Serendip Sanctuary was a new venue for Birdlife Beginners and the 38 members who attended were anticipating seeing a range of wetland and waterbirds. Sadly, the whole area was very dry and there was no water at all in Lake Serendip and the North Arm. Despite this there were many interesting sightings throughout the day. On leaving the carpark area (which was dominated by New Holland Honeyeaters) other species were soon located. A few lucky members caught sight of a male Rose Robin and shortly afterwards a family of Golden Whistlers was seen.
A Restless Flycatcher perched in a tree was a “lifer” for many of the group.
On entering the first of the open animal enclosures a raucous group of White-winged Choughs were busy foraging and several Red-rumped Parrots were seen – some feeding on the ground, others flying and one pair investigating a nest hollow.
Purple-crowned Lorikeets had been reported in the area and a couple of members were fortunate enough to see a pair fly from a nearby tree. A pair of Whistling Kites flew low overhead enabling a good view of their underwing pattern. A couple of Cape Barren Geese were feeding in this area along with several Magpie Geese and when all of them flew off over the fence it was agreed that they could be added to the tick list!
After walking past several dry ponds, the members entered an enclosed aviary which provided close up views of several less-common species such as Bush Stone Curlews and Buff-banded Rails. It was amusing to watch a flock of Red-browed Finch flying in and out through the netting to avail themselves of the food and water supply.
One small pond had bore water being piped into it to enable children to do pond-dipping. As the members approached, a Black-fronted Dotterel flew away but a Little Pied Cormorant remained along with Dusky Moorhens, an Australasian Grebe, a Eurasian Coot and a few Teal and Pacific Black Ducks. Whilst walking back to the carpark a huge flock of Magpie Geese could be seen in the distance and two pairs of captive Australian Bustards were admired.
Bird call after lunch recorded 40 wild species and members agreed that it had been a very productive visit.
It was decided to move the short distance to the You Yangs Regional Park for a second, brief, walk in the afternoon. This was regarded as an “off the record” addition for those interested. The highlight there was the sighting of a Wedge-tailed Eagle flying overhead and 4 additional species were seen: Silvereye, Rainbow Lorikeet and both Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters.
Once again, many thanks to Eleanor Dilley for providing her photographs.
Heavy rain overnight did not deter 10 birders from meeting in the layby beside the busy Hallam South Road. John Bosworth was our leader and knows the area well, having participated in the regular surveys for Melbourne Water for many years (covid excepted). The start of the walk involved making our way past assorted works areas before continuing into the grassland. Birding initially was limited, a fat Little Pied Cormorant perched on a well-used wooden pole at a pond’s edge, there were the introduced Common Mynas and Starlings, a skein of Australian White Ibis overhead and there was the occasional flight of pairs of Rainbow Lorikeets.
The area is manmade and designed as a flood control zone by Melbourne Water so it is interesting to watch how the avifauna react. We had added Purple Swamphen and Common Greenfinch when we encountered Golden-headed Cisticolas calling and flitting among the reeds, to the delight of those in the group who hadn’t seen them before or those who hadn’t seen them since before the pandemic started.
A Little Grassbird was heard calling and overflights included a Royal Spoonbill and a few Straw-necked Ibis. Bush birds included Superb Fairy-wrens and a couple of Flame Robins, both a male (almost fluorescent) and female (healthily plump).
Honeyeaters were limited to New Holland and White-plumed.
But, as suited a flood-control wetland, waterbirds were varied and our list soon included a White-necked Heron, standing near a White-Faced Heron and allowing easy comparison of their respective sizes.
A female Australasian Darter stood close to the bank and allowed excellent views while a solitary Great Egret foraged among the reeds and Cattle Egrets used a small mob of sheep to stir up insects in an adjacent paddock. A couple of Black Swan paddled near, a lone Little Black Cormorant flew past and the ducks were those dependable Pacific Black and Australian Woods.
Red-browed Finches in flocks of 30 flew across the track and a Willie Wagtail had been seen by most as we headed back to the cars and a lunch break.
