114 species in 24-hours

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114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:19 pm

The following is an exhaustive report of the adventures of Robin Woods & his banded Fairy Men, and their attempt at a new 24 hour record as a means to raise $ for Fairy Terns...

Well it’s now Tuesday and I’m finally getting around to writing up the report for our epic weekend that started in Mangawhai on Saturday and ended on the Manukau on Sunday afternoon. I think I’m close to caught up on sleep and now I just need to find time to shoot off some paragraphs before work starts or when I’m not on baby duty!

So where to begin? Well the before the start I guess. On Friday night, I picked up Harry Boorman in Auckland and we cruised up to Mangawhai where Dave Howes has a lovely ‘weekend home’ in Te Arai (just south of Mangawhai). Scott Brooks had beat us there and we shared some wine while scheming over an enlarged marine chart of the outer Hauraki Gulf. The following morning Dave spoiled us further with a cooked breakfast, then after some final last minute preparations we loaded most of our gear into Scott’s van (AKA “the moving bird hide”)—which would be our land transport, then some basic food and birding items into Dave’s boat (AKA “the Woodstock of stinky chum eskies”).

In NZ there is something of a tradition of counting 24-consecutive hours rather than limiting competitors to a calendar day (midnight to midnight). This allows the potential strategy of using the night to move to a significantly different area. It also allowed us to not count the boat-trip OUT. So after launching in Mangawhai around 10am, we dilly-dallied around the Hen and Chicks and Mokohinaus (hereafter “The Mokes”), sussing out what was around, enjoying a leisurely wrap behind the Mokes, before heading out to our planned start point in the afternoon.

While there were less pelagic birds than usual around the Mokes, we were pleased to see some good mixed shearwater flocks around Hen Island, and generally regular occurrences of the local Hauraki Gulf breeders flying around as we steamed from area to area. Most of all, we were thrilled to see 2 Grey Ternlet at the Maori Rocks—birds that are generally not reliable here until after Xmas. We crossed all our fingers and toes that they would still be around when we returned from our first stop.

In 2016, we tried chumming for storm petrels and the like about 20min beyond the Mokohinaus. Perhaps it was the time of year (mid December), the location, or something else—but it was remarkably quiet. While it would add more time to our pelagic, we decided this time around to cruise 40+min beyond the Mokes where the depth drops closer to 200m and you’re that much further beyond the shadow of the Poor Knights, Mokes, and Great Barrier—we hoped that this might allow for some non-local birds to pass us by.

Well it didn’t take long for that to happen! No sooner had we pulled up to Dave’s pin, Scott spluttered something to the effect of “What’s this!?” I think I was bending over rummaging for snacks but looked up just in time to see a tank of a bird with massive white wing flashes fly directly over the boat. “SKUUAAAAAAAAAA!” We all shouted with glee. And wait; greyish-blonde nape, head, and chest, contrasting with dark wings---it’s a SOUTH POLAR SKUA! Now we just needed it to stick around for our start time.
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[South Polar Skua--a lifer for several on board, harassing a Black Petrel. What a bird to start the day with! (Photo: Harry Boorman)]

Dave started heaving fish chunks overboard. Surprisingly the skua took little notice of us, choosing instead to harass some nearby BLACK PETRELS that were probably digesting some fish bits provided by another boat in the area. Fortunately the skua seemed to settle down happily on the water, so while we worked up a slick behind our boat, we periodically kept an eye on the skua’s positions… “Okay now it’s right in front of the cloud that looks like a nuclear bomb…. Okay now it’s in front of the left-shoulder of that other big cloud to the right of the big cloud…”

The clock continues to tick up, and we were getting increasingly anxious. Should we just start now? If we started too early we might not have enough time for our planned route the following day. Then a dark storm-petrel flew into view. “NZ Storm! ….oh no…. THAT’S A WILSON’S!” Okay screw it, it’s time to start. We reckoned 2:22pm was a fun time to go, so Wilson’s became our first bird, and thankfully the skua was still in view for bird #2. Also around the boat were WHITE-FACED STORM-PETRELS, GREY-FACED PETRELS, COOK’S PETRELS, and a few BLACK PETRELS. Soon after the start another bonus bird made a few circles around the boat—SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER. In all we spend around 30min at this chum station, leaving with 14 species after also adding FLESH-FOOTED, BULLER’S and LITTLE SHEARWATER, GANNET, FAIRY PRION, NZ STORM-PETREL, and a final unexpected but welcomed addition—WHITE-CHINNED PETREL.

