Plan this day was to drive the few hours north to Pureora Forest to look for Shining Bronze Cuckoo, a supposedly common species that had strangely eluded me all trip. Waking at the Simpsons Reserve campsite, however, I was pretty impressed by the native forest that surrounded this small campsite. And having genned up on the call of Shining Bronze Cuckoo, it did not take me many minutes to realise that I could actually hear one calling right where I was camping! Didn't see this one, but a stroll along the access road soon revealed more - and there they were, a very active pair in roadside trees, chasing each other around, very nice indeed. Plenty of Grey Warblers too, their host species, plus Silvereyes, New Zealand Bellbirds, New Zealand Fantails, Tui, Kaka, Eastern Rosella and Sacred Kingfishers.
So, seeing little reason to now detour to Pureora Forest, I decided instead to drive right up to Miranda and thereafter Auckland, a grand total of nearly 500 km. Other than a brief pause at Turangi (failing to relocate the Blue Ducks of two weeks earlier, but resulting in a nice New Zealand Falcon), I drove almost non-stop and arrived at Miranda in plenty of time for the afternoon high tide.
High tide was unfortunately not very high, the result being the tide didn't even fill the bay in front of the main hide - approximately 600 Wrybills and three associating Sharp-tailed Sandpipers did shift onto the roost sites adjacent to Stilt Hide, giving cracking views, but unfortunately everything else roosted right out on the shingle banks, some 200 metres or more distant. Definitely scope work, but I did have some luck - among 3000 Bar-tailed Godwits and 400 South Island Oystercatchers, I picked out a single Far Eastern Curlew, 21 Pacific Golden Plovers and, new for the trip, two Broad-billed Sandpipers roosting in close proximity to each other.
And with that, I completed the journey with an 80 km hop up to Auckland, back to the lands of Spotted Doves, abundant Common Mynas and assorted other avian interlopers.
A last minute addition to my itinerary, but a fabulous one at that. Sole target was Shore Plover, yet another New Zealand species at significant risk of extinction. Highly vulnerable to introduced mammalian predators, the remaining population of about 240 individuals is essentially restricted to small predator-free islands, the remote Chatham Islands holding about half the population. Reintroduced to the twin Rangitoto/Motutapu Islands, these successfully cleared of rats and other predators, Shore Plover now frequently reside in the bays either side of the causeway linking the two islands. A short ferry journey from Auckland, these are almost certainly the most accessible Shore Plovers in existence, though there was a question whether any were actually breeding this year or not.
I departed Auckland early morning, fantastic sunshine and blue seas. Then, from Rangitoto wharf, it was a 90-minute hike across the rugged but rather beautiful lava fields of Rangitoto, then onto the causeway between the islands. Low tide, fairly extensive intertidal mudflats were visible, initially making me think my search would be harder and my birds more distant. No such issue - after several New Zealand Dotterels, one of the next birds I saw was a Shore Plover! Even better, I soon found that I was actually watching a pair with a newly hatched chick - fabulous stuff, a valuable addition to the global population. As they were in the middle of the mudflat, I presumed my photographs would be record shots only, but as I lay on my belly, semi-sunbathing, semi-watching the birds, it slowly transpired that the birds were wandering my way. And after quite a considerable period of time, the birds indeed had approached, the adults coming within a few metres, one even hunkering down to roost just three metres or so from me. A flurry of action when an additional Shore Plover suddenly appeared, the pair immediately becoming territorial and seeing off this intruder, that bird returning to a shingle bank off yonder, possibly its partner incubating a clutch of eggs in cover unseen.
After a good couple of hours with these birds, my good luck continued with the finding of a small beachside pool - not only were there 32 Brown Teal and a couple of Little Pied Cormorants, but there was also a very smart Banded Rail, another new bird for me and one that I had been trying to see at several localities.
So, the day had been ticking by in a most pleasant manner, I now had to trudge back across the island to catch the return ferry. A slightly slower amble this time, opportunity to enjoy yet more of the fruits of a successful predator eradication by conservationists - six cracking North Island Saddlebacks, one flock of very active Whiteheads, three Red-crowned Parakeets and a good mix of more abundant birds, including Tui, New Zealand Bellbirds, New Zealand Fantails and Grey Warblers.
