shining and Long-tailed cuckoos, the Buller's Shearwaters, and most importantly for us, the Bar-tailed Godwits and the host of assorted waders that came with them. Around 90,000 'Barwits' arrive in NZ every year, with around 6,000 arriving in Miranda, at the Firth of Thames. So why was I totally disregarding exams, homework, sleep, and an attempt at a social life in exchange for a few birds? Us crazies were heading north to Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre for the YBNZ (Young Birders New Zealand) Youth Banding Camp, headed up by the amazing Ian Southey and others, and subsidised by Fruzio and OSNZ (Ornithological Society). We were going to band birds! This involves capturing them in a fine net known as a mist net, putting a metal numbered band on them and taking measurements. The band meant if the bird was ever trapped again, or found dead, someone would be able to track how far this bird had gone.

I hauled myself out of the car seven pieces of pizza later, and slowly the blood began to return to my legs. We dropped our bags in our dorm (Dotterel Dormitory) and entered the main room of the Centre, where I was confronted by a sea of new faces. A birding newbie like myself, I had never seen such a large gathering of 'bird-nerds', and, slightly bewildered, I introduced myself and was able to put some faces to names. I tried to eat dinner, but that cheap Ngaruawahia pizza didn't want to be forgotten, so I didn't even manage seconds. After dinner, George H, Michael B-S and I headed outside to 'scout out the area for crakes', and when we got back - lo and behold - the dishes were all done! Our gaggle of birders milled collectively into the 'Wrybill Room' where I gazed longingly at all the amazing bird books contained within, until someone started speaking and I gave them my undivided attention. So undivided, in fact, that I can't even remember what they said, so I will move on.

More socialising was followed by bed (not necessarily sleep - thanks Joe!), and we mentally prepared ourselves for a brutal 5am start.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Rangitoto Island and Bird of The Year

Last day of the holidays and I was hard at work studying... just kidding! I was out of bed at 5:00, grabbed my birding bag and jumped in the car. Dad drove the whole family north to Auckland, where the sun finally made an appearance behind the dark grey clouds. We navigated to Quay St, found a 'nearby' carpark and touched the ground again at 7:15. According to Google Maps, it was a 5 minute walk to our ferry terminal, where we would catch our ferry at 7:30 to Rangitoto Island.

Unfortunately, Google Maps was wrong. A walk that we thought was a mere 200 metres turned into a frantic 1.5km run, as we dragged with us our bags and younger brothers. 7:29 and we finally arrived at our terminal, where the man in charge took a startled look at our hastily printed tickets and let us through. As soon as we boarded, the engines kicked into gear and we chugged northeast, to our eventual destination.

30 minutes and hundreds of terns and gannets later, we arrived in Islington Bay, whereupon I began my search for my target species - the Shore Plover. This beautiful wader was once common around New Zealand, but the numbers had dropped rapidly since European colonisation, and now the only place to see them without heading to the Chathams was right here on Rangitoto and its sister island Motutapu. 

A Black Backed Gull at the wharf

I got off the ferry, binoculars concealing my eyes, and bumbled around the bay in search of the Shore Plover, before I was dragged onto a track by my parents. Despite my initial protests, the track proved to be beautiful, and I totally put aside my birding aspirations for a moment to appreciate the rugged volcanic landscape.
The beautiful and rugged volcanic landscape

I did say I put aside my rampant twitchiness for only a moment. The "tiekekeke tiekekekekeke tiekekeke dadadada" of a North Island Saddleback jerked me out of my non-birding stupor and my binoculars soon attached themselves to my eyeballs. In desperation, I turned to my left and was met with blackness. My lens caps were on! By the time I had figured out what was going on, so had the bird, and it was gone.

We continued along the coast as I counted Variable Oystercatchers, and at one point caught up with four NZ Dotterels who had captured an old military base and were doing quite a good job of defending it. Guessing from their excited behaviour and breeding plumage that they were nesting, so we moved on. Only to find that Dad had misread the map taken the scenic route and we had to turn around to find the path.

A rather angry NZ Dotterel - this was his island!

Eventually, we reached Rangitoto Wharf, seeing and hearing Saddleback, Tui, Fantails and Grey Warblers, as well as some shorebirds, but there was a conspicuous absence of Shore Plover... We ate lunch part A on the shore and begun to head inland on the Summit Track. As well as the familiar bush birds we saw a few skinks and some lovely plants. But if you really cared about those then you wouldn't be reading this blog so I will fast forward to the summit.

