Three for the price of one.

This year has started with a hiss and a roar.
First I had my Christmas trip report to finish, which took a fair bit of  time, this is the first entire Christmas trip report I’ve done to date and what a relief it was to get it done.
Next up  for years I have wanted to start my own Bible study/ Christian group   on Facebook and early this year I decided was the right time, however there was  a heap of study on early Church history and the Roman and Byzantine empires, up to the end of the middle ages, that I needed to complete  before I could start  my new group.

This has taken me  months to complete, but once I felt I had a reasonable grasp on that period of time, I felt free to launch my Christian group  “A letter to the Ephesians”  here on Facebook ,

So to bring us up to speed, I’m going to cover the three summer months Jan, Feb and March of this year in one post and you lucky peoples  get three months for the price of one lol.

The summer months of 2017
The summer of 2017 in the Wellington area did not even start to feel like summer until early autumn.
This was bad news for the sun bakers and swimmers out there, but great news for bird photographer’s.
Let me explain why.
Heat shimmer is a sure fire, demon killer, of good sharp clear images during the summer months.
On hot days, heat rises in the form of shimmering waves, distorting the air above the ground and wrecking the chances of getting sharp in focus images.
Because of heat shimmer during the summer months, the bird photographer is reduced to photographing early morning and sometimes on cooler days, early  evening.

If you look close at this image below, you can see the effects of heat shimmer .
Everything is distorted, nothing is sharp,  it gets even worse at ground level, esp over rocks and sand and  esp if you have a lens 300 mils or longer.
I will cover how to minimise heat shimmer effects in a future article , summer is not kind to the bird photographer.

Heat shimmer.

Sunset Onoke spit-6604
This year however, we had record low temperatures for the Wellington, Wairarapa and Kapiti/Manawatu areas  and that made it  peachy ,all summer, even out on the sandy beaches.

January. 
First out of the blocks for the year was a mid-January, 3 day workshop, with my mate Bruce.
Bruce and Linda have a wonderful beach house close to the Otaki river mouth on the Kapiti coast, where we launched our exploratory expeditions from.
Bruce is fit and we had 3 days to bring him up a few levels in his camera skills, so we went for it.
We had a heap of fun and got some fantastic images.
With both of us having  spent a great deal of our lives in the mountains  hunting , we have both developed  a certain flavour of humour.
Spending time with mates in the mountains and wilderness, does produce an optimistic upbeat sense of humour, this would be because  often one is forced to find the funny in all sorts of difficult and uncomfortable situations when you battle the forces of nature.
Hence  no opportunity went begging for a good laugh .
At the end of our first night on the coast, we were treated to a wonderful Kapiti coast sunset.

Otaki river mouth.

untitled-4640-Pano-Edit

 

Hot tip.
Use natural features such as the creek to introduce added colour and interest.
The Rangiuru Stream running through the centre of the image draws you into the image as well.

untitled-4615-Pano-Edit
Day 2 had us out looking for Moreporks or ruru  down the coast at a spot I knew had two adults and a young bird near by.

Mrs ruru poses for us during the daytime

ruru-1722-Edit

 

 

Up next was a walk around a local pond to photograph the Grebes or Dabchicks as some call them.

This time of the year Dabchicks  are busy feeding on Tadpoles and Frogs.

New Zealand dabchick or weweia.-900000-2
Later that day we went to the Waikanae Beach.
There is a lot more to bird photography, than just clicking the shutter button.
We practised our stalking skills, inching our way closer and closer on our bums across the sand right up to  a group of White Fronted Terns  out in the open.

When you are the right Tern, you get your turn, to make a Tern. 

White Fronted Terns-4895-Edit
Other Terns had already had their turn and had to take turns to feed their Tern.

White Fronted Terns-4853-Edit
Others were still in the courting stage, a male tries to entice a mate with a fishy gift.

Apparently the way to a females heart is through her tummy as well. 

White Fronted Terns-
We got back just in time for another crack at the sunset

Rangiuru Stream, Otaki

 
Day 3 had us heading south again to Waikanae, the wind had really picked up but we were brave and tried to make the best of it.
The wildlife and landscape photographer looks for the positive in all weather conditions.

It was a perfect day to go fly a kite, a really, really big kite lol

sunsets
A Black Shag on the move.

Black Shag-4750-Edit
We made it back home after three days, tired but satisfied with our efforts.
Bruce was pleased with the new skill he had learnt.
We can learn through reading books, but nothing compares to being shown the tricks of the trade and being able to try them out immediately out in the field.

 

 

Eastern Rockhopper Penguin, South  Wairarapa Coast .

