East Cape/Wairoa Easter Birding

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East Cape/Wairoa Easter Birding

Postby RussCannings » Thu Apr 25, 2019 2:23 pm

Hi all,

School holidays usually means a chance for Lisa and I (both teachers) to get away for some exploration and birding and this Easter was no exception. Now that we have a little one, we decided to leave the tent at home and "glamp" it Air BnB style as we toured one of our favourite areas of NZ--the East Cape and Gisborne/Wairoa districts.

[Scroll to the bottom for abbreviated birding highlights only]

We left Morrinsville on Tuesday, April 16th, stopping first at Hamurana Springs along the north shore of Rotorua. While there is a $15 entry fee, it was completely worth it, as it's one of the largest and most visible springs in NZ and in a wonderful natural setting. If you've visited the Blue Springs near Putaruru, this is even better (albeit a shorter walk). Scaup and mallard/hybrids are plentiful in the stream, and a few coot and dabchick were also present. A good range of native and introduced songbirds can be expected in the redwood/exotic and native bush patches.

After a lunch in Kawerau, we pushed on to Whakatane and Ohiwa Harbours. Nothing too unusual to report from either area though always a treat to catch up with the Ohiwa weka. A lone Reef Heron was roosting on Whangakopikopikko Island at dusk, and a sickly 3rd cycle gull that I feared might be a "too far to be sure" Lesser Black-backed Gull was later determined to be a definite Kelp Gull (Sadly after I found it dead the following day).

After a night in the Ohiwa area we checked out Opotiki the continued east on SH35 into proper "East Cape" country (Passing many familiar scenes from Taika Waititi's 'Boy' film). While the birding was somewhat slow (other than a bittern flying across the hwy at Opape), the conditions for enjoying the outdoors were perfect. Lots of gannets, shags, and terns to watch while we swam at a few beaches including one of our favourite spots at Maraehako, and another Reef Heron at Whangaparoa.

As we rounded the corner into the Gisborne Distict (just beyond Cape Runaway), we called into the lovely cove near Lottin Point. Here the southerlies ripping up the east coast were evident, and the seas had turned from flat calm to boiling white--but that's great for seabirds! Scoping them from deep in the bay of Lottin Point (the settlement area, not the actual point) meant that all birds were quite distant, but in among the many Fluttering and Buller's Shearwaters (and many more unidentified objects), a clear NORTHER ROYAL ALBATROSS came into view which was a treat for that spot.

Wanting to get closer to the action, we tried driving out to Matakaoa Point (north end of Hicks Bay) but as was the case last year, a station gate stops you short of the actual point. Still, the elevation gives you a decent perspective on the action below (You just still are a couple km from the birds). Luckily a gorgeous adult BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS flew in close enough to rule out the Campbell Island sp., and another (or the same) NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS was picked out. Good numbers of both Fluttering Buller's Shearwaters could be clearly made out and even better was a single SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER that provided diagnostic views close (enough) to shore.

The light was starting to fade (as was baby Alex) so our last stop was Wharariki Point out on the East Cape Rd for a final seawatch of the day. It would have been much better at the lighthouse but still from this point of land, it was easy to watch some workups of White-fronted Terns (400+) and gannets (450+) offshore. I was disappointed to not pick out any Black-fronted Terns but still great to see 5 ARCTIC SKUA (Finally my #100th bird for the Gisborne district), 1 WHITE-CAPPED ALBATROSS (+ 5 more probable WCs too distant to confirm) and the big surprise--1 LITTLE SHEARWATER (race uncertain). While Little Shears are not unexpected off this coast in April, being able to identify one from land is always gold.

The following morning we made our way out to the East Cape lighthouse where SE winds were still blustering away. East Island unfortunately keeps many of the birds further offshore than is ideal but this is still one of the better (easily accessible) seawatching locations on the North Island. I only scoped for around 15min here but was still rewarded with 3 adult WHITE-CAPPED ALBATROSS, 1 COOK'S PETREL, 2000+ Fluttering Shearwater, and 400+ Buller's Shearwater, along with 4 Arctic Skua all chasing the same WFT! On the way back we noticed a single NZ DOTTEREL feeding on the rocky wave platforms near Horoera (my first record of this species along the Te Araroa-East Cape Rd).

A similar mix of offshore birds presented themselves near the mouth of the Waiapu River (east of Tikitiki). I had also hoped for a mix of waterbirds on the river but high winds kept a lot of birds out of the open. 64 Banded Dotts were counted out on the mudflats and after about 20min of staring at a potential sleeping whimbrel, I finally resigned myself to reality... it was a piece of wood.

The weather had taken its toll and all members of the family were keen for indoors and something warm, so we high-tailed it to our accommodation in Tokomaru Bay, noting a SPOTTED DOVE near Ruatoria on the way. We also so half a dozen EMU in rough pasture in the Waiapu Valley. Assume domestics but hard to say (the East Cape has a previous reputation for feral emus but I've never substantiated these rumours). I checked the Toko wharf for roosting terns at dusk but alas--another piece of wood (this time falcon shaped) was all I found.

Next morning saw us at--what has to be one of NZ's best beaches (you can't judge if you haven't been there)--Anaura Bay. We were shocked to see the holiday park open but completely empty of campers. That left practically the whole beach to us which we didn't mind. Certainly chiller on this side of the cape but lovely for a walk. After a pie lunch in Tolaga Bay we checked out the estuary for the reported Oriental Plover. While we tracked down 11 NZ Dots and a pure white Variable Oystercatcher, no rare plover came into view (Likely a couple weeks late!). A mix-age group of BLACK-BILLED GULL made me wonder if this could be an occasional breeding site for them as I know they presumably breed at Browns Beach (Gisborne) and definitely at the Mohaka Mouth (despite many human disturbances).
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Spent the night with friends in Wainui Beach, then Easter Saturday was pretty casual just sightseeing around Gisborne town and country with the highlight being a visit to the Eastwoodhill Arboretum--one of the most splendid of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere (and certainly on an autumnal sunny day).

