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 ❤

 

 

 

 

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 ❤