Lunch was at River Gum Creek, a short drive along Coral Drive, but several people were unavailable in the afternoon due to prior engagements so our walking group became 6 people for the short distance. At the start we were disappointed to see a small group “feeding the birds”. This had attracted hundreds – Silver Gulls, Pacific Black Ducks, Eurasian Coots, Dusky Moorhens, Purple Swamphens and House Sparrows – and no wonder as when the people departed there were still huge piles of what appeared to be bakery output. Perhaps acquired unsold produce. It looked like rat heaven. We walked on and recorded the same species well away from that area.
Many of the species were, unsurprisingly, those we had already noted in the morning but it was good to observe another darter and to add birds of the land: Galah, Long-billed Corella and, convincingly glimpsed, a Scaly-breasted Lorikeet near a remnant mature gum known to hold nests in hollows in the past. At walks’ end we had listed 38 species at Troups and 30 at River Gum with a cumulative count of 45 species for the day. We were most appreciative of John’s preparation which reminded some of the pleasures of this area and introduced others who’d not visited before.
It’s quite a drive from Melbourne but the lifting of the covid-19 restrictions was a considerable spur and 18 people assembled in the small parking space near the start of the Wuchatsh reserve walk. We had been a long time since the previous outing. The weather was favourable, windless and overcast, and bird calls reached us from the bush.
Car park birding was mostly by ear but Australian Magpies were present in the adjacent paddocks and an immature Grey Butcher bird used the near fence for pounce hunting. The trail was almost entirely only for single file but this meant different parts of our party were able to study different species as we and the birds moved around. The tall eucalypts filled with the calls of a flock of Crimson Rosellas while the quieter twitters of smaller bush species provided challenges as we tried to locate sources. These included Brown Thornbill, White-throated Treecreeper and the louder Golden Whistler and Grey Shrike-thrush. Eastern Whipbirds challenged with their ventriloqual powers, but, as very often, none were sighted.
With the time available our walk was simply out and return but when we did a bird call at lunch in Lang Lang we were pleased to realize the group had recorded 35 species.
We drove from lunch to Jam Jerrup and, again, parked near the start of the walk, which was this time along the beach and past the mangroves near the water’s edge. Several people had a great arrival when they recorded an adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle flying low past the car park. Not many birds initially in the beach walk although the coastal bush reserve included a calling Little Wattlebird. There were small twitters from the mangrove stands but no one could get useful sightings. Finally arrived at the point we worked on our ID skills to distinguish different tern species. Crested, Caspian and Common Gull-billed Terns were roosting on the tip of the spit and those with scopes were able to distinguish between the recently separated Asian and Australian subspecies of the Gull-billed – were they now separate species? Follow this Splitters vs. Lumpers debate. Curlew Sandpipers going into breeding plumage were a first sighting for most who had only seen them in their muted non-breeding colours. Also present were Red-necked Stints, a few Red-capped Plovers, 10 – 20 Australian Pied Oystercatchers as well as Silver and Pacific Gulls and a lone Great Egret. As time was passing we decided to have a bird call and the rallying cry went up. Timing is everything. In swept flocks of shorebirds, swirling, alighting and lifting again. ‘Bird call’ was renamed ‘Call in birds’ as everyone raised their binoculars and glowed with delight. Visitors were similarly entranced and we were so pleased to include Sean Dooley and his small party watching the spectacle.
When we could no longer delay we started the long walk back to the cars. The tide had risen and waves were now up to the fallen timber which had been well clear of the water on the way out. A careful scramble got everyone through and dry. One final pleasant surprise lay around the bend. A solo birdwatcher with a scope stood by the paddock fence and offered us great scope views of a Pectoral Sandpiper on a slight rise in the watery wetland. It foraged beside a couple of Masked Lapwing. On that note we headed back to the cars and the challenges of post-restriction traffic, buoyed by memories of a good day’s birding. The final species counts were Wuchatsh 35, Stockyard 28 and a cumulative count for the day of 59 species.
Twenty-three members gathered at the Southern Carpark in light rain and observed a small flock of Red-rumped Parrots at the top of a dead tree. Noisy Miners were evident throughout the park making it challenging to find any smaller bushbirds. Walking clockwise around the wetlands, we were delighted to find a lot of bird life on the water. This despite the noise from major roadworks along the perimeter of the park. A lone Dusky Moorhen, hiding in the reeds, watched as three Purple Swamphens marched imperiously by.
Nine different duck species were seen, with several (male) Blue-billed ducks being the highlight.
