Ward Beach and White's Bay (November 28)

Surf at Ward Beach
We took our last New Zealand Sunday drive today. With not a cloud in the sky and temperatures predicted to be in the 70s, we headed south of Seddon to Ward Beach. In our typical fashion, the one hour return walk became a five hour outing.

The road took us through rolling hills, past a limestone quarry and ended at a large car park with signs warning to place nets in a manner that would not endanger any Hector's Dolphins in the area. We didn't spot any dolphins, but it was a great day for birding and the beauty of nature.

Susan at Ward Beach
Notoriously windy Ward Beach broke with tradition and we had a wonderfully calm day to explore. It was clear enough to see all the way to the North Island from some points. The long beach was scattered with interesting rock formations, and rock islands poked out off the shore. In the distance, the ends of the beach were framed with large limestone outcroppings. The surf crashed incredibly onto the rocky beach, with its smooth flat pebbles sounding like coins under our feet.

Soon a Banded dotterel caught our attention and Susan stopped to observe him while Mike was drawn ahead towards a whole dotterel family -- seven birds in all. Meanwhile, Susan's dotterel continued to attract her attention by vocalizing loudly as he raised up tall and straight with chest puffed up big. It became clear that he wanted to draw her attention away from a nest, so Susan took the bait and followed him to a pile of leaves and bull kelp. As he flew away, Susan stood still and watched as he revealed the nest site. A lone stick in a sea of gray stones marked the spot where three little pale green speckled eggs lay.
Banded Dotterel at nest with 3 eggs
As we approached a backbend in the beach line, we spotted quite a lineup of birds at the point. Red-billed gulls, Pied Shags and Black-fronted Terns were all out enjoying the sunny afternoon at the beach. Around the corner, a pair of squawking Oystercatchers were impossible to miss, and became especially irate as a little girl ran by to join the rest of her family. Mom ran up to meet her and protect from a possible Oystercatcher attack. As the family left, the Dad called across the beach to us that there were eggs. We carefully walked around a little, but didn't see anything so kept moving towards the end of the beach where jagged white limestone caught our eye. We were at the edge of the outcropping when we jumped, startled by a large New Zealand fur seal basking in the sun. He didn't move, we just hadn't noticed him until we got quite close. We scrambled around on the rocks a safe distance from him, enjoying the view from a higher vantage point.

Click here for larger images with captions.

On our return, the Oystercatcher pair were still excitedly running around and squawking. Curious about their eggs, we lingered longer, stepping carefully while observing the birds, hoping to have a peek at the nest. We had just about given up when Susan looked over at a small pile of kelp, and noticed the two mottled eggs. The oystercatchers fell uncharacteristically silent as we approached the nest. We took our quick peek, snapped a photo, then left. Looking back, we noticed the nest was surrounded by our footprints in the sand. How could we have missed seeing it before!

Closer to the car park, we watched the dotterels again, and this time we both saw one getting up from a spot which we noted. Slowly we approached this spot from two angles and sure enough, Mike spotted our second little 3-egg nest. This one had a few twigs around as well as a tree branch, but still very little effort had gone into its making.

Whites Bay
Finally, we pronounced Ward's Beach "done" and headed back out the gravel road to the highway. But a few minutes ahead we spotted YAHS (Yet Another Herd of Sheep), but this time with a twist -- a little girl on a bicycle was doing the shepherding the flock. Gotta love New Zealand!

On our way home, we decided to head up to White's Bay on this still cloudless afternoon. The area was much transformed since our last visit in chilly September. Today the car park was almost full and people played all over the beach -- surfboards, kayaks and picnics said "summer is here!" It was low tide so we we able to walk around to the southernmost part of the beach and scramble up the rocks for a view of the Wairau Valley. We stopped at a couple other viewpoints on the road back home, appreciating the vastness of this rich valley.

Rarangi Beach panorama

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