As we ripped back to the Mokes, COMMON DIVING PETREL made it on the list, then RED-BILLED GULL, PIED SHAG, KELP GULL, WHITE-FRONTED TERN, and WELCOME SWALLOW. But where were those bloody ternlets? We made 2 passes of the Maori Rocks with none in sight. There was a workup of Fairy Prions on the north side so we headed out there to see if any might be fishing. We were burning valuable time as we had only budgeted 5min at this stop, and we were now running over 10min. “One last try” I said, as we circled the roosting rocks for the third time. “There’s one!” someone shouted—sure enough, as if out of thin air, a GREY TERNLET had materialized on the rock stack where it had not been several minutes earlier. Bird #20, let’s go!

Now it was time to steam to Hen Island (Tauranga) which took just under an hour. FLUTTERING SHEARWATER was added en route, then we tucked into a cove on the southern protected side of the island. Our targets were NORTH ISLAND SADDLEBACK and RED-CROWNED PARAKEET (both indigenous populations), and they didn’t disappoint with both popping into view within a minute of shutting off the engine. Also making there way onto this list here included BELLBIRD, TUI, KAKA, and NZ PIGEON (kereru). All in all we left the island on 31 species, than quickly picked up SOOTY SHEARWATER and BLACKBIRD at Sail Rock.

As we burned back toward Mangawhai, we were anxious to see what kind of swell would be present around the Mangawhai bar. It was close to low tide (0.5m) and it was possible we would need to wait things out---this would be devastating for our day. Thankfully the waves weren’t looking too bad and Dave expertly guided the boat into the safety of the harbour where our list ballooned thanks to all the exotics including both SPOTTED and BARBARY DOVE as we headed back to Te Arai to drop the boat and get land-birding started in earnest.

By the time we left Dave’s house around 620pm PHEASANT put us at 54 species. Instead of heading straight up to Waipu we improvised a stop at Spectacle and Slipper Lake in Te Arai which were very productive including tricky birds like WILD TURKEY, INDIAN PEAFOWL, LITTLE BLACK SHAG, GREY DUCK, and best of all—an AUSTRALASIAN BITTERN that I suspected was hiding amongst some raupo then finally popped out into full view for its adoring fans (us!). Our luck continued soon after as mere seconds after confirming BROWN QUAIL, a pair of LAUGHING KOOKABURRA flew into our silly renditions of its call.

Feeling positive, though a bit behind schedule we stopped briefly along Black Swamp Rd (Mangawhai estuary) where BANDED RAIL and FAIRY TERN were two highlights than brought us up to 74 species after only 5 hours of birdathoning!

Waipu was next on the list, where unfortunately we dipped on Reef Heron. This is where we had one on the previous record attempt, however the local one apparently was recently trapped in a fishing net and may still be recovering in care. TURNSTONES and ROYAL SPOONBILL were nice to see in the estuary but we boogied uphill as the sun was now gone. Thankfully we had enough light to spot a pair of AUSTRALASIAN (Little) GREBES on a small lake. We finished out the dusk with a visit to a nearby marsh in Ruakaka where we added GREY TEAL. Unfortunately only 2 of us heard a Marsh Crake which meant that it could not be counted on the list (We needed at least 3/4 to detect all species—I think in the end virtually all species were at least heard by all members of the team).

With darkness came our first long drive of the trip. After leaving Ruakaka, our next birding stop wouldn’t be until around 3 hours later when Scott spotted something strange on the road near Kawakawa Bay (east of Auckland).
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["Like a deer in the headlights" And then there was the Cook's Petrel too! Found on the side of the road in Kawakawa Bay. Seemed to be stunned but otherwise okay. We placed it in a safer place and moved along.]

