As my pleasure in bird watching has continued to grow over recent months so my library of photos has also increased, meaning it’s time to post another blog about some of our wonderful
birds (my two previous
blogs on the subject are here and here). I say, ‘New Zealand’ birds but, in
fact, a couple of those listed here are immigrants who have perhaps been blown
to these shores on the winds of a particularly violent storm or hitched a ride
on a ship and, finding the environment to their liking, decided to make New
Zealand home … and who can blame them? New Zealand
scaup (aka Black teal) is a little
cutie and quite the entertainer. When feeding for the little fishes, snails,
mussels, insects and aquatic plants that make up its varied diet, it dives
underwater, staying down for between 20 to 30 seconds and reaching depths of up
to 3 metres. New
Though its plumage isn’t striking, being mostly dark brown or black, its squat form and upward pointing tail give it a perky appearance. In the breeding season, the male likes to advertise his presence by changing his head plumage to iridescent green.
European settlement in
Zealand reduced the numbers of these natives for a while
but they have recovered naturally in some areas and been reintroduced in others
(North Auckland, Taranaki and the
district). For Aucklanders, there are quite a number of scaup making their home
at Western Springs. And a word to the untutored like me – I have just realised
today that I have been pronouncing its name wrongly – apparently, it should sound
like ‘scorp’ not ‘scowp’. Wellington
Spur-winged plover (Vanellus miles)
Here’s another bird whose name can confound the tongue as opinions differ on the pronunciation of plover. Some say plover as in ‘lover’, others says plover as in ‘over’. I’ll leave you to decide which you prefer!
The spur-winged plover is a self-introduced Aussie (in
it’s known as the masked lapwing). It was first discovered at the bottom of the
Australia South Island in 1932 and is now widespread
throughout the country.
It’s a large stocky wading bird but can be found almost anywhere there is low vegetation. I’ve seen quite a few along parts of the
coastline but I’ve
also sighted several pairs on the grassy slopes of Auckland Domain. Auckland
(Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus)
This is another self-introduced Aussie which, since its arrival in the early 19th century, has interbred with our endemic black stilt to produce a bird distinct from its Australian cousins. I particularly like its elegant long pink legs – hence the ‘stilt’ name, and those legs are also the reason for its Maori name, poaka, from ‘po’ meaning small and ‘aka’ meaning long, thin roots. As those long legs suggest, this is a wading bird, most often found on wetlands and in coastal areas throughout
. New Zealand
The pied stilt is a very social creature, so is almost always seen in large noisy flocks, often feeding near other wading birds like oystercatchers and godwits. As that beak indicates, they often probe for worms, aquatic insects and larvae but, when the light is good, they also catch their food by sight.
Sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)
The aptly named ‘king of the fishers’ is another highly entertaining bird to watch, especially when fishing. It will sit patiently on a strategically placed branch, pole or railing overlooking a mudflat or estuary then, with a sudden flash of turquoise, it’ll be off to snatch, catch or grab whatever has caught its sharp eye.
With its loud ‘kek kek kek’ call, the kingfisher will be sure to announce its presence, especially if you stray within its territory during the mating season, when it will also dive-bomb other birds and even humans if it considers them a threat. Its burrows can often be seen up high in muddy cliffs and banks at the coast but it also nests in holes in trees. Luckily for us, the population is numerous and widespread so we can all enjoy its antics.
Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia)
I spotted the two birds in my photographs in
Auckland’s on 26 May – a very
exciting first sighting for me – then didn’t see them again on further visits
until 7 June. The Caspian tern is the largest tern found in Hobson
about the size of the black-backed kelp gull but with quite different
colouring. With an estimated 1300-1400 breeding pairs in New Zealand , sightings are
relatively uncommon, hence my excitement. New Zealand
I think these two are mother and fledgling, as the younger bird was continually begging for food, both through its supplicating posture and its constant begging calls. The very patient parent would tolerate this behaviour for about 5 minutes, then give up and fly off to fish for food, hovering over the shallow waters until she saw her target then diving rapidly down to swoop it up. They were an absolute delight to watch.
Eurasian (or Australian) coot
For me, the most fascinating thing about this Australian immigrant (first recorded breeding in
in 1958) is its bizarre
lobed feet, a cross between the long toes of wading birds and the webbed feet
of swimming birds like ducks. If you can’t see its feet, you will also be able
to recognise it instantly by the white shield above its bill. New Zealand
These coots have made themselves at home in those parts of New Zealand that have their preferred reed-edged freshwater lakes and ponds – the birds I’ve seen have been in Hamilton’s Lake Rotorua and at Auckland’s Western Springs, where they compete with ducks, swans, geese and gulls for the bread thrown by humans.
And that’s it for
birds: part 3 – there
will undoubtedly be a part 4 in the future. I hope this post will encourage you
to turn off your computer and head outside to check out your local birdlife. I
guarantee you will be amused by their antics, delighted by their colours, and
entertained by their merry tunes. Just remember the wise words of Robert Lynd, ‘In
order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.’ New Zealand