Falconing around in Central Otago

Falconing around in Central Otago The Great Southern Rock Wren Trip –  part 6

After our exciting trip through the Nevis valley with the sun beating down on us the day before, it was quite a shock to wake to a very cold and bleak day the next morning.
Today we had plans to hunt for a pair of famous kārearea or the New Zealand bush falcons that frequent the Poolburn area. The first and only time I had been up there previously the road had been closed because of snow, so was unable to reach the top, but I saw 3 kārearea from the wagon that day lower down.

This time, my second attempt to get to the dam up the top there was no snow, so up the wagon climbed to the top of the hills we went, looking for bush falcons except there was no bush and no Falcons.
These birds live completely out in the open in central Otago region which was very novel for us as our North Island birds never seem to stray far from the bush. As we climbed higher up the road the temperature plummeted.

We scanned the large rock formations each side of the road searching for the classic and distinctive telltale silhouette of the kārearea against the steel grey sky.

A perfect rock for a karearea to sit atop on the lookout for prey except there weren’t no kārearea. There is something starwarsy about this rock.

We reached the dam having seen nothing but Rabbits, tons and tons of Rabbits.

I have to admit I never expected the scene that confronted me when we topped the last rise, to see a dam the size of a small lake with a variety of small tin cottages sprinkled around the place, it certainly made an impact on me.

The Poolbrun Dam looks almost otherworldly with its tin cottages sprinkled around the landscape.

We made our way around the dam looking for any kārearea, but they were not cooperating at all so we decided to have a smoko break and then head off towards our final destination for the day Omarama, via Danseys Pass.
Feeling somewhat deflated by not seeing and photographing the Falcons in this spectacular setting we headed off back down the hill. Then for the second time this on this trip, right at the last possible moment, Steve’s eagle eyes spotted the very birds we were after.  How he saw that lone Falcon, a tiny silhouette 300 meters away is beyond me, but yes it was confirmed through the binoculars, it was a kārearea.

I wondered how confiding this bird would be as we made our way past huge rocks towards the lone bird.

50 meters out I took my first shot just in case the bird flew off, at least I would have what I call a memory shot, something to at least remember the occasion.

25 meters out and closing, the bird was filling a third of the viewfinder and I now had some images that I could print.
Calmly we slipped closer and closer making no sudden or jerky movements, the bird was still relaxed.

Now I started to get the shots I wanted. The bird was relaxed and so were we.

Then out of the blue, a female flew in over our heads from behind and landed on the ground right in front of us and started fossicking around in the tussock.

It took a while to figure out that this bird was hunting for small rodents and Lizards.

This is why I love bird photography, one minute I was in despair and the next experiencing something truly wonderful. The bird hunted hopped and strode along the ground in front of us lifting up sheep droppings, it appeared to be  looking for lizards.

With claws not suited to turning over sheep poos it was quite amusing watching such a graceful bird getting the poos stuck on its sharp talons and having to shake it lose in a strange and anything but graceful dance.

What a blessing it was just being there with the birds so close, doing their own thing.

This is definitely one of the highlights of my bird photography career.

There were rabbits everywhere but the Falcons ignored them, focusing on smaller prey and slowly they worked the area with us trialling along behind them.

The country may have been semi-open but those birds flew at incredibly high-speed, maneuvering between the high rocks like jet fighters on steroids.

If I never get back there I will still sleep peacefully knowing I had shared some amazing moments with these birds.

All too soon it was time to move on so we floated back to the wagon talking about coming back when the snow would make for some truly spectacular images.
That is on the to-do list now.

Having our fill of the Poolburn kārearea, Danseys Pass began to beckon us and with the clouds darkening the sky we scooted across the Central Otago landscape, adrenaline still coursing through our veins.

A relic of times past, a lonely Rabbiters hut in the Ida Valley.

Danseys Pass was a red line on the map for me, that means it was my first visit, a place I had never been before. Having spent the last 12 years roaming the South Island with a camera there are not a lot of large areas left that I have not poked my nose into.

Danseys Pass joins Central Otago with South Canterbury.

Being highland tussock, the views can be spectacular and warm in fine weather, or bleak, cold and lonely. The latter proved to be the case.

Bleak and lonely but see that light in the distance?
that was where we were headed.

Steve gets to work with the 5DSR

Once through the pass, the open basin of South Canterbury awaited us and my most favourite Valley the Ahuriri. The Sun was breaking through, the afternoon was wearing on and the magic hour was coming. Yes, sir things were looking good for a great night in my happy place.


4 thoughts on “Falconing around in Central Otago

  1. perdebytjie

    I am so excited for you to have seen these beautiful falcons, Tony! Wonderful shots! It is a pity not many people visit your blog, because you have wonderful stories and photo’s to share. I enjoyed this very much, thank you.


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