Mackenzie Magic

Photographic adventures in the Mackenzie Basin

In my last post, we had just passed through the Danseys Pass, the weather was cold, wet and the Pass itself seemed a very desolate place. However the further nor-west we headed towards the Mackenzie country, the brighter the sky became.
The Mackenzie marks the southernmost boundary between the South Canterbury Region and Otago and has to be my most favourite part of the South Island.
There is a very good reason for this, the Mackenzie has something special going for it no matter which season or weather conditions.

Summer 

Summer in the Mackenzie has a hot dry heat that does not seem to soak up your energy, unlike more humid places. This lady is enjoying her biking across the Mackenzie basin on a beautiful and very hot summers day.

The Mackenzie Basin as it is called is a huge area by New Zealand standards, consisting of a flat tussock plain

Autumn 

Autumn is when the Mackenzie really shines. Poplar trees transform the landscape into golden splendour.

Winter

Ahuriri Valley, South Canterbury, New Zealand

The Mackenzie is a winter wonderland

 

With it being early Autumn we knew that my favourite playground would not let us down so as soon as we had our accommodation sorted it was off to the Ahuriri Valley for the evening.
The place did not disappoint.

As the cloud continued to lift we got some wonderful shots and headed home for the night.

Tomorrow looked like great weather so the cameras were charged, memory cards swept clean and we hit the sack knowing we had an early start in the morning.

Ben Avon wetlands, the first jaw-dropping vista to confront the photographer when heading up the Ahuriri Valley and this fine morning had no lesser effect on me.

Ben Avon Wetlands

 

I could think of no better place to have breakfast in the warming sun.

All too soon it was time to head into Tekapo and out to Lake McGregor to photograph the Crested Grebes, so we packed up our gear and headed east, as the sun really heated up, it was simply wonderful to be out into the open spaces again.

Living life in the light and the VOID

I had spent 5 months contract shooting rabbits in the Mackenzie Basin many years ago and as we drove the road, I could see the paddocks I used to shoot as we sped past. My mind was filled with very fond memories of riding the Quad Bike named the (BEAST) across the huge, pitch black void. The VOID  I called it. That’s what it was like at times, you just could not see anything without the light. Life was lived, piercing the dark with a single, small, thin, shaft of light searching for Rabbits with my trusty spotlight.

Many nights are so dark out there that it’s actually been designated the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the township of Tekapo has light restrictions imposed on it to keep the night sky as dark as possible, its a Star reserve.
The true vastness of the place is bought home to you when you’re out there in the pitch dark all alone in the middle of nowhere and not a sound to be heard.
The place is best experienced at night, alone, to truly appreciate its special uniqueness. The huge expanse of black darkness with a vast carpet of stars spreading gloriously overhead. It certainly makes one feel very, very small indeed.
The paddocks are so big, that gates, there may only be one gate for each huge paddock, were best marked down on the GPS. Many times I got turned around in the dark, chasing after the Rabbits on the BEAST  round and round in circles we would go, I would become totally disorientated having no visible landmarks to re-orientate my self. That GPS and the Beast became my best friend out there.

The Beast. I spent many an exciting and exhausting night wrestling with the Beast

 

Lake McGregor and Alexandrina

By the time we got to Lake McGregor and Alexandrina, there was not a cloud in sight

not a cloud in sight

Autumn and Mackenzie Gold

The main attraction for being at the Lakes were the kāmana or Crested Grebe, we don’t have these birds in the North Island. This visit we had our secret weapon to get close to the birds, the sneak boat. The plan was to quietly ease out on the lake and kind of drift into the birds without scaring them, that way we would get close shots.

We got pretty close to these kāmana family without upsetting them too much.

It was wonderful paddling around on the Lake edge in the warm late afternoon sun.

kawau paka the Little Shag  in his black morph suit allowed us to get right in close before  flying off

A pūkeko or the New Zealand Purple Swamp-hen gave me a chance to assess my new birds in flight settings and found they worked quite well.

Steve and I are both, constantly trying out new settings, We have learnt that it pays to experiment. Not all the internet experts are really the experts they claim to be, so don’t fear trying something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

 

After having fun in the boat we took off up the road to find a Black Stilt

We found Mr kāki the Black Stilt just on dark, so we retired to the tent camp that night feeling pretty well pleased with ourselves.

