Part 2 of the great Crake quest.
I apologise up front for the length of these posts, Im determined to cover at least ONE Christmas trip in its entirety and I did not want it to go on for four parts.
Day 1 , Shakespear Park, whangaparāoa peninsula
Boxing day dawned cold and windy at the southern end of lake Taupo.
A short sortie out to the old wharf at Tokaanu and it was back into the warmth of the wagon and our 2 heroes were headed north to the whangaparāoa peninsula, just north of Auckland.
The plan was to meet up with two members of our , facebook group, NZ bird image, Donald Snook and his often side kick/ assistant Anna Arrol, the next day.
The eastern side of lake Taupo whizzed past as we pushed the Toyota into the stiff northerly wind and we chattered like a couple of excited chipmunks, as already, this trip had far exceeded our expectations and now we were excited about what may lie ahead of us yet.
Mid afternoon found us at one of our much anticipated points of interest for the trip.
Earlier in the year a Black Kite, a Hawk like raptor and native of Australia 2,5800 kilometres away across the Tasman sea, had been spotted in the area.
Since bird sighting records began in this country only 7 of these birds have been reported, having been blown over here by strong trans-Tasman winds and this bird had been seen often enough trading up and down a particular road we had great hopes of seeing and photographing this bird.
So up that road we went, slowly, eyes scanning the vast sky , then right at the very end of the road we spotted it circling a distant 300 meters away, practically a dot in the sky but easily identified through my binoculars by its shape, esp its tail.
Nothing was going to bring that bird our way, so we begrudgingly made tracks for Auckland, the city of insanity and beyond, comforting each other that we had at least seen the celebrity bird.
By the time we hit whangaparāoa and on down to Shakespear Park at the end of the peninsula it was Late afternoon , still we had enough time for a quick look around.
That first night Steve and I decided to stake out a likely looking spot for a Banded Rail, we opted to use the wagon as a blind.
We had asked about Spotless Crake in the area and been told that no one had seen one for years, well that was about to change big time.
I was perched on the off side passenger’s seat looking over Steve’s shoulder out through the open window, my gaze fixed on a small muddy pond where we both felt a Banded Rail was likely to visit before dark when I sensed more than saw Steve’s body go stiff as he hissed that he had just seen a Spoltess Crake race out of cover and race back in just below my line of sight.
We waited , an hour passed , we waited some more, the light was almost gone so I went for a sneak around the marshes and spotted my first Banded Rail and managed to get a shot , it wasn’t the best of shots, being a bit far away but I was on the board.
My First Banded Rail image.
Up and back through the cover along the side of the road I went but I was constantly being dogged by two adult Pied Stilts who had an almost grown baby to protect, this made it very hard in the sneaking department so I made my way back to see if Steve had seen his mystical Crake again.
poaka the very, very loud mouthed and annoying pied stilt, made my Rail stalking a nightmare.
The reason for all the noise, a baby poaka tucked away behind some mangrove bushes and no doubt it too, will grow into an adult loud mouthed poaka just like its parents.
Steve although not having seen the Crake again, he was adamant that he had indeed seen a Crake, there was no mistaking it for anything other than a Spotless Crake.
These birds are tiny and well you know the cover is thick and when your looking hard over a length of time and a bird not much bigger than a sparrow scuttles through…well you know, Steve’s sanity was being called into question.
But no, Steve stuck to his guns, it was a Crake and hell or high water he was going to prove it lol.
For three nights Steve was on the stake out and in the last hour of our last night he finally saw the Crake again and got a shot of its backside as it scooted back into cover. Steve bathed in his success and I had to cancel his appointment with the Looney bin.
Day 2 Shakespear Park, whangaparāoa peninsula
Our plan was to rendezvous with Donald at the gates of Shakespear Park at 630am , giving us just about enough light to photograph the Banded Rail .
This bird had now become NO 1, on my most desperately wanted list and sleep did not come easy as we had not been able to find anywhere safe for me to sleep outside the wagon so we settled for the front seats of the wagon.
