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, 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.