Sunday, April 15, 2001. Happy Easter. Day 4 of Week 1. North From Auckland: Orewa Beach, Dotterel Sanctuary, Kauri Forest Park
There is a famous island here, off the east coast of the central North Island, which was selected for a special purpose. All the introduced predators were totally eradicated -- rats, mice, stoats (little weasels), possums, etc. Then they began removing non-native trees and plants, and replanting native ones. After some time, they planted native trees. Of course, huge areas of the island were still natural forests, so they didn't have to do anything to them. Then they began to re-introduce species that were wiped out from areas of the island and from areas of the mainland.
This island is called Tiri Tiri Matangi (Teary Teary MAH tang ee, where tang is pronounced like the orange breakfast drink). I called to get us on there today, but the slots were all gone, so we're going tomorrow. Meantime, we've decided to check out the highway roadsides we saw yesterday, then a dotterel sanctuary.
DRIVING OUT OF OUR CAMP
8:24 AM, and we've got a pair of male English BLACKBIRDS, at the base of a tree. We're headed north today because we couldn't get tickets for Tiri Tiri Matangi Island today -- will have to wait till tomorrow. This already has caused us to change our schedule. Maybe that's for the best because this gives us an easy day, which will help with the jet lag.
As is often the case, I head south instead of north, and while I'm looking for a place to U-turn, we come to where the river runs under the highway and out to the sea. Sharon has picked up some shags, so we're going to stop to check them out.
OREWA BEACH, FAR END
There are three or four Pied Shags, which we are watching when a smaller *LITTLE SHAG flies in. Shags have the appearance of cormorants.
We see a walk along the river, so we take off. As it passes the HBC youth center, we see our first PIED FANTAIL of the trip. These birds are fantastic, very curious, and respond to Sharon's call every time. They almost land on Sharon's head as they home in on her calls.
In the distance, across an expanse of green lawn, we see a pair of SPUR-WINGED PLOVERS. Then heading back out to the highway, to finally go north, we see some Black-backed Gulls by the river. And as we pull out, we spot a pair of *PARADISE SHELDUCKS. They are dark ducks, but the female has a beautiful white head. As we're checking out the shelducks, Sharon spots another bird in the grass, which turns out to be a little *NEW ZEALAND PIPIT (Pihoihoi).
RETRACING YESTERDAY'S HIGHWAY ROUTE
It is 9:28 AM and we are retracing our route from yesterday, when we saw so many birds by the roadside, but couldn't stop to check them out. We get an AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE, and it appears to be of the White-backed variety -- the most common in New Zealand. The Black-backed subspecies is rare.
We see several large hawks, with long tails gliding over. They are *AUSTRALASIAN HARRIERS. Young ones are dark brown. As they get a little older, they get the white rump patch that we are familiar with on American Northern Harriers.
Returning from the highway back into town, Sharon spots two large, dark birds on a broken-down tractor or other structure. They are PUKEKO, also known as Purple Swamphen here.
HEADING NORTH, TOWARDS WARKSWORTH
It is 10:00 AM exactly, and we turn off to a thermal resort, where we have seen interesting birds from the road, but far away. I see big black birds with gulls, and they all Variable Oystercatchers, black phase. As we take off, we see a sign reminding us that this is the Hibiscus Coast Highway.
A half-hour later, we are at the Morris Hill Walkway, waiting for a family of three. We want to let them get about a five minute head start. After waiting a while, we enter the track, under a thick fern cover, and see a pair of Fantails on top of some ferns. This is obviously the gully referrred to the internet trip report I have a copy of. Sharon looks bright and shiny in the dark forest.
The term "tramping" is what we might call a long hike. Also, like in St. Lucia and Trinidad, their term for what we would call a trail is a "track."
A *SILVEREYE responds to Sharon's call. We are watching several Fantails respond to Sharon's pss pss pss, when suddenly Sharon says, "There is a different bird there too," and sure enough it's a *GREY WARBLER, up very high in the tree.
CONTINUING NORTH TOWARDS THE DOTTERELS
We are nearing Omaha Beach, where the dotterel sanctuary is located. We pass a gorgeous golf course on our left, and there are Paradise Shelducks on it, like the deer on the golf course of Carmel and Pacific Grove, California.
It's almost noon and we are parked, on foot on a great brick walkway, headed for dotterels.
We see a bird circle the area, then land on top of a light standard. At first, we think it's a Kookaburra, but as it perches, we see that the color pattern is wrong. It is a *KINGFISHER. We later learn the explanation for why we see them a long way from water. Kingfishers here eat many things, not just fish.
THE DOTTEREL SANCTUARY
Now down at the dotterel beach area, and looking to right, Sharon says to look at all those oystercatchers. There must be several hundred, mixed in with *PIED STILTS. We move on up the beach, past the line of oystercatchers, and we see nets marking off KEEP-OUT squares of sand. Inside some of the squares, we begin to see three types of birds. The first and most numerous are a hundred or so BAR-TAILED GODWITS. The second most numerous is the *NEW ZEALAND DOTTEREL. We see about six of these, and a sign says that there are 1300 NZ Dotterels left in the world.
But mixed in, we also see another bird 2/3rds the size of the NZ Dotterels. Their plumage is darker, and they have an extra band on the chest. This is a *BANDED DOTTEREL. Suddenly about 40 Bar-tails, then about fifty New Zealand/Banded Dotterels take off, swirl and land again, in two different groups.
