Foxton Beach – 31 March 2002
Brent and I were at Foxton Beach this morning – it was a good decision to cancel the Farewell to the Birds event since 12 Red Knot and 45 Barwits were all that was left of the arctic waders. The 2 Little Terns were still present.
As there was a decent strong westerly blowing we decided to have a look at the sea – plenty of fluttering shearwaters, mostly a fair way out, and a handful of gannets were all that was apparent until we both, independently, picked up something much closer in (about 200m). I was using my scope and Brent his binoculars. A few expletives were followed by “it’s got all dark underwings and a white body – like a Tahiti petrel” as the bird made it’s way north up the beach. We were left pretty stunned for a while and had a look through the NZ Field Guide, realising that Tahiti, Phoenix and just possibly Taiko, were the only possible contenders…..
After about 20 minutes Brent (who had by now got his scope out) yelled “It’s coming back!!” and sure enough the bird was moving south at about the same range as before. Our view of the bird was interrupted by another dark winged, light bodied petrel passing through the scope view, but going the other way. This second bird was slightly smaller, with a square-ended tail and an underwing pattern recalling a miniature Black-browed Albatross – i.e. dark leading and trailing edges and a whitish central stripe, the white underparts seemed to extend right up to the chin, and our impression was that the white was not as pure as the first bird (which was a bright white colour). The bird’s upperparts were entirely dark brown. We have absolutely no idea what this bird was, and have spent most of the afternoon looking through all the relevant literature to no avail – so if anyone has any bright ideas, we would love to hear from you.
As for the first bird, we have concluded that it had to be a Phoenix petrel – it lacked the long neck and pointed, spiked tail of a Tahiti, and it’s flight was all wrong with much twisting and turning – nothing like the “languid” flight of Tahiti. The underwings were completely dark, with no contrast whatever. Taiko is of course hugely unlikely, but is also a much bigger, bulkier bird than our one.
Following this sighting a rare birds report was sent to the OSNZ Rare Birds Committee but was rejected.