Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to go birding with the man who has seen more bird species in one single year than anyone else on the planet. And what’s more, I was lucky enough to help him find world-record breaking birds here in New Zealand.
Noah broke the world record previously set by Ruth Millar and Alan Davies back in September 2015 and was continuing to further surpass the figure of 4,341 birds until December 31st 2015, which included 3 days in Auckland just before Christmas.
When Noah Strycker first contacted me with the challenge of finding as many of New Zealand’s endemic bird species in 3 days I jumped at the chance.
Before meeting Noah, I’d only spoken to him briefly on the phone and via email. Yet what struck me immediately about Noah was that he was just a genuinely nice guy and was very warm and friendly towards everyone he met. He was happy to talk about his adventures and share his stories with others for what was probably the umpteenth time, and did so with a balance of both enthusiasm and modestly that I for one held in high regard throughout the trip.
On the first day, I picked Noah straight up from Auckland Airport at around 5am. There wasn’t too much time for lengthy introductions as we had a boat to catch. I’d planned the first part of our New Zealand birding to include a boat trip with Chris Gaskin around the Hauraki gulf. While waiting for the boat we were able to record sightings of common endemic New Zealand birds around the harbour such as New Zealand Pigeon, Tui, New Zealand Fantail, Red billed gull, Variable Oystercatcher, South Island Pied Oystercatcher and the rare New Zealand Dotterel.
On the boat we were able to sight some of the North Islands unique species of petrel including the recently rediscovered New Zealand Strom Petrel, which was thought to be extinct until 2003.
After disembarking we headed for our target bird of the trip – the kiwi! While Habitat Tours had recorded regular sightings of Kiwi on our trips, the pressure was on as Noah had previously stated that seeing his first ever Kiwi would be a real highlight. Kiwis had been sighted on the previous five Habitat Tours outings but the aim was to find one quickly as we both needed to sleep for the days ahead. On the way into the forest at Tawharanui, Noah and I were treated to a close view of Takahe, Kaka and Bellbird around the car park area and a homemade picnic by the beach with another Habitat Tours group.
Missing a kiwi wasn’t an option, so we needed to be on full alert and pray that we could find the bird quickly. For those of you that have been lucky enough to see a kiwi in the wild, you may be aware that they do not always provide easy viewing.
Fortunately, within 20 minutes we heard a kiwi-like rustle in the bushes beside the path. I recognised those clumsy footsteps and was certain we had a kiwi only a few feet away. It was very dark and the dense bushes provided highly restricted viewing opportunities. All was quiet. The rustle had stopped. We were so close, but finding the bird was not going to be easy.
Now, maybe it’s because he had had 357 days of practice, or maybe it’s because he has an astonishing birder’s eye, but Noah found the bird straight away. It must have been 2 seconds tops! The kiwi was still but could be seen clearly enough.
Day two was dedicated to finding shorebirds in the southern Auckland at Miranda area. Record-breaking birds here included sightings of the unique Wrybill (whose bill is quite unique in the way it twists to one side asymmetrically), Double banded plover, New Zealand Scaup, New Zealand Grebe, the rare Black-billed Gull and African Collared Dove, which is one of New Zealand’s less exciting introduced species but a record breaking bird nevertheless.
The third and final day was spent on Tiritiri Matangi, an island with its native bush restored by volunteers and now completely rodent free. The island is a safe home for a number of New Zealand’s most endangered bird species and as soon as we stepped off the boat, we spotted North Island Saddlebacks, New Zealand Robins and. This was shortly followed by Stitchbirds and at least five North Island Kokakos.
However, the easy birding didn’t last as Fernbirds took nearly an hour to find. But there was one final bird left on the island that was proving difficult to find. This Rifleman is New Zealand’s smallest bird and is much easier to see elsewhere in New Zealand but can sometimes be a difficult bird to find on the Tiri. We spent a significant proportion of the day trying to find it and eventually 2 birds finally called, which we then easily located through binoculars.
The three days had finally come to an end for me but the world-record-breaking birdwatching was set to continue for Noah as he set off to exceed the 6,000 species barrier which he did in India a few days later on 29th December.
For me it had been an amazing experience and I am pleased that I was able to be a part of Noah’s amazing big year and show him some of the best birds New Zealand has to offer. I had helped add 41 new birds to a world record that finally stood at 6,042 species and will probably stand for a number of years to come.
I was able to look back on the three days of birding with no regrets and with a complete list of all our target birds. More than anything it had been a memorable experience birding with Noah and one that I hope to repeat in the future.
Habitat Tours offer magical wildlife ecotoursim experiences around one hour’s drive from Auckland, New Zealand
Harry Boorman – World record breaking birds seen in the Auckland/Waikato area of New Zealand;
Rifleman, Whitehead, North Island Kokako, Stitchbird, New Zealand Robin, Fernbird, Tomtit, New Zealand Scaup, New Zealand Grebe, African Collared-Dove, Double-banded Plover, Wrybill, Black-billed Gull, Northern Island Brown Kiwi, Paradise Shelduck, Brown Teal, South Island Takahe, Weka, New Zealand Kaka, New Zealand Bellbird, North Island Saddleback, Little Shearwater, Gray Noddy, Red-crowned Parakeet, Cook’s Petrel, Fairy Prion, Parkinson’s Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, White-faced Storm-Petrel, New Zealand Storm-Petrel, White-fronted Tern, South Island Oystercatcher, Variable Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Dotterel, Red-billed Gull, New Zealand Pigeon, Tui, Gray Gerygone, New Zealand Fantail