(Apologies for this being a slightly delayed report--from Wed, March 4, but given that I'm talking about Huntly and no rarities involved I hope you'll forgive me )
On Wednesday, I found myself in a rather rare situation where I wasn't working AND I didn't have a 1.5 year old in tow. Wow--birding time! Only problem was--thanks birding gods--it was the first rainy day in 2 months. After checking regional forecasts, I decided the north Waikato would be slightly less wet than either coasts, though this didn't really pan out as I spent at least half of the day sitting in the car waiting for localized downpours to pass.
That being said, it was 'better than a day at the office' so I thought I'd share some sightings and thoughts on this seemingly under-birded part of the country...
The Huntly Lakes region--my generic term for the collection of peat lakes within 30min drive from Huntly (in all directions) is one of the highest concentrations of small/medium-sized interior lakes in NZ. Sadly, most have been severely degraded due to intensive fairy farming, draining, sedimentation, introduced koi/carp, coal-mining and tailings, and just general reedbed destruction). This means that while they might look promising at first glance, through much of the year they are somewhat of a birding desert, usually with Canada Goose, Black Swan, and Black Shag as the only visible lifeforms for miles around. Still, as I have poked around these various backwaters, one finds certain patches to be more productive than others, and when we have long dry-spells, the exposed muddy shoreline seems to attract higher than normal numbers of waterfowl and the occasional wader. Therefore, now is about as good as any a time to bird these lakes (potentially even better if water levels remain low into early winter). Caspian Tern and Pied Shag are probably the two 'specialties' from these lakes (If I can be generous with that term). I'm not sure if there is anywhere else in the country where you can regularly find flocks of 20+ Caspian Terns this far from the sea, or count 10+ Pied Shags at a time in an inland lake.
I don't have the time or energy to profile every lake out there or what I visited on Wednesday (Feel free to explore the hotspots on ebird), so I'll just quickly mention one in particular--Lake Whangape. This is one of the larger lakes in the Waikato (Located just west of Rangiriri), and while it's highly sedimented, its muddy shores when water levels are lower can be a great attractant for a variety of water birds. It has hosted rarities in the distant past such as Intermediate Egret and Pectoral Sandpiper, so who knows what else might be lurking out there if it was still getting regularly checked. I have seen both Kotuku and Cattle Egret in the area, along with Banded Dotterels on passage, and there seem to be a healthy number of pure-looking Grey Ducks in the area. Usually, the NE corner--visible from the Glen Murray Rd (west of Churchill Rd), or the end of Shugg's Landing--is the best place to scope for uncommon waders or ducks among the White-faced Herons, Royal Spoonbills, Pied Stilts, and waterfowl. In winter, Canada Geese flocks number in the thousands which is a somewhat unique sight north of Taupo.
At the moment however, the best place seems to be one of the eastern bays, accessed from the end of Beaverland Rd. I wonder if anyone reading this has ever even heard of this spot? Well it's worth it when the water is down--could make for a good kayak as well. Not mind-blowing numbers but when you see the habitat, it's just begging for something spicy like a Whiskered Tern, Wood Sandpiper, or Yellow Wagtail to show up. Here is my checklist from Wednesday for the spot: https://ebird.org/atlasnz/checklist/S65416744 Sometimes you need to open 1 or 2 farm gates but as far as I can tell, the public is welcome (outside duckshooting season) as long as you stick to the road, then the immediate shoreline at the end of the track.
Am I over-selling this? Maybe, but I hope this gets a few more people checking these cool nooks, even if just once or twice a year.
(The newly refurbished Lake Kimihia is worth a check too--NE of Huntly)
So happy birding all--let's keep finding cool new spots and sharing as this atlas continues!
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