Friday 9 May 2014

Buffy the bogey slayer - Sav Saville


On 20th March 2014 a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (BBS) was found at South Kaipara Head just North of Auckland, New Zealand. Although BBS has a well-known liking for vagrancy – all over Europe, many Australian records, even to Sri Lanka (!) – this was the first for New Zealand (well, it is a long way off the beaten track, eh?).

For myself and Brent Stephenson (old birding mates and business partners) this wasn’t great news though. For various reasons neither of us was going to be able to get there for the next 2 weeks at least!! A twitchers worst nightmare.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis; New Zealand's First. 
The bird was subsequently successfully twitched by about 15 birders (Yep, 15, there really are not many birders here!?) over the next week, and all the top listers except us two had it in the bag. To make matters worse the access to the site is tricky to say the least. It is only possible to cross the area where the bird was at low tide, and to get to the start point one has to travel through a forest…….which became closed to the public due to extreme fire risk on April 1st.

To make matters even worse a Crested Tern (first twitchable in NZ for 25+ years) also pitched up a couple of hours to the North. By the time we could even start to think about getting up there the forest had been closed for two weeks, so no sign or news of Buffy, and the Crested Tern hadn’t been reported either.
Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii; New Zealand's first twitchable Crested Tern for over 25 years (right).
Then, on April 23rd everything changed!! The forest re-opened on 22nd, and Buffy was still there and the Crested Tern was re-found, and better still the tides looked right for a big day twitch!!

April 24th was an 18 hour birding day, covering over 1,200kms, but two tired and happy birders each scored two NZ ticks. The BBS showed really well for us in almost perfect weather after what was thankfully a quite quick search, as later, did the tern.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper in flight.

For me this was very much a case of “Buffy the bogey-slayer” because even though I was brought up in Britain and saw pretty much every rare wader in the ‘70s and ‘80s (Red-necked Stint, Hudsonian Godwit, Western, Solitary and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper) I had never managed to connect with a BBS, even over the last couple  of years when we have been to the British Birdwatching Fair I have managed to unsuccessfully twitch them…….I guess they will be easy for me from now on!!

So another yellow-legged wader tick for us in New Zealand. The circumstances, and locality, of this bird were quite reminiscent of the Oriental Plover that we saw with Rick and Elis in October last year at Port Waikato.
Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus; Port Waikato, New Zealand.
Sav Saville
Wrybill Birding Tours,NZ
"Great Birds, Real Birders"

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