But this wasn’t why we were all the way out here. We had made this 1 hour detour for one bird---Weka. We had debated whether it was worth coming all the way east for one bird… but this was a ‘big day’. We might need this one species to break the record, so in the end there was no debate. Unfortunately the Mute Swans from last time were no longer around (en route), so even more pressure was on to bag this bird. Just like the last time MOREPORK was added right away (including great views in a manuka above the car). Alas, weka was not cooperating. None could be heard, even after some playback. There was a bit of wind up and we worried that this side trip was for nothing. While we were falling further behind schedule, I was desperate to make this work. “One more spot, then we’ll go” I said. We tried further down the road, on the other side of a hill. Then finally the (sweet?) sound of a whistling WEKA. Phewf! Species #81 as the clock struck midnight.

Next stop was Whangamarino Swamp, where the night had definitely cooled down though thankfully the wind was fairly minimal. Shooting stars were frequent, allowing for many ambitious bird-related wishes. While fernbirds did not cooperate our wishes of SPOTLESS and MARSH (Baillon’s) CRAKES came to fruition with everyone hearing each of these distinctly. Surprisingly no bittern were heard—thankfully we had seen that one in Te Arai!

So far we had mostly followed the same route as our previous big day, however since we were doing alright for time after Whangamarino we thought we’d try something new. While two snored in the backseat, the other two navigated Scott’s van through the Waikato backcountry until 330am when I opened the car door to a NORTH ISLAND BROWN KIWI duet already in session! We were at Maungatautari (AKA ‘Sanctuary Mountain’)—a 3400 hectare mountain surrounded by a predator-proof fence—and couldn’t believe our luck. In the end we heard at least 3 kiwi calling spontaneously while meteorites dances all around. What’s better than a kiwi at night? How about a TAKAHE calling at night?! Well that happened too. We gave up counting our lucky starts at this point, piled back into the car, I cracked my second RedBull and pointed the van for Pureora… dawn awaited.

A cool grey morning awaited us at Pureora Forest. Some took longer than others, but thankfully we ticked nearly all of our targets here, adding 10 species by 630am including KOKAKO, LONG-TAILED CUCKOO, REDPOLL, and YELLOW-CROWNED PARAKEET. Once again drifting behind on time, I initiated several fruitless stops for falcon until we decided to just boogie on. A quick stop at the always productive Whakamaru Dam brought us our only SHOVELER, SCAUP, and COOT of the day.
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[Yellow-crowned Parakeet, providing eye-level views in Pureora--Harry Boorman]
As this report approaches 2,000 words I probably shouldn’t mention our excitement at finally adding FERAL PIGEON in Putaruru—but we WERE excited! 99 species with five hours and three superb shorebird sites left to go.

The first of these was the Piako River flooded paddock of recent fame (near Thames). While 2 CATTLE EGRETS showed themselves immediately, other additions proved trickier to locate. I eventually pulled out a trio of FAR EASTERN CURLEW from the roosting godwits, however other hoped for additions such as glossy ibis, golden plover, and Hudsonian godwit all proved elusive. Ah well, no time to feel sorry for ourselves—on to Miranda!
Well Miranda, arguably a world-famous shorebird site, proved even more frustrating. Wind, heat haze, dried up pools, and distant still birds on the shellbank made for challenging conditions. BLACK-BILLED GULL was a gimme, WRYBILL were in small numbers, but the only uncommon migrant waders we could come up with were 3 SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS and 1 PECTORAL SANDPIPER. No sign of the Marsh, Curlew, or Broad-billed Sands that we knew were present….. urg! We were now tied with the record—108. Could our final stop on the Manukau Harbour do the trick?