Donald arrived bang on time and we clambered aboard his van with the side door open, it felt like the beginning of the movie Predator but without the chewing tobacco, the red flashing light and long tall sally blasting away in the background, we were certainly on a mission lol
We snuck around that park for one and a half hours and not a Banded Rail or a Predator did we see.
Don being the ever enthusiastic guide took us over the hill to the sea shore on the other side of peninsula where we found wonderful opportunities of shooting all sorts of shore birds except the Banded blasted Rail.
On the way over to the other side of the peninsular we spied a number of Brown Quail.
These birds were introduced here in New Zealand in the 1800s as a game bird.
Once upon a time I loved hunting these birds over my pointing dogs.
The Brown Quail
Walking up the beach Our first encounter on the beach was this pair of variable torea-pango or baby oystercatchers that were perfectly camouflaged among the rocks .
Do you think they can see us lol
Next up was Mr New Zealand Dotterel or tūturiwhatu guarding his nest in the sand behind him.
Even young New Zealand Dotterels are well camouflaged when not running around in the open.
Further along the beach we met some more Oystercatchers with more mature young.
I dont think these birds are on the level.
After a cup of coffee , Anna our second guide for the day turned up and we all walked through the forested part of the park.
Much work has been put into this park and it showed, the bird life was prolific as the war on ground dwelling pests is being won.
First up in the bush was the native bush pigeon the kereru.
We saw Bush Robin, Saddleback , Grey Warbler in good numbers and a hour later we retired back to the wagon for lunch and a quick snooze.
Evening rolled around and it was back into the search for what up to this time was the elusive Banded Rail.
Steve went back to his Crake quest and I stalked the edges of the swamps among the sedges and tussocks and finally I scored a decent shot.
The sun had disappeared but there was still enough light for the 1DX to do its thing at ISO1600.
Another chance soon followed, I was on a roll .
Banded Rail or moho pererū, number 3 for the trip was on the memory card.
Soon it was too dark to take photos so I joined Steve in the wagon and once again I was subjected to Steve trying to convince me that there were Spotless Crakes in the park.
His claim was starting to attract some attention as Donald spread the news among the local bird fans of a possible Crake spotted in the park.
Day 3, tawharanui Regional Park and waipu, Northland
Day 3, started at whangaparāoa, where I once again hunted for the banded Rail as soon as there was enough light and Steve was on stake out once again .
I manged to get my first pretty much out in the open images of a Banded Rail when one stepped out from behind some rushes and failed to see me .
At last one brave enough to come out into the open and give me a decent look at him.
On the way back I got some more shots and all was well with the world .
Steve had not seen the Crake again, but did get a visit from a Rail and had some very nice images to show for his patience .
Steve and I had decided we needed to visit tawharanui Regional Park north of Auckland .
Donald and another member of the Face Book group, Oscar were to guide us and they travelled up in Dons van, Steve and I were in the wagon as they had return early for work commitments, while Steve and I had plans to push further north to waipu to check out the Fairy Terns , so we had ourselves a convoy.
tawharanui Regional Park has been managed for bird life for a number of years now and it shows.
Bush birds are there in great numbers, in fact I would class this park as a must see place for anyone interested in birds.
The park has open coastal areas , heavy bush and swampland to explore by using any of the gazillion walking tracks available to the public.
The place is a real gem and first thing that became apparent was the massive number of Brown Teal or patake.
They inhabited all the areas from dense bush sides creeks to open coastal areas and every where in between.
Ive never seen even close to the number of patake there.
patake the Brown Teal.
Pairs of Brown Teal were all over the place
Unfortunately the landscape photos of this part of the trip were taken on my 5D mrk11 which was stolen the next day so I am unable to share with you peoples just how fantastic this park is.
Mrs Tui was having a bit of a singsong to anyone willing to listen .
Later on in the day we travelled north to Waipu to try and photograph the rare Fairy Tern The Fairy tern is considered vulnerable but the subspecies that breeds in New Zealand only, are classified as critically endangered but thanks to a dedicated team of people protecting them , their future looks tentatively promising .
Weather was drizzly and the light was soft , my favourite conditions.
Beautiful soft light made it ideal to capture some New Zealand Dotterels in the cover off the beach.
Soft light, soft rain, soft coloured birds and soft cover, just lovely.
Subdued colours of the cover match the colour of the birds.
Oyster Catches were also nesting in the cover , we were approached by one particular menacing one , so we backed off and went on our way.
Ruddy Turnstones were feasting on shell fish
I found a New Zealand Dot with crabs
Meantime we were being constantly buzzed by Oystercatches
We returning to the car resigned to not seeing our Fairy Tern when one landed 200 meters way and the long stalk in over completely barren ground began ending with a long shot, we were wet and the bird flew away with purpose so we continued to the car and back to my beloved Banded Rails.
One Fairy Tern and this was as close as I got .
We got back to Shakespear Park just in time for Steve to return to his stake out, while I tried to sneak around the place.
That evening Steve got his Crake shot, redeemed him self and caused a great deal of excitement among the natives as now he had proof that the park held Spotless Crakes.
I have to say I never doubted him for a second 😛
Day 4, Whangamarino Wetlands, Waikato
I got a few more shots of the Rails that night and Tony was a happiness filled .
We were off for Miranda in Thames today but first we spent the morning hunting Rails yet again.
While hunting for the Banded Rail with Don, I saw what looked like a great little spot for Spotless Crake, I mentioned this to Don and then thought nothing more of it.
Little did I know the place was going to become the Crake Arena, but more on that later in part 3 of the great Crake quest.
I got another Rail Shot that I was very pleased with, sorry last one I promise lol
Mr kotare let me get pretty close to him so click went the camera and we were on our way south.
This has to be one of the most colourful kingfishers I have seen to date.
The day was warm and slightly over cast and we were on the way, heading south again, I was feeling so relaxed, I had my Marsh Crakes and Banded Rails in the can, life was good.
Whangamarino Wetlands, Waikato and Miranda wildlife sanctuary ,Thames
Whangamarino Wetlands here we come and another chance at Spotless Crakes and perhaps a Bittern.
Rumour has it that about 70% of the bitterns in New Zealand breed in this huge swamp, one would be forgiven for expecting to see at least some of them, but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO lol
Last time we had visited the Whangamarino Wetlands it was stinking hot and we walked for mile after fruitless mile, this time it was a lot cooler but I guess I gave into residual memories left from our last expedition deep into the heart of the huge swamp and lacked the enthusiasm I should have had.
We had walked a good many mile without sighting a single Crake although we did hear a few and we were almost back to the car , in fact in sight of the car 50 meters away and I was tired and a little hungry , pointing right, Steve said lets go down this side road and have a last go.
I looked at the crappy cover and then back at the wagon and said those words one learns to regret, Im going back to have lunch, you go on and have a look see.
This is how it goes.
I just knew what was going to happen, it was eating away at me while I ate away at my tomatoes sammies .
Steve did very well hiding his excitement as he casually saunters up to the wagon while I was on my seat outside enjoying my lunch.
He swung the camera in front of my face and showed me the back , there on the screen was a wonderful picture of a Spotless Crake, He got about 8 of certainly the best images I have seen of a Spotless Crake, it had walked out, right in front of him.
I was no longer feeling relaxed lol
I was however, really pleased for him and we celebrated with a few hand shakes and back patting and I had learnt a very important lesson, never ever, ever, give up.
We had lunch then went back to look at where Steve had seen the bird and just as he was reliving his experience and showing me where it appeared from, it did it again and we got more shots at it.
Clikerty click, click, click, then silence as the bird went out of sight.
Miranda wildlife sanctuary ,Thames
Well there is not much about this part of the trip that I haven’t already expressed here.
All my camera gear got stolen in the car park while we were out in the field.
The windows were smashed and the next morning we made a dash for home to get the wagon fixed.
Steve’s parting words that night as he dropped me off at home was we aint letting those thieving B!£$tQ&^DS wreck out trip and as soon as the wagon was fixed we went back up north for part 3 and our destiny at the Crake arena .
This is why people flock to Miranda
Birds, birds and more birds ❤