Once a year Steve and I plan and a trip away, with something special and specific in mind.
Most years we target certain birds that we have on our “TROPHY LIST”, some of which have eluded us many times on our previous trips.
Hope springs eternal though and after all It wouldn’t be much of a trophy list if the birds were easy to get would it?
So each year we set out determined to knock the top of the list off.
As Steve nor I have family commitments for Christmas the plan was that we would hit the road on the 22nd of December.
The over all trophy list grows smaller each year and those harder to get birds, get crammed up the top of said list, to sit there to taunt and poke fun at us.
At the very top of the list is a set of three birds that belong to the Rallidae family.
The Rallidae family, consists of Rails, Crakes and Coots.
In this country, on the mainland, we have the following that belong in this classification.
Banded rail or moho-pererū in maori
Marsh crake – koitareke
Purple swamp hen – pūkeko
Spotless crake – puweto
Maori woodhen or weka
At the very pinnacle of our trophy list sits the koitareke or Marsh Crake, a tiny, very secretive bird that lives in swamps throughout New Zealand in small family units.
This bird is so hard to find that we have never known really where to start.
These birds as do most Crakes move around as the environmental conditions change.
We did not expect to get this bird ticked off the list anytime soon because of its difficulty in locating a family of them.
We had never seen one or even heard them call to date.
Next down the list was the Spotless Crake or puweto, another small, secretive, swamp dwelling bird about the same size as a House Sparrow.
I was on the board with this bird, but the one shot I had was not up to my standard’s and taunted me no end , each time I looked at it, Steve on the other hand had a few good shots of immature birds, but no adults thus far.
But the good news was that we were getting on to them Spotless Crake critters and had learnt a lot about the bird as we had been targeting them locally with limited success.
Both of these Crake species are semi nomadic and can move to a new area overnight due to the ease of the acquisition of food and good dry protection from predators ,mainly from over head
There one day, gone the next, maybe to return next year, maybe not.
Who knows what goes on in a little Crakes mind?
Next of great importance was the banded Rail or moho-pererū.
We had friends up north I had made through my Face Book group that could help us out there, as they had some in their local area that were fairly reliable to get shots of.
Not having any of these Banded Rails down our way, we had not notched up any real serious time under our belts hunting these birds, so we had accepted the invitation to stay with these wonderful peoples.
One of the reasons I started my group on face book is to network people together and its working, people from all over New Zealand in the group are meeting up with each other and sharing information.
Might start a dating site one day lol.
Anyway I was super excited at the prospect of getting a chance to photograph the Banded Rail for the first time. They are glorious birds and being a colour freak I am mesmerised by them.
As for the other birds on the Rallidae list , we had them nailed long ago, so the Marsh and Spotless Crakes along with the Banded Rail was to be the BIG 3 of our trip.
We intended to end our trip as has become our custom, with yet another go at our beloved long tail cuckoos or koekoeā on the way home at the end of our trip north.
Sometimes things just go your way.
As we prepared for our trip, (Steve is more the map look-er-over-rer and researcher, Im more the public relations officer that deals with human contacts, organising meet ups and such because I like to talk heaps), word came through the national network of bird watchers just 3 days before we our trip was planned to start, that a family of Marsh Crakes was spotted by some very keen and reliable bird watchers.
That was a long sentence, you can take a big breath now lol.
The Marsh Crakes were not on our intended route north being on the other side of the North Island, but we quickly made changes to our travel schedule like excited monkeys, planned our tactical assault and lost the ability to sleep the last few nights before our departure.
But the 22nd of December came eventually.
Having not been to Napier for a few years it was great watching the road slip away under the tires of the Toyota, knowing that we would soon be revisiting a favourite hunting ground that holds such exciting memories for both of us.
Marsh Crakes here we come.
Steve had us booked into a caravan park 10 minutes from where the crakes had been sighted so I hurried to pitch my little tent, Steve gets to sleep in relative comfort and luxury on a mattress in the back of the wagon while I get to sleep in my little tent everywhere we go …I cant really complain , I have a stretcher and Im really quite comfy .
With the tent up, all the stuff stashed away, we were off for our first encounter with the Marsh Crakes.
As we approached the spot where the Crakes had been reported, a major problem became glaringly apparent.
