Christmas trip for long tails 2020 Part 2: koekoeā paradise

System reboot and the apology

Last year I was to start the year off with blog posts containing images of birds, stories of adventures and images of New Zealand landscapes.
After my first post of our Christmas trip and promises of more to come, my readers ended up with nothing from me for an entire year.
Once again I failed to follow up with part two of our annual  Chrissie adventure.
I apologise for that but please let me explain.


The excuse

Many will know that Rosie Nixon, now Rosie Nixon Fluerty and I planned for Rosie to settle in New Zealand and we would be married sometime in 2021.
Rosie arrived in early February, but after some soul searching, we decided that I would pull up stakes and move to Northern Ireland and that we would get married and start our new life together there.
But before we left, Rosie wanted to see a bit of New Zealand, mainly the South Island.

So we had a whirlwind tour of the South Island to plan and execute, then when we got home the job of selling all my firearms, hunting and household bibs and bobs. This was to prove no small task.
Writing blogs had to be put on the back burner as we planned our departure for Northern Ireland


bon voyage

We left New Zealand in early July 2021 with only a few clothes, my camera gear and a stack of hard drives which contained my images.
Rosie married me 7 days after we arrived in Newry, a city much the same size as Upper Hutt close to the border between Northern Ireland and the republic.
In December we found ourselves with a new home to furnish and a few fixup jobs to get out of the way before I had a bit more spare time for writing.
Now that I have a bit of free time to start writing again I think the best way to bring us all up to date is to start with a shortened trip report of Steve’s and my 2020-21 Chrissie trip.


 

Pureora Forest Park 2020-21

Having completed the first leg of our post-Christmas trip, we left Turangi behind, heading for the heart of the Pureora Forest Park primarily to photograph koekoeā, or Long-tailed cuckoo. As we were driving through Pureora forest park heading for our campsite, we had our first encounter with a koekoeā.

The bird broke cover and flew directly down the middle of the road in front of us, screeching its head off before veering off and landing a Eucalyptus Tree.

This excitement proved to be too much temptation for these two bird photographers.
Steve stepped gently on the brakes, pulling over to the side of the gravel road. We scrambled out of the wagon with cameras blazing. It was around midday, so the light was very harsh from a photographic point of view. But we got a shot of adrenaline and a few shots of the bird, we were off to a great start.

As per normal this bird has managed to place itself with heaps of foliage between itself and me.

We left the bird in peace and zoomed off down the road towards our camping spot, passing through koekoeā paradise on the way.


koekoeā paradise

koekoeā paradise is a large plateau of clear-fell pine tree blocks lined with tall trees on the outer edges. This setup is perfect for Mr and Mrs koekoeā to speed date, hence the name koekoeā paradise.

koekoeā paradise, our favourite hunting ground for long-tails. This is where Steve and I spent our evenings and mornings driving the edges with windows down listening for the unmistakable screeches of the koekoeā. Once located the stalk in close painstakingly begins.

The smell of summer wafted through the open windows of the wagon as we pulled into our camping spot. Yes siree, we had left the wind behind and we were now in our happy place indeedy.

As we were setting up camp, a local gang of Yellow-crowned parakeet or kākāriki dropped in for a nosey.

kākāriki means green in Maori.

New Zealand has three species of kākāriki, all of which have various colour schemes on their heads. How ever all have a solid green body as a base in which to add their bling.
kākāriki seldom venture out into the open where the light is generous, so this bird was photographed in appalling light which is the norm. The sensor in my 1DX 11 proved able to handle the conditions. A bird photographer has to learn to make the best of the opportunities on offer but having a good camera allows you to make the most of a difficult situation.
Little did I know that Northern Ireland was going to take me to a whole new level when it came to poor light conditions.

As is our habit, we spent our first evening scouting a few new areas, but things were relatively silent.
As they say, tomorrow is a new day and we were looking forward to visiting some of our old haunts which we knew, would produce plenty of action.