Word started filtering down to us that a Eastern Rockhopper Penguin, moulting on the South Wairarapa Coast had been spotted.
Penguins must come ashore and stay put when moulting for about 3 weeks.
This means a forced fast from food and long boring days staring longingly out to sea.
This would be  the first ever official recorded sighting of a Eastern Rockhopper Penguin in the North Island of New Zealand.
My contacts soon came in handy and after a short exchange of emails, Steve and I had a pretty good idea where the bird was to be found and how long it had been there, so we waited till the bird had basically finished his moult and would be looking his best, then went looking for him.
We found him after doing a great deal of rock hopping ourselves, as the bird had chosen a hidden, quiet place, to moult , away of the prying eyes of the public.
He was tucked away in one of the many  crevices among the rocks looking far from happy.

We had to do heaps of rock hopping ourselves to find our prize .

Rockhopper penguin-5774-Edit

I was over the moon to see my first Rockhopper, a lot more so than the Rock hopper was pleased to see us , but we tried to keep the disturbance to a minimum.
The Rockhopper merely tolerated us as he sat there in his luckless state, still unable to launch himself out to sea where food and freedom beckoned.

My first ever Rockhopper.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin-

 

 
He didn’t seem to have lost too much condition during his 3 week stay on dry land
He left 2 days after this photo was taken.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin--5

 

 
He was not a happy chappie being forced into a 3 week stay on dry land, while his new water proofed outfit for the coming year  was being tailor fitted.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin--6

 

The Rockhopper was totally surrounded by loud energetic fur seal pups, that kept him on his toes with their comings and goings .

Give me a truck load of baby seals any day and they will keep me amused and busy photographing their antics all day long.

They are not the brightest looking creature on Gods planet for sure. lol

New Zealand Fur Seal-
But there is never a dull moment

New Zealand Fur Seal or kekeno-5501-Edit
And they do consider themselves supreme beings  lol

New Zealand Fur Seal or kekeno-5504-Edit

 

February

Next on the list was a photo-shoot where I covered a presentation to our minister of health at Parliament, that was an eye opener.

I cant show images from inside so here is one from the out side.

The Bee Hive,  Parliament the seat of power in New Zealand. 

Parliament

The next day was followed up with a workshop with Anna from Auckland who accompanied her husband Scott, who did the presentation at parliament.

We chose the Zealandia Wildlife Centre in the heart of Wellington city for our workshop, as our Anna had a hankering to photograph the cheeky kākā.

Zealandia is the  place to photograph  kākā , they are so successful at breeding them there completely wild, that they provide many juvenile kākā  for re population projects around the country, Zealandia IS  kākā central.

I love running workshops at Zealandia , no where that I know of, can provide the amazing diversity of New Zealand native birds with such easy assess to them in a wonderful bush setting.

Mr kākā perching at head height.

kaka-7581-Edit
We shared a wonderful, warm afternoon with the kākā and Anna got some great photos .
Anna also had a great time with the Bell birds, North Island Saddleback,  or tiekeshags and Red Fronted parakeets or kākāriki.

 

You get NO points for guessing why they have the name Red Fronted Parakeets 

kākāriki -7545-Edit

 

There are Tuatara at Zealandia , supposed to be the oldest living link to a now extinct line of lizards.

This one seems unimpressed with his valuable lineage.

tuatara
North Island Saddleback,  or tieke

Saddleback or tieke-

 

Very young Pied Shag chicks.

Pied shag

 

kākā are similar to the New Zealand kea, only different  😀

kaka-7375-Edit

 

It was two exhausted, but happy people who staggered back down the track to the car late in the afternoon.

Some private Crake therapy .

Next up it was time for some personal Crake therapy.
Both Steve and I had learnt a great deal more about Spotless Crakes or or puweto as they are called by the Moari, just by being able to watch them up north over Christmas and armed with a that new information and raw  enthusiasm, we hit the swamp with a soul full of hope and pretty soon  gumboots full of water.
I had my spot sorted for the evening  and I settled in for the long haul and gave a few calls on the cell phone. No answers though……..
I had my coffee flask, bananas and peanut butter sammies, to keep me company.

One hour turned into two and still no sign of any activity, but I knew there were Crakes in the area so I stayed put…………………………….. then I heard one answer my call.
Soon I had two calling on their own and I could track them moving around in the dense raupo forest across the water from me and then one simply materialised right in front of me.

There is nothing like a Spotless Crake appearing suddenly, out of the gloom of the raupo, to send your heart racing up into your throat and take your breathe away.
You know, often all you have is a few  seconds to get the shot, before it streaks back into thick cover and its gone for the night.

And suddenly it was right there, on the edge, between darkness and light.

Spotless Crake or puweto--13
Then bless his little soul, he came right out into the open, before wheeling around and darting back into the thick raupo, never to be seen again , leaving, me with a wildly beating heart and praising God lol.

I was happiness filled with this shot .

Spotless Crake or puweto--18
Spotless Crakes love raupo ,this is a prime Crake habitat, a raupo swamp at the southern end of Lake Taupo, its thick and has good cover from flying predators like hawks and full of insects and bugs.

Tokaanu Lake Taupo

 

Next up  was a general get together with Louise AKA (Danger Mouse) and her Hubby Dean aka Oscar,  for a crack at some newly hatched dabchicks on a pond we all visit.
We were joined by a surprise visit from an old friend Danny and the fun began.

