Sunday, 30 September 2018

An Open Sanctuary; Part 2- On the Rail Trail


I wonder how many people have seen this bird in New Zealand, let alone know of this bird?

That is a Banded Rail/Mioweka and it is one very shy and secretive bird. 

And it was a  'big wahoo for me!!!' < that's me jumping up & down. I have finally been able to tick the Banded Rail off my virtual 'Bird Life List'. It's only taken me five years of scanning every saltmarsh and estuary we've ever parked near or explored to find one! I keep my 'bird list' in my head not like genuine Birders who photograph & record every aspect of a sighting but it was pretty exciting all the same.

The road to Okoromai Bay
I knew there had been quite a few sightings of Banded Rail in Shakespear Park and that the birds were a little less shy due to the number of people that visit the area, so I got a heads up from an acquaintance on one of the Facebook birding forums I belong to. She lives nearby and spends a lot of time at the park bird watching.

Once I knew where to head, it was 'just' a matter of spending some time scanning the marshes with our binos and looking out for any movement along edges of the mangroves and grasses. David went along one side, I went up another. What a job that is; it's still not easy and you really do have to keep your eyes peeled. There are plenty of Pied Stilts/Poaka who are quick to give the game away as you approach.....

...and even more so if you are near a nesting Pied Stilt.

There's a Banded Rail in the photo below (click to enlarge), you probably won't see it, it's too far away but I've arrowed the spot so you can see (or not as the case may be) how far away we were from the bird spotted. And spotted by none other than my 'bird spotter extraordinaire' David, who has a very good eye (and patience) for this sort of challenge.

It came wandering out of the mangroves following the tide line along as it searched for snails, worms and crabs, along with anything else tasty it found. They are very well camouflaged amongst the mangrove pneumatophores (aerial roots).

Once David spotted it he had to try and grab my attention as I was away off down the road. I could see this little stick figure waving his arms about so I hurried back towards him (he'd sent a text but I had my phone on silent). As soon as the rail spotted my movement (and I was a long way away from it too) it shot back into the mangroves. The nearby Pied Stilt didn't help with it's high pitched alarm call.

We quietly waited for it to venture back out into the open and then watched it weave up and down a small open patch for quite awhile. Once it had finished and moved off out of sight we searched again, along both sides of the road but failed to find another bird. Not too worry, I was more than happy to have finally seen a Banded Rail!

But then a little niggling thought kept playing in my head for the rest of the afternoon and everytime I woke during the night. So there I was, up before the crack of dawn and back down at Okoromai Bay where it was like Piccadilly Station with at least 10 Banded Rail feeding on the grass verge along both sides of the road. As soon as they spotted the vehicle they were off, some across the road, others into the nearby undergrowth (and looking like little mini road runners as they streaked across the tarseal). A couple even flew off- they are strong but reluctant fliers. I've lighten this photo alot, it was still very dark outside.

And this one has been lightened too, this rail stood still in the saltweed. That was until I moved to get a shot out the window and then he was off too.

I watched as several birds, heads down snaked their way quickly through the weed until they reached the cover of the high scrub on the far side of the saltpond and disappeared.

And then I quietly watched from inside the cab with the window down as I scanned the edges waiting for them to reappear. Some even moved back out onto the grass verges beside the road, but always far enough away that I couldn't get a good shot. And then the morning influx of daily runners/jogger/walkers and dogs started arriving which put those ones back down for good.

On the far side of the wetland, two birds came out of the undergrowth together, can you see them? Their camouflage colours work really well here too.....all the time they have their heads down and weren't flicking their tails.

I think they were a pair, they stopped to say hello to each other when their paths crossed as they worked their way back and forth through the saltweed. 

Another bird, making it's way along the back edge, went to check out a bunch of reeds and wandered into their space, it was soon chased off. 

Banded rail  were once widely scattered throughout New Zealand. They have now disappeared from almost all of the South Island and only occur around Nelson and Marlborough. It's thought that they have now disappeared from the lower half of the North Island as well.

Rails spend much of their time feeding under mangrove cover when the tide is out and when it's in, in rushes, tall grass and scrubland in the upper reaches of estuaries. Habitat clearance and drainage has had a significant impact on the banded rail population nationwide. Over 90% of lowland wetlands have been drained and cleared for agriculture since Europeans settled New Zealand. 

I was thrilled to finally be able to say I have seen a Banded Rail and not just one Banded Rail, at least a dozen! Long may they survive in this special little bay (outside the Shakespear Park's predator fence) and not far from suburbia.


  1. Love the shots of the Banded Rail Shellie what a find very hard to locate let alone spot . As young fellows back in the 50s my brother and I spent every weekend rooming around the river banks and swamps that bordered our and our uncles land in Whitianga (Coroglen) many a banded Rail was sighted back then along with the bittens and there booming call . Now the real challenge for you is to photogarph a spotted Crake you think the Banded Rail is elusive they are another whole new ball game .
    alot of the loss of these and other birds that frequent the wet lands have fallen victim to the stout and rats . To this end I am in favour of becoming predator free.
    keep up the great work .
    Cheers Ron Riddle

    1. Yes, Spotted Crake & Bittern are still on the 'to see' list. Crakes are at Shakepear Park but we didn't stay long enough to target them. Next time maybe. Would have been great exploring the swamps & wetlands in the Coromandel back then, although I don't fancy coming across a water rat (that's why I love predator free areas, not much chance of seeing one).

  2. I had a pair of banded rail at Port Jackson, down by the creek in the camp. Haven't seen them so far this season but hopefully off nesting.

    1. Yes, someone else mentioned the rail at that creek, I'll have to have a hunt next time. All i saw was a hawk feasting on a possum under the bridge! :)

  3. Your Rail story reminded me of the children’s story book I read to my children often, it was our daughters favourite book - Come Back Ginger by Dorothy Butler. Based on a true story of early NZ in the mid 1800’s, the Rail in the story was preserved by a taxidermist and has been on display at the Russell Museum for 150+ years. Hopefully some will still be there when we return to Shakespear for our summer Camp Hosting stint.

    1. Lovely memories Bernice, I'm sure they'll still be there, there are quite a few. I did enjoy the Tieke/Saddlebacks (see next blog) that were in the back left corner of your camp, very exciting see them.


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