Easter Sunday morning saw us at the Wherowhero Lagoon/Waipaua Mouth south of Gisborne after a lazy start to the morning. While we didn't have time to check the south end of the lagoon, we did manage a nice mix of birds with a WHITE HERON roosting with spoonbills near the river mouth, and a good number of Banded Dotts with a few WRYBILL scattered in at various locations. Less than 40 Bar-tailed Godwits were counted but this is normal for this site in winter presumably. 7 CANADA GEESE might not sound like a highlight but this can be a hard bird to find in Gisborne at times--probably something likely to change in the coming years.

Moving on, we hit the always lovely Mahia Peninsula for lunch. This time a *real* WHIMBREL was located on the Maungawhio Lagoon along with a spoonbill that was stained yellow (Too far for photos sadly). Usually Lisa and I walk out to Table Cape (NE point of Mahia) but with it being blustery and having a 6-month old, we decided to just drive out along the north coast and poke around tidal pools nearby. This was still a lot of fun and while they were distant, lots of Fluttering and Buller's Shearwaters seemed to be coursing off Table Cape along with many terns and a few ARCTIC SKUA. The local FERAL GOOSE flock could be seen out foraging in the barnacle-festooned rocks. Mahia is particularly interesting in that so many birds can be seen foraging in the intertidal rocky wave platforms including geese, godwits, and loads of mynas!

Next up were the Whakaki/Paeroa Lagoons east of Wairoa. While the birds are distant (600m-2km), this roadside scan-spot is one of my favourite in the country. There are always so many birds that feeling of "something is out there" flutters the heart. Typically you just end up with barrel-loads of Canada Goose, Grey Teal, and Pied Stilts but sometimes the rarities kick in as well. This time around, the highlights were my first DABCHICK for the site, a minimum of 135 BANDED DOTTERELS, 3 WRYBILL (Always nice to see far away from tidal habitat), and 1 MARSH SANDPIPER--no doubt this bird has been present continuously since I found him/her in March 2017 (I've never missed it at this site in 4-5 visits). While it was far away, I thought I better *finally* get a record shot. Bird among stilts (closest to red dot).
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Checked the Wairoa mouth twice in the afternoon/evening (lowish tide) without any sign of the greenshank or little tern. We returned the next morning however and bingo, there they both were roosting near the road. The Little Tern was closer to alternate plumage than a couple weeks ago and likely was the same bird that was present earlier in the summer (but usually roosted on the far side of the river).
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--Well I've dragged it on fairly long at this point and I can't muster the energy to type anymore--basically the rain hit and we drove home via Napier (in the pouring rain). Couple more SPOTTED DOVES noted in the Wairoa/Mohaka area, and ROOK were seen on 3 occasions between Wairoa and Napier. Also good to see some juv Black-billed Gulls survived at the Mohaka Mouth this summer despite the constant hooliganism in the area. That's all for now folks!

*Abbreviated birding highlights: 1) Seawatched from East Cape area: N Royal, White-capped, Black-browed Albatross, Little & Short-tailed Shearwater, Cook's Petrel. 2) Spotted Doves expanding; seen at Ruatoria, Tolaga Bay, Wairoa, Mohaka. 3) White Heron at Waipaua mouth (Gisborne), 4) Continuing MARSH SANDPIPER at Whakaki, 5) Continuing GREENSHANK & Little Tern @ Wairoa mouth
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Re: East Cape/Wairoa Easter Birding

Postby zarkov » Thu Apr 25, 2019 4:27 pm

Nice trip report, especially helpful as I hope to do a similar journey next spring.

Thanks Russ.
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Brent Stephenson
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Re: East Cape/Wairoa Easter Birding

Postby Brent Stephenson » Fri Apr 26, 2019 3:41 am

Nice one Russ,

Sounds like a pretty nice trip in a very under-birded area. The sea off Tolaga and East Cape certainly holds some very good birds and the trips we used to do out there saw some great stuff.

I suspect it is the same leucistic oystercatcher that has been at Tolaga Bay for quite some time now? You might have seen my post to the New Zealand Birders group on FB where we had seen a similar/same bird there on 9 Oct 2004 (photo in the link below). And I think at the time the bird had been seen prior to this record, so that makes the bird at least 15+ years old. Based on the fact this plumage is pretty rare, I think it probably has to be the same bird?


Back then I used the very technical term 'white' to describe this bird, but I suspect this is a 100% leucistic bird, rather than an albino. I will post a very interesting paper into the 'General Discussions' group, as this is something that may be of interest to folks - the difference in terminology and technical details of the various plumage abnormalities of birds.

I also remember a similar plumaged bird held captive in an aviary at Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park about 6 years ago.

Brent Stephenson
Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ - Great birds, real birders
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Re: East Cape/Wairoa Easter Birding

Postby RussCannings » Fri Apr 26, 2019 1:12 pm

Cheers Brent, yes did see your FB note. Almost certainly the same bird.

This bird is definitely not an albino as orbital ring and iris are naturally coloured (as is the bill). I also assume leucistic though I suppose "progressive greying" is also possible (as the Hokianga WF Heron is suspected to have).

There is also a very similar VOC in the Kaipara Harbour.

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