Sunday, 29 July 2012

Waitangi, Bay of islands - part 1

It's a week since I visited the bay of islands as a winter interlude in my trip to otherwise warm (or even hot) places in the Pacific.

I stayed at Paihia and managed to bird watch straight out of the hotel on foot. There is a varied habitat - mangroves, estuary, sea, parkland, golf course and forest all within 3 or 4 kilometres of the town. Most of the walking was done north of the town towards Waitangi.

This blog is one of two and for want of a better way of splitting it into two, the them of this one is water birds. Though in some cases (eg kingfishers) I could have put them in either blog.

pied cormorant

I notched up 8 lifers among with water birds without trying that hard. There was a canoe up the mangroves or  boat trips into the sea. As I have said before, it was still twice as expensive as any holiday I have had before! I could have added another 50% if I had done  all the extras suggested of me.

Two lifers were both cormorants or in New Zealand they are both called shags.  

The pied cormorant (or as New Zealanders say pied shag) allowed really close access, a feature of many New Zealand birds. 

Little black cormorant

Little black cormorant was nearly as easy. Both were found in the estuary and  the pied cormorant was also seen further up the Waitangi river too.

Caspian tern

The only tern I saw was Caspian tern which is well-known to me from the northern hemisphere but its name looks a misnomer here. Like the two cormorants they are obviously fairly common in the estuary area. It looked a bit odd when I saw them diving into barely 10 cms of water at times.

sacred kingfisher

Another lifer was the sacred kingfisher which was virtually everywhere: in the mangroves, on the mud flats and beach, and in parkland. The only place I didn't see it was in dense forest but it may have been there too.

white faced heron

I met white faced heron for the first time in Tonga only days before. In Waitangi it was seemingly less exotic because it wasn't new. It was a lot noisier in new Zealand though. It sounds like a crow!

red-breasted dotterel

Almost certainly the rarest bird I saw in New Zealand was red-breasted dotterel which is also endemic.

red breasted dotterel (non-breeding)

Apparently this is one of the best places to see them if you look along the beach. I suppose they move on a short distance away from the public beaches in summer.

Variable oystercatcher

Two more endemics were also present. There was both the variable oystercatcher and the slightly smaller pied oystercatcher. The two didn't seem to mix and the variable oystercatcher also seemed to tolerate harsher weather. While the wind and wet was howling one day, the variable oystercatcher were still feeding while all the pied oystercatcher had taken shelter on near-by lawns.

Pied oystercatcher 

Two types of gull were present. They were the smaller red-billed gull (not pictured) and the larger kelp gull. Both were numerous.

kelp gull

On my last day in the area, which also had the best weather, I was lucky enough to see two royal spoonbill, at distance less fortunately. They were using their bills to good effect in the mud flats at the estuary.

Royal spoonbill

Also on the last day, a pied stilt flew overhead allowing me a fleeting look. This was the last lifer among the "water birds".

My next blog looks at the local land birds at Waitangi.

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