Saturday, 2 September 2017

Garden Birds in Foxton Beach

Winter is a great time for garden and bush birds. They gather in groups on the berms, colour up looking for partners and come into the gardens in search of food. This is the only time I get a good look at greenfinch and the silvereye come to my bird table in the dozen. They are still little swines though. Even though I have my window open and my lens propped up with everything covered, they still know I am there and only put on their best displays when I have closed up shop! However, this winter has brought a bonus. I have discovered a group of redpoll that frequent an area very close to where I live. I have previously only seen them in real country areas. It has its downside though, I get lots of funny looks stalking them with a huge lens in the township streets!

Greenfinch (carduelis chloris)

Silvereye (zosterops lateralis)

Sacred Kingfisher (todiramphus sanctus)

Eurasian Skylark (alauda arvensis)

Song Thrush (turdus philomelos)

Common Redpoll (carduelis flammea)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

This weekend's birds

Four seasons in one day for sure this weekend in Foxton Beach! It has been cold, warm, wet, sunny and windy this weekend but there has been plenty of opportunity to see and photograph birds. 38 species is a pretty good count for this time of year. As well as stalking the beach for arriving migrants, I have found some terrific spots in the bush for endemics and natives. Here is the best of them in photographs.

Australasian shoveler (anas rhynchotis)

Chaffinch (fringilla coelebs)

Grey Warbler (gerygone igata)

Masked Lapwing (vanellus miles)

Red-necked Stint (calidris ruficollis)

White-faced Heron (egretta novaehollandiae)

Wrybill (anarhynchus frontalis)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A little boating excursion

During the last 2 weekends I have been lucky enough to join pelagic trips out into the Cook Strait, inbetween the North and South Islands. Wonderful sunny and calm weather made the boat bit easy but it was very very cold. Albatross generally like windier weather as it is easier for them to fly but they still appeared in really good numbers. Here is my run down on common NZ albatross

I think of albatross as being in 3 categories: large, larger and absolutely huge. 

Salvin's Mollymawk - diomedea cauta salvini          
Salvin's Mollymawk
(diomedea cauta salvini)

This mollymawk is easily
identifiable by the
very grey neck.
             NZ White-capped Mollymawk
             (diomedea cauta steadi)

            The shy or white-capped has a bright white
            head with a grey billed, tipped with yellow.

Buller's Mollymawk - diomedea bulleri                   
Buller's Mollymawk                   Black-browed Albatross
(diomedea bulleri)                    (thalassarche melanophris)

The bill is most obvious on              This mollymawk has a distinct brow and pale bill 
this mollymawk with the                  tipped with pink.
contrasting yellow and black.

The larger albatross I have photographed are the Royal species. Noticeably larger than the mollymawks, they tend to circle the boats and slowly make their way closer but rarely landing. They certainly earn their name. Distinguishing between them is straightforward with the Northern species having a clean white back and the Southern being more patchy as you can see from the photos below.

     Southern Royal Albatross - diomedea epomophora epomophora                 Northern Royal Albatross - diomedea exulans sanfordi
Southern Royal Albatross                      Northern Royal Albatross
(diomedea epomophora epomophora)    (diomedea exulans sanfordi)

The largest of the albatross species is the wandering. With a huge wingspan they are the kings of the seas and stunning to see. They are not actually much larger than the Royal species but somehow they just look bigger. The Antipodean species is slightly smaller than the Gibson and darker.

Gibson's Wandering Albatross - diomedea gibsoni  Antipodean Albatross - diomedea antipodensis
Gibson's Wandering Albatross                Antipodean Wandering Albatross
(diomedea gibsoni)                               (diomedea antipodensis)

Friday, 28 July 2017

Of birds and frogs!

We are now past mid-winter (surely?). I have been away for a couple of weeks in the UK (not much difference in the weather even if it is their summer!). It is nice to be home and I already notice the mornings are lighter. There are also lots of birds around with today's count at a very respectable 40 species. The highlights were the common myna, which I know is an invasive species and I am not supposed to like it but I do. The population in Foxton is a bit of an anomaly and I think the southern most one on the North Island.


Also a treat was a close up of a yellowhammer who I always seem to have trouble getting close to. This is where a car comes in useful. This bird was spectacularly coloured. A sure sign that spring is on its way. 

Everywhere I went, there were small groups of goldfinch looking for grass seeds. Again, in my car, I just sat and waited for them to get close to me. This bird was quite orange on the head.

On my way back from my morning walk I nearly trod on this fellow. A fairly large frog. It wasn't bothered by me and after posing nicely, it hopped on its way. Thankfully it didn't move fast enough for my curious greyhound to take much notice. I think it is a southern bell frog and it was very pretty. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Cold but already signs of spring

We only get down to a frost here at the beach so it is quite mild. But when the wind whips up the river from the sea, it sure feels cold. It is very quiet on the estuary although I did watch hundreds of red-billed gulls fly down the river late afternoon this week. They flew so close to the water that you could hear their wings hit the water. It was magic, but I didn't have my camera with me. Sometimes it is quite nice just to watch these things in wonder rather than worrying about f-stops.

