So here I am in Armidale, here for the Australasian Ornithological Conference (AOC). It's a nice town. That said I only momentarily got distracted with the architecture while in search of a decent coffee! Armidale is at a reasonable elevation (>1000m) so is relatively cool - warm days and cool evenings. Yesterday I joined a Susie & Isabel from Massey on a trip out to Little Llongothlin, a highland wetland. This in itself is special as these days wetlands are disappearing at a frightening rate here in Australia (and other countries for that matter). Great little spot and some great birds - highlights were the gorgeous Superb Fairy-wrens, Sea-Eagle and Crested Grebe. The grebe especially as it was one of those birds in my birdbook as a kid I always looked forward to seeing one day - crazily, its taken this long.
A couple of weeks back now an important catch took place down at Foxton Beach, at the Manawatu Estuary. The main purpose of the catch was to retrieve as many of the 24 data-loggers back off birds that had been carrying them around the globe. Data-loggers record data on hours of light/dark while attached to a bird. From this data longitude and latitude can be calculated, giving the migration journey of the birds. However, to retrieve this data the device needs to be removed from the birds leg, where it has been sitting for a year (or in some cases 2 years). Of the 24 birds that had dataloggers placed on them all 24 had been sighted back in New Zealand, 23 of those in Foxton and 1 in Christchurch. A 100% survival indicating no adverse effects on these datalogger birds. We were able to join with a number of NZ birders and DOC staff to catch birds with cannon-nets, the dream goal being to retrieve all 23 data-loggers from the birds present. Radio NZ was also there, recording the action and seeking insights from participants as the day unfolded. A touch of careful movement of birds from down the end of the beach found them roosting in the catching zone, so then 3,2,1 fire! Off went the cannons, firing the nets over the birds. We raced to the shore to release the birds and within 10 minutes all birds had been placed safely in bird boxes, thankfully with no casualties! In the end, amongst the catch, were 17 birds with data-loggers. A good result, though still leaving the question of how to get the other 6 or 7?
Another aspect of the Fellowship I have enjoyed this year is the time spent at Manawatu Estuary. It really is a local gem, with a great diversity of bird and plant life. While the regular birds at the estuary (godwits, knots, oystercatchers, spoonbills, wrybills and so on) are fantastic in themselves the chance to see a bit of a rariety always adds to the visit. Over the year visitors have included a pied shag, glossy ibis, white heron, sharp-tailed sandpiper, golden plover, turnstone and red-knecked stint. Here's a couple of shots of a wrybill and juvenile turnstone I took down the estuary recently. You can read more about Manawatu Estuary Trust at their site.
You'd think by now, a year into my fellowship, I'd be nailing the bird identification in the field. I'm certainly getting better, but those waders can be tricky and so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity over Labour weekend to attend the wader ID course at Miranda. For me the time to be at the shellbanks observing the birds, getting the size comparisons, differences in body shape, plumage characteristics and feeding techniques allowed me to become even more attuned to the subtleties of waders. We had a good range of birds present over the weekend including NZ Dotterel, Banded Dotterel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Pacific Golden Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and a Red-necked Stint.
One of the other aspects of the weekend I enjoyed was having my kids up so they could check out the birds too, hopefully a bit of the interest will rub off on them!