Both the Bar-tailed Godwits and the light remind us of the great light up at Nome a couple of years ago. We finish up at Dotterel Central and head back out. A sign says bowls this Sunday, gives the price, and says to "come and have a go." The dress is "Mufti." We don't know what this means, but gather that it means wear shorts, which all the bowlers seem to have.
RETURNING TO CAMP
We take off again, but make it about thirty feet when Sharon says to pull over. There on the golf course is what we believe to be a Grey Heron at first. But as we see it more clearly, it's a *WHITE-FACED HERON. There are also many White-backed Australian Magpies.
I am in the bottom 10% of explorers at RETRACING a path in a car, but with my GPS, I can see every turn we made. I would have gone up that hill, I guarantee, without the GPS telling me which way we came from.
My delight at having made the correct turn is interrupted by a swift or swallow. It is a bird with a great name -- it is a *WELCOME SWALLOW, and it is flying along beside us. It has a rufous chest, and reminds me a little of a Barn Swallow. Later Sharon reads to me about the Welcome Swallow. It is the only self-introduced bird in New Zealand [although it seems that later, we read about others]. That is to say, Europeans brought over many birds from England, to remind them of home, I'm sure. But the little Welcome Swallow brought his own self, plopped down, and is the swallow of choice here.
If we see penguins tomorrow, they will be first wild ones we've ever seen. Thinking of my penguin recognition preparations, there are three penguins here -- Little, Blue and Yellow-eyed. But Blue is actually just another name for Little, so there are actually only two. There IS a third, the Erect Crested, but my understanding is not to expect them at this time of year. Sharon expects them, with her silly positive outlook, because she has read that there "may be a straggler or two."
THE KAURI FOREST WALK
2:13 PM. As I stand against one of the two giant Kauri trees, I swear I see a monarch butterly, high in trees. This is the farthest from home I've ever seen one, to be sure. Although Kauri trees don't look like redwoods, we've come to think of them about the same way. Old, huge and mysterious-looking. Most of them cut down for lumber decades ago, but movements in the last century have preserved lots of Kauri Forests now.
This is Sharon: "pss pss pss," and these are birds responding: "pss pss pss." The first bird to respond is always the little Fantail, and it comes right up to Sharon's face, tracking the sound down to the last twenty centimeters. Sometimes, it seems that the bird will perch on her head, and it often lands as close as one meter away.
As I try to take a photo, Sharon says, "Hello, my name is Sharon." Fantail says, "What are you?" Sharon says, "I am a bird lover," and the bird says, "Pss pss pss," twisting left and right, then jumps up, turning around, and flares that great fan, never stopping, always darting about.
2:48 PM Two or three times, we've heard a sound we think might be a Bellbird. It is a simple sound, but sometimes it's a "conk," and no decent Bellbird would make such a sound. After sorting out the birds high in the trees, we conclude that all of the strange sounds are coming from Mynahs. They are good. They have a big variety of calls, like the best mimic. One had a little cat call, one a hollow bell sound, another a hoarse bark, still another a cuckoo sound.
3:11 A flock of a half dozen *EASTERN ROSELLAS flies in. Sharon spots one first. They are making a big racket, and she describes the bird. Yellow belly, white eye ring, red head and neck, definitely a parrot. I get one too, and they are gaudy and gorgeous.
Five minutes later, Sharon sees a bird we've been hoping for -- a *TUI (Parsonbird). This bird is mostly black, but the tail appears blue in certain light. It is medium large black bird and, like the Mynah, makes lots of different calls. As it does, the little white puffs at its neck shaks and move. A great, great scene. It is high in the trees.
We are amazed and continue on around our Kauri forest walk. Suddenly Sharon says, "There's a huge bird, like a Trogon. It's a "NEW ZEALAND PIGEON!" And I'm already looking at it plus another in the same tree.
We emerge from our walk and I finally see my first New Zealand CHAFFINCH.
It's 4:48 PM and we're on our way back on the Hibiscus Coast Road. The scenery is all lit by a spectacular sun which is behind us and to our left. The bad news is the terrible traffic. Here, it's a two lane road. We just stopped, but usally we're moving at 5 or 10 mph. Classic stop and go. This solid traffic reminds me of when I used to come up California State Highway 101 when it was El Camino Real. It was near our future home, but of course I had no way of knowing that way back then. There weren't even any houses out there. The deadly highway was called Blood Alley, and for good reason.
We finally make it back to our camp, and as we walk around, we hear a bird high up in a tree going whistle, kek kek kek, pish pish, click, wheeeww. After chasing all around the countryside today, after driving back to camp in all that traffic, there's a Tui right here in our camp. So as younger daughter Shandra would say, shut up.
Life Birds: Today: 15. Little Shag, Paradise Shelduck, New Zealand Pipit, Australasian Harrier, Silvereye, Grey Warbler, Kingfisher, Pied Stilt, New Zealand Dotterel, Banded Dotterel, White-faced Heron, Welcome Swallow, Eastern Rosella, Tui, New Zealand Pigeon.
For the Trip: 20.
Trip Birds: Today: 22. The 15 lifers, plus Blackbird, Pied Fantail, Spur-winged Plover, Australian Magpie (White-backed), Pukeko (Purple Swamphen), Bar-tailed Godwit, Chaffinch. For the Trip: 33.
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