a gull chick’s sweeping view of the Ashley Estuary
Rakahuri Manu – birds of the Ashley River
As September draws to a close the breeding season of New Zealand’s unique braided river birds is just starting to get into gear.
Early arrivals have been on the river since about mid-August, but most of the time since has been about finding a mate (or re-establishing an existing pair bond), finding a suitable nesting territory and defending it.
Karuhiruhi (pied shag – Phalacrocorax varius) are early breeders in willows by the estuary
By now, however, these preliminaries are nearly over for the early breeders such as the ngutuparore (wrybill- Anarhynchus frontalis) and tuturiwhatu (banded dotterel – Charadrius bicinctus) and the serious business of laying and brooding is getting underway. For some of our other braided river specialists however, such as the tarapiroe (black-fronted tern – Chlidonias albostriatus) and tarapuka (black-billed gill – Larus bulleri) the finicky process of finding just the right shingle bank or river-stone island to nest on has only just begun.
Tuturiwhatu (Banded dotterel – Chadrius bicinctus) are already on eggs
But, whether already nesting or still scouting around for a likely spot, from the hills to the sea the Ashley-Rakahuri River is now busy with birdlife as both the permanent avian residents and the seasonal visitors embark on the crucially important business of reproduction.
Tarapiroe are still busy courting or scouting out potential nest sites
Tara (white-fronted tern – Sterna striata) are also courting each other with gifts of fish
Recently I presented a photographic exhibition featuring a birds of the river on a journey from the inland braided channels to the estuarine coast. The following is an edited reproduction of that presentation.
poaka (pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus) are flying into the river and setting up territory
After feeding up at the estuary the ngutuparore (wrybill – Anarhynchus frontalis) are moving upstream and establishing territory
Torea (South Island Pied Oystercatcher – Haematopus finschi) are also establishing territory and defend it fiercely against all comers
Back in the willows the kawau-paka (little shag – Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) are still in the courting stage
The tarapuka (black-billed gull – Larus bulleri) is fussy when it comes to establishing a nesting colony and often tries several spots before finally coming to some sort of mass agreement and the whole colony settles down to make nests, mate, lay and brood eggs.
The ubiquitous pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus) is not a braided river breeder but its communal nests, shared by several birds at once, can be found in the reed marshes bordering the estuary
Putangitangi (Paradise shelduck – Tadorna variegata) are more cosmopolitan breeders, their nests found on the borders of the estuary and also well upriver among the braided river channels, usually on a more permanent island where there is some plant cover.
With all the young chicks soon to be hatching the kahu (swamp harrier – Circus approximans) times its own breeding to coincide with the increase in food supply. Almost every other species, no matter their size, will dive bomb or mob this fierce predator at every opportunity to protect their chicks