The search is on for elusive visitors

By Anna Wallis

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Pelicans on the Patea River last Thursday. PHOTO/SUZI HURLEY
Pelicans on the Patea River last Thursday. PHOTO/SUZI HURLEY

Has anyone seen pelicans around the Whanganui area?

It's not a joke - a group of four pelicans was seen on the Whanganui River on Tuesday night and on the Patea River last Thursday.

And it's not a first. The Australian birds were first seen in New Zealand on the Whanganui River at Jerusalem in 1890, says Wanganui amateur ornithologist and photographer Paul Gibson.

Mr Gibson was out at 6am yesterday morning looking for the birds but couldn't find them.

They were spotted on Tueday night near the Cobham Bridge by resident Raewynne Wright.

"I was at the kitchen window, and there's a sand bank out there at low tide they were on. I thought they were seagulls at first, but they were too big. I got the binoculars out and got the shock of my life."

Mrs Wright went down to the river for a closer look but they took off before she could get a photo.

Mr Gibson said the birds like shallow water and sheltered bays so may have headed to a lake in the region or one of the many estuaries on the coast.

He said the group was probably young birds that had been pushed out of their usual habitat after a "big wet" in Australia three years ago saw the population explode. While not seabirds, they could make it across the Tasman.

"They are an amazing bird. They can fly 3000 metres high on thermals."

Department of Conservation ranger Jasmine Hessell said the birds were first seen on the Patea River on December 12, and in Urenui in northern Taranaki some time before that.

Ms Hessell said a colony of 12 pelicans had taken up residence on the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, in mid-2012. It was not known if this group was from the Kaipara Harbour or another group that had come over from Australia.

She said they were considered "vagrants" in New Zealand, and were fully protected.

"They haven't been seen in New Zealand for many decades, and when they do come here it's in very small numbers. So it's pretty special."

Ms Hessell said Wanganui was the farthest south pelicans had ever been seen. She said DoC would like to be kept informed of any further sightings of the pelicans.

If you see the birds, please call the Chronicle on 349 0728.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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