Numerous Australasian Darters, Australian Pelicans, a Great Egret and a Royal Spoonbill were among the other waterbirds seen.
There was great excitement when a Grey Goshawk in the White Morph was found, perched on a stump further along the track. Members approached cautiously and were rewarded with great views of this magnificent raptor.
Soon afterwards a Swamp Harrier flew across the area causing a great commotion amongst the other birds. A few people saw an unusual parrot flying fast yet gracefully over the Park, first one way then back again in the opposite direction. Photographic evidence enabled it to be identified as a Superb Parrot (most likely an aviary escapee?).
By this time, the rain had eased and gradually the sun appeared. It was good to see that the glass in the bird-hide had been cleaned, enabling members to get great views of a pair of Pink-eared Ducks with several fluffy youngsters just outside the window.
A further highlight from the hide occurred when a Brown Goshawk landed on a nearby branch. The next stop was at a smaller pond where more than a dozen cormorants were perched on a fallen log and a large vertical stag provided a resting place for yet more Australasian Darters.
Lunch was eaten back near the cars after which most of the members drove to the northern end of the park and took a short walk along the Heathland Trail. Near the children’s playground two well camouflaged Tawny Frogmouths were located perched in a track-side tree not far above head height. Very few other bushbirds were seen, presumably due to the ever-present bullying Noisy Miners.
Two Crested Pigeons were found sunning themselves on the grass beside the path back towards the cars. The Tawny Frogmouths were again much admired as we passed by them again. One of them gave us a large yawn, as if to bid us goodbye, revealing the bright yellow inside of its beak.
This concluded a most rewarding and enjoyable day with a total of 57 species recorded.
A huge thankyou to Eleanor Dilley who, in rain or shine, captured all the images in the Report.
Forty-five members were delighted to be out of lockdown and able to enjoy birding at Yan Yean Reservoir in mild weather conditions. From the edge of the reservoir two birds could be seen on the roof of a small tower.
They were a White-faced Heron and a female Australasian Darter. With the aid of two scopes a female Musk Duck and a Great Crested Grebe were identified in amongst several hundred Eurasian Coots.
Members then drove a short distance to the wetland area car park. From there, a walk around the ponds commenced. Dusky Moorhens were plentiful, both adults and immatures. An Australasian Grebe was sitting on a nest amongst the reeds until it was startled by a White-faced Heron.
There were very few small bushbirds, though one young Grey Fantail appeared happy to be photographed! In the ponds on the opposite side of the road there were many ducks, including Hardheads with Grey and Chestnut Teal.
A Black-fronted Dotterel and Australian Reed-Warblers were seen in the first pond, but the main target was to locate the Common Sandpiper which has frequented this area for several years.
It was finally found as we reached the turning point of the walk. Most members had at least a glimpse of it as it moved from one pond to another. Meanwhile there were good views of Red-rumped Parrots, a Long-billed Corella and some Crested Pigeons.
Lunch was eaten at the top of the hill, overlooking the Reservoir. It was good to see that the resident Nankeen Night-Herons were still in their pine tree near the Caretaker’s Cottage. After lunch, a short walk was taken down the fence line to the water’s edge where a close view of a Great Crested Grebe was available. A Whistling Kite circled overhead whilst demonstrating its call to the delighted listeners. Many of the Sugar Gums were flowering and these were attracting large flocks of Musk Lorikeets. On the Reservoir both Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants were perched on dead branches and in the distance a pair of Black Swans was seen.
The final birdcall for the day was 49 species which was well down on the 70 species seen two years previously. The dominance of Noisy miners throughout the reserve may have accounted for the decline in small bushbirds. However, everyone seemed to have enjoyed the outing, particularly in this attractive location.
Many thanks go to Eleanor Dilley for contributing her photographs.
When Dawn Neylan, Alison Kuiter and Mike Carter checked in with the Controllers at the Eastern Treatment Plant (ETP) on the morning of 21 February in preparation to do a survey of birds there, they were greeted with an expression all birders dread. “You’re too late; you should have been here earlier!” We then learned that a wildlife carer had just collected a White-faced Storm-Petrel and had taken it into care.
