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2009: New Zealand Plovers, Miranda

So it was that tuturiwhatu became my next lifer but not before tuturiwhatu had joined the trip list. You read that right. The Maoris had the same trouble with identifying species that we do and gave the same name to two plovers. Or dotterels as The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand calls them. You should be confused by now. It is a minefield.

Let the IOC taxonomy clarify, which is what it’s supposed to do. Double-banded plover (Charadrius bicinctus) was the more common and widespread species I already had from Haast in 2003; the rarer, endemic New Zealand plover (C. obscurus) was my 1,055th species. The latter prefers more coastal habitat so it was only once the beach came into view that I found these plainer shorebirds. They are also bigger than the double-banded but at distance the safest way to separate these non-breeding birds was by paler heads and the lack of chest bands.

If that lifer was a slight challenge, the next, also with it on the shore, spawned a complete mystery and caused me to wonder if senior moments hadn’t been kicking in for years. Six years to be precise, being the span back again to 2003 when I can still picture wrybills scuttling by a river south of Christchurch.

These look like cleaner cut, small plovers – maybe sanderlings too – but with good views the curve of their bill is unmistakable. The truly remarkable feature is that the bill doesn’t curve down, like curlews and whimbrels, or slightly up, like terek sandpipers. No, it always curves to the right.

Why the right? That’s a puzzle in itself but my puzzle when entering the sighting that evening was how wrybill was showing up as a lifer. I checked and double-checked 2003. Nothing. And I’m almost anal about my records. How could I reconcile such a clear memory with what my software was telling me? And I also suspected that I’d seen the bird more than once. How could it have slipped through multiple times?

I’m still aghast. ⇐ ⇒

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