Back in Auckland, a short wander around the city centre, all under renovation and better avoided, then back to my friends in the west of the city.
With all key birds now seen in New Zealand, I decided today to potter around the greater Auckland area, enjoying the spectacle of the Australasian Gannet colony at Muriwai, plus attempt to find some of the growing population of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and, hopefully, locate a Australian Little Grebe, a species that has established a small population in the northern parts of North Island.
Locality one, the Waitakere Range, heavily forested hills only a few kilometres from my friend's abode and forming the heartland of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo range. I had read reports of roosts in the valley below the Waitakere Golf Course, so that seemed a logical place to start ...except the road was closed due to Kauri dieback! Fortunately, the road was open as far as the golf course, so I parked there and wandered along its margins to the far side, loads of Masked Lapwings and Australasian Swamphens on the greens, plus Eastern Rosella flying over and Sacred Kingfishers at the edge of thickets. Down yonder, deep raucous calls echoed around the valley ...I knew what that was! And indeed, from the bottom of the gold course, scanning a line of tall trees opposite, a whole bunch of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, at least 20 in all. Well that was quite easy ...and just to be nice, several then flew over, hanging out in vegetation around the gold course.
Next stop, the Australasian Gannet colony at Muriwai. Almost didn't bother with this site, but I am glad I did - a sometimes present Brown Booby didn't appear, but the sheer spectacle of the colony was impressive. Occupying slopes on the clifftops and spilling across a couple of adjacent rock stacks, approximately 1200 Australasian Gannets breed at this location, the sky thick with birds flying in and out, the colonies a polkerdot of these magnificent birds. With the closest birds mere centimetres away, and the colony at various stages from pairs with chicks a few days old to near full-grown, it truly was a sight to appreciate. And just for added appeal, along the trails either side of the headland, plentiful Rauparaha's Coppers active in the morning sunshine.
So, a pretty successful morning so far. With thoughts now turning to Australian Little Grebe, the most promising site seemed to be the Te Arai stormwater pools over on the Hibiscus Coast, reports suggesting there had been birds there in previous months. Annoyingly I had virtually driven past these pools at the beginning of my trip without knowing that they might hold Australian Little Grebe.
So off I went, a drive of about an hour, the destination adjacent to a rather busy road in a very suburban setting. Australian Magpies, Spotted Doves and Common Mynas in pastures and roadside, Australasian Swamphen and Pied Stilt on the first pool investigated. Manky Pacific Black Ducks on the second pool and just a single bird on the final pool ...but fortunately that single bird was an Australian Little Grebe! Happily diving and feeding, oblivious to cars and pram-wielding mothers in the immediate vicinity, this was a nice addition - my fourth grebe species of the trip, two of which are Australian vagrants.
And with that, after a relatively fruitless search for butterflies in an overgrown cemetery (four Monarchs, three Small Whites, plus two Sentry Dragonflies), I returned to my friend's place, the remainder of the day an easy-going affair, punctuated by a Shining Bronze Cuckoo in the garden and a nice visit to an old mine shaft to see its creepy inhabitants ...eight pretty impressive Cave Wetas.
10 January. Mangere, Firth of Thames & Coromandel.
Birding essentially over, I was heading to Coromandel this day for hopes of a few butterflies, a rare bit of downtime with friends and a mini-twitch for Cattle Egret.
Popped in at Mangere briefly, the New Zealand Little Grebe still on its channel, plus assorted Wrybills et al on the mudflats, then drove down towards Coromandel.
With almost all possible species now seen, desperate measures were required to add additional species to the trip list ...and thus a Cattle Egret twitch! Two-a-penny across half the world, it is truly a rare bird in New Zealand and thus deserving a small detour I thought (especially as I had also twitched Mute Swan earlier in the trip, an introduced species no less). And so it was, after a few meanders around various meadows, I found myself at the head of the Firth of Thames duly peering at a herd of cows and their accompanying flock of six Cattle Egrets! Species number 152 for me in New Zealand.
From then on, butterflies only. Failed on Forest Ringlet, a rare species thought at high risk of extinction, but I did have a good afternoon otherwise - several colonies of Long-tailed Blues, my first of the trip, quite a number of Common Bush Blues, abundant Small Whites, a couple of Monarchs and two Coastal Coppers.