New year and new birds all round

Happy New Year and here’s to 2017 and all it brings.

Keen observers may have noticed – and heard – a new bird in Gordonton: the Malay spotted dove has recently set up residence here.

Spotted Dove Photo: David Riddell
Spotted Dove All pics by David Riddell

Number 8 Network returned from holiday to find a content dove hoovering up seeds in the courtyard and for the last few days it’s been coo-ing from the trees. Marley the office cat is more than interested in the little fella, but every time she got close the dove flew away.

Otherwise known as the pearl-necked dove and the spotted turtle-dove, spotted doves are originally from south and south-east Asia. Some caged birds were released in the 1920s from Mt Eden, Auckland and they’ve been spreading ever since, says nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Spotted doves are of medium-size, have longish tails with a greyish head, pink-grey underparts and speckled greyish brown upperparts. “Its distinguishing feature is a large white-spotted black half-collar around the back and sides of the neck.”

We saw one dove a few years ago in Hukanui Park, but it looks like they are now settling in the area. Certainly one to watch out for when taking part in the annual garden bird survey.

Speaking of spotting birds – great excitement was had just before Christmas when we spotted a very rare bird on our way to Gisborne.

Laughing Gull
Laughing gull – he got the joke.

We stopped for a picnic at the Waiotahe estuary, just west of Opotiki, and were on our second cuppa when we noticed an unusual gull playing amongst the red-billed gulls.

He turned out to be a laughing gull, which has never before been seen in New Zealand – so our bird is a new species for the country.

The birding community went into a flap since we posted our sighting – keen ornithologists from all over have been converging on this most beautiful spot in the hope of seeing the gull. And nearly all do, because it turns out our bird is a glutton for food scraps, and particularly enjoys fried chicken. (Although it must be noted that he moves around a bit, and in fact led the first lot of hunters on a wild goose chase, it took them more than 10 hours to find him.)

A common bird in the Americas, it is thought that this individual may have hitched a ride on a boat headed for Tauranga, and left it too late to disembark.

Laughing gull
Clearly not your ordinary gull, this laughing gull.

How long he will stay in NZ is not sure – he may fly off once winter starts or he may decide to settle. Either way, he’s one cool bird and is probably the highlight of our birding career.

If you’re going down that way and want to know where he is, get in touch. And take a picnic.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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