our birds at Snells Beach
thanks to Michele Mackenzie and others
Above are the Godwits –
GODWIT – KUAKA (Bar tailed) Conservation Status: Declining. NZ Status: Native. Astonishing Godwits perform the longest nonstop flight of any non-seabird in the world, leaving Alaska to come to Snells beach and New Zealand for the summer, arriving at the beginning of September, then leaving in February for the Yellow sea then back to Alaska
They fly the 11,000-12,000 km from Alaska which takes 8-9 days fuelled only by stored body fat and unlike seabirds they must flap their wings the whole way without the luxury of soaring or gliding, not only this as powered migrants they don’t stop to feed, drink, rest or sleep and lose half their body weight, amazing! Starting in January some of our usually dull coloured Godwits start to transform with their stunning breeding plumage. It is so important that our shore birds can rest and feed undisturbed or they die on their migration, this is only one of about 32 special shorebird species at Snells Beach that need your help, everything you do makes a difference for them. Some of these are illustrated and described immediately below ———-
NZ Fairy Tern
This small, dainty coastal tern is the most endangered of New Zealand’s endemic birds. The relict population of fewer than a dozen pairs survives between Whangarei in the north and Auckland to the south. The tiny population is gravely threatened by introduced predators and disturbance or encroachment by humans. They are intensively managed during the breeding season.
A new species for Snells all the way from Siberia how exciting !!
This little bird is about the size of a Blackbird however stockier, with a tortoise shell pattern on its back and wings, a big dark cravat, white underpants and orange tights on its short stocky legs, quite the fashionista.
New Zealand Dotterel
The endangered New Zealand Dotterell on Snells Beach. A bird rarely occurring on sandy east coast beaches in the northern North Island, extremely sparsely distributed around the rest of the country. Coastal development and human recreational activities on beaches are having a growing impact on the northern subspecies; dotterels are often described as ‘appealing’, and local communities are increasingly championing them – providing advocacy and organising protection programmes to improve breeding success.
The banded dotterel is the most common small plover of New Zealand seashores, estuaries and riverbeds. Although their plumage varies seasonally, they are readily identified by their brown upperparts and complete or partial chestnut breast band, the latter being quite striking in breeding plumage. Like other typical plovers, the body is held erect and they have a characteristic run-stop-peck-run foraging behaviour in their pursuit of small invertebrates. Inland-breeding birds undertake a post-breeding migration to estuaries and other coastal wetlands the length of New Zealand.
White fronted Terns with chick
Above are two adult, white fronted terns. Their smaller juvenile, mouth open on the left has different markings from the adults. This tern is the most common tern on the New Zealand coastline, at times occurring in flocks of many hundreds or even thousands of birds. It is mainly a marine species that is seldom found far from the coast. The name ‘white-fronted’ refers to the ‘frons’ or forehead, where a thin strip of white separates the black cap from the black bill. Most other ‘capped’ terns, including the black-fronted tern, have black caps that reach the bill when in breeding plumage.
White faced Heron
The white-faced heron is New Zealand’s most common heron, despite being a relatively new arrival to this country. It is a tall, elegant, blue-grey bird that can be seen stalking its prey in almost any aquatic habitat, including damp pasture and playing fields. Because it occupies space also shared with people it is usually well habituated to their presence, and may allow close approach.
The pied stilt is a dainty wading bird with, as its name suggests, black-and-white coloration and very long legs. It is common at wetlands and coastal areas throughout New Zealand and may be seen feeding alongside oystercatchers.
Pied stilts tend to be shy of people and fly away, yapping, when approached.
Hybrid Pied Stilt
These are not a specific breed, they are a cross between the critically endangered Black Stilt (numbering only 100) and the more common Pied Stilt so classified as a Hybrid.
In the photo, above right is an adult pied stilt with two juveniles in front with undeveloped markings, the bird on the left you can clearly see the large amount of black on its head and around its chest showing it is a cross between the two species, a hybrid.
We have a few hybrids amongst the Pied Stilt flocks at Snells, please keep a look out for them and photograph them if you can, its great to keep data on them to help with the NZ research.
