Our Anzac Day bird challenge was great fun and included some fantastic birds. We undoubtedly proved the Auckland area is one of the best places for birding in New Zealand. So here's how it went...
We began the day at Mangere, which provided us with an excellent start including 51 birds within the first few hours.
Our first stop was the bird hide in Ambury Regional Park, where we were treated to a smorgasbord of feathered creatures.
Waiting to greet us in the car park were pukekos, Barbary doves, fantails and grey warblers. Once we got to the mudflats, we added wrybills, New Zealand dotterels, banded dotterels, bar tailed godwit, pied stilts, variable oystercatchers and South Island pied oystercatchers to the list. From the telescope we could also pick out some distant royal spoonbills feeding.
With around 40 different species already noted, we continued our search in another location close by and discovered even more excellent birds. There was a huge range of waterfowl including New Zealand scaup, grey teal, paradise shelduck, grey duck, black swans and New Zealand dachicks. We also had an early highlight of two rare birds; a black fronted dotterel and - after a bit of scanning with the telescope - a grey tailed tattler that was a first for us both at this location.
The dawn chorus of the tuis was beautiful providing a melodious sound track while we scanned hard for more waders. It felt like we had already seen as much as we could at the Ambury Regional Park, and being aware of our tight schedule we decided to press on.
The next stop was the Waitakere Ranges. This was a little harder in terms of finding birds, especially it was a busy Saturday, but the area provided some excellent scenery all the same.
That said, we did manage to locate the Tomtit, although we didn’t find a sulphur crested cockatoo as we’d hoped. With daylight quickly passing, we decided to head to the next stop.
We were off to Matakana for a quick lunch break and a mind to track down a laughing Kookaburra. Unfortunately, we only managed to tick off the lunch portion of our to-do list here, despite this normally being an easy bird to find in the area.
As we drove into Tawharanui for our final destination of the day, we counted that we were already up to 58 birds out of our initial target of 60. We were feeling more positive than ever, but we knew that no job is done until it’s done – particularly in the world of birdwatching!
We were rewarded early on in our Tawharanui visit with the sight of Buller’s and fluttering Shearwater off the coast with the telescope.
But it didn’t stop there. We soon added more birds to our list, including bellbirds, red crowned parakeet (letting us tick off one of New Zealand’s eight endemic parrots), whitehead and saddleback. These noisy birds are particularly vocal and therefore easy to spot!
At this point we were most thinking the same thing: Could we get 70 birds?
We continued on and found a pair of rare and endangered brown teal out on the water behind the bushes. A moment later, a few screeching Kaka soared overhead (the second species of NZ’s endemic parrots that we see).
That took us to a total of 69 birds. Things were getting interesting, but daylight was fading fast.
As we walked up the woodland path a few rustles in the bushes caught our attention. Peeking deep into the bush we could see a large creature with a bright green back and a bright red bill. It was the Takahe (kerchinggggg!).
We had smashed our original target and made it to 70 birds! It was a big high five on what was a magnificent 70th bird of the day, and very appropriate as there are only 260 of these birds remaining in the world!
We decided to have a spot of dinner and continue on with hopes to find our final two targets, the North Island brown kiwi and the morepork (NZ owl). These would usually be considered as fairly easy ones for the area, but you never quite know with birding.
So off we went in the cold dark woods as the rain started to fall. Within just a few minutes, we spotted Morepork above our heads hunting for moths.
All we had left now was the Kiwi, which would round off an excellent day.
But it seemed as if our luck had run out. There were countless moments of rustles in the bushes, reports from other visitors about a sighting further up the track, and more and more rustles as we walked up and down the path five or six times, we normally have good success with finding kiwi, this one time that it really mattered – were we going to hit the jackpot!
That is, until we caught the tiniest glimpse of a ball of feathers off in the bushes. We held our breath, waited, and excitedly watched as it finally moved. It wasn’t the best view we’d ever had, but a view is a view and we felt like we’d hit the jackpot.
After 17 hours and 72 birds, we decided it was time for a break and some much-needed sleep.
We’re proud of our efforts and excited to prove that all of these fantastic birds were found near New Zealand’s biggest city.
Thanks to the huge conservation efforts by a number of New Zealand organisations, there is plenty of wildlife within the greater Auckland region.
The birds are there - you just need to look for them.
We’re sure we are going to do this again soon, and maybe we could get a few other cities on board too. Who knows, maybe in the summer with a few more daylight hours we can see more.
But that story might have to wait till next time.
Harry & Tristan from Habitat Tours
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist