Lake of the Blag Shags: A Few Faces From Whanganui’s Virginia Lake

If you are ever in Whanganui (North Island, New Zealand), make sure you take a wander around Virginia Lake. We headed out there for a walk a few weeks ago and took some snaps of the birdlife we saw. We’ll share those photos with you in today’s post along with a few key facts.


The Lake of the Black Shags

Virginia Lake, also called Rotokawau (meaning ‘the lake of the black shags’), is approximately 4.5 hectares in size. It is located about one kilometre north of Whanganui City and is surrounded by residential houses.

The lake was formed by a natural hollow between sand dunes, in which the water is now contained. It is one of the largest natural hollows which has no natural outlet, and is relatively deep.

It was firstly known as Rotokawau (roto = lake and kawau = shag/black shag), as the black shags were said to prefer its waters. Indeed, we saw a couple of shag species there on our visit which are pictured below.


Little Black Shag (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Phalacrocorax sulcirostris [LITTLE BLACK SHAG] Virginia Lake, New Zealand 03-12-2017 (3)
Little Black Shag (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: Little black cormorant, kawau tūi, kawau tui
Fun Fact: They are the only New Zealand shag species that routinely forages cooperatively in flocks.


Little Shag (Microcarbo melanoleucos brevirostris)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: White-throated shag, little pied shag, little cormorant, little pied cormorant, kawau paka
Fun Fact: They are the most widely distributed shag species in New Zealand, found in both marine and freshwater habitats, on the coast as well as on inland lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.


Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: Tētē moroiti, tētē, tete moroiti, tete, gray teal
Fun Fact: The grey teal was self-introduced to New Zealand from Australia. The last major influx happened in 1957 when large numbers fled Australia, moving to New Zealand to escape drought.


New Zealand Scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae)

Aythya novaeseelandiae [NEW ZEALAND SCAUP ♂] Virginia Lake, New Zealand 05-11-2017 (7)
A male New Zealand Scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae)

Click to zoom in

Aythya novaeseelandiae [NEW ZEALAND SCAUP ♀] Virginia Lake, New Zealand 05-11-2017 (5)
A Female New Zealand Scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae) with her chicks

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Endemic (found only in NZ)
Also Known As: Black teal, pāpango, papango, matapouri, titiporangi, raipo
Fun Fact: They are sometimes seen with the Australian coot (pictured below). It is thought that they take advantage of the food stirred up by the coots as they fossick for shrimp.


Australian Coot (Fulica atra australis)

Fulica atra australis [AUSTRALIAN COOT] Virginia Lake, New Zealand 05-11-2017 (4)
An Australian coot feeding its chicks

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: Australasian coot
Fun Fact: Coots are related to gallinules – the branch of the rail family that includes pūkeko and takahē. They are a recent self-introduction to New Zealand, first recorded breeding here in 1958. Their colonisation partially fills the niche left vacant by the extinction of the New Zealand coot (Fulica prisca), which was widespread before the arrival of Māori.


Pūkeko (Porphyrio melanotus)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: Pukeko, purple swamphen
Fun Fact: They are known for their bold scheming and determination. In the past, they raided gardens for kūmara (sweet potato) and taro. This led to the Māori metaphor ‘taringa pākura’ meaning ‘pūkeko ears’ which compares a stubborn, annoying person to the bird.


Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Native
Also Known As: Kakīānau, kakianau
Fun Fact:  Although native to Australia and New Zealand, black swans were introduced to various countries as an ornamental bird in the 1800s. Some of these have escaped and formed stable populations.

For UK readers of our blog, if you pass any of these places you might even see some for yourself: The River Thames at Marlow, near the River Itchen in Hampshire, and the River Tees near Stockton on Tees. There is also a colony of black swans in Dawlish, Devon that has become so well associated with the town that the bird has been the town’s emblem for forty years! Between 2003-2004, it was estimated that there were 43 feral black swans in the UK.


Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

Click to zoom in

New Zealand Status: Introduced
Also Known As: Feral goose, domestic goose, kuihi, graylag goose, wild goose
Fun Fact: The greylag goose was one of the first animals to be domesticated in the world. This happened at least 3000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. The greylag geese seen in the wild throughout New Zealand probably originated from stray farmyard geese.


A Few Final Faces

Click to zoom in


It goes to show that you don’t have to wander too far off the beaten track to see some interesting species! There were many more that we didn’t get the chance to photograph, so a return visit is in order.


References and Further Reading

New Zealand Birds Online – http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/
(Retrieved 26 January, 2018)

Visit Whanganui Website – Virginia Lake Whanganui: One of Whanganui’s Premier Parks – http://www.visitwhanganui.nz/virginia-lake-whanganui/
(Retrieved 26 January, 2018)

Visit Whanganui Website – Walk Around Virginia Lake by Deb Alexander – http://www.visitwhanganui.nz/take-walk-virginia-lake/
(Retrieved 26 January, 2018)

Whanganui District Council – Virginia Lake Reserve Management Plan – Vision, Objectives and Policies (PDF Document, November 2009) – http://www.whanganui.govt.nz/our-council/publications/plans/Documents/VirginiaLakeReserveManagementPlan.pdf

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Graham says:

    You learn something new every day! I assumed the coot was a European import…I shall have to see what makes them different. I love the idea of self-introduction…especially when you think that we humans “discovered” New Zealand…I suspect not somehow…😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Graham says:

      Seems the local coot is a subspecies of the Eurasian one according to http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz. Interesting…it doesn’t say how they differ though. Darn it! Curse this modern internet and its lack of facts! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Graham🙂.

        Yes, self-introduction is pretty cool! It’s no mean feat either, with NZ being so far out.

        I imagine that there aren’t too many differences between the subspecies, and if there are that maybe you can only tell by looking at their genetics… that’s my guess. But, if you do find out, let me know! 🌞

        Thanks for popping by!

        -Emma

        Like

  2. Sounds like a great place to visit! What amazing colour eyes the the little black shag has. Will have to keep a look out for the black swans, thanks for the info.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Helen,

      They do having stunning eyes, don’t they? Such a beautiful jade colour. 💙💚💙

      Good luck for your black swan spotting! Let us know if you see any!

      -Emma

      Like

  3. blhphotoblog says:

    Great pics & variety guys, love the blue eyes on that shag. We have Black Swans on the Norfolk Broads. Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brian!

      That’s awesome that you have black swans on the Norfolk Broads. I didn’t even realise that you had them in the UK until I was doing the research for this post. You’ll have to let us know if you get a photo next time you see them. I’d love to see!

      -Emma

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s