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Mission (Almost) Impossible

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 8 March 2020 | Views [159]

Pied and Black Stilts, Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

Pied and Black Stilts, Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

CHRISTCHURCH WAS ONE OF OUR FAVORITE places when we visited New Zealand fifteen years ago.  I’m reluctant, however, to return since the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011.  We’ll get there — but not today.


                 Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

Connie wants to concentrate on a couple of birds in the area, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows her or who reads these pages.  Black-fronted Terns are seen regularly in the Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary 30 km north of Christchurch as are Spotted Shags, a cousin of the cormorant.  Black Stilts are usually found near Twizel (really) near the hydro-electric dam at the base of Lake Pukaki.  


            There's a Black Stilt out there somewhere: Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

One renegade black stilt, flashing its identification leg bands like so many glitters, had been seen at the Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary but finding a single bird among acres of tidal flats seemed daunting.  When you add in the sucking mud followed by rapidly flooding tides, it seemed — well — impossible.


                     Black Stilt with Glitters

On our first visit yesterday morning at low tide was to be recce but we soon became intimately acquainted with the mud.  We saw lots of cormorants and gulls, Caspian terns and bar-tailed godwits.  And — Look! There he is!  Not knowing how shy a black stilt might be, we circled back into the dunes and crept up for some photos.  Of course the light was all wrong but Connie got a good look at #5535 on her Life List.

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         Spotted Shag                               Black-Fronted Tern

Thinking we might get a better look at high tide we returned this afternoon.  It was cold and windy and the rising tide left only a narrow path between the dunes and the flats.  We pushed on for about a mile towards the end of the spit, looking closely at every gull, tern and cormorant.  Finally a pair of Spotted Shags flew just above the water level.  And on our return, several Black-fronted Terns flashed by, carried by the wind and I got photos of the juvies.


                   Incoming Tide — Time to Go!

The narrow path had pretty much disappeared by now and we watched as the incoming tide filled in our footprints.  We had to retreat into the dunes to keep our tootsies dry but near the end of the path was our black stilt with its cousin, a pied stilt.   Mission Impossible became Mission Accomplished.



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