Young dabchicks ride on their parents backs, hiding under the wings out of view, until they feel safe, then they poke their heads out demanding to be fed.

Pretty cute eh?

New Zealand dabchick or weweia--5
There was a horse jumping event going on across the paddocks, so i wandered over and took a few shots.
This  was the first time I had tried photographing horses , I really enjoyed the experience, I will be back again when the jumps are on.

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event-

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event-8798-Edit

 

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event--2
Back to the Dabchicks again

New Zealand dabchick or weweia-8722-Edit

 

But wait there is more not many I promise lol

The end of March found Kath and I booked in for a day on the Foxton estuary, hoping to photograph some Bartail Godwits before they return to the northern hemisphere to breed.

Once again word came down the internet pipeline that a Bittern Had been in Foxton just the day before,so the idea was to proceed with plan A (the Godwits)  but keep a keen eye out for the bittern.
As it turned out the Godwits had all left and so had our joy,  when I turned around for some reason, just in time to see the bittern land 300 meters away right on the edge of the swamp.
There we were 300 meters across , 1200 meters around the edge and he was completely out in the open.
Kath I said in my best convincing voice, we got to get round there , you may never get a chance like this again in your life time.
Now Kath may not be  a spring Chicken, but she is made of stern stuff.
We made haste slowly over the sand and mud down and around to the other side of the estuary, not one complaint was heard from poor Kath as she made her way determinedly towards our goal.
An hour later we had manoeuvred our way in and where meters from the Bittern and Kath got some wonderful pictures of a bird, very few people including hard core bird photographers get in this Country.
Bittern over seas might be quite tolerant of humans close by, but not in this country.
Im really proud of Kath with the amount of effort it took to get round the edge of that swamp to get her shots.
When Kath and I got close to the Bittern, we went to town on that bird making the most of it.

 Opportunities like this, do not come round very often .

matuku the Australasian bittern -9977-Edit
You just do not see this everyday.

matuku the Australasian bittern -0302-Edit
Such a graceful bird in flight.

matuku the Australasian bittern --5

One last one , my favourite. 

matuku the Australasian bittern --6
The next post wont be half this long, I promise and for those who read all of it , a great big thank you and bless ya heaps and heaps.

For those who I had the pleasure of spending some exciting times together with our cameras, bless ya even more ❤

 

 

 

 

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The great Crake quest prt 2

Read part 1 Here

 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.

Banded Rail or moho pererū -


 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.

Pied Stilt- poaka

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. 

Pied Stilts-0117-Edit
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

Brown Quail-0290-Edit

 

 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

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-0309-Edit

Next up was Mr New Zealand Dotterel or tūturiwhatu guarding his nest in the sand behind him.

_1DX0295-Edit

 Even young New Zealand Dotterels are well camouflaged when not running around in the open.

New Zealand Dotterel-0366-Edit

 Further along the beach we met some more Oystercatchers with more mature young.

I dont think these birds are on the level.

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-0394-Edit

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.

kereru-0693-Edit


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.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --13

 Another chance soon followed, I was on a roll .
Banded Rail or moho pererū, number 3 for the trip was on the memory card.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --2


 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.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --5


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.

patake-0930-Edit

Pairs of Brown Teal were all over the place

patake-0941-Edit

 

 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 .

tui-

 

Waipu, Northland
 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.

New Zealand Dotterel -1164-Edit
I will do an article one day on complementary colours, how to look for them and use them to your advantage.

 Subdued colours of the cover match the colour of the birds.

New Zealand Dotterel -

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.

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-1179-Edit

 

Ruddy Turnstones  were feasting on shell fish

Turnstones-

 

 I found a New Zealand  Dot  with crabs

New Zealand Dotterel -1094-Edit


Meantime we were being constantly  buzzed by Oystercatches

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-1143-Edit
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 .

Fairy Tern-

 

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

Banded Rail or moho pererū --6


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.

kotare-

 

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.

Spotless Crake or puweto-
 Then we both cracked up laughing and jumped back into the wagon and headed for Miranda wildlife sanctuary.

 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

 

Godwits at miranda

 

 

 

Rakes, Crails and the great Crake quest prt 1.

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.
Australian coot
Banded rail or moho-pererū in maori
Marsh crake – koitareke
Purple swamp hen – pūkeko
Spotless crake – puweto
takahē
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

Pectoral sandpiper-

 

Pied Stilts were dancing in the late afternoon sun

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Chopped the wing tip off this one but hey Im not perfect  lol

Pied stilts-6341-Edit

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

Marsh Crake-6645-Edit
Soon the birds ventured out further from cover and closer to us.

