Tuesday, 31 October 2017

New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year Finalist!

So excited today as it was announced that I am a finalist in the NZ Geographic Photographer of the Year competition. The bittern photograph I took in April of this year is my entry and while I don't think it is glamorous enough to win, I am thrilled to be a finalist. 

Check out the competition and other photos here:

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Sunday Morning Walk

Before deciding what to do with my day, I took my dog for a walk. Most Sundays we walk along the estuary walkway towards the beach. As usual I am toting my camera and I see very little to photograph. Until I reached the little pond on Holben Parade. And I didn't get any further. The pond was stuffed with interesting birds. My greyhound, the neighbouring skateboarders and other dog walkers did not share my excitement but that's their loss. Here are my highlights:

Royal Spoonbill (platalea regia)

This is the best image of this adult breeding spoonbill but I had so many others of it fishing and preening that it took the rest of the day to process them. Go to my website to see more of them.

Grey Teal (anas gracilis)

Grey teal are very shy but this pair were relaxed and let me reasonably close.

White-faced Heron (egretta novaehollandiae)

This is one of a pair of young herons that are about to leave (or be kicked out of) their nest. The parents were very busy gathering food and returning regularly to feed them.

 Pukeko or Purple Swamphen (porphyrio melanotus)

This family were feeding on the edge of the pond. There were 3 chicks in total probably only a day or so old. 

Little Black Shag (phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Little black shags are usually seen in groups but this bird was perched drying its wings alone. The bright eye and white plumes indicate it is in breeding.

Australasian Shoveler (anas rhynchotis)

The only time I have seen young shovelers was in the wilds of the Wairarapa and even then it was only the back of them as the fled from the scene. While we have resident shovelers in Foxton Beach, they are very shy and it is always tricky to get shots of them. I was amazed to see this female with a healthy looking very young brood.

Australian Magpie (gymnorhina tibicen)

I heard this young magpie before I saw it, squealing like it was the end of the world. A very patient parent duly brought it food. Juvenile magpies are tricky to photograph as they are so fluffy.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Cuckoo season

We have 2 migratory cuckoos in New Zealand: the bronze shining cuckoo (chrysococcyx lucidus) and the long-tailed cuckoo (eudynamys taitensis). The former is native (some are resident also in Australia) but the long-tailed is classed as endemic as it breeds here even if it only visits in the summer months.

The shining cuckoo arrives first with its distinctive call being heard from mid-September onwards. I have been searching for this bird for years and although I have even seen the poor host grey warblers trying to feed the larger chick, I have not managed to get a decent image. But of course, it has all changed now I am living at Foxton Beach. I have found several local areas where the cuckoo can be heard and over the last week have managed to track and photograph them.

Their behaviour is really interesting. I saw a pair interacting by calling and displaying and what sounded like squabbling. They chased each other around the bushes until a grey warbler saw them both off.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Godwits have returned!

It is a time of celebration in New Zealand, when the bar-tailed godwits return. It is a sign of spring. Arriving in September, the count at Foxton Beach increased this week from the half dozen over-wintering birds to 120+. The godwits are incredible birds, not only for their magnificent bills but also for their endurance flight from the northern hemisphere. They hold the record for the longest non-stop journey of any non sea bird. Whilst in New Zealand, their body weight will double. They leave us in March, giving a glimpse of their breeding plumage before departing. The female bird is considerably larger than the male with a proportionately larger bill as well. You can see that clearly in my first image.

Bar-tailed Godwit (limosa lapponica)

The birds wander the shoreline digging for food or rest in groups. I like to watch them as the tide comes in, pushing them up the beach often on one leg. They also have the ability to bend the top part of their bill which makes them look very odd.

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.