Birdwatcher delight over rare visitor

By Lindy Laird

Paul Godolphin was heading home to Pukekohe from Awanui where he'd been spying on a "rare vagrant Nankeen kestrel" when he got a message saying there was a pelican moseying around in the Kerikeri inlet.

The ardent twitcher - that's a cute name for birdwatcher - admits to doing a "handbrake turn" and hurtling back north to "tick off this much sought-after new one".

Locals Glenda and John Neil had seen the large Australian pelican swimming into Kerikeri inlet on Tuesday and, later in the day, Detlef Davies, of Kiwi Tours, spotted it roosting on a pile near the famous Stone Store.

"The enormous bird has been blown off course to our shores where it has generated great excitement among New Zealand's growing band of enthusiastic twitchers - birders prepared to travel great distances to see rare birds," Mr Godolphin said.

In fact, truckloads of twitchers could be heading to Northland right now to add the first pelican spotted in the region for more than 20 years to their birdie bucket lists.

In addition to Happy Feet, the ill-fated emperor penguin, this year New Zealand has been graced with visits from extreme rarities such as the sarus crane, plumed whistling ducks and a brown booby. "There's never been a better time to be a bird-watcher."

And Mr Godolphin would know. He has been an endangered species protection warden for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, working on golden eagles and endangered birds of prey in the mountains of the English Lake District, "but heavily involved with the identification of rare birds around the world for about 35 years".

Mr Godolphin and his wife moved to New Zealand seven years ago "to be nearer to the rest of my family who are fifth-generation Kiwis". What a rewarding move that has been in many ways.

"Despite New Zealand's geographic isolation, it seems we are much more likely to encounter rare vagrant birds here than any where else on Earth. If we had as many field birdwatchers as elsewhere, I believe we would find even more.

"It is quite rare to meet another birder out-and-about here, whereas overseas it is common for hundreds or even thousands of people to turn up when a rarity is spotted."

Mr Godolphin said there had been an upsurge in interest in the sport of chasing rare birds, with the new, vigorous and adventurous younger generation embracing the pursuit helped by text-alerting and real-time internet notifications of new bird arrivals.

- Northern Advocate

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