Marsh Crake-6688-Edit
I was completely absorbed by these pretty dainty little birds

Marsh Crake-6892-Edit
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

Marsh Crake-6712-Edit

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

Marsh Crake-8124-Edit
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

Southern end of Lake Taupo

 

The old Tokaanu Wharf Lake Taupo
Heaps of birds trade back and forth above this old wharf

The old Tokaanu Wharf Lake Taupo
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

pāpango the New Zealand scaup

Other birds I managed to capture from the wharf

The Karate Coot

Coots--4
A couple of Welcome swallows resting in the early morning light

welcome swallow-9894-Edit

welcome swallow-9913-Edit
A Black Swan and her youngsters

swan-

and this Little Black Shag.

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 ❤

 

My Christmas and new years message

 

Mr Dotterel wishes everyone a happy and relaxing Christmas and a blessed new year.

Banded Dotterel

Well Christmas has rolled around once again.
For some of us there has been massive changes this time round, some good, some painful, some have big lessons attached, but one thing is for sure, we are here and so is Christmas.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I hate much of what Christmas has come to mean too many.
Rampant commercialism,  an excuse for over indulgent eating and drinking, credit card debt as people confuse the giving of gifts as a sign of ones love for one another leading to over spending at the stores.
Domestic abuse sky rockets this time of the year as the pressure mounts, arrests for drunken and disorderly behaviour, murder, rape and chaos in general as well.
One could be excused for walking away and forgetting about Christmas altogether.
But what Christmas means to others  is a very different thing, a time for family, a time to enjoy a rest and each other, a time to focus on Jesus.

I make no apology for this Christmas message, everything I am and do, flows from the grace of God and my walk with Him.

For me, Christmas is pretty much the same as any other day except Jesus is in the worlds spotlight a little more than normal.
This is a good thing.
Jesus has given us the greatest gift in all of history, Himself by being born a human, by dying on the cross, taking our place on that cross and being raised again from the dead, so we like wise can follow in His footsteps.
But first He had to become a human being in order to live like us and show us the way.
He gives eternal life to anyone who desires it and it and is willing to pay the price of self-denial to walk with Him and do things His way.
Why His way?
Not because He wants to dominate us, but because He does know what’s best for mankind.
God loves us so much He incarnated Himself into His creation and became one of us so He could lead the way by example and by becoming a human He can now walk with us through life, fully understanding our struggles and hurdles, encouraging us onwards towards the goal of becoming more like Him.
That’s what Christmas means to me.
I hope and pray that all of us have a wonderful Christmas doing what we love best; it’s a time of great celebration after all.
I want to thank everyone for making my year, the year it was.
Those people who took part in my workshops
Those I have met through our, NZ bird image share, facebook group.
Those I hope to meet over the coming summer.
Those that have contributed in NZ bird image share.
Thanks everyone for making this year such a great success.
Long may it continue.

So, enjoy your loved ones this Christmas and count your blessings and be grateful for what you have peoples.
For those who have lost a loved one, or are alone this Christmas, you have my sympathy and understanding.
Never give up hope, God came into this world to give us an abiding hope for the future, walk in it.

Being bachelors  and no family commitments, Steve and I will be out and about this Christmas , you just never know where we will pop up next, so if you see these two people this holiday, say hello , we don’t bite .
Steve is on the left, me on the right.

steve and tony-3753

 

God bless all you people heaps and heaps ❤

Follow your nose

Put a camera in my hand, jump in a wagon with a couple of likeminded mates and hit the road and see what happens.
That was our mind set the day we grabbed our old mate Ari and took him out to experience the rugged south eastern coast of the Wairarapa.
So over the Rimutaka ranges, out across the Wairarapa plains we went as the sun tried to peek through the clouds.
Once upon a time I would be disappointed with the over cast conditions, I was a sunny day junkie, not no more, I now know over cast days give a unique feel to our landscape and a great opportunity to capture the wild, lonely and sometimes desolate.
Our first stop was the small isolated coastal settlement  of Pahoa.
I had never been there before so it was a red line on the map for me and we meandered out around the inlet out onto the coast proper, climbing rocks, looking for that shot that captures the spirit of the place.

Click on the images for a bigger size

looking back at the inlet

Pahoa Coast

Isolated and desolate places need not lack beauty; you have to look for it.

Pahoa Coast
Rock climbing was the answer to get the shot 

Pahoa Coast
After a few hours of wandering along the beach, climbing the rock formations looking for those shots we head back inland and swung south to Cape Palliser and Ngawi .
The seal colony at Ngawi was the draw card for Ari.
Not many chances to photograph fur seals in India apparently 😀
On the way there we passed some surfers so I begged to stop and snap off a few shots, I love taking photos of people enjoying themselves.
Good photos of surfers are a challenge that’s for sure.

double trouble lol

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Finding the tube maybe ?

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This guy had a huge board and seemed to know how to use it.

surfing--11

Soon we were off to meet the New Zealand furs seals and their cute babies.

On the way we stopped to show Ari this house

The pacific Ocean is not respecter of man made dwellings and this houses days are numbered .

unstable foundations

The sun had won its battle with the clouds and was now centre stage.
The seals were in fine form, youngsters dotted the rocks, play fighting with each other showing off or feeding off their mothers, Ari and I scaled the rocks enjoying the activity around us.