It transpired that sometime after about 11.00 pm the previous night, a Melbourne Water staffer at the Plant had found the bird at the bottom of a large roller shutter door at the entrance to the Power Station. This location is 5 km inland from the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay. Storm-Petrels spend most of their lives at sea on the open ocean and are only ashore during the breeding season where they are active only at night. The relatively shallow, sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay are not even suitable habitat for these creatures. They require deep, pelagic waters. So what was it doing there? At this time of year the young are ‘fledging, i.e. taking their first flight. Their parents have abandoned them so they must find their own food and make their own way in the world independently. Hopefully their parents have fed them well and left them with a good surfeit of fat to help them survive the transition to life on their own.
The nearest breeding sites of this species are in Port Phillip Bay on Fort Island (AKA South Channel Island) and Mud Islands. Presumably this bird was reared at one of those two sites. Why did it come to ground at the Plant? Possibly because the Plant is well lit and the blaze of lights caused disorientation.
When I visited this bird at Gillian Donath’s Wildlife Refuge at Langwarrin she also had another in care. Furthermore, Nicky Rushworth from AWARE, a wildlife rescue service, advises that refuges across the Mornington Peninsula have a total of at least eleven White-faced Storm-Petrels in care. They first started to be handed to cares on the weekend of 13/14 February. It is no coincidence that this is the time that the first of this year’s young White-faced Storm-Petrels should be fledging. Less advanced birds might continue to emerge for a few weeks. There were some strong and damaging winds in late January but nothing extreme since then so I doubt that adverse weather conditions are an influence in the current spate of strandings.
This is the first record of this species at the Plant.
After a break of 11 months, 33 members were delighted to be birding with the Beginners once more. Weather conditions were perfect – not too hot and little wind. At Beach Road Carpark several small bush-birds were foraging in the nearby Banksia and Casuarina trees, including Yellow Thornbills and New Holland Honeyeaters, along with numerous Superb Fairy-wrens and Willie Wagtails, and a lonesome Grey Fantail.
Down at the beach hundreds of Silver Gulls could be seen and sharp-eyed Geoff Deason found us a Great Crested Grebe far out on the water. Along the coastal track a small flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills were much admired and then, on the heathland, Golden-headed Cisticolas were heard.
After a while, one of them finally broke cover and perched on a tall plant for all to see before treating us to its vertically up and down flying display. Returning along the fence line some of us saw an Australian Hobby flying over and flushing a large flock of Common Starlings.
Members then drove to the small wetlands near the RAAF Lake Carpark. These relatively new ponds provided some good sightings of Australian Reed Warblers and Australasian Grebes.
As everyone was watching these birds a flock of about 15 Zebra Finches flew in, landed on an adjacent bush and fluttered about giving, to everyone’s delight, great views of their colourful plumage.
Most of the Beginners then set off towards the Homestead area, pausing briefly at the wetland by the housing estate. The highlight here was a Royal Spoonbill in one of the ponds, giving a close-up view of its feeding technique.
Lunch was taken in the shade of the trees by the carpark and birdcall was interrupted by a Brown Goshawk which landed on a tree branch beside the main drive. Members then walked past the Homestead to the beach where it was lowish tide. A White-faced Heron was quietly feeding whilst several Chestnut Teal were resting on the rocks.
On reaching Cook Point, lots of small waders were seen feeding near the sandbanks. Most of them were Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers along with a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Several Crested Terns, both adult and immature were resting on the rocks as well as both Pied and Little Pied Cormorants. It was nice just to sit on the sand and watch as several more flocks of waders flew in with impressive aerial precision. A final highlight was the slow flypast of a lone Australian Pelican, heralding the end of the walk.
Everyone agreed that Point Cook had provided a terrific start to Beginners 2021 and the final birdcall of 52 species was most impressive.
Many thanks go to Eleanor Dilley and Alan Veevers who, between them, provided all 10 photographs in this Report.
Over the last week I have been hearing a novel sound; a new bird call for this neck of the woods. I am a novice birder and upon hearing it I grabbed my binoculars and went out to look for the source. My neighbours knew exactly what I was trying to do, because they too had been hearing this peculiar sound – definitely a bird call, but out of place where the standard bird fare is Magpies, Red Wattlebirds and Pigeons.
No luck on the first day, but on the second day I recorded it and sent it out to some people who would know the answer. Long time BirdLife member, Bill Ramsay, got back straight away with the answer – an Eastern Koel. Since then I have been learning all about this bird with the big sound, including how some people regard it as one of the most annoying bird calls, as this amusing article by Justin Huntsdale, Wollongong portrays.
