The Miranda Shorebird Centre

The week after we went to the Coromandel Peninsula, we decided to backtrack in order to visit a place we missed on the first trip: the Miranda Shorebird Centre. M wasn’t keen on stopping there on his birthday weekend and so I convinced him to drive the hour back to spend an afternoon watching shorebirds. This nice plan, unfortunately, ended much the same way as the first half of our Coromandel visit: cold and wet.

We arrived at the centre via a winding road through farmland which was delightfully free of any other cars. The Shorebird Centre is located on a flat coastal plain, the only building in sight, across the road from the shore. Inside, it contains a small shop, a board listing the recent bird sightings, some displays about the birds and the area, and a lounge and kitchen area for those who stay overnight in the Centre’s hostel-like accommodation. This weekend, the accommodation seemed to be full of students on a trip from the University of Auckland. We took a quick look at the information, then headed out onto the path to the shore and bird hides.

After crossing the road, we walked alongside some cow pastures to the mangrove wetlands. What makes this particular stretch of shoreline especially important is its unique geography. The shore itself is made up of crushed shells in ridges known as cheniers, which lie on top of rich tidal mudflats. This rare formation is the perfect environment for the worms and crustaceans that migrating seabirds eat. Therefore, these birds flock here in huge numbers, both from the South Island (wrybills and oystercatchers) and from as far away as Alaska (godwits). If you’re interested, here’s more information.

With all this in mind, we were excited to see some seabirds, but the weather was not with us. The wind was strong and constant, making walking, let alone flying, difficult, yet we did see some resilient swallows swooping around the ponds where some bigger black swans hunkered down. It wasn’t until we were about halfway to the hides (of course) that the rain started. The wind was so strong that the rain was literally horizontal and pounded into us, putting our raincoats to the test but soaking everything else. My feet were sloshing in my shoes by the end of it. After 15 minutes of this misery, we reached the first hide and rushed inside, struggling with the door against the wind.

A grey day.
A grey day. The hide is the shack on the right.

After taking stock of just how soaked we were, we got around to some bird-watching. Of course, with the weather so miserable there weren’t nearly as many birds as we expected, but we did spot quite a few of these guys.

Look at those legs!
Look at those long legs!

They are pied stilts and seemed indifferent to the rain and wind. We saw them in both the coastal ponds and in the mud on the shore, so they were the most populous of the birds out today. The next most common was the bird who had traveled farthest: the bar-tailed godwit.

Look at that long beak!
Look at that long beak!

These birds fly nonstop from Alaska to spend the Northern Hemisphere winter in our warm summer. At the centre, the displays explained how no one really knows the path they take over the Pacific Ocean, but studies are underway to try to understand where (and how) these birds make this migration, the longest in the world. It seems incredible that they would come all that way just to poke around in the mud here on this stretch of coast. It must be some good mud!

The last new species we saw was the wrybill. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a picture because they were too small and we weren’t close enough to capture their most unique feature. The wrybill’s beak tip is curved to the side in order to facilitate digging food out from under rocks and such, and every wrybill’s bill is curved to the right! We could identify a few of them out among the godwits, but couldn’t quite see this characteristic feature. The wrybill is native to New Zealand and spends the summer on the South Island, so they’re not going anywhere soon, though. I’m sure we’ll have other chances to see them up close.

Luckily for us there was a break in the rain, so we walked quickly back to the centre. The lady at the front desk was nice enough to dig out the coffee and kettle for us, so we warmed up in the kitchen and watched the students clean up and prepare to leave. On our way out we talked briefly with Keith Woodley, whose books were featured in the store and who manages the centre, and he identified a banded rail calling outside. We looked for it on our way to the car, but couldn’t see anything. I drove back since I had the foresight of bringing a second, not soaking wet pair of shoes.

Overall, I enjoyed this outing but I’m not sure M did. Next time will have to be in the middle of summer, with not a cloud in the sky, before he agrees to go out there again!


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