After a quick petrol n’ Powerade break, we made our final stop at a private farm on the Manukau Harbour where we had arranged permission to cross over to Kidd’s Shellbanks. By the time we got down to the water, we now had less than an hour and a half to do any more damage. We reckoned stints were our best bet to set the record so we set out on a rising tide for an area we knew they favoured. We had barely started out when Scott calmly remarked “There’s a SHORE PLOVER right there…” “A what?” I asked (Thinking he was pointing out one of the NZ Dots). “A SHORE PLOVER”. Holy smackeroons! We did not expect this bird here, and what a bird to break the record with! This rare endemic now breedings on Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and from time to time birds go on ‘OE’---thankfully this one chose this shellbank on this day.

This cutie soon linked up with several other birds we needed: RED-NECKED STINT and BANDED DOTTEREL. All of a sudden we were on 110 with enough time left for potentially a few more. “Hey there’s a LITTLE TERN”, I exclaimed. “Is that a GREATER SAND-PLOVER?” Harry remarked—113! Try as we might, we could not find any sign of the whimbrel and golden plover that are usually around. We then settled in for a detailed scope of the godwits and knots, hoping for something unusual to show itself. Harry picked out a sleeping godwit in breeding plumage that we were eventually able to confirm as a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT--#114! Now there were only 6 minutes left. We decided to finish by jogging back to the stint zone where we counted 14 RED-NECKED STINTS—could one be the Little? We hummed and hawed over some different-looking birds but I still haven’t had time to pour over the photos (possibly more on this later). Our final bird of the day was not an additional species, but a second GREATER SAND-PLOVER.

So we did it! Big thank you to the 3 crazy lads that conspired with me to pull this off, Dave for his brilliant boating craft, Scott for the van, Harry for the Friday-night noodles, and all the ~10ish people that regularly liked and viewed our tweets throughout the day (and night). Could you sense our growing psychosis? Big days have a tendency to make everything hilarious by the tail end. For example the word “rambunctious” was enough to tip us over the edge on several occasions.

Anyway, in addition to setting a record, this was all about raising $ and awareness for an amazing cause: The NZ Fairy Tern Trust: http://www.fairytern.org.nz/html/index.htm

Thank you to everyone for the support so far—and for those about to donate after reading this report! Please leave a message to the effect of “in support of the Fairy men”. Once the donations are all in, I will update you all on how much was raised!

Credit card donations can be made here: http://www.fairytern.org.nz/quickpay.htm

For online banking for Kiwis: NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust A/C No: 12-3094-0197257-00
Thank you again!
Robin Woods & his banded Fairy Men (Russ Cannings, Dave Howes, Harry Boorman, Scott Brooks)
p.s. Full species list including significant misses to come!
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:30 pm

Here's the Shore Plover (Record-setting bird!)
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[Photo: Scott Brooks]
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby scaber » Wed Dec 04, 2019 9:21 am

A great read, thank you so much for sharing such an exciting 24 hours. I would have liked to be along for the ride but am pretty sure I would have been asleep for at least the final 6 hours. Well done and congratulations to all of you. :shock: :D
Greg Mckenzie
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Wed Dec 04, 2019 3:47 pm

Last edited by RussCannings on Thu Dec 05, 2019 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Thu Dec 05, 2019 8:16 pm