There is some activity away from the water. The white-faced herons nest in the fir trees next to the tennis courts and playground and they are beginning to court. There are 2 pairs and if you are lucky you can see them rubbing their necks together. It is very endearing, especially as herons are usually so solitary. This pair even treated me to a high wire performance, calling and posturing to each other on the top of the tennis court fences.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Winter on Foxton Beach

Well it might be cooler at the moment but it is still very mild when the sun is out. And it was a stunner today. While walking along the estuary towards the beach, the bushes were alive with little birds, busy in their preparation for the spring season ahead. My favourite is always the grey warbler and when I spotted a pair, I played a recorded call for them and they shot over to examine the intruder. They are territorial and will often do this, flying close overhead or sitting on a branch staring at you. 

After that I found a small flock of chatty goldfinch and luckily enough, one stopped just long enough for me to catch it. Their red head is always more striking than the gold plumage.

On the way home I heard the familiar croak of a white-faced heron. Such an inelegant call for such a lovely bird! I tracked it as it flew past me and I swear it turned its head to look at me.

Lastly, when I got home I found a pair of starling courting. Even such common birds are beautiful when you look closer at them and the bright sunshine always helps!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

White Herons

The white heron (ardea modesta) has always been my favourite bird, even before I really started bird watching. I remember seeing them in Florida and being amazed at how it could unfurl its neck to show that incredible kink. I've seen them several times in New Zealand and have been lucky enough to spend time just watching them going about their business. Much larger than the very common white-faced heron, would you believe these birds only weigh between 700 and 1200 grammes?

Apparently there have been a couple of white herons over wintering at Foxton Beach in recent years so it was a thrill to see one arrive about a month ago. Every time I have a few minutes spare I scout around the township looking for it, trying to build a picture of its behaviour. Yesterday afternoon, after several days of very heavy rain, I found it next to a drainage pond. It was relaxed and appeared to be enjoying the last bit of sunshine. I know we tend to put human qualities on animals but it did look like it liked the sun. I watched it as it stretched and preened and checked out the activity on the pond. Wonderful.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Australasian Harrier

The Australasian harrier is also know as the swamp harrier, hawk or marsh harrier. It is seen all over New Zealand, usually swooping over open land looking for food. They are very difficult to get close to, disappearing as soon as they see a human. My best photographic success has been from the window of my car. A little tricky with a large lens.

The birds plumage is very interesting. Young birds are darkly coloured and as they get older, they get paler. This weekend I was lucky enough to spot an old bird flying low over a pond (gave the ducks a fright) and land to eat a kill. Later on, I watched as it hunted over a field with 4 masked lapwing mobbing it. Not much difference having a big lens as to when I had a point and shoot. Aim it, take lots of photographs and hope for the best. The result? My best harrier photos.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

May Bird Count

Each month I try to get out around the estuary and township to do a count of the birds there. This is my count from the 7th May 2017. Highlights were an arctic skua harassing terns for food (a reasonably common occurrence at this time of year) and a white heron skulking around the local drainage pools. I thought my count of 43 species was pretty good and a tough target to beat in future weeks. 

6 greylag geese
85 Canada geese
8 black swan
1 paradise shelduck
35 mallard
2 Australian shoveler
1 grey teal
15 NZ scaup
1 common pheasant
1 dabchick
2 little shag
1 black shag
3 little black shag
1 white heron
9 white-faced heron
23 royal spoonbill
1 Australasian harrier
17 pukeko
95 pied stilt
11 South Island pied oystercatcher
2 variable oystercatcher
7 masked lapwing
2 double-banded dotterel
21 wrybill
18 bar-tailed godwit
1 arctic skua
1 black-billed gull
2 red-billed gull
22 black-backed gull
5 Caspian tern
6 white-fronted tern
19 feral pigeon
9 sacred kingfisher
1 grey warbler
2 Australian magpie
5 NZ fantail
2 welcome swallow
12 blackbird
2 song thrush
45 starling
3 greenfinch
2 goldfinch
25 sparrow

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Largest glossy ibis sighting for 50 years at Foxton Beach

I was out walking the dog and luckily took my camera in case I saw the bittern. At the very same place that I saw the bittern fishing for the eel, I spotted some funny looking shags fly over. Anything that looks out of the ordinary attracts my attention so I took some photos and realised they were glossy ibis. They are infrequently seen at Foxton Beach and elsewhere in New Zealand but always in ones or twos. This number of birds has not been seen for decades. In fact, when I posted the sighting, people did not believe me. Good job for the photos.

I first saw the ibis after the tail end of cyclone Debbie from Australia hit the coast. You could assume they were blown over from the east coast but who knows? The birds are still here, 10 days later and feed and roost over the inaccessible land on the south side of the river. Makes it a bit tricky to photograph them but hopefully they will treat me to another fly by.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Further bittern sighting

This time I was more prepared and the sun was out. The bird is more skittish and I don't think it will be hanging around for people to look at it any more. Felt very privileged to get so close to such a rare bird.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Australasian Bittern moves in to Foxton Beach!

Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus)
I am most ashamed to say that despite walking my dog along the estuary every morning and priding myself at being aware of the birds around, I had to be told that a bittern had moved in. Oh well, guess I can't be the first to spot every new bird. Is it a peculiarity of all birders that they are so competitive?

Anyway, the bird was first spotted on Friday the 30th March and has been feeding the reeds around high tide for the last couple of days. This morning, whilst walking my dog and paying more attention, I spotted it at low tide feeding in the creek. After rushing back (poor dog) to get my gear, I spent a couple of hours watching the bird as it moved up and down the creek and through the wetland. My patience was rewarded when, right in front of me, it dived into the mud and wrestled an eel. The eel wrapped itself around the bittern's neck and it took nearly half an hour for the bird to kill and eat it. Absolutely phenomenal!