As a birder part of your kit is a good pair of binoculars and a decent spotting scope. I recently upgraded my optics by making a decent investment in Swarovski glass, and so far there are no regrets. A lot of my birding these days is done on estuaries where finding and identifying a bird comes before stalking and photographing it – and good optics help. In the photo below I am sporting my new kit at the Manawatu River estuary. The binoculars are EL 10 x 42, and the scope an ATX / STX with 85mm objective lens, and magnification of 25 – 60. I sometimes take photos on my phone using the spotting scope, and the photos are great for identification.
A week in Taranaki (New Plymouth) gave us many opportunities to photograph things that are, ‘like no other’, as their district motto says. It is a unique area of New Zealand, really quite apart. I worked there from 1972 – 1974 at the Taranaki Savings Bank and I found it interesting to visit some of my old haunts, where 40 years ago I photographed with my film Pentax SLR. One place we visited was Pukekura Park and its festival of lights, and I found myself photographing in the same spots as I had 40 years before. The new Len Lye Centre building, with its mirror-like external cladding, makes for some interesting pictures, as does the Rewa Rewa Bridge on New Plymouth’s fantastic coastal walkway. A week of perfect weather, based in an apartment right on the walkway, made for a very pleasant and restful sojourn. I recommend it.
Only twice have I seen a black phase fantail in the North Island, where their numbers are less than 1% of the total fantail population. In the South Island they are more common, maybe 5% of the total number, and more so in some areas than others. This week I photographed one at Gordon Park, located just outside Whanganui City, and it appears to be a juvenile because of the yellow at the base of its bill. A lovely little bird to watch flitting around the forest and part of a family group of five of six birds.
It is not often these days that I get to photograph a new bird species in New Zealand, but this last week I had the opportunity. A Terek Sandpiper was reported at the Manawatu River Estuary and yesterday I went to check it out. Birders had come from near and far as this bird is rare in New Zealand nowadays. I managed a series of good photos even though we could not get very close to it. It is distinctive looking because of its long upcurving bill and orange legs, and hyper-active when it feeds. The Manawatu Estuary has seen a good variety of species this year including an eastern curlew, pectoral sandpiper, sharp-tailed sandpiper, turnstone, red-necked stint, golden plover, wrybill, as well as the usual godwits and red knots.
This year is ebbing away and soon Christmas will be upon us. On Saturday we had our annual Wanganui Christmas Parade that is always a colourful event and a great place for me to add a few more photos to my Wanganui collection. It is also an event that includes many old cars and photo opportunities of them. Knowing some of the parade entrants adds to the fun, like the prize-winning entry by Plumber Dan with his Minis, including a mini-Corvette driven by his five-year-old nephew Cyruz, with four ducklings in tow.
One of my special interests in birds is to learn about the migration of certain species, and in particular the godwit. The godwit has the longest recorded non-stop journey of any creature, when it was proved by use of a satellite transmitter fitted on a female bird, that a 12,000 km flight was made non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand.
We are fortunate to have a small number of godwits on our local Whanganui River Estuary and one bird with a leg flag engraved ‘AJD’ is special to us. This male godwit has returned to Whanganui eight years in a row, with amazing regularity. He leaves here on about the 25th of March each year and flies to Alaska, via the Yellow Sea in China. He returns from Alaska to the Manawatu River Estuary each year on about the 30th of September, and then on about the 12th of November he comes over to Whanganui for the rest of the summer. He is featured in my last two bird books, so what a thrill it was to find him back in Wanganui again last week, like an old friend returning. While the rest of the godwits slept he gave me a look as if to say, “I know you” – see picture below.
Good to see a number of godwits (22) on the Whanganui River Estuary this week, (and four red knots), with 21 of the godwits being juvenile birds. Some have orange staining around the base of their bills, indicating iron staining from the the Alaskan sediments (as explained by Phil Battley from Massey University). They must bury their face in the mud as they feed. It is a visual connection to the Arctic where just a few days ago they were feeding. Amazing to think that the juvenile birds, at probably less than four months of age, have travelled from Alaska to Wanganui, some 12,000 km. The sole knot in the picture still has some remnants of breeding plumage on its breast.
As a birder I always look for the return of migrant waders from the northern hemisphere, from mid-September onwards. So for this reason we took a visit to the Manawatu River estuary last week to check out the new arrivals. Among them were godwits, some with bands and flags being birds that are being studied and tracked. However, it was so windy that I struggled to keep upright and my camera still. Alongside me I noticed a small group of wrybills, their feathers ruffled with the wind, but otherwise happily feeding away on the shoreline. What great little birds – so friendly and confiding – probably my favourite of all birds. The wind on their feathers made for some great photos of these birds that are uniquely ours.
The Whanganui River flooded badly this last weekend causing major damage and disruption in the city. The large quantity of rain also caused surface flooding in low lying areas as well as hundreds of slips in the wider district. Photographers were out in numbers capturing the scene, but I was particularly interested in what it would look like at the river mouth where the angry river met an incoming tide. The sight was spectacular and the river turn the ocean brown with the sea looking more like sand dunes than salt water. Great quantities of wood were being launched out to sea and I even saw a fridge pass by. All has settled down now but a big clean-up remains.