Trip Report

Foxton Beach – 26 – 29 May 2002

By Sav on 26/05/02

At the Estuary today: terek sandpiper, 29 wrybill, 2 little tern, 23 bar-tailed godwits. Still lots of shoveler and grey teal, but no sign of the chestnut teal. The tide was hugely high (and I was a little late getting there), the ducks were well spread and hiding amongst vegetation to get out of the ferocious wind – so it is just as likely that the Chestnut Teal was somewhere around.

On the coast: Very strong westerly winds. Masses of seabirds moving and some outstanding highlights for here. 2 mottled petrels flying together and rather leisurely making their way northwards (first record for Foxton Beach). A storm-petrel, probably a Wilson’s, but only seen fleetingly between waves (the only SPs ever seen here before have been White-faced). A broad-billed prion right over the beach (BBPrions fairly regularly beachcast here – no sight records for many years except Nikki MacArthur saw one at Himatangi Beach on the exact same date last year). 11 giant petrel sp. 8 mollymawks, all apparently white-capped except one which was probably a black-browed, several hundred fluttering shearwaters, and scores of other unidentified Shearwaters and/or Petrels.
By Brent on 27/05/02

Well as usual Sav had to report a great days birding at Foxton Beach, just to match my birding in Auckland! Having seen two species which would have been new birds for NZ (and one a lifer!) I decided to head out there this morning.

In the mean-time Sav had again been out there early this morning and seen more giant petrels, a few mollys and several unidentified petrels, including a small dark one, and several other gadfly type petrels. A cape petrel also flew past.

Rebecca Boulton came along with me and we got to Foxton Beach at about 1130, and watched till about 1315.. The wind was very strong, directly from the west and several showers passed through in the time we were there. Shortly after arriving a prion flew along the beach heading south, and although we didn’t identify it, it was probably a broad-billed, being larger and darker than a fairy (not ticked!!). Following this we were tantalised further by more prions heading south, but out further, again evading identification.

We then picked up two medium sized petrels with all dark upper surfaces and light breast and belly, but with dark underwings. They both had to be soft-plumaged petrels and were flying south about 100m off the beach (in good light). At one stage I picked up the grey chest band on one of the birds, but this was not evident most of the time, although the dark upper-surface with a lighter tail and shoulder region did show up. About 20-30 minutes later another bird passed by even closer, and this gave good views of the chest band. We saw several more a lot further out and so in total probably saw at lest 6-7. Looking in HANZAB this is quite a significant record (another rarebirds report coming your way David M.), being one of very few records of this species seen alive off mainland NZ.

Several other petrels of similar size were seen, but further out, and may well have been mottled petrels, but were not positively identified. There were no giant petrels and only two mollymawks seen, with at least one being a probable white-capped.

Birds seen –

Prion sp. 10+
Black-backed gull
Red-billed gull
Black shag
South Island pied oystercatcher 3
Soft-plumaged petrel 6-7
Other unid petrels c.20
White-fronted tern 2
Mollymawks 2 (one a probable white-capped)

A quick scan of the estuary on the way home didn’t locate the chestnut teal, but as with yesterday the ducks were taking refuge among the scattered veg so it could well have been there.
By Sav on 28/05/02

I’ll admit to a certain degree of skepticism when Brent called yesterday to claim several Soft-plumaged Peterels off Foxton Beach, though his descriptions just didn’t seem to fit anything else. There was only one thing to do – brave the ferocious westerlies and see what was up. So, this morning I was back at the FB Surf Club car-park.

To my delight, relief and suprise the very first birds that were not Fluttering Shearwaters were Gadfly Petrels with near-uniform grey uppersides, gleaming white bodies and dark underwings – surely the same species that Brent had seen yesterday. These 2 birds were about 200m offshore and the views were quite good, though not quite conclusive. After another 10minutes or so another one came past, just off the beach and unbelievably lingered right by the car-park for a minute or so. This bird was undoubtedly a SPPetrel, showing a diffuse upper-breast band. Nearly a hour later another one came past.

Brents posting yesterday might have been construed as suggesting (the equally unlikely?) White-headed Petrel – these birds most certainly were not that species, having grey crowns and tails. As far as I could make out the only contrast in the uppersurface of the birds was a darker shade on the primaries.

Other birds this mornimg between 0800 and 0930 : several hundred Fluttering Shearwater. 6 Giant Petrels. One small, dark underwing Molly (a young Black-browed or Grey-headed) and one immature Wandering Albatross. Lots more unidentified Shearwaters and Petrels, including another 2 Gadfly-types – and no Prions at all.

By Brent on 29/05/02

Well I’m afraid a good thing appears to have come to an end (for the moment). I spent about an hour and a half at Foxton Beach this morning from 0900 on and the wind had dropped considerably and moved towards the south. There were huge numbers of shearwaters moving south way out, mostly I think flutterers, with the odd dark petrel amongst them. There were also several albies, with one I suspect a Northern royal, and another that may have been wanderer. An unusual looking mollymawk may just have been a young black-browed (very dark underwing and large, but didn’t seem right?). Also several gannets and one juv giant petrel, the latter being the closest bird of the day.

The highlight however, was mammalian, being a dead 7.4m minke whale that had washed up after being washed from further north on the coast the day before. A great huddle of people had gathered, and was obviously of far more interest than the albatrosses and other birds further offshore.