However, this little bird call brings a smile to my face every time. Judge for yourself:
Celia M Browne wrote an article in late 2007 summing up a series of walks that she led along the Yarra in the previous three years. These were repeated again in the following three years, off-set by six months so there were different seasons at each location. The reports were originally published in BOCA magazine.
The article is reproduced below with the author’s permission in the hope it will inspire others to repeat the walks or be aware of these locations are birding sites.
The 3-year program of bird walks entitled ‘Wednesday Wanderings – Warrandyte to Westgate, Exploring the Yarra’ came to a fitting end when we cruised down the river from Docklands on board the historic Nepean on a recent winter morning. Commencing in June 2004 the walks aimed at exploring the numerous reserves and parks, creeks and billabongs along the Yarra River between Warrandyte and the Westgate Bridge. The outings were voted a great success by Melbourne birders who were looking for bird walks within a 24km radius of the city. The average size of the group was 25 members, proving that local, morning-only walks are popular.
An article in the April 2004 The Melbirdian predicted that, as well as observing many bird species along the meandering stretch of the river, we would also see kangaroos and koalas, platypus and possums, Common Wombats and Short-beaked Echidnas, lizards and snakes. And indeed we did.
A walk led by Marlene Lyell at Parks Victoria’s Glynn Reserve in North Warrandyte produced a great bird list of 49 species as well as three snakes, several rabbits, three Eastern Grey Kangaroos and one Common Long-necked Tortoise. An Australian Owlet-nightjar peeping from a nest box was the highlight of that walk.
Longridge Farm, Warrandyte was opened especially for us by Parks Victoria, and yielded another Koala, five Eastern Grey Kangaroos and a good list of birds. The layout of this peaceful reserve is most impressive with its attractive riverine camping ground and excellent facilities which, unfortunately, caters for tents only.
The walk at Tikalara Reserve, Templestowe on 2nd February 2005 will be long remembered for its torrential rain all morning. (This may have been the last time some of us can remember a really good downpour) Despite the rain, ten members birded with umbrellas from Beasley’s Nursery to the confluence of the Mullum Mullum Creek and the Yarra, and managed to log 25 species including an Azure Kingfisher. Staff at the nursery tearooms weren’t too happy when ten bedraggled birders sloshed in at lunchtime for hot soup. In February!
At Sweeneys Flats Reserve, Eltham, a Peacock was added to the bird list of 37 species; we also saw a Buff-banded Rail, five ‘roos and a Koala at this little known and surprisingly pleasant reserve where we walked downstream to Griffiths Park.
In April 2005, 38 members walked from Westerfolds Park upstream towards Candlebark Park, crossed the river by the new footbridge and enjoyed some peaceful birding from the new observation platform at Lenister Farm on the north bank of the Yarra. Forty-five bird species were listed on that occasion.
Tawny Frogmouths were observed on no less than 13 (out of 34) walks; usually spotted by Geoff Deason who has eagle eyes (or should that be ‘Frogmouth’ eyes?) for this bird. Australian Wood Duck 32/34; Pacific Black Duck 33/34.
Stunning views of Azure Kingfishers were enjoyed on four walks. Other birds of note were a Barn Owl at Banyule Flats, a female Rose Robin at Fairfield Park and a Pied Oystercatcher seen from the Nepean in June.
Two Australian King-Parrots were observed at Banksia Park, Bulleen in November 2005 – much further downstream than would have been expected. The closer we got to the City, the shorter the bird lists and, naturally, more exotic birds were seen and fewer native species. Sadly Eastern Yellow Robins weren’t sighted after Bellbird Picnic area in Kew and Grey Fantails weren’t observed after the Royal Botanic Gardens. The reserve which yielded the most bird species was Bulleen Park which included Little Bolin and Bolin Bolin Billabongs. Sixty-three species were observed here in February 2006 and the list included three Latham’s Snipe in Little Bolin Billabong. Surprisingly, this park beat Banyule Flat’s score of 58 species.