A fat, lazy pair of Brown Quail were half-heartedly nibbling bread at the top of the steps, while Whiteheads buzzed in the distance. At the very top, we posed for photos with supposedly stunning Auckland behind us. The sun had burnt away any traces of cloud, and we were treated to a million-dollar view behind us. A few bits of cracker were used to entice Chaffinches and Silvereyes nearer for a halfway decent photo, and then I struck out for a brisk walk around the crater, pausing to grab some pictures of some more Brown Quail and watching the whiteheads flit around me.

An interesting contrast - Auckland seemed half a world away

Bread! (and some quail)

The killer view from the top of the volcano

A male Chaffinch looking to nick some cracker...

After some time, we decided to head back down to the bay, so we began the arduous trek downhill, this time on the more direct route. I lead the charge and saw many more Saddlebacks and Whiteheads. About half an hour down, I heard the drawn out, bubbly chatter of a Red-Crowned Parakeet - first lifer! (New bird) I managed to get some amazing views for a few seconds, but before I could get my camera out, it and its mate had disappeared into the forest.

As the day got hotter, the number of active birds began to drop, however the view down onto Motutapu was more and more gorgeous, so I wasn't complaining. We had been walking for about 2 hours and were drawing closer to sea level. As we passed the historic houses and gardens I mentally switched into full birding mode, as I knew this could be my last chance to see a Shore Plover (as the small population on the island could easily go locally extinct). Distractions including other people and a pressing need to urinate were totally ignored as I reached Islington Bay and edged around the coast.

Caspian Terns were croaking on the beach with both mainland species of oystercatcher and some pukekos. I flushed a Brown Quail that set my heart racing, but there were still as many Shore Plovers as there were moa, so I was getting worried. Only 30 minutes until the ferry left...

I abandoned the mangroves and moved to the northern side of the causeway, where a REEF HERON crouched only a few metres away! If I had more time, you would have read my post about walking for two hours to try and see a 'Reefie' in Raglan only a couple of days previous. This was fantastic, but wasn't as rare as the bird I was chasing, so I scanned the rocks around the beach until...

A Reef Heron - I felt bad for the lack of attention he got with the Shore Plovers behind him!

SHORE PLOVER! Two tiny, black faced dotterels popped up onto the rocks next to me, and flew down onto the beach, right next to the reef heron! My camera was filling up rapidly with all of these mediocre shots, and the birds ran almost up to my feet! Once they were finished with their little display, they were gone, and the reef heron left after them. I was literally dancing for joy, ignoring the baffled Swedish tourists watching me...

The star of the show!

When the ferry left, I was on it, still buzzing from this incredible encounter, and even the dead austerity of Auckland Central failed to interrupt my fantastic mood. Even school the next day was bordering on enjoyable in light of recent events...

A note:
I fully intended to publish this post before the long weekend, and steer your vote for Forest and Bird's Bird of the Year towards the Shore Plover, seeing as I am campaign manager for Shore Plover and everything... Maybe I will win the 'worst campaign manager' award.

3 species in 1 shot! Shore Plover, Reef Heron and Variable Oystercatchers.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Scaup, Seagulls and Sulphur

Finally, the holidays! No use wasting time, so I am spending the wet weekend in Taupo and Rotorua, spending time with the family and some friends from overseas, and some light birding with a chap from Paris. 

Seven-thirty saw me rushing around, stuffing my field guide, binoculars and raincoat into my cheap fabric 'birding bag', jumping onto eBird and frantically finding the best "hotspots". We squished into the van and started heading south, as I pointed out the common birds like Tui, Fantails and Spur-Winged Plovers (after the usual explanation that our plovers were not actually plovers!).

Stop number one on my mental birding map was the Aratiatia Dam, where we watched the dam open and I counted the scaup and shags sitting along the top. Once the raging waters had subsided we moved on to a few touristy spots, but as this is a birding blog we will fast-forward this crazy narrative.

At long last, we arrived in Taupo,  where we put our bags in our slum motel and braved the mad weather to go and look at the birds at the waterfront. Hundreds of waterfowl were bobbing in the rain, and we saw Black Swans, Australasian Coots, and the ubiquitous NZ Scaup.

