2015 started much the same way as the previous 5 years.
In a tent, pitched in a holiday park , feeling very tired from being unable to sleep all night due to loud party revelers.
This year we were camped at Miranda Holiday Park in the Hauraki Gulf just down the road from the Miranda wildlife refuge.
Having spent the last 2 days of 2014 crawling around in the mud and slush out in the mangroves, we had run out of time and had to push up country, as we had promised ourselves the treat of revisiting and shooting white fronted terns at Maori Bay.
Maori Bay is north of Auckland tucked in right beside the Gannet colony at Muriwai.
It has to be one of my favorite places
If you hunch yourself down on the sand the birds begin to ignore you and the action is almost within arm’s reach. This little bay with its beach is so special to me that I will dedicate an entire article on this patch of paradise later on this year.
The bird activity keeps one in a constant frenzy of activity.
The game is between the red billed seagulls and the white fronted terns, the prize, the fish that the parents return with to feed their young.
As the parent birds land to feed their young, the redbills are onto them, trying to steal the fish.
The chase is on , when a young receives a fish they can’t immediately swallow, the gulls attack the bird forcing it into the air where the chase commences.
This young bird has no chance of swallowing this fish and now must face the wrath of the red bills
Now the chase is on
We have seen the young birds killed and others paralyzed left to drown in the sea by the Red Bills hammering into the young terns in an attempt to knock the fish out of the birds bill, such is the cruelty of nature.
Maori Bay, as the sun chases the sea fog away, the birds are already gathering to start their daily activities.
A adult skids to a halt in the sand , her baby just out of the frame is waiting for the transfer.
While we were at Muriwai I got a chance at photographing a LIFER (this is a birding term for the first time you see a new bird species ) in this case it was a Brown Booby , yet another highlight for 2015, we named him Bobby the Brown Booby.
We plan our annual road trip each year to find and photograph birds we can’t encounter close to home, this trip it was to be kokako and Yellow Fronted Parakeets or kākāriki and our unicorn, the Spotless Crake
kākāriki or New Zealand Parakeet
On the mainland we have 2 species of Parakeets or kākāriki
Red Fronted and Yellow Fronted.
I have quite a few photos of red fronted and desperately wanted yellow ones, however also I wanted photos of red fronted without the aid of a flash as all my images of red fronted were in heavy dark bush so later on the challenge was to get more natural images of the red fronted variety.
From Muriwai we made south to Pureora Forest for long tailed cuckoos, kokako and Yellow Fronted kākāriki
We had fun as per normal with the longtails as they are always a challenge but I have many long tail photos, the result of 2 years of being addicted to chasing them.
Anyway after 2 days of very mediocre photos of the yellow demons in the early light of a dismal overcast mornings, I finally got some decent photos of my yellow fronted bird.
Seeing the bird is not the same deal as photographing the bird. Lol
These birds feed on the run, never stopping long, in the words of Vinnie from lock, stock and two smoking barrels it was emotional.
I managed to get a poor shot of a kokako so I haven’t really ticked that off the list and we tried again in December this year still striking out.
At first light the kākāriki come out of the tall Rimu forests where they roost each night and feed their way out into the large areas of cut over that is covered in broom during the day.
We set up to intercept them each morning on their way out to feed, many birds fly past over head but every now and again a bird will land on a feed tree and the idea is to be close to one when it happens .
The yellow fronted kākāriki
I was stoked with this bird
Later on in 2015 I managed to get my red fronted kākāriki without the flash.
The next bird on the list was one we had tried to get many a time, one that very few people know even exists, the spotless crake or pūweto. I call this bird the unicorn, sometimes Im sure its nothing more than a legend lol
The spotless crake is a very secretive bird about the same size as a Starling.
The bird looks much like a miniature pūkeko with a call that would be more suited to a terrifying monster.
this is the only call I can find and does not do the bird justice
When wound up the bird sounds like it could devour a elephant lol
Anyway after so many attempts with this bird it happened on our final day on the final hour of our trip away 2014-15.
Right on dark I got my chance when one came out of the raupo giving me a fleeting chance to trip the shutter while trying frantically to focus on the bird through the reeds.
Next on the list came early spring in the form of a pair of nesting kārearea the New Zealand Bush Falcon on a hill right in the heart of Wellington city.
What a buzz it was spending time with these amazing birds.