Full list:
1. North Island Brown Kiwi
2. Wild (Feral) Turkey
3. Indian Peafowl
4. Ring-necked Pheasant
5. Brown Quail
6. California Quail
7. Black Swan
8. Greylag (Feral) Goose
9. Canada Goose
10. Paradise Shelduck
11. Grey Teal
12. Brown Teal
13. Mallard
14. Grey Duck (Pacific Black Duck)
15. Australasian Shoveler
16. New Zealand Scaup
17. New Zealand Dabchick
18. Australasian Little Grebe
19. Grey-faced Petrel
20. Cook’s Petrel
21. Fairy Prion
22. White-chinned Petrel
23. Parkinson’s (Black) Petrel
24. Buller’s Shearwater
25. Flesh-footed Shearwater
26. Sooty Shearwater
27. Short-tailed Shearwater
28. Fluttering Shearwater
29. Little Shearwater
30. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
31. White-faced Storm-Petrel
32. New Zealand Storm-Petrel
33. Common Diving-Petrel
34. Australasian Gannet
35. Little Pied Shag
36. Black Shag
37. Pied Shag
38. Little Black Shag
39. Cattle Egret
40. White-faced Heron
41. Australasian Bittern
42. Royal Spoonbill
43. Swamp Harrier
44. Buff-banded Rail
45. Weka
46. Spotless Crake
47. Baillon’s (Marsh) Crake
48. Pukeko
49. Takahe
50. Eurasian Coot
51. Red Knot
52. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
53. Pectoral Sandpiper
54. Red-necked Stint
55. Far Eastern Curlew
56. Bar-tailed Godwit
57. Black-tailed Godwit
58. Ruddy Turnstone
59. Variable Oystercatcher
60. South Island Pied Oystercatcher
61. Pied Stilt
62. New Zealand Dotterel
63. Greater Sand Plover
64. Banded Dotterel
65. Shore Plover
66. Wrybill
67. Masked Lapwing (Spur-winged Plover)
68. South Polar Skua
69. Kelp Gull
70. Red-billed (Silver) Gull
71. Black-billed Gull
72. Grey Ternlet
73. Little Tern
74. Fairy Tern
75. White-fronted Tern
76. Caspian Tern
77. Feral (Rock) Pigeon
78. Barbary Dove
79. Spotted Dove
80. New Zealand Pigeon
81. Kaka
82. Eastern Rosella
83. Red-crowned Parakeet
84. Yellow-crowned Parakeet
85. Long-tailed Cuckoo
86. Morepork
87. Laughing Kookaburra
88. Sacred Kingfisher
89. Rifleman
90. North Island Kokako
91. North Island Saddleback
92. Grey Warbler
93. NZ Bellbird
94. Tui
95. Whitehead
96. Australasian Magpie
97. NZ Fantail
98. Tomtit
99. North Island Robin
100. Eurasian Skylark
101. Fernbird
102. Silverye
103. Welcome Swallow
104. Eurasian Blackbird
105. Song Thrush
106. European Starling
107. Common Myna
108. House Sparrow
109. Dunnock
110. Chaffinch
111. European Goldfinch
112. European Greenfinch
113. Lesser Redpoll
114. Yellowhammer

Birds recorded in Dec 2016 on a similar route that were missed this time: Mute Swan, Reef Heron, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Pacific Golden-Plover, Black-fronted Dotterel, NZ Pipit

Birds missed on both big days that are still very gettable: Little Penguin (Seen just prior to the clock starting on both big day attempts!), Arctic Skua, Whimbrel, NZ Falcon, Rook.

Shorebirds definitely present on our route that we missed due to limited time/conditions: Glossy Ibis, Hudsonian Godwit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Pacific Golden-Plover, Whimbrel, (Little Stint?)
phil hammond
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby phil hammond » Sun Dec 08, 2019 9:57 am

Great effort guys, my $57 going to Fairy Tern trust as pledged. Do you know yet how much you raised?
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Sun Dec 08, 2019 10:47 am

Thanks Phil! I believe we're closing in on $900 which I think is superb given the last minute effort :)

If anyone else would like to push us over the 1k mark, please donate to this important cause with credit card here: http://www.fairytern.org.nz/quickpay.htm

Or by direct NZ bank transfer here: 12-3094-0197257-00

Thanks again all!

Russ (and the rest of the Fairy Men)
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby RussCannings » Sun Dec 08, 2019 8:19 pm

Apparently now over $1,000 and counting. Awesome job people!
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Adam C
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby Adam C » Sat Dec 14, 2019 8:27 pm

Sorry for the late payment. Popped $114 across tonight. Had to do a bit of shuffling with Xmas ;)
Great effort everyone!
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”

Samuel Ullman
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Re: 114 species in 24-hours

Postby Davidthomas » Sat Dec 14, 2019 8:51 pm

I also put my belated $114 through :) good stuff chaps!

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