The next day, a few of us went out on a boat trip on the lake, despite the howling wind and drizzle. Again, coots, scaup, swans and mallards were common and widespread, and a highlight of the cruise was watching the skipper feed the ducks out of the window... on the second tier! The ducks kept pace with the boat, and among the pure mallards and grubby hybrids, I managed to spy a few rare Grey Ducks! This was a big deal for me, as these were some of the purest Grey Ducks I'd seen, with green speculums (specula?), grey bills and clearly striped faces. As we approached the land again, I heard the 'zzzsh' of Whiteheads (the bird not the pimple!) in the bush, as well as some of the more common bush birds. By the time we got back, I had also added my first Dabchick of the trip to the list, giving me a total of 15 species in 2 hours. Not fantastic, but the views were stunning, so I got off the boat in a good mood. 

The skipper feeding a Mallard out the window - quite spectacular!

Checking for Grey Ducks on the lake

Later in the day, we headed north-east to Rotorua, stopping at some of the best geothermal spots. Again, this isn't Lonely Planet, so I won't bore you with the details, but long story short we arrived in a marginally less seedy motel that night and settled in. Early (well, early for the holidays) next morning Martin and I ended up in the aptly named Sulphur Bay.

The beautiful Sulphur Bay

Let me get this straight. We did not ignore the warning signs. We did not go to a restricted part of the bay to look at gulls, and we most certainly did not trespass on restricted land. Somehow we were still able to rack up a good few species, including Greylag and Canada Geese, 4 Dunnocks (special for us northerners), all 3 gull species and of course, hundreds of scaup. After a look at the thermal area that gives Sulphur Bay its name (from a safe distance of course ;) ), we headed home, detouring at Rainbow Springs.

Bird of the trip - the charismatic Scaup. I wish there were a few more of these closer to home!

Boom. My holiday. No lifers, but it was great fun. Hope yours were as good!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Windy birding up North

I awoke on the morning of the 26th of August to the sound of Tui duelling with Australian Magpies overhead. Tick. Tick. Hurriedly packing my bags I jumped in the car and Dad drove me down to picturesque Ngaruawahia, where Mynas, Starlings and Sparrows all made it onto my day list... I needed these 'plastics' if I was going to beat my personal record of 56 birds in a day. I met up with two other birders, Michael B-S and Russ C, the latter of which I had not previously met. Russ was driver, and on the long road up to Auckland he offered Michael and I an offer we couldn't refuse - the birder who spotted the best bird of the trip would score themselves the excellent (and expensive) Birds of New Zealand: A photographic guide to keep! The rest of the trip we kept ourselves amused with quizzes derived from Aussie and NZ bird guides, and all the while I kept one eye out for the next bird.

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 as fast as we could  as fast as legally possible, only to find it had flown.

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.

Monday, 28 August 2017

New name!

Hey all!
Following my recent trip to Northland and Auckland (post to come), I have renamed my blog, as the previous name no longer fitted. I fully intend to move further and further afield in my never-ending quest for birds, rather than be confined to the Waikato. So, influenced somewhat by recent "dips" out on Black Kites, Cattle Egrets and Australian Shelducks, I have renamed this blog to something more accurate...

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Peat bog slog

Thanks to our nation's wonderful education system, coupled with my own laziness, it has been a while since my last post, and indeed, a while since I've been birding at all. Instead of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms and moving on with my life, I made an impulsive decision last night to head south to Lake Ngaroto to see the migrant cattle egrets that make this lake their home during the winter months. This meant putting all exam study on hold, convincing my parents it was just a "study break", and bracing myself for a concentrated hit of that agonising torture so cleverly disguised as a public transport system. Despite these Herculean trials, I made it to McFalls Road, where the (very friendly, despite my previous rant) bus driver dropped me. I would be on foot from here.

I meandered uphill onto the fittingly named "Lake Road", scanning both sides of the road with my binoculars for a glimpse of the birds. A friend said that they were at a effluent pond on the other end of the road, so that was my first port of call. After a decent trudge, I arrived at the aforementioned poo pond, only to be filled with righteous indignation! These birds had moved! How dare they?

Now feeling quite affronted, I walked to the end of the road and again checked all the paddocks for the egrets, seeing skylarks, yellowhammers, stilts, swallows and plovers, but absolutely no Cattle Egrets. I trekked back to the other end of the road, STILL seeing no species of heron whatsoever, and gave up.

Nursing the deep wound of "dipping", I realised that my bus wouldn't arrive for another 3 hours, I wandered, fairly aimlessly, down State Highway 3 until my (allegedly) sharp eyes spotted a predator-proof fence. Curiosity aroused, I walked down the hill to take a look. Turns out it was Lake Serpentine, which was a predator proofed peat bog. Not only that, but it was free AND had a toilet. I was well and truly convinced and went in.

