leucistic New Zealand pied oystercatcher
A leucistic New Zealand pied oystercatcher, Manukau Harbour. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Special site produces several surprises

A recent trip to New Zealand revealed a few odd-ball birds and behaviours.

The most striking, for me anyway, was a leucistic (not albino but close-ish) oyster-catcher on the shell banks of Manukau Harbour in South Auckland.

Access to this outstanding wader site is tightly controlled and closed to the general public. We were there thanks to Birds NZ chairman David Lawrie, who lives nearby. I was also in the company of Cairns birder and mate Norton (Norty) Gill, and Jo Jo Doyle, a visiting birder from the US.

David kindly ‘gave up’ a day at the office to guide us across private land and mudflats to the sweeping shell banks and tidal pools. After five hours of great photography and birding, the tide was well in and a bit of wading of our own was required.

Sea gulls skimming water for fish
Unusual activity – juvenile black-billed gulls skimming for bait fish. Photo ©Tony Neilson

Melanin production

Leucistic birds lack the cells responsible for melanin production. Although the condition is inherited, the extent and positioning of the white colouration can vary between adults and their young.

Leucism causes feathers to weaken and be more prone to wear. Being more conspicuous, the ‘affected’ birds also have greater risk of predation. (The bird we observed was clearly not in premium health.)

Skimming gulls

Perhaps more unusual were the feeding techniques of a flock of largely juvenile black-billed gulls. They were flying low over the shallows and ‘skimming’ for small bait fish – a la the more specialised American black skimmer.

David said he had not previously seen gulls trying this fishing technique.

And then there were the New Zealand wrybills – the only bird in the world whose bill curves to the right. But more about that fantastic little endemic next month.

©Natural Images 2018

Bird watchers on shell banks
On the shell banks, from left: Birds NZ chair David Lawrie, Jo Jo Doyle from the US and Norton Gill (struggling with the bright New Zealand sunlight). Photo: ©Tony Neilson

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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