Archives For seabirds

By DOC’s Government Support Manager (and keen photographer), Brian Sheppard

New Zealand’s magnificent shorebirds are masters of their elements but they only reach this supreme state of being after rigorous training of mind and body.

Variable oystercatcher. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Variable oystercatcher

To a casual observer, the birds are just mooching around, or foraging for food, but look closer. You might be surprised to see what they are really up to.

I dropped in on a couple of Wellington’s shorebird chapters: the beach chapter at Petone, and the city branch at Wellington Harbour, to watch their training sessions.

Two oystercatchers wading in the shallow water. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Finishing afternoon tea

A pair of oystercatchers were just finishing their afternoon tea at the beach to fortify themselves for their self-improvement class. The first one led the way, closely followed by an inquisitive red-billed gull.

Oystercatcher closely followed by an inquisitive red-billed gull. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Oystercatcher closely followed by an inquisitive red-billed gull

The tide was in and pounding against the end of a concrete pier.

No fear!

No fear!

The pair of oystercatchers took their positions at the end of the pier where the raging sea would drench them. They showed no fear but just stared down the approaching waves.

The gulls arrived shortly afterwards but they were the new entrants to the class, taking a back row – watching and learning from the masters.

Gulls take a back row – watching and learning from the masters

Gulls take a back row – watching and learning from the masters

With the skills learned from the beach, the gulls tried to apply them, in the comparative privacy of Wellington Harbour. Their test was to hone their flight skills on a spectacularly windy winter’s day. Their test area was the outfall from the wetland next to Te Papa.

Te Papa testing ground. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Te Papa testing ground

As they arrived, their first task was to stand their ground in the face of the wind that was blowing the falling water back the way it came.

Red-billed gull. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Beaten up by the wind

Following the example shown by the oystercatchers, the lead gull stepped to the edge to show no fear while being pelted by the spray and then to execute a flawless take-off.

Clearly a bit more practice was needed. He was nearly wiped out by a cross wind. It must have dented his confidence as I saw him later retaking his beginner’s take-off class. By that time, I had to get back to work, so I never witnessed the landing.

Red-billed gull. Photo © Brian Sheppard.

Red-billed gull

New Zealand is famous for its land birds like the kiwi and kākāpō. But just as remarkable and unique are our sea and shore birds.

More than a third of the 80 or so species of sea and shore birds that breed in New Zealand are found nowhere else on Earth, including the variable oystercatcher.

Both variable the oystercatcher and red-billed gull are native to New Zealand and are often found around our coast.

Do you have a ‘chapter’ of these shorebirds near you?

Titi, or sooty shearwaters, have one of the longest migrations of any bird on the planet.

Department of Conservation sea bird scientist, Graeme Taylor, is on Rangatira Island, in the Chatham Islands, to find out where they go.

His team employ a novel approach to try to retrieve 16 geolocators in 10 days.

Have a watch…

Rangatira Island, is one of New Zealand’s premier sea bird islands. It is free of all introduced pests and it is riddled with sea bird burrows.

By Lisa Hamker, Visitor Centre Ranger at Paparoa National Park.

Last month I shared a photo of one of our newest, cutest, and fluffiest additions here on the West Coast — a one month old Westland black petrel chick in its burrow just south of Punakaiki.

One month later and look what the fluffy petrel chick has turned into!

A juvenile Westland black petrel in a burrow. Photo: Bruce Stuart-Menteath.

The fluffy Westland black petrel has grown up

Like all children, this one grew up very fast, and has turned into an almost adult looking Westland black petrel. He has kept his handsome smile though, as well as some fluff on his belly.

His parents fed him well but, when he got too chubby to fit through the tunnel to get out of the burrow, they left him to get back into fighting fit shape for his next big adventure — flying practice!

Flying practice involves jumping off a cliff, launching into the air and, most of the time, a not so graceful crash landing. Good luck petrel, we’ve got our fingers crossed for you!

Thanks to Bruce Stuart-Menteath from Paparoa Nature Tours for the photograph.