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 ☺.

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.

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