This baby seal was unimpressed with my mere humanness.

 

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Play fighting a favorite pass time for baby seals

 

seals--7
Followed by lunch at the milk bar

 

seals--8

Soon it was time to head home but not before getting to more shots of the surfers on the way back.

Surfing Ngawi style
Shooting with the sun behind the surfers had its problems but at the same time it gave me some interesting options

untitled-2890-Edit
All in all it was a wonderful day out, we were tired, sun baked and our cameras were full of images of how the day unfolded.

This summer we intend to hold day long workshops out on the coast for those who want to get out there amongst the seals and the surf.

Upcoming workshops

Due to a very encouraging response to our offer to run  workshops in the Wellington area  in late spring through summer , we are putting together  some information on what we are going to be offering , when and how much it will cost.
The main focus will be on birds and wildlife .
We intend to expand these workshops to assist beginners to get off to a good start on their photographic journey, all the way up to an advanced level where  we will teach people how to tackle the challenges and environments that nature throws at us.
We are excited to be able to share our hard won knowledge with willing learners, keen to get the best out of their equipment and themselves.

We will be limiting each workshop to   4 active participants , husbands, wives and non participating  partners are welcome of course.

Here is some of what you can expect from us.

Boneys workshops

Wellington Pelagic

When Michael Szabo made an open invitation in our Facebook group for anyone interested in a pelagic trip out of Wellington, a list of birds seen on a previous trip was included in the post and that was enough to motivate me and I inquired immediately.

I have only been on one pelagic trip before and really wanted to go again.
For those of us not in the know, pelagic means any water in a sea, or lake, that is neither close to the bottom, nor near the shore, can be said to be in the pelagic zone according to  WIKI
The trip I had been on previous was out of Kaikoura in the South Island, I live in the North Island, It was an amazing experience, you simply cant appreciate just how big a Southern Royal Albatross really is till one lands meters away from you  and that trip was one of my highlights of my photography career, but  living in Wellington the cost and time factors involved makes it a bit prohibitive to repeat.
A trip to Kaikoura means three days away from home, accommodation, 2 trips on the cook straight ferry, gas, food, you get the picture.
So here was a chance to see roughly the same birds and be home again that very same day with most of my spending money intact.
SOOOOOO
Steve had been with me on that first trip and a quick ring confirmed what I had already pretty much knew, he was keen, so we signed our lives away and were added to the team of 15 other keen birders.
The weather was not looking too flash leading up to the trip out to the Cook Straight and I’m the kind of person that gets sea sick in a mai mai (Maori word for duck shooting blind, built manly on terra firma on the waters edge of lakes and ponds)

Worry mingled with the excitement and demanded that my thoughts never strayed far from the upcoming trip and the night before sleep did not come easy, it was a nervous Tony that turned up at the marina in Seaview just on daybreak Sunday morning  to meet the rest of the team.
With the customary greetings over, we boarded the vessel Seafarer II and were introduced to the skipper Jonathan Delich of Cook Straight Fishing Charters and his deckhand Hamish.
We were given the mandatory safety talk, the rundown on what to do in the very unlikely event of the water on the inside of the boat equalling the water on the outside and off out to sea we went.
With the wind up our backsides it was pretty smooth on the way out of the harbour to the open sea of the Cook straight but I could see the lumps of water outside the sheltered harbour fast approaching.
As the light improved the birds started to loom out of the darkness and any thoughts of sea sickness were put aside.

One Bird I had always wanted to photograph since seeing them on TV was the Westland Petrel.
It seems that the entire population of these birds nest just north of Greymouth at Punakaiki on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand in heavy cover beneath the trees in an area not open to the public (for good reason).No chance of me seeing them there……….. BUT, the list of birds seen last time out included Westland Petrels , so I was hopeful of seeing at least one of these birds out on the open sea.

On the way  we saw a few various species of bird and then out of the gloom a western petrel appeared, clikerty click click went my camera as I desperately tried to centre the bird in my viewfinder, this was no easy feat as the bird was going one way and the boat the other way with me going a third all at the same time.

Checking the preview on the camera confirmed to me the obvious, I was nothing more than a beginner at this game and the images of my prized petrel were nothing more than a smudge of dark rich brown across the preview screen.

I was thinking to myself I hope I get a better chance when the light improves when another flew past, then another and another.

One such various seabird, a young Black back Gull
Please click on the pics for a bigger image and image details.

Black back gull-

Clickerty click, click went the 1D and as we slowly made our way out into the open sea, the petrels followed us and the light improved. I was a happy boy indeed as I wrestled against the conditions trying to capture my precious.

Looking over at Steve I saw he was happily banging away at the birds while simultaneously being tossed around in the back of the boat so I choose to sit on one of the bait boxes on the open deck so I could partially coordinate myself with the motion of the vessel eliminating at least one set of calculations needed to get a steady shot off once and a while.
At last I had some Westland Petrel shots on the scoreboard.