Considering the time of day, birdlife at the lake was good, with lots of fantails and grey warblers in the bush. The walking tracks were a little bit flooded, so my woefully inadequate trainers turned into sponges, but as I moved around the lake I started ticking off many an interesting bird. A new mallard family started off the walk, and plentiful introduced passerines bulked out my total. Chaffinches, dunnocks and silvereyes were all predictably numerous, as well as skylarks and swallows. A pair of rather irate Spotless Crakes were an unexpected bonus, and a lonely Grey Teal on the lake kept things interesting. I talked to a volunteer checking the tracking tunnels and she said that she has often seen bittern and fernbirds, but today was not my lucky day (as was becoming rapidly apparent!). She told me about the Wetland Trusts plan to reintroduce KIWI to the site, which will be exciting, and she is expecting the other wetland birds to grow in number once they begin breeding at the site.

I had a good 3 hours birding at the lake before I had to leave to wave down a bus (or so I thought...). I walked once more around the lake before heading off, crossing the road and waiting for the bus.

2:10 - No bus. Not entirely unexpected.
2:15 - Still no bus. I've told myself not to worry until 2:20.
2:20 - A definite lack of buses. Slightly concerned. It has also started raining.
2:30 - Now raining heavily. Thanks to a small tree I am getting only slightly saturated.
2:40 - Just saw the bus... going the WRONG WAY. Must have read the timetable wrong. Oh well, any minute now.
3:00 - I am now quite cold, and my trainers seem to have absorbed several times their weight.

Anyway, after about 80 minutes I dried myself off and typed up this post using the bus WiFi.

EDIT: Thanks to late buses and my own ineptitude, I didn't get home until 5.

That's birding for you.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Whangamarino Verywetland

Just got back from a pleasant afternoon's birding at Whangamarino with another birder my age, Michael. We started off at my local poo ponds in Ngaruawahia, where we were able to tick the more common waterfowl such as Mallards, Black Swans, Australasian Shovelers and Grey Teal, as well as a whole bunch of easy-to-get passerines (perching birds) and the elegant Pied Stilts. I left the Oxidation Ponds with a total of 30 species under my belt, including some which I'd nabbed earlier in the day on Kereru Road, Glen Massey, such as NZ Bellbird and NZ Pipit. We headed up State Highway 1, and after a little trouble with a stubborn SatNav, we made it to Mangatawhiri.

Ngaruawahia Sewage Ponds

For about 8 months of the year, most birders wouldn't look twice at a place like Mangatawhiri. But interestingly enough, during winter it is home to one of New Zealand's newest species, the Galah. For some reason, every year Galah migrate south from Ponui Island in the Hauraki Gulf to this one spot to feast on the leftover maize stubble after harvesting. They were introduced about 50 years ago, and have really put this tiny village on the map for winter Waikato birdwatchers. Anyway, that was my main target species for the day, so off we went. After fruitlessly scanning the maize fields, we ignored the usual spot and went up Mangatawhiri Rd to the old Castle Cafe. Despite my seeming bird-blindness, Michael spotted three sitting very pretty in a pine tree, and eventually I saw them. Galah was my first and only lifer of the day, while Michael, the more experienced birder, just witnessed my delight at seeing this rare and beautiful bird, number 34 for the day.

My awful photo of a Galah - blame the camera!
After a rubbish photo, we headed south down Falls Road, where we stopped at the lookout right in the south-east corner of the 7200 hectare wetland. Here we checked for bittern and crakes, but the flats below were much too flooded for these cryptic and secretive species. We headed north again to the main Falls Road walkway. Pressed for time, we raced down the path until...prrrp... the soft, bubbling call of the reticent Spotless Crake tickled our ears. Tick. It didn't stop there, and after some coaxing from our recordings we managed to pinpoint at least FIVE crakes all around us! This is a definite high count for me, as previously I had one shaky record from the Whangamarino west ponds. Ears pricked, Michael managed to also pick out a Dunnock singing in the distance, rather special for the Waikato region although I know anyone south of Taupo will be chuckling at this!