 

The Basin is well… like a basin with the sides being surrounded by very high hills and mountains.
When day fades, often cold air from high up cascades down the side of the mountains dragging cloud with it, filling the basin. The cloud is often accompanied by a very cold and strong wind which will remain until the temperature evens out.

Often the cold air sucks cloud into the Basin in the evening

The next Morning birthed bright and sunny so the first order of the day was to find more Crested Greblets, we found one group that was very obliging allowing us to get about as close as one could possibly hope for.

Up close and personal with kāmana the Crested Grebe

The plan was to head north to Kaikoura then the next day we had planned a  pelagic trip out on the boat for the Albatrosses which I will post next time.

Thanks for reading peoples ❤

 

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Falconing around in Central Otago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danseys Pass joins Central Otago with South Canterbury.

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

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

Steve gets to work with the 5DSR

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nervous Nevis

Our last instalment left our heroes staring somewhat nervously at the gate to the Nevis track. All over that gate and posts surrounding that gate were a plethora of warnings about the tracks ruthlessness during the winter months.
While this was mid-autumn, it had been a very wet autumn.

However, there was no turning back so up the track we went gaining height rapidly trying to ignore that nagging apprehension deep in my Tummy. This is a long track and a long walk out if we got stuck.

As we followed the steep zigzagging road a wonderful vista unfolded.

This is the close to the boundary between 2 regions. Southland, Cow country and South Otago Sheep country

What I did not expect as we neared the top was an ancient ski hut lovingly restored from the last century.

I’m thinking there must have been more than a few ales and bottles of whiskey consumed as the sun went down behind the mountains in the distance, after a hard workout with a pair of narrow surfboards and 2 sticks.

It was getting near lunch time when we left the hut so we looked for the ideal spot to gobble our goodies in the warn sunshine.

Me going for the killer drama-rama shot

 

Not a such a bad place for a spot of lunch.

Soon it was time to start heading down into the valley of doom and what we knew were going to be some pretty deep water and mud crossings.
We were now tens of kilometres from any help should we get stuck as we followed the valley floor and soon we started to hit the crossings.
Things would not have been half as bad if this valley was not used as a 4X4 playground. It became obvious that hoons in very powerful 4x4s had gouged the crossings much deeper because they had been charging around like mad thing’s hooting and a-hollering
This makes it a much harder challenge for people who do not have specialised vehicles. I’m sorry I did not get any photos of the crossings as it would have meant getting wet feet and that just was not going to happen. We had some pretty anxious moments but the Toyota Highlander got us through.
Relief flooded through me when we came to a sign informing us that there we no more crossings and we had a clear run from here on out.

The Nevis is a very pretty river especially in the afternoon sun., with some pretty decent Trout fishing,

Once we started to come to where the valley opened up we came across this old house.

Gates make wonderful frames for your image and draw your curiosity to what is inside.

This was what was inside

I want to name this One tree flat.

One tree flat.
So much room to breathe in the Autumn air.

Alexandra was our destination for the night and we made the township just on dark.
Sorry bird addicts but birdlife was a bit sparse in the Nevis but we will get our fix in the next blog as the next day we were headed to the Poolburn Dam to look for a pair of native kārearea or New Zealand  Falcons that frequent the area.
Suck it up bird freaks tomorrow will rock ❤

 

In search of the Yellowhead or mohua.

 News n Views

Well, this must be some kind of a record for me since my last blog.
I have had to put my camera down, force myself to stay at home, turn the heater on and upgrade my image gallery.
With the bulk of my gallery done now while being able to hang onto most of my sanity, I now have time to continue writing so where were we?

Makaroa madness

In my last blog, we, Steve and I were in Hasst, a small town at the southernmost end of the west coast road of the South Island.
With no way to head further south, we turned east, away from the sea and the heavy rain-sodden bush covered mountains, up through the Haast Pass into the open tussock lands of the Otago region.
All the time hoping the rain that had dogged us thus far on our trip will be left sulking behind us on the coast.
We made our way up through the high silver beech forest stopping every now and again to see what birdlife would grace us with its presence.

ngirungiru the Tomtit.

