West Coast Business Gets Rare Aussie Visitor

16 January 2024
Development West Coast
Dion Arnold, the owner of White Heron Sanctuary Tours in Whataroa, recently had a delightful surprise during one of his tours when a rare Pacific Heron made an unexpected appearance.

"I noticed this bird roosting up high in an old Kahikatea tree just above the Kōtuku- White Heron nesting site," shared Dion, the first to spot the mysterious visitor. "At first, I thought, oh no, it looks like an injured or very dirty Kōtuku because of the way it was roosting and the dark colour I could see in its plumage."

Dion's curiosity led him to grab a pair of binoculars for a closer look. "I got a bit of a surprise; this was not a bird I had seen before. At first glance, it resembled a two-tone Kōtuku – what was this? I quickly set up a spotting scope with stronger magnification and had a good look. What an amazing-looking bird, black over half its body and white with black spots up its breast and neck – wow," explained Dion.

Despite having to leave with a tour group, Dion managed to capture a few photographs of the rare Pacific Heron with his phone. However, upon returning later in the day, there was no sign of the mysterious visitor.

"Once back in the office, I did a bit of research and found that most likely what I had seen was a Pacific Heron," Dion added. "They are common throughout Australia, and birds have reached New Zealand on at least twelve occasions."

The Waitangiroto Nature Reserve, a protected area with limited human disturbance, serves as a haven for birdlife. Dion speculated, "The Pacific Heron probably heard the colony and came in for a closer look. We do sometimes have rare visitors around the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve. Now and again, we have had sightings of the Australasian bittern| Matuku-hūrepo, which is always surprising and special."

As the nesting season for the Kōtuku progresses, Dion provided an update on the White Heron Sanctuary. "It is an interesting time to visit with a range of nesting activity and stages to observe. We have a couple of nests that were late hatching, with chicks just over a week old, along with 3 and 4-week-old chicks being fed at their nest sites. Larger, almost fully grown chicks are learning to fly, and adult birds come and go with food for their young, still displaying a bit of their fine fancy breeding plumage – Nature at its best, a very special place," he added.

Dion emphasized, "Most of the young Kōtuku will be flying and departing from the nesting site through February, dispersing across New Zealand. They won't return to breed until they are 3 years old, returning to the only Kōtuku breeding ground in NZ here in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve near Whataroa."