Way above us a scruffy little bird was gorging itself on kanuka leaves. Below, at least 25 keen ornithologists trained their binoculars fixedly on the oblivious creature.
It was an orange fronted parakeet, all but hidden by the foliage but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm – the bird we were almost seeing is among the rarest and most endangered in the country.
We were on Mayor Island, where less than 100 of these special birds can be found, if you don’t mind a bit of a climb.
We’d risen at 5.30am, travelled three hours by sea and tramped up the side of a volcano, then down over massive chunks of obsidian (negotiating the Devil’s Staircase, actually a ladder) to the crater floor to peer at this one bird for an enchanted 25 minutes. Then we had to hoof it all the way back to catch the boat to Tauranga, where we arrived, utterly pooped, at 7.30pm.
But what a brilliant experience. It was the highlight of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand Conference, taking place in Tauranga over Queen’s Birthday weekend.
While on the other side of the world the crowds were cheering Her Majesty, about 150 of the country’s keen birders had got together to share stories and catch up on the latest birding news.
And there was plenty to talk about, from last year’s great prion wreck – more than a quarter of a million seabirds are though to have died during a severe storm – to whether water really does roll off a duck’s back.
The Rena oil spill was a topic many spoke on, with one presentation looking at how we can better organise volunteer groups. The latter was from Kelly Smith of Waikato University, and it was good to see many folk from our region taking part.
Another talk was on the country’s first ever city Morepork survey, undertaken in Hamilton last year by Dai Morgan and Andrew Styche. Te Pahu ecologist Gerry Kessels talked about his work with wind farms and impacts to birds from wind turbines.
So we’re doing well by our feathered friends, here in the Waikato. And we all have a chance to do more when this year’s NZ Garden Bird Survey kicks off on June 30.
N8N took part last year, and it’s a piece of cake – you spend just one hour anytime between June 30 and 8 July looking at birds in your garden.
The survey, organised by Landcare Research, Forest & Bird and the Ornithological Society, began in 2007 with the objective of monitoring long-term trends in the numbers of birds visiting gardens in winter, especially natives.
So, dig out your bins, brew a thermos of tea, and have a nice sit down while you ornithologise.
Who knows, we might see you at next year’s conference.