A Big Birding Day

This article was originally featured in issue 366 of Forest & Bird Magazine in November of 2017.

How many birds can you spot in 24 hours? Petrina Duncan and Mark Ayre set out to beat the previous record of 58 species seen in Otago in one day. This is how they did it.

We started at 6am at Mark’s house near Wanaka and got all of our common bird species around his backyard, before heading to the Albert Town lagoon, where we saw loads of water birds. Then we zoomed all the way to Makarora and beyond to get some bush birds (in the howling nor’wester!) – nice sighting of a shining cuckoo, but sadly the weather was not conducive for seeing/hearing kākā, kakariki, or mohua – and we found some banded dotterel on the riverbed (no wrybills sadly). Then it was time to count the falcons by the Hawea swingbridge campground. At this early stage, we had already spotted 40 bird species!

After a quick coffee in Wanaka and a drive past the crested grebes on the lake, we sped up Ballantyne Road out of town and happily ticked off rock pigeons and pied stilts. We went all the way through Central Otago to the Sinclair wetlands, near Dunedin airport, thankfully ticking off fern birds. By this stage, it was a boiling hot sunny afternoon. Off to Otago Peninsula, stopping at Tomahawk Lagoon to get spoonbills and other wading birds, then it was time to tackle Taiaroa Head for the Southern Royal Albatross.

At this point, a massive southerly front hit at full force, scattering all the tourists except us, who staunchly stared out to sea and spotted a giant petrel, shy albatross, and a sooty shearwater. Unfortunately, we had to leave the peninsula without seeing any penguins, but weather and time were against us as it was now after 5pm.

A side trip over the hills behind Port Chalmers and down the hill towards Orokonui Ecosanctuary in the fog/rain/southerly gave us feral chickens, tūī, rosella, and two kererū. Then a quick detour to Karitane to tick off Caspian tern. We had fish and chips at Waikouaiti before heading home at sunset. We did try to see pipit but, alas, could only find skylarks. Back at Mark’s, we managed to spot a little owl flying. We called it quits at 10.30pm.

An epic 67 species of birds were seen in 16.5 hours, breaking the only record we have ever heard of (58) for Otago and making us think hard about how we would be more organised next time to get even more species. The most fun (and tiring) day we’ve had in ages. What a big birding day!

Big Day Birdathon 2017

Mark Ayre and Petrina Duncan are organising a nationwide Big Day Birdathon. It takes flight on 16/17 December 2017 – the first weekend of the school holidays.

The idea is simple: get together a team of two or more people and count as many bird species as possible in one calendar day (either Saturday or Sunday). All native and introduced species are fair game, and you could choose to stay in one region or travel more widely. Keep it fun!

Add a twist: Take part in this year’s Birdathon and raise money for Forest & Bird’s conservation work. You can quickly set up a team fundraising page at https://www.everydayhero.com/nz/ [keyword: Forest & Bird].

Organiser Mark Ayre, of Forest & Bird’s Central Otago-Lakes branch, said: “You’ve got to find as many birds as possible. It’s all about having a fun day outside in nature. We hope it will be a way to get people interested in our wonderful birdlife. Similar events are run around the world and are very popular.”

For more information and to sign up, see www.birdathon.co.nz. Regular updates will also be posted on Birdathon’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/birdathonnz)