The afternoon sun was in the wrong place for our subjects shining directly at us and down the barrels of our lenses and it would be impossible to get the sun at our backs. Shooting directly in to the sun is a big no, no and leads to abysmal images normally, but there was no choice for us.
As we approached the spot where these tiny, tiny, birds, were using as their temporary home, we saw our first Crake.
Unbelievably small, they busily darted out of the cover, into the open, onto the sticky mud, sucking up insects and small worms and darting back into the safety of the sedges’ again.
I was not prepared for just how small they were and how quick they darted back and forth.
I was going to be on my game that was for sure.
We had given ourselves 2 full days with these birds, so there was no hurry for now, now that we had found them and with the sun not being in the right position.
I took a few shots of the little blighters just in case anything went sideways like the weather in the next few days and then went off to shoot some waders along the water edge out yonder where I could get the sun in the desired position.
Once I had the sun at my back I began clicking the shutter
A Pectoral sandpiper dancing on the water
Pied Stilts were dancing in the late afternoon sun
The sweet taste of success.
We figured next morning, the sun would be perfectly placed for us and our subjects and thus it was so.
430.am arrived on time and I kicked myself out of bed , well stretcher and staggered to the communal kitchen, chucked hot water in the flask along with the desired amount of coffee and milk and did the morning (old man ritual) of taking a selection of pills for various ailments, and others just for good luck.
Old age sucks but Ive had good use out of this body so I don’t have too much to complain about.
The sun rose where it was suppose to and as we made our way to our little spot we found our little friends were already hard at work converting insects into energy and it was full on for the next 3 hours.
The sun was exactly in the right place this time and red eyes of the birds were really showing as well as the light being soft enough to show off the fine feather detail.
I had plenty of room to get down low to the ground and shoot along the top of the water and shoot the birds at their head level, this is the best profile to go for most subjects , so if you are not down low, covered in mud and wet, then you aint no kind of wild life photographer lol.
Right off the bat the birds were too busy feeding to pay us much mind and just so long as we stayed pretty still they got on with it .
my opening shot
As you can see here in this image, being so small and secretive spotting these birds without knowing exactly where they are living would be a difficult task.
They dont stay out in the open for very long before scurrying back into the safety of cover
Three hours later when the sun became too high in the sky and the light once again became too harsh it was time to go find something else to photograph.
The best time for great photographs of birds is 1-3 hours after sunrise and 2 hours on wards before sunset.
To say we were very pleased would be an understatement.
As it happened, we were to get that evening with the birds and that was that because the weather spat the dummy and rained and flooded the whole place, however the sun was over cast that last evening and we got another spectacular session with these birds. No glaring sunlight this time.
Without the glaring light that evening, we got some great images.
Yummy yummy food for my tummy
We were very lucky as with the place being flooded the next day and the mud being covered in water, the birds remained hidden in the sedges where they could stay dry and moved on to better pastures within days of us having our little feast of them. We had just got there in time.
Time to move on.
With the rain pelting down we left the Hawkes Bay area and Napier behind us in a cloud of watery spray and headed cross country to Taupo and then south to Turangi .
The idea was to spend Christmas in the area before heading to the Whangaparāoa Peninsula to rendezvous with Donald and the Banded Rails, day after boxing day.
Our trips are full on, no days off, long days and short nights.
There are few places I enjoy more than being on the old wharf at Tokaanu just out side of the little township of Turangi at the southern end of Lake taupo.
The southern end of Lake Taupo
The old Tokaanu Wharf Lake Taupo
Heaps of birds trade back and forth above this old wharf
I have spent many an enjoyable hour striding up and down the wharf, trying hard to get sharp focused shots of flying grey teal, pāpango or other wise known as the New Zealand scaup ) which I had failed at doing up until this year.
These pāpango are the real speedsters of the Duck and Teal world, they fly low and very fast.
From the wharf you can get heaps of opportunities at them as they fly up and down the lake.
At last I have a flying shot of a pāpango that I can be proud of
Other birds I managed to capture from the wharf
The Karate Coot
and this Little Black Shag.
So after 2 days of chasing Teal, Bitterns, Spotless Crake, we had some pretty good shots of the papango, but not of the others and it was time to push north past Auckland and meet up with Donald and Anna on the great Crake Quest lol
Join me for Part 2 in a few weeks time and bless you peoples heaps ❤