Day two

As I lay in my little tent listening to the plethora of bird songs outside, I could see the increasing light of the dawning day seeping through the roof of my little tent.
I knew that an adventure-filled day awaited us. This knowledge drove me from the warmth of my sleeping bag out into the cold of a fresh new morning full of promise.
It was a great feeling to be back in the Pureora Forest to photograph the cunning and elusive koekoeā, not to mention the other amazing forest birds that live there.
With breakfast taken care of, the lure of koekoeā paradise proved irresistible and off we roared down the gravel road in Steve’s Toyota leaving a cloud of dust in our wake, the day was upon us.
Once we reached the edge of the land of promise, we slowed down to a snail’s pace.

Before long, we spotted a male Bellbird or korimako on top of a young Pine tree. That pine tree was his precious and he was going to make sure it stayed that way. I just love these plucky, perky little birds.

Male Bellbird or korimako

This male would defend his territory from other korimako come hell or high water

Leaving Mr Bellbird to his defensive duties, we slowly made our way up the road with the windows down while listening for koekoeā calls until we reached what we knew was a good spot for long-tails. We pulled up and jumped out of the wagon for a better listen.
It wasn’t long before we heard koekoeā calling for a mate and not too far away at that. We cautiously closed in on the bird.
Our tactical situation was looking very good.
We were positioned perfectly with the sun behind us as we crept ever so slowly forward until we were in range. We knew the drill, the bird would allow us to close in to a certain distance and then it would bust out of the tree at incredible speed.
We were just about at the point where we could congratulate each other on a perfect stalk when the bird burst out from somewhere deep inside a tall kahikatea tree and flew past us at warp 10.
It was instinct rather than good technique that the bird appeared in my viewfinder and I pressed the shutter button hard to the floor.
Often there is no time to think with these birds, instinct takes over as the action is over in a split second, you either get it right or you don’t. Either way, you’ve left a turbocharged dump of weaponized adrenalin racing through your veins. Hopefully, you do get to keep a few sharp koekoeā on your memory card.

Supersonic fly overs are nearly always the order of the day. I was very happy with this shot


koekoeā the masters of stealth and sneakiness

koekoeā habitually lay their eggs in other birds nests, mainly pōpokatea or Whitehead nests.

By necessity, koekoeā are masters of cunning because koekoeā are attacked on sight and driven away by every other bird in the forest.

koekoeā seldom expose themselves by venturing out in the open in daylight.

Often the koekoeā will evict the eggs or even young of the Whitehead replacing them with their own single egg  leaving the luckless Whitehead to incubate and raise the imposter’s future brain trust.

Because these birds are constantly being hounded and driven off by other birds, they have become amazing ventriloquists. koekoeā can sound like they might be just about anywhere else, other than where they are. Their screeching call is possibly the loudest of our native birds.

Being on the most wanted list is also the reason we seldom get decent perching shots of these birds.

They are masters of stealth making good use of their incredible camouflage and sneaky ability to put whatever cover available between them and those seeking them.

Masters of the sneak. This shot was taken in the last of the light and the bird felt safe poking its head out.

But every once in a while you get rewarded with a perched bird.

 

If there ever was a koekoeā heaven on earth this would be it.

Tall trees where the birds can keep an eye out for attackers makes for an ideal calling ground, in other words a koekoeā paradise.
When we took this image there was about 5-6 birds all calling constantly to each other late in the afternoon.
Every now and again one would fly to a tree where another was calling from.
More often than not that move caused a screaming match with all the other birds screeching their approval.

In my next post I will finish our Christmas trip which will be a better result than I managed the year before.

5 thoughts on “Christmas trip for long tails 2020 Part 2: koekoeā paradise

  1. scrapydo2.wordpress.com

    Thank you for telling all about the things you had to do before pulling up your stakes. It’s worth it because I think you and Rosie are going to enjoy every minute of being together. WE are going to move to a smallholding in Mangaroa. All my stuff are packed and stored until the beginning or half of April when we hope to move in. Very exciting.

    Reply
  2. Paul Zellerer

    Hi Tony, I was missing your post however now it makes sense…
    What a nice adventure!
    Wishing you all the best!
    Cheers, Paul (moved to Oz in the meanwhile)

    Reply
    1. Tony Fluerty Post author

      Thanks and the same to you mate.
      We are starting to get out and about up Here now.
      My first serious project appears to be Dippers.
      They are a wonderful little bird and I have found a pair that I hope will soon nest and stick around for a while.

      Reply

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