Down on the Farm

The name of this blog will be inaccurate soon, as spring has most definitely sprung here in New Zealand. The days are longer and sunnier, the leaves have returned to all the trees, and the birds are noisier than ever! In search of these birds, M and I drove to a local bird hotspot, Ambury Regional Park, in hopes of seeing some new species. We were successful in this quest, but more excitingly got to see all the spring babies at the farm located in this park.

Ambury Regional Park is south of the city centre, on the way to the airport, and is located on the site of an ancient lava flow from the nearby Mangere Mountain, yet another one of Auckland’s volcanic peaks. As such, the place is covered in large volcanic boulders, but that didn’t stop both Maori and European early settlers from establishing farms in the area.

The park is also on the shores of Manukau Harbour and is a haven for seabirds, hence the draw for us and other birders. I came to the park alone a few weeks ago, but had such a good time walking around that I dragged M here the next week.

We started off by wandering along the shore, crossing through a sheep pasture that was, on my solo trip, full of little lambs:

Cute and delicious!
Cute and delicious!

However, on this trip the pasture was empty. To make things worse, spring is not the best season for seeing seabirds, so we didn’t spot very many at all on the rocky and shelly beaches. A few large flocks flew overhead, but it was difficult to identify them in flight. We did spot a paradise shelduck (much prettier than the usual mallards):

This one's a female, the males have white heads.
This one’s a female, the males have white heads.

Despite the lack of birds, the views of the farm and the shore were superb and we were enjoying our walk when all of a sudden, we heard a strange bird noise (click here) and spotted a medium-sized brown bird on tall legs. Now, we had seen this bird before, in the lot where we bought Godzilla, and I’d heard it on my previous trip to the farm, but we had never gotten a good enough view to identify it. It was our mystery bird! On this occasion, though, we were not going to give up without a good picture, and we finally managed to see the very distinctive yellow wattles on its face that made it clear to us (after consulting the bird book), that our mystery bird was a masked lapwing.

Found you!
Found you!

This bird also goes by the name of spur-winged plover, as it has spikes on its wing-joints, but this name has been officially dropped since another, Northern Hemisphere bird also has that common name. Whatever it’s called, we were happy just to be able to see it properly.

View of the shore.
View of the shore.
View of the farm.
View of the farm.

The masked lapwing was the highlight of our birding that day, but not of our trip to the farm! We returned to the main farmyard area and found the solution to the mystery of the missing lambs: they had been separated from their mothers and put in a smaller pen. Of course, they were still massively adorable.

The lambs weren’t the only young animals on the farm that day. We saw (and got slobbered on by) two half-grown calves, a little flock of ducklings, and some piglets. The ducklings were next to the milking barn and the parents seemed to trust that a short wooden fence would keep us (and the children running around) away from their offspring.

Sleepy babies (and parents).
Sleepy babies (and parents).

The mother pig looked even more tired than the duck parents, and didn’t move at all while she oinked and summoned the piglets to nurse from her. There was much jostling as there appeared to be a piglet for each teat, but eventually each one found their place.

Everybody's happy.
Everybody’s happy.

We were watching the pigs go at it when we heard a big commotion behind us. It turns out another group of lambs needed to be separated from their mothers, and the first step of this process was getting all the sheep from the big pasture into a cramped pen. The farm employees used the traditional techniques of sheepdogs and dirt bikes to herd the sheep across the road:

We had to get out of the way!
We had to get out of the way!
Everyone inside!
Everyone inside!

The herding process only took about two minutes and seemed to go without a hitch, but as we headed into the field they’d come from we spotted an lone escapee in the distance. Of more interest were the inhabitants of the field next door: a pair of huge Clydesdale horses:

Why does he have purple on his knee?
Why does he have purple on his knee?

They looked like they could smash through the thin wire fence (even if it was electrified) on a whim, but they seemed way more interested in munching grass than investigating the people watching them.

The last denizens of the farm that we saw were Pitt Island sheep. These guys are rare feral sheep from the remote island, which is located 800 km east of mainland New Zealand. The rams have impressive horns, but sadly the one that was on the farm died defending his flock from some dogs. Maybe one of the lambs will take his place one day!

All the sheep are brown.
All the sheep are brown.

At this point we had been on the farm for more than a few hours and had to head home. It’s always fun to have working farms near the city and open to the public, so we will be heading back soon I’m sure (maybe even today!)

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