The view from the Falls Rd Lookout
Tired and hungry, we headed back home via Island Block Road, and on the way heard our last birds for the day, a few Fernbirds at Coal Bucket Marsh, on the west side of the wetland, leaving us on a respectable 40 species in a few hours of fairly relaxed birding.
The moon rising over the West Ponds

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Trying out new gear at the local poo ponds

After long hours of squinting through 8-power binoculars, of struggling to make out identification marks from 100 metres away, of following the flight of a bird over the ocean only to find it was an insect a few centimetres from my face, it arrived. At last, I had a scope! While it had nothing on the thousand-dollar, sleek, smooth spotting scopes I had dreamed about, this one was mine. It wasn't perfect, but considering the low price tag the Celestron Ultima 80mm was my choice, which I haven't regretted at all.
Of course, it arrived on a Monday, so I had to wait out 5 days of virtual scopelessness before I could try it out. It was worth the wait, though, and I managed to convince my parents to take me down to the Ngaruawahia Wastewater Treatment Plant so I could see how it performed. Naturally, it was windy and raining, and I would have to set it up on lumpy, muddy ground at an angle, so this was a trial by fire for my new scope.
The scope really exceeded my expectations, and I could get a beautifully clear picture even at 60x magnification. Stability was an issue, as was the fence blocking my view, but even at >100m I could see some stunning Australian Shoveler and Grey Teal amongst the more common Mallards. While there weren't any mega vagrants or anything, I managed to bump my NGA WTP life list up to 35, which I was very pleased with. Now all that remains is to convince whoever is in charge of the plant to let me in...
All in all it was a good half hour (before we had to leave), and although the location was hardly exotic it was a good field test for a great budget scope.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Ngaruawahia to Miranda

Hello everyone! I must confess, I promised an article about my local sewage pond in my last post, but I've been too lazy to actually get around to writing one. However, today's birding, I think, warrants a post. In light of the recent Australian Shelduck sighting at Miranda, me and a few birdnerd friends decided to have a go at 'twitching' this rarity. So to avoid wasting half a day, I got up insanely early (7:30am, because it is a weekend after all) and walked up the road for a bit of a quick bird. I saw almost nothing, as winter has driven the kingfishers and rosellas to warmer places (where I want to be!) and there was no sign of the Sulphur-crested cockatoos. Regardless, it was a nice walk and I still racked up 20 species in 20 minutes, a count not to be sniffed at. Unless, like me, you had a cold, yet another joy of birding in autumn. I left Glen Massey on 23, thanks to a few other birds hanging around the garden, and moved on to the Ngaruawahia Wastewater Treatment Plant (Told you it would get a mention!). I climbed over the gate scouted out the area and saw another few good birds, including lots of black swans, shoveler, Grey Teal and Pied Stilt (New birds for the location). It was still chilly, and by the time I got back in the car I could no longer feel my toes. Oh well. I met up with my friends in Gordonton, and we drove to Kaiaua, briefly stopping at Mangatawhiri to look for Galah (no luck). On to Kaiaua quarry lakes, where we picked up some waterfowl and we had some good *ahem* cormorants by the lake. Along the terribly named "Seabird coast" (It was actually famous for shorebirds) I got my first lifer of the day, Fluttering Shearwater. Laugh all you like, but this 'bogey bird' had been haunting me for months. Everyone seemed to see them in their thousands but me.

Once that loose end had been tied up, we headed down the coast to Ray's rest, where we saw spoonbills, all three gull species, oystercatchers and Banded Dotterels and ate some delicious chips.

Because none of the dotterels were thoughtful enough to turn into Lesser Sand-plovers, we headed further along the coast, to Miranda itself. It was just coming up to high tide, so the birds were pushed up near the hide. About 150 Bar-Tailed Godwits remained on the shellbanks and mudflats, as well as 4 Red Knot, about a thousand Wrybill, one or two NZ Dotterel and a few Banded Dotterel, about 40 Royal Spoonbills. Constant Harriers flying over ensured the birds kept taking to the air, making it hard to count, although I managed a few nice photos of them in flight. Our first spot was the Stilt pools, where a single White Heron (Great Egret for you foreigners :) ) preened itself. Lots of Paradise Shelducks, Black Swans and of course, Pied Stilts. As well as all the usuals we had EIGHT BLACK-TAILED GODWITS! This is a huge number, and they were a lifer for me so I was very pleased. After searching for the Aussie Shelduck with no luck, we moved back to the hide, where we saw one Whimbrel hanging behind the godwits. Tick. A solitary Pacific Golden-Plover brought the count up again, then our time was up and we headed home.

Black-Tailed Godwits among more common birds

Did we see the Aussie Shelduck? Of course not.