Sunday, 6 January 2019

Goofballs & Bobbleheads- Puriri Bay


There'll be a short break before the next blog. We're back in Kerikeri catching up with some friends we missed on our last visit and then we're due to have a couple of days out on the briny with my sister & her husband. See you soon.

There was a lot of chatter, squeaks, grunts, flapping and jostling coming from the end of Puriri Bay, high up in some large pohutukawa trees overhanging the rocks and water. Not to mention the continuous circuit being flown by harried parents, out into the harbour and back again. Along with the noise, a large white splash of guano alerted me to a colony of Pied Shag/Kawau nesting in the trees so I went to investigate...

...from the rocks underneath. Which turned out to not be one of my best moves ever. I ended up ducking and diving as big squirts of white poo came flying down from above. I even had to dodge a regurgitated long slimy dark thing that looked like a half digested fish.

With no hope of getting photos from below I thought I might be able to see into the nests from the bluff above. And sure enough, I was able to fight my way through the undergrowth off the Picnic Bay track until I was standing on the edge of a small cliff overlooking a very busy shag colony with approximately 15 or so nests, most with chicks of various sizes in them. 

While the chicks wouldn't win any beauty competitions, I fell in love with these three fluffy goofballs who look like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. 

And just in case you're wondering, although it may look like I am very close to the birds, I'm not. I have a good zoom lens and I'm also blending in with the scrub that's growing on the bluff so the shags are hardly aware I am there (that was until I slid down the a short bank trying to get further along the bluff!) I can only see into a few of the nests, some are higher up in the trees, some are hidden behind trunks or under the canopy.  

I was alarmed at first when I saw some chicks with their head hanging down the side of the nest. I've seen this before and always assumed it was a dead chick but it's not. I was pleased to see the eyes open and later, the head pop back up. This is how they keep cool on a hot day. Don't you love the chilled look on the face of the one at the back (remember to click on the photos to enlarge).

While Dad (or Mum) takes a break, junior does some house keeping in this nest.

I took to calling the chicks Bobbleheads because as soon as they saw a parent land nearby, they'd pop up out of the nest and wobble about squawking and clambering over each other trying to get the parents attention. 

These tiny Bobbleheads appeared from the depths of their nest when they felt the nest move...

...when the parent moved to the edge of the nest to aim a poo over the side (there are 3 chicks, one is hidden low behind its siblings). There also appears to be three chicks in all of the nests that I can see bar one that had 2 chicks. 

Ablutions complete, the parent settled back in over the tiny chicks. The parents took turns brooding and keeping an eye on the smallest chicks while at the older chicks nests, both parents were doing a near continuous circuit; feeding-flying-fishing...

Back at the Goofball nest, a parent has arrived home...'s arrival is announced by a cacophony of noise as the chicks squawk and jostle for the best position, stretching their necks as high as they can go, poking the parents crop with their bill and balancing precariously on the edge of the nest. It's a wonder they don't push each other out of the nest!

After, what seems like an eternity and obviously triggered by the chicks begging, the parent regurgitates dinner...

... and the chicks head disappears down the parents throat...

...a bloody long way down! 'What else ya got down there Ma?'

'Leave some for me!'

The adults must hold a lot of fish in their stomachs, I thought that the smallest chick would miss out after he tried his best pushing and shoving but he just wasn't tall enough and eventually backed off. Once the strongest chick had had his fill he moved to the back and the 2nd chick helped himself and then finally the littlest one moved to the front and had his dinner.

I can't imagine how sore the adult's throat must become with all the regurgitating and then having sharp beaks shoved down their throats, and they're not gentle about it either. There's a video at the end of the blog if you want to check it out. Eventually the parent turned away and then after some more pestering it jumped over to another branch and took a quick snooze. 

Over at the little Bobbleheads nest, the noise is more subdued as the parent gently gulps, dry retches and finally regurgitates a much thinner liquid into it's crop, you can see the expanding crop here as it fills up...

...and then the chick just about disappears down the throat retrieving it. It wasn't until I saw the photos that I realised the little chicks were doing this too. I imagined that they would gently reach in and slurp the liquid! 

I think the smallest goofball didn't get quite enough food during the last feed...

...because he's decided to steal some of his siblings dinner!

They really are quite crazy! Perhaps this is how the smaller chicks do end up surviving. 

And here's the movie. Once again, excuse my movie making skills, I'm not that good at the best of times but with no tripod and balancing on the edge of a bank it was even harder to hold the camera steady. Persevere past the first frames and it does get better! Even if you might then feel sea sick!


  1. Fantastic Shellie, thank you for the fabulous photos and video. What a treat it must have been for you.

    1. Thanks for your comment, yes it was a treat! Shags get a bad rap most of the time but I find them quite endearing and it was fascinating to see the chicks behaviour up close.

  2. I wonder if the bird folk realise the chicks steal each others dinner after its in a chick stomach. That's one for forest and bird magazine. Could be valuable.
    Amazing images. At least from the cliff the smell would have been less.

    1. Thanks jaznz, glad you enjoyed the post. I have posted the blog on several birding sites that I follow. And the Dept of Conservation have access to the photos so I'm sure someone who loves shags will see them eventually. Amazing though, aren't they.

  3. I agree with Jasnz... that chick feeding behavior is a new one on me too. Great shots Shellie.

    1. Thanks Tim, yes I'm going to have to watch more carefully next season, see if it's a regular occurrence and also whether are shag species do the same.


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