First up Mr Tomtit or ngirungiru his Maori name, what ever he answers to he came into our call to spy us out.

 

Mrs ngirungiru the South Island Totmit

Mrs ngirungiru the South Island Tomtit followed close behind Mr Tomtit.

We were heading to a spot we were told was where we would get our best chance at photographing the now most wanted bird on THE HIT LIST, the Yellow Head or mohua.
We reached a carpark just outside Makaroa. This place held a great deal of promise as right bang smack on the sign at the beginning of a bush track we had been planning  to walk was a picture along with information about the conservation efforts and distribution of our intended target.
Yes sir this look like we had the right place all right.
Lunch was gobbled up eagerly in the wagon as the rain although still, our constant companion had now become a pathetic drizzle, a poor effort after what we had been subject to the last few days.

As we sat in the wagon we saw many birds going about their daily life outside, so clikerty click went the 1 DX

A Plump Male Chaffinch

Mrs Chaffinch

Soon the anticipation became unbearable and to remain inside the wagon was torture, so we spilled out onto the wet ground, donned some wet weather gear and headed off up the track full of excitement.
It looked a grand place for the tītipounamu or New Zealand Rifleman and so it proved to be.
Within minutes we had our first customers.

A male tītipounamu the New Zealand Rifleman

A Female tītipounamu or New Zealand Rifleman

However, no amount of praying and wishful thinking could make a Yellowhead appear so reluctantly we had to head up Lake Wanaka up through the pass to Lake Hawea and our camping ground for the next few days.

Lake Hawea is impressive no matter if the sun is shining or not.

At last, the Sun had broken through as the clouds rolled away for the first time on this trip. After pitching my little tent, filling it up with my sleeping bag, stretcher and other creature comforts I lovingly placed my favourite teddy bear on my pillow to cuddle later and made my way down to the lake next to the camping site to take in the view.

Lake Hawea gave me the promise of a much warmer and sunny day on the morrow.

Well the new dawn, dawned and I crawled out of my tent before giving Teddy strict instructions to stay close to the tent and not stray all over the countryside terrorising the locals.
Steve was still in the land of nod in the comfort of the cruiser so I opened his door roused him and we were off for a new adventure quest for the Yellow Head.

Once we had zoomed through the pass between Lake Hawea we were raced past Lake Wanaka where we were met with amazing views of the majestic countryside. Mist hung over some oh the higher peaks yet with the sun shining on their faces lower down. gave me the dramatic light I cave. Give me drama over a solid blue sky any day.

Today was the day, we felt confident with the whole day up our sleeve to explore, it was crisp and cool as we took off up the same track we walked the day before. We had the whole day ahead of us and the sun penetrated the bush with splashes and bright beams of light, it was simply a joy to be part of it.

I am fascinated by light.
I’m a light junkie.

The light falling on this Red horopito or Pepper Wood was simply irresistible to me.

As we glided through the bush we met the usual suspects.

ngirungiru the South Island Tomtit A14

We even saw a few pīpipi the Brown Creeper but alas no Yellow heads.

pīpipi the Brown Creeper or Mouse tit. A tricky little critter to photograph.

 

The Male titipounamu or New Zealand Rifleman is a bright Green whereas the female is more drab
Sorry Gals.

Round and round we walked all day long but those Yellow Heads must have had business in some other part of the forest cause we done never saw nothing, not even a peep from them.
We had a date with another place the next day so it was back to the camping ground but not before we quoted the terminator, We would be back.
I came back to find Teddy looking innocent and no evidence of mayhem having broken out in the camping ground, so it was time to hit the sack and think of the next part of our trip. The Nevis Valley, a place neither of us has visited before so with an early start planned for the next day I said goodnight to Teddy and let sleep overcome me.
The next day found us at the gate of the Nevis Valley track.
Going by the number of warnings posted all around the gate  I was a little apprehensive but through the gate, we went heading up into the tussocks lands and the distant sky.

Our Wagon is not exactly an off road vehicle so was this going to prove an ordeal, were the signs a warning ?
we will have to wait to see in a few weeks time.

Yes, sir, we will be back in search of the Yellowhead or the mohua the Good Lord willing.

 

Invasion of the road Buzzards

