Birds of the Local Swamp

It’s been a while since my last post, mostly because nothing’s really happened: M and I still don’t have a car and work keeps us both fairly busy. However, the sun is shining (winter seems to be over) and the birds are singing so why not make a post about the source of those bird songs: our local swamp?

Our apartment overlooks Hobson Bay, which when the tide is out turns into Hobson Mudflat. The furthest inland part of the Bay therefore is a swampy mess with many mangrove trees and a park next to it. This park is only about a ten-minute walk from our house, so we go there occasionally to bird-watch. Besides the ever-present seagulls, the swamp has a variety of water birds and visitors from the sea: a while ago some people even found a little blue penguin wandering around down there! We haven’t seen penguins on our visits, but here’s a selection of what we did see.

When we walk down to the park, the first thing we encounter is a bridge over a small muddy creek. On a few occasions we’re lucky to spot one of these guys stalking around:

Strutting around his trash-filled stream.
Strutting around his trash-filled stream.

He’s called a white-faced heron, for obvious reasons. These birds only arrived in New Zealand in the late 20th century but are now very common, probably because the native heron only breeds in one location in NZ. We watched this heron try to fish something out of the water but I don’t think he was successful. Not really surprising when the stream is filled with trash, sadly.

Another skittish bird that we rarely see is the kingfisher, which are called the kotare in Maori or the sacred kingfisher if you want to be fancy. They seem to like sitting on power lines (or maybe that’s where they’re easiest to see) but tend to fly away if you look at them for too long.

Click to see a bigger pic.
King of all he surveys.

We also see them on the power lines close to our house– I don’t know what food they’re expecting to find there!

Across the street from the park is a large pond inhabited by a horde of ducks. Most of them look like garden-variety mallards, but after reading the entries on ducks in our bird book, we realized that there were actually two different species there. The invasive mallards interbred with the native grey ducks and we could see the grey duck influence in several of the ducks at the pond.

Ducks ducks ducks.
Ducks ducks ducks.

In this picture, the middle duck is pretty close to a pure grey duck while the one on the left is clearly a mallard. The one on the right has some grey duck features, like the eye stripes. The bird book has a table assigning “points” to various traits, such as yellow feet or eye stripes, to determine whether a duck is a grey or a mallard, so M and I had a nice afternoon rating the ducks at the pond. Of course, the ducks wandered away once they found out that we didn’t have any food for them.

The other regular denizens of the swamp were totally new to us: the pukekos.

Love those bold colors.
Love those colors!

We love watching these guys wade around the swamp, and while they’re not as eager to get close as the ducks, they don’t seem to mind us watching them. They often hang out in small groups, stalking through the brush. While they’re wading, they pick up food with their large feet and look at it before eating it. We’ve never seen any reject what they’ve picked, though. They are very popular in NZ media because of their bold coloration, but they live all around the South Pacific.

The last friend that we’ve seen at the swamp is this majestic creature:

What a pimp.
What a pimp.
What you lookin' at?
What you lookin’ at?

He’s what I would call a cormorant, but in NZ they call them shags (which is an endless source of amusement for M). More specifically, he’s a little pied shag, not to be confused with the pied shag or little black shag which are also found around NZ. The bird book mentions that shags don’t strictly need to dry their wings by holding them out as this guy’s doing, because their wings are already waterproof, but it’s a common behavior anyway. Maybe the sun feels good? We only see this shag occasionally since normally they are found in colonies, so maybe our guy is just on vacation from his noisy family. The Maori name is kawau paka, which means “quarrelsome shag,” but this guy’s pretty chill.

These are the most notable bird friends we find in the swamp, which we’re lucky to have so close to our house. Once we get a car, though, we’ll be able to explore some more areas around Auckland with strong bird populations. I can’t wait!

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