1 Mar 2009
I Left Ireland on a pretty chilly, windy and wet day. My Father and I flew from Dublin to Copenhagen then to Bangkok and then onto Auckland. It’s a bloody long way is all I can say.
We arrived in Auckland on a beautiful sunny afternoon and waited and waited to be picked by our rental which did not come so we eventually took a taxi and picked up our Maui Campervan. At the airport there were numerous House Sparrows, a few Welcome Swallows
and a Red Billed Gull.
Our initial plan was to to drive to Gulf Harbour and then get a ferry to TiriTiri Matange Island, however when my father made plans he had not factored in the fact that the ferry was not running on Mondays and Tuesdays.
So it was decided to head to Miranda instead. We stopped off at a supermarket and filled the campervan with water, wine and a bit of food. It was a very pleasant drive from Auckland through Cleveden and onto the coast. Trying to drive and birdwatch at the same time isn’t easy. There were lots of European introduced birds such as Starling, Goldfinch and Skylark. From America the Wild Turkey. Myna birds from Asia and from Australia the Australian Magpie, Black Swan and also an Eastern Rosella flew across the road in front of us..I also saw the Rare African introduction the Barbary Dove. I saw Yellowhammer, Song Thrush and of the Native new Zealand birds a couple of Tui and pleasingly a Kingfisher, infact I saw Kingfishers all over NZ, also a Pukeko, Paradise Shelduck, Pied Shag and Grey Duck. There were also Australasian Harriers working the margins between the shore and the road.
After about an hour we got to the Miranda Shorebird Center a little after five and it was closed . So we headed back down the road a few kilometers and parked right on the shore with a number of other camper vans. On the beach there were some Black Backed Gull, Red Billed and Black Billed Gull. Quite a few Pied Stilts making a racket , a few Bar Tailed Godwits, Pied Oystercatcher. And not much else.
My father and I then headed up the road for Fish and Chips in Kauaia We had snapper and it was very tasty along with some very nice NZ wine. Infact had to be one of the best fish and chips I had ever had.
Then it was off to bed.
Miranda Shorebird Centre.
After a pretty bad nights sleep I got up and was getting a bit frustrated with the campervan as we weren’t sure where half the switches were. Like the waterpump for example to enable us to get some water for tea and coffee; eventually we looked in a few cupboards and found the necessary switches.
It was a nice sunny day but with lots of cloud in the sky. You can see why New Zealand’s Maori name is Aoterea. Which when translated means the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Miranda is at the bottom left of the Firth of Thames between Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula. At low tide there is about 20,000 acres of mudflats which makes a great feeding ground for the Arctic nesting waders over the northern hemisphere’s winter. Every year New Zealand has about two to three hundred thousand waders arriving in September and leaving again in March. There are Bar Tailed Godwits,
Red Knot, Pacific Golden Plover, Sharp Tailed Sandpipers, Turnstone and a few numbers of Red Necked Stint, Eastern Curlew, Pectoral Sandpiper and the even less common Terek Sandpiper.
I was getting worried that we were going to miss high tide when the waders are pushed up towards the shore.
When we arrived at the centre we were told that high tide was 1.00pm so had at least a few hours to wait. I was relieved that they rented out scopes. $10NZ for the day. A bargain.
The one bird that I had really wanted to see on my previous visit to NZ was the Wrybill,and having not done so was very pleased to see them here.The Wrybill is a rare endemic and there are only about 4000-4500 birds. The really strange thing about this wader is its bill bends to the right. The only bird in the world to do this.
Father and I made the 2 kilometre trek to the hide .
Passing a dried out pond where another birder had just seen a Banded Rail. It decided not to appear for us though.(I saw it a day later) It was a nice walk predominantly through flowering fennel. So there was a really nice scent in the air. I still hadn’t at this point not really seen any waders. Then about a hundred yards from the hide a few wrybill flew very close by
and I could see a large amount of Bar Tail Godwits out on the mudflats. At this time of year there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Bar Tailed Godwit and 7000-10000 Knot. 500 Wrybill . We arrived just after 10.30 and I started chatting to this Swiss Birder who was with his Girlfriend. He had just seen a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper amongst the Wrybill. This was the first of 6 Lifers all of which were waders. Pacific Golden Plover, Wrybill, NZ Dotterel, Banded Dotterel
and the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper. The other American Migrant was a Pectoral Sandpiper which I have seen a few times at the Belfast Harbour Reserve.
The view from the hide was towards the Coromandel Peninsular.
It looked over a small bank made from thousands of shells. On it were Caspian Tern ,Varied and Pied Oystercatcher and Royal Spoonbill.
Photographic opportunities are excellent and would be exceptional if the high tide were at an hour before the evening golden hour. As the sun was straight overhead at 1.00pm .
Every now and again an Australasian Harrier would fly overhead and all the Godwits and Knot and Wrybill would explode upwards .
It was quite exciting to watch. I reckon if I spent a week there I could get some stunning images.
After I had spent about 3 hours in the sun I was feeling decidedly hot (Stupidly with no suntan lotion I was later to suffer) We headed back to the Miranda Shorebird Centre.
It was here we met Keith Woodley the Centre Manager
and expert on Bar Tailed Godwit. He had recently taken a sabbatical and had followed the path of the Bar Tailed Godwits to their breeding grounds in Alaska. On his return he wrote a book about that is to be published by Penguin in September 2009.
He is also a talented Bird Artist and this was the A-Board out on the road.
The Bar Tailed Godwits here at Miranda are remarkable. Over the previous few years they have been satellite tracking a number of birds and one called E7 had her whole migration monitored by satellite. She first of all flew 6500 miles to Yalu Jiang in China where she remained for five weeks before flying another 3000 miles to Alaska . Then four months later she made her way back to New Zealand over the pacific on a non stop flight of 7500 miles.