Bird watchers see royal rarity

Well autumn has certainly kicked off to a wonderful start with misty mornings, beautiful calm seas and a hint of the cooler weather on its way.

The change of season seems to be quite popular with both visitors and wildlife, each here in large numbers this week.

We have had a real mixture of nationalities with visitors from Germany, Estonia, Denmark, Australia, the United States and Britain, and lots of Kiwis.

On the water it has been amazing! The nutrient-rich Queen Charlotte Sound has been providing so much food for dolphins, seals and seabirds that many have become quite settled.

The busy bottlenose dolphins have not had to search far for food, spending much more time in the inner sounds.

The New Zealand fur seals have continued their laid-back lifestyle of feasting, playing and lazing on the shores, and the seabirds have had nice full bellies after feeding on the large schools of fish.

One of the highlights from our recent tours has been the frequent sightings of the very rare king shag.

This species attracts so many bird watchers to the area and yet very few of us know just how rare this bird really is.

The king shag only exists on a few rocky islands just outside the Marlborough Sounds.

It is found nowhere else in the world and there are only 500-600 of them in total.

They have an incredible diving ability and reach depths of up to 50m in search of their favourite food, a small bony flatfish called a witch.

Lucky for us they can be found feeding and roosting in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound most days so its with great excitement we are able to show guests this very special bird.

Shags in general don't necessarily interest everyone and many locals are often confused with the much more common species, the pied shag which looks very similar to the king shag.

The pied shag can be found in marinas and the inner sounds.

It is a regular sight and although it is a beautiful bird, it is often overlooked.

The same can happen when travelling in the outer sounds.

What is seen as another one of those shags from the harbour is most likely one of the rarest birds in the world.

Have you seen it? King shags are larger, have pink feet and a white wing bar.

Tell any avid bird watcher you have seen a king shag and they will be impressed.

All in all its a beautiful time of year to get out and enjoy our stunning backyard.

Whether you're a bird watcher, dolphin enthusiast, fisher or walker, this incredible area is here for us all to enjoy.

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The Marlborough Express