Thirty-seven birders arrived at Como Landing in February this year for the ‘voyage’ across to Herring Island, opened especially for us by Parks Victoria. We conducted a bird survey and the list was forwarded to Parks Victoria following the excursion. Despite the very small area and the drought, the morning turned out to be far more successful than was predicted and the bird list of 35 species was pretty remarkable – almost one per member. One member joked that two people weren’t really trying! A highlight was good views of a Nankeen Night-Heron seen on our return journey across the river by punt.
The Royal Botanic Gardens were visited in March this year and, combined with a walk along the Yarra into the city afterwards, yielded 40 species which was a pretty good effort for a warm, blustery morning. Sadly, no Superb Fairy-wrens were seen on this visit to the gardens.
Perhaps the highlight of the series was the cruise on board The Nepean from docklands down the Yarra past the Westgate Bridge and round the top of Port Phillip Bay on 6 June. Thirty BOCA members thoroughly enjoyed the 3 hour boat trip during which 33 bird species were listed and we enjoyed lunch on board the vessel. It was most pleasing to welcome three country members on this trip: Val and Peter Blake from Warrnambool and Marlene Lyell from Axedale.
I would like to thank all who attended the 34 walks for making them so successful and my special thanks to guest leaders who stepped in when I was away or indisposed: Geoff Deason who led three walks, Anthea Fleming for two walks, Marlene Lyell, Lyn Easton and Andrew McCutcheon who led one each. The total bird list for 34 walks is 123 species.
Due to popular demand the series of Wednesday Wanderings was repeated, commencing in February 2008.
On 9 March 2020, my wife Shirley and I flew to Auckland to commence a 25 day self-drive tour of the North Island of New Zealand. It was to be basically a sightseeing tour with several birding sites included.
NZ does not have an extensive list of endemic birds. Excluding extinct and formerly present, the NZ list is about 369 species. Deducting all introduced, migratory, visitors, pelagic species, and species only found on NZ’s Sub-Antarctic Islands, this leaves about 52 endemics, some of which are only found on either the North or South Island. Not a big list, but if you want to see these endemics, you have to visit NZ.
All the photos were taken by me and when known I have included the Maori name of the bird in brackets in the captions and the text.
Our first birding site was Tiritiri Matangi Island, a 75 minute ferry trip from Auckland. In 1974 the island became a recreation reserve. Since then, 280,000 trees have been planted by volunteers known as the ‘spade brigade’, all mammalian predators have been removed, and a number of endangered bird and reptile species introduced. Twenty NZ bird endemics have been recorded on the island, 12 of these introduced and eight have found their own way. The island is managed by the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Inc.
On arrival at the island, the visitors were sorted into groups of 10 to12 for a guided tour, led by a volunteer. The first bird we saw on the walk was a male Brown Teal, which was a bit of a surprise as they are described as timid, skulking and nocturnal, with a habitat of tidal creeks, lagoons, swamps and adjacent wet pasture.
Walking along the track there were many smaller birds to be seen such as Silvereye (Tauhou), Grey Warbler (Riririro), Whitehead (Popokatea) and North Island Robin (Toutouwai). There were numerous nesting boxes for Blue (Little) Penguins (Korora), some with glass windows in the top so that the birds could be viewed.
We left the coastal track and started the ascent to higher ground through wet forest, using the extensive boardwalks provided. There were several NZ Pigeons (Kereru) to be seen. Being the only mainland native pigeon, this species has the unique and important role in the forest ecosystem of dispersing the fruits of native species.
Further along the boardwalk we were able to observe a Red-crowned Parakeet (Kakariki) feeding in the leaf litter – they feed from the canopy down to ground level. They are now extinct in the wild on the mainland and rated ‘at risk’.
There are three ‘honeyeaters’ found in NZ. All were present on the island. Feeders were provided. In the forest they were of a clever design with small openings so that the bigger Tuis could not access the food. Tuis had to feed from the flat bed feeders at the feeding station at the Visitors Centre. The two smaller honeyeaters, Stitchbird (Hihi), Bellbird (Korimako) and other smaller birds, were able to feed from the forest feeders.
At the top of the ascent, the vegetation opened up and we walked along a road with wide grass verges. We were excited to see several Takahe – Purple Swamphens on steroids. They are flightless and can weigh up to 3kg. This species was thought to be extinct for about 50 years until a small population was found in the south west of the South Island in 1948. They feed all day on fern rhizomes and leaf bases by pulling them out with their bill. They hold the extracted plant on their feet, macerate the base digesting only the plant juices, not the fibres, which remain as typical green thin sausage-shaped droppings of largely unaltered fibres. Takahes can produce up to 6m of droppings in a day.