Bar tailed Godwit
Their brown and grey plumage echoes the intertidal mudflats where they forage, and for much of their time in New Zealand they are relatively nondescript birds however you will start to notice some of them changing plumage colour in February to their breeding plumage of bright rusty orange as they prepare for their epic migration to their breeding grounds in Alaska or Siberia. There is nothing nondescript about the migrations of bar-tailed godwits. They perform the longest nonstop flights of any non-seabird in the world, and, unlike a seabird, there is no chance of an inflight snack, sleep or rest, they don’t glide either.
The stately royal spoonbill is one of six spoonbill species worldwide, and the only one that breeds in New Zealand. This large white waterbird was first recorded in New Zealand at Castlepoint in 1861. Sightings increased through the 1900s, with breeding first recorded next to the white heron colony at Okarito, south Westland, in 1949. Since then it has successfully colonised New Zealand from Australia and is now widespread, breeding at multiple sites on both main islands, and dispersing to coastal sites across the country after the breeding season. In flight, birds hold their neck outstretched and trail legs behind, looking rather awkward, like a “Dr Seuss” cartoon bird. Their closest relatives are the ibises.
The sacred kingfisher is one of the best known birds in New Zealand due to the iconic photographs published over many years by Geoff Moon. These early images showed in detail the prey, the foraging skills and the development of chicks in the nest and as fledgings. Equally recognisable is the hunched silhouette waiting patiently on a powerline or other elevated perch over an estuary or mudflat which converts in a flash to a streak of green diving steeply to catch a prey item.
Kingfishers are found widely in New Zealand in a wide range of habitats: the key ingredients are elevated observation posts to hunt from, banks or suitable standing trees to excavate nests in, and open or semi-open habitats which support a range of prey items.
This large, mainly black shag is often seen individually or in small groups roosting on rocky headlands, in trees or on artificial structures. It usually forages alone. Even though readily seen about harbours and estuaries associated with cities or towns, black shags are wary of close approach by people, probably as a result of persecution by fishers and waterfowl hunters
The paradise shelduck is a colourful, conspicuous and noisy waterfowl that could be mistaken for a small goose. It has undergone a remarkable increase in population and distribution since about 1990, including the colonisation of sports fields and other open grassed areas within urban environments. This expansion has occurred in the face of being a gamebird and hunted annually.
Although present in New Zealand and on Chatham Islands at the time of first human settlement, black swans were no longer extant at the time of European settlement. They were deliberately reintroduced, initially from Melbourne, in the 1860s. Their distribution and abundance within a few years of those small reintroductions suggests that, coincidentally, natural re-colonisation may have occurred. Periodic immigration from Australia may still occur but has yet to be confirmed.
Widespread and common in eastern and south-western Australia and Tasmania, the black swan also ranges into the continent’s interior following heavy rain events.
The variable oystercatcher is a familiar stocky coastal bird with a long, bright orange bill, found around much of New Zealand. They are often seen in pairs probing busily for shellfish along beaches or in estuaries. Previously shot for food, variable oystercatchers probably reached low numbers before being protected in 1922, since when numbers have increased rapidly. They are long-lived, with some birds reaching 30+ years of age. The existence of different colour morphs (black, intermediate or ‘smudgy’, and pied) caused early confusion, and they were variously thought to be different species, forms, or hybrids. The colour morphs inter-breed freely and are now all accepted as being a single species.
South Island Pied Oystercatcher
The South Island pied oystercatcher (SIPO) is the most abundant oystercatcher in New Zealand. The conspicuous black and white plumage and long red bill make this a familiar species. It is found on most estuaries, with numbers greatest during the period December to July. Fewer birds remain in coastal areas during the rest of the year, with most of the population moving to inland South Island riverbeds and farmland to breed.
Similar species of pied oystercatchers occur throughout Europe, North and South America and Australia
The Australasian shoveler is a species of dabbling duck in the genus Spatula. It ranges from 46–53 cm. In Australia it is protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974. They occur in Southwestern and Southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
Shovelers are specialist filter-feeding waterfowl with a large spoon-shaped or shovel-shaped bill that is almost twice as broad at its tip than at its base.
This large black-and-white shag is often seen individually or in small groups roosting on rocky headlands, trees or artificial structures. In regions where it occurs, it can usually be readily seen about harbours and estuaries associated with cities or towns. Unlike most other shag species, the pied shag is reasonably confiding, allowing close approach when roosting or nesting in trees. It generally forages alone, but occasionally in small groups when prey is abundant.