Fearless to a fault really, they took great pleasure in drawing blood from my scalp time and time and again bruising the top of my head, I learnt that they make fists out of their claws and they bashed them on my head on so many times that on those first 2 occasions for the preceding week I would not comb my hair because my head hurt too much.
They kill little birds in the air by doing the same thing; they smash the bird and clutch it in mid-air.
These birds have an endless source of food and can kill at will.
The male is the short range missile, staying close to the nest checking on the nest every 10 minutes or so never going far from the nest he makes immediate close range attacks on intruders turning in mid air to make endless passes back and forth relentless if given enough provocation. I learnt very quickly where that threshold was lol
the male bird
The Female being a third lager than the truly explosive male, darker in plumage having almost a dark mask on her face was the long range attacker.
the male is the very explosive short range missile
They coordinate attacks at times with the female coming in full noise right behind the male , most unnerving and not pleasant but being the type of person I am I put up with the pain of these attacks just to be with the birds. The female hits with twice the force of the male being much faster but just as accurate coming in full noise from much further out, in this case high up in the pines where she spends most of her time when not hunting . An experience I will never forget.
Eventually I got my head gear sorted out so they couldn’t rip my hats off exposing my head.
Eventually they got used to me and became very relaxed around me.
If I sat down calmly the male whose job was, to keep an eye on me would land within 2 meters of me and carry on his self-maintenance program, preening, cleaning his claws and basically soaking up the spring sun but always keeping an eye on the nest up the hill behind me.
I think out of a sense of duty he would launch a half hearted attack every now and again switching back to land on a branch close to me to keep his eye on me.
I used to talk to him and he would watch wide eyes, unblinking, daring me to start something.
I got some wonderful shots of those birds and we got to see them raise their 3 chicks until they left the nest and moved down the hill into really thick cover where we could not go.
I never got shots of them feeding their chicks as to do so would mean being too close to the nest and the birds would have really got upset, as it was the nest was right beside a popular walking track, the locals all had their pine tree branches stashed at both ends of the attack zone , it was fun to watch them move quickly through that patch while being dive bombed lol
I learned to time my duck very well, as to fail to do so would lead to more cranial bruising.
if you look closely you can see me trying to lie flat as the bird zooms over head.
pīpīwharauroa the shining cuckoo
My next highlight happened on Boxing day at the southern end of Lake Taupo , it thrilled my heart as well.
The pīpīwharauroa or shining cuckoo has eluded me more times than I care to admit.
I’ve had my chances I have to admit, but cacophonies of mistakes amid the moments of shear panic snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a few times lol
Not really but all my encounters with these birds were in appalling conditions.
Steve and I were photographing fern birds when I could hear a shining cuckoo calling in the distance.
I choose to ignore it as it sounded a long way off; Steve gave me a verbal nudge abd I acknowledged that I had heard the thing.
Having been a hunter since I was very young lad, ive become quite deaf in my right ear.
Turning my head in the opposite direction the game changed considerably, what I though was a bird in the distance now became a bird in the tree 20 feet away.
Action stations and soon we found not one but two birds courting in a willow tree, the larger female took off as soon as we got a clear look at them but then the unbelievable happened, the male all worked up over the female no doubt flew past us and landed of all places on a toi toi completely out in the open .
Then began the assassins walk, a technique I use when trying to get as close as I can to birds when they can see me.
Keeping the camera up and looking through the view finder you take 2 steps click off 2 shots then move in another 2-3 steps and take another two shots, the camera must remain up covering your face aimed directly at the bird at all times.
I walked in like a assault combat solider, movement’s smooth, clickerty click went my camera as I glided ever closer , eventually the bird flew but not before I nailed the little mutha.
What a way to finish the year.
Steve and I were in high spirits indeed as we made our way south boxing day 2015 back home to Tammy.
This trip was for no lady, very much being full on, up before daybreak in bed late eat when you can , I think I had a sausage wrapped in a piece of bread 3 nights in a row , not a trip for a lady like her to endure.
If you aren’t tired, wet, dirty, covered in mud you aren’t no kind of wildlife photographer.
This photo sums up the awesome weather we had for four days , returning home on the only sunny day of the trip.
Im really looking forward to this year and what it might bring.
it didnt rain every day
an angry mātātā or Fern bird fern bird to finish the year off