We were even more excited to look up a side track and see a North Island Kokako. The bird is shy and our guide was amazed when our bird was on the ground out in the open. There was a South Island Kokako, but that is now extinct. The bird we watched seemed quite content to let us photograph it for a short time, but when it decided to move, it took off and pronked like an antelope with quite high jumps. To see one on the ground was unusual, but to see it pronk, was a real treat.
We lunched at the island’s excellent Visitor Centre. No food was available, but there were numerous outdoor tables and benches, very comprehensive information boards for all the endemics, and flat top feeders that the Tuis had taken over.
On the walk down the hill back to the ferry we had good views of a North Island Saddleback (Tieke) feeding in one of the trees. I think the Kiwis are trying to get their species count up. There is a very similar South Island Saddleback, which is distinguished from the North Island Saddleback by the lack of the narrow faint yellow line on the back between the black and the chestnut.
We left the island and returned to Auckland by ferry. Tiritiri Matangi Island is impressive for the birds and the management and should be No 1 on any birder’s visit to Auckland.
The next site on our list was the Firth of Thames, which is a Ramsar Site. It is a large coastal reserve, bounded by a peninsula and mountains, consisting of shallow marine water, mud, grass flats, mangrove swamp, saltmarsh and swampland. It includes a globally rare land formation of graded shell beach ridges which support grazing. It is an important site for roosting, wintering and staging wading birds. What more could a birder keen on waders want?
We moved to accommodation in Thames, and checked out the west coast of the firth on the first day, plus a brief tour of the Coromandel Peninsula.
We drove around a corner and there was a huge flock of South Island Pied Oystercatchers (SIPOs) with the Maori name of Torea. The flock in the photo extended just as far back to the left. Several cars stopped and many photographs were taken, but the SIPOs just stood there unconcerned. SIPOs breed on the estuaries of the braided rivers on the South Island and migrate to the estuaries of the North Island for the winter. These were early arrivals. My app notes that they occasionally get lost on migration. I looked very hard to see if any of the SIPOs had a red leg flag with 1N (the bird that we, and many others twitched at Jam Jerrup in 2018) but I couldn’t find one.
The SIPO with aberrant plumage definitely stands out from the pack.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at a roadside park, overlooking a spit. There were numerous Red-billed (Silver) Gulls (Tarapunga) and White-fronted Terns (Tara) resting on the spit. The Maori name for this species is only the generic name for Tern. This might be because White-fronted Terns are the most common terns in New Zealand.
The No 1 target species for this trip was a Wrybill. On our visit to the South Island in 2013 we were too late and they had all moved north. People who know me won’t be surprised by the following. I had done my research, and the Miranda Shorebird Centre was an excellent chance. Previous March records indicated good numbers. Either side of high tide was best for viewing. This was not a problem as the trip itinerary had been planned around a mid-morning high tide at Miranda. To make sure of good viewing, a scope and tripod had been booked for hire from Miranda three months previously. On the morning the weather was perfect (not pre-planned), and after picking up the scope we went to a hide overlooking a pond that was covered in waders. There were hundreds of SIPOs, Bar-tailed Godwits (Kuaka), Pied Stilts (Poaka), and of course Wrybills (Ngutuparore) – 1,400 being the official count. There were also lesser numbers of Red Knot (Huahou) and Pacific Golden Plover.
Wrybill is the only species in the world with a bill that is bent sideways, and it always bends to the right. A Wrybill is about the same size as a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The Maori name is straightforward (pardon the pun) – ngutu means ‘bill’ and pare means ‘turned to the side’.
We left Miranda very happy and continued on our way, mainly sightseeing, but a bit of birding en route. But on the way to Napier, on Day No 10, we received a text from our elder daughter, quickly followed by a telephone call, advising that due to Covid-19 issues, DFAT was considering closing the border and we should return home. We booked a return flight, departing Auckland early morning Day No 12, and returned to 14 days of home quarantine. So our holiday and birding was cut well short. We loved what we saw and what we did, and hope one day to return and complete our holiday, perhaps including return visits to Tiritiri Matangi Island and Miranda Shorebird Centre.