Westland Petrel

Soon we had Bullers, Whitecap and Blackbrow Albatrosses coming up to the boat and the skipper stopped and offered them a squid breakfast and thus a frenzy ensued, this attracted even more birds.
The Bullers Albatross is perhaps the most stunning of the small to medium sized mollymawk family. I had never seen one in real life before. I was mesmerized by their stunning colors and contrast and now my focus was firmly on them.

A Bullers Mollymawk approaches the boat

Bullers Albatorss

The skipper started the boat moving slowly forward while still throwing out the odd squid and fish frame for the birds to gobble, this bought the birds gliding right to the back of the boat flying mere feet from our heads  and this offered up a chance of really close up shots of the birds.

Bullers up close and personal

Bullers Albatorss

A Whitecap mollymawk

White-capped mollymawk -2
Black Brow

Black-browed mollymawk-9387-Edit

 

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

 

I was in heaven, there were birds everywhere and my memory cards were filling up quickly.

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I had NO time to think about being sea sick, my focus was on separating out a single bird out of the melee and tracking it.
Jonathan the skipper had picked up a large fishing vessel out east on the radar and knew it would produce many more birds so we steamed out to it with the other birds in tow.
As we approached this monster ship I could see the larger species of Albatross gliding around waiting for the nets to come aboard, Wandering Albatross and Royal Albatross were wheeling around like they were in some kind of aerial ballet, it was a dream come true.

The sky became filled with birds and it was hard to take it all in.
The skipper knew his stuff, we were told once the net was in the ship and the feast over, he would start feeding feed the birds again and this would attract them all to come to the boat, which it did.
Massive birds almost within arm’s reach glided gracefully past the boat, my arms were aching from holding up the 300 F2.8, sweat dripped down my neck and the salt and sea spray covered my glasses.
I could no longer see clearly through them and the viewfinder was mostly a smudge, it was time to use the force.
I know my camera pretty well now, I know how it operates and I know how it feels when it acquires focus, so I now adapted to feeling the camera and running on instinct rather than seeing the focus sharply through the view finder.
It became that as soon as I felt the camera tighten up and stop searching, bang down went the shutter button, no time to think too much, bang, bang, bang, make it happen.
I was amazed later to find 95% of my shots were perfectly focused.
Ive always been one to track the bird for a period in flight to ensure the camera acquires focus and locks on, but it became clear to me I could not track consistently with the birds going one way, me going another and the boat bobbing up and down and side to side.
Snap shooting was the answer on the day, no mucking around, point, feel, shoot.
With many years as a professional hunter I learnt to know my rifles by touch. I taught myself  to load, unload, fix jams any normal operation of my firearms in the dark with my eyes closed, with photography and my camera the principal is the same, get to know your camera by touch, learn where the buttons are without having to look for them.
Watching TV is a great time to learn.
Get to know the noises it makes when focus is acquired, how it feels in your hands the vibration of the image stabilizer when it locks on.
Soon I was in the zone, even though Im sure a few expletives may have escaped my mouth when I ran out of time to get a shot, missed a chance  or made a mistake.
Steve tapped me on the shoulder and asked, how’s your sea sickness?
I replied, I Had not thought about it since I saw the first Westland Petrel.
I have no idea where those first 3-4 hours out of the 6 we spent out there went.
I am indebted to Michael Szabo for pointing out birds of special interest for me, such as the Short Tailed Sharewater and the Salvins Albatross, yet another first timer for me.

The Salvins mollymark, perhaps not as colorful as the Bullers but pretty cool anyway.

Salvin’s mollymawk-0169-Edit
Black brows and Whitecaps whirled around us, the much bigger Royals and Wandering Albatrosses did wide circles around us and sometimes made strafeing runs right up the middle of our wake to land right behind the boat too close to focus the 300 mil lens.
The action was non stop.
Eventually just before before exhaustion finished me off, we called it quits and started the trip home, stopping along the way to fish and a few good fish came aboard to taken home and eaten by the lucky fisher people.

Black brows whirled around us

Black-browed mollymawk-9354-Edit-Edit
Whitecaps

White-capped mollymawk -9511-Edit
A southern Royal Albatross the largest flighted bird in the world following our wake

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Northern Royal Albatross circling us

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Gibsons Albatross , part of the wandering Albatross family

Northern royal albatross--3

A late lunch was served, whole Chicken’s had been cooking on the barbie since we had left the marina and they were ripped apart as it was the humans turn to feast.
The Skipper and the crew did themselves proud; the whole journey was enjoyable, informative and if you weren’t desperate to get heaps of bird shots like I was, relaxed.
We were back home by 130pm
What would have taken 3 days and a heap of hundred dollar bills had we gone to Kaikoura  had taken us less than one day, less than one, one hundred dollar bill and I was back home for a nap in the arvo as the computer down loaded my 2,000 plus images.
It was simply amazing to be able to experience this so close to home, the boat was roomy with enough things to hang onto for support in the chop and the crew were very friendly and helpful.
I just simply cant wait to have another go later on in winter.
How did this trip compare to the Kaikoura trip? It was much better, more bird action hands down and better selection of species.
If your interested and you live in the Wellington area contact me or the crew themselves.
http://www.cookstraitfishingcharters.co.nz/location
I am hoping to run a couple of workshops with this crew in the future if I get enough interest.

The size of the Southern Royal Albatross can only be appreciated when you are up close, they are massive birds

Southern royal albatross-5231-Edit
the last say  goes to the westlander Im very happy with this shot

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Aris last fling

‘RING RING” goes the phone.
Steve is on the other end. “A fellow wildlife photographer from India has contacted me and I have offered to take him out and show him around.”

So that is how we met Ari from India.
It was early spring when we introduced Ari to our style of photography. At first, I think he was a bit bewildered as the action tends to come fast and furious. We are nearly always on the move and you have to be on the ball. As the number of trips were racked up, Ari had adapted to our style and was right in the thick of it, clicking away like the rest of us.

Then came the days when Ari had fulfilled his working contract in this country and had to return to his homeland and family. We planned one last excursion, one last blast up the Western coast of the lower North Island dropping in to all our favourite birding spots to see what’s shakin’.

First up was Pukerua Bay to see if the Reef Heron was around. No score so Northward bound we headed for Paekakariki to look for pheasants, quail, and whatever else we could aim our cameras at. Still nothing of great note, so pushing on to Waikanae for a cup of tea and look around.

The Waikanae Estuary is teeming with birds often enough that it’s almost impossible to drive past the turn off for fear of missing out on something good. This morning it was quiet but the pango pangos (scaup or black teal ) were in their brilliant colours; and with the subdued overcast light, looked awesome.

Male pango pango

Male pango pango or NZ scaup
Female  pango pango , bit more demur than the males, but wonderful in their own way I think

female pango pango or NZ scaup

 

‘Clikerty, click, click’ went the shutters and Ari had another new species to add to his photo gallery.
A few Royal Spoonbills flew lazily past us and ‘clickerty click’ again.

Royal Spoonbill

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A walk around the main pond resulted in a lovely image of the pair of Shoveler Ducks.

A pair of Shoveler Ducks

Then it was time to head Northward again to a beach where we hoped to get shots of Black Fronted Dotterals. Unfortunately two gazillion people, including horses and dogs, had decided to choose the exact spot these birds feed on to turn it into a circus. Such is the plight of the bird photographer. Everyone is free to enjoy the great outdoors and sometimes I have less than warm fuzzy feelings towards other outdoor uses!

Back to the main arterial route North and while motoring out to the highway, we passed a ditch.

“That looked like a bittern in that ditch!” exclaimed Steve as we sped past it.

Being the keen optimistic birders that we are, we suffer many false alarms, but we turned around and passed by the ditch slower this time. The bird did not look like a pukeko like we would normally expect.
Turning around, we again approached the ditch and stopped dead middle stream. I was looking directly into the sun, hardly ideal, with the window down, camera aimed up the ditch.

“Is it one?” asked Steve. ‘Clikery click, click , click click’ was all he needed to know.
Bitterns are hard to come by in our neck of the woods. I could hear Ari’s Cannon going off out the back window. Drive by shooting is an art!

Eventually the bird retreated  out of range, so that was my cue to leap over the fence and cut it off and shoot with the sun coming over my shoulder. Steve moved in from the other side and the bird flushed but not before I got some flying photos. Then we spent the next 5 minutes trying to calm down as we relived the sequence of events.

The Australasian Bittern

bittern

The day had certainly changed from starting off slowly into an amazing adventure.

bittern

Our next spot was also kind to us. Ari and I chased a fantail through the bushes getting some great shots, another first for Ari.

New Zealand Fantail 

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It was lunchtime and the most Northern part of our trip. So after food we headed back South ending up in Queen Elizabeth park for another chance at pheasants.

I got a pretty good shot of a pheasant that made the mistake of stepping out from cover in front of me. But at 10 feet away, he filled the frame, no depth of field meant some parts of him would not be in focus.

This time we scored

Cock Pheasant

 

Grebes were also a new bird for Ari so I herded one right passed him and he got his shots away.

The Common Grebe

common grebe

Next up a Grey Warbler welcomed us.

A Grey Warbler

Next on the list was a mob of young California Quail just about in adult plumage.

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Alas the day was done so we headed back into Wellington to drop Ari off.
We wanted to get a photo of all three us so we asked passerbies to take a photo. Unbelievable, some refused until we got one likeable guy that did the deed for us.

Ari, Steve and myself 

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Ari has gone home with amazing pictures of his travels in New Zealand and we were blessed to have been involved with some of them and the opportunity to spend time with such an awesome and talented friend.

Ari doing what he loves 

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I will leave the last say up to Mr Bittern.

my first decent flying shot of this bird.

Mr Bittern

Bittern

 

Birding Hightlights for 2015.

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.

Tara the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)

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
Tara the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)

Now the chase is on
Tara the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)
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.

Maori Bay , Northland-

A adult skids to a halt in the sand , her baby just out of the frame is waiting for the transfer.
Tara the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)

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.
The brown booby (Sula leucogaster)

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
Yellow fronted parakeet  or kākāriki  (Cyanoramphus auriceps)
I was stoked with this bird
Yellow fronted parakeet  or kākāriki  (Cyanoramphus auriceps)

 

Later on in 2015 I managed to get my red fronted kākāriki without the flash.

kakariki the Red fronted Parakeet

kakariki the Red fronted Parakeet

 

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brEoDaImWNs

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.
pūweto (Spotless crake)

Tammy Lynn
The next big highlight on  the agenda happened in early April.
Tammy arrived in New Zealand from the land of the brave and free.

I managed to photograph the amazing female Nebraskan Flightless Prairie Grouse, hitching a ride on a Air New Zealand jet on her migration south to New Zealand.

air nz

I have sought to get close to and to photograph this  bird for nearly 2 years and when I finally captured a live image of her, she was more beautiful than I imagined.

A bit of a forest fairy with a camera

Nature Photographer

Tammy has been transforming Boney Whitefoot from a untidy chaotic bachelors pad into an organised home.
Our next post will be her chance to  introduce herself

kārearea

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 
kārearea the New Zealand Bush Falcon
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 female

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the male is the very explosive short range missile
kārearea the New Zealand Bush Falcon
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.

I-have-my-eye-on-you

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.
pīpīwharauroa the shining cuckoo-0958-Edit

pīpīwharauroa the shining cuckoo-0942-Edit
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.
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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

kōtātā or mātātā or Fern bird

 

The Ruakokoputuna Chasm challenge

“This place is amazing” says Paul, “you have to come see it”.
Paul was sitting next to me watching a movie , a bourbon in his hand, which was now being waved around with little concern  as to how it may stain my carpet , the wild gesticulating  of arms continued while he described a place that seemed more from a medieval fairy tale than a natural landscape feature.
Plans were made for a future visit as bourbons were being consumed and like most of my future plans go, the day came when those plans were realised.
Paul was to be my model for the day.  lol

Scorching hot, the drive through the Ruakokoputuna valley was very pleasant; it didn’t take long before we turned off the road up the drive way that led to Patuna Farm.
A short talk to the owner of the farm in which the Patuna or Ruakokoputuna Chasm,( take your pick on the name) is located and we set off across the farm along a well-marked track.
We followed that track until it turned sharply and there before us was a ladder that descended down into darkness and down we went into the depths.
Once down the ladder you’re in the creek so you need to be aware that your feet will be wet for the duration of the walk.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

Water seeped through the moss covered banks making delicate water displays as they cascaded into the creek.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

I knew that I would not be able to capture with the camera what I could see with my eye because of the extreme light conditions.
The bottom of the chasm was quite dark with bright sunlight peeking in from the top so I set up my camera on my tripod and set about making multiple exposures (exposure bracketing ) at one full stop apart, starting from the correct exposure at the top and increasing one full stop for three exposures to capture the darker innards of the creek bottom.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

My 5D mrk11 has a setting that helps me set up initially, but I have to decide what exposure spread I will require and I have to blend these images together later in Photoshop .
Many modern cameras that have come out in the last few years the camera does all the work in camera and if you have such a camera its more than worthwhile learning how to put this technique to good use.
If you have an older camera this video may be your best friend to help you learn how to make the best out of a difficult situation  or you could book a workshop with me and I will help you sort it out 😀

 

Now pretty soon in your travels downstream you’re going to have to get wet proper.

One part of this walk requires one to get very wet depending on your height.
you may even have to swim if you go early in the spring.

Make sure you have a set of dry clothes back at the car.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

Paul  is starting to get worried here

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

with his bag removed he felt a little more relaxed about it

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

There is an awesome sunny place to lunch and dry off immediately  after your dip in the cool water.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

The walk is roughly a 2 kilometre walk and as you head down the creek the towering limestone walls form caverns and at other times its like being in a tunnel.

Paul enjoying the high walls and the feeling of being some what dwarfed by it all.
Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

and some times its very closed in.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

I knew it would be a challenge and making mostly  bracketed images  with the tripod on running water  was indeed a challenge as  each image must be exactly the same  except the exposure values.
any change in the position of the image makes it impossible to line up the multiple images and get one sharp one when super imposing them or stacking them on top of each other in Photoshop  and blending them together.

still I was happy with my efforts .

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

there are a few perfectly places to just sit and soak up the atmosphere

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

 

there was heaps  to look at and soak in .

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

One thing is for sure , I will be back again this year to reshootthe place and see how Tammy handles the deep bit, at 5 foot and 4   it could lead to a photographic opportunity  😀

anyone interested in joining a workshop day in there contact me .
boneywhitefoot@gmail.com

Yes sir I will be back.

Patuna Chasm Ruakokoputuna  valley

http://www.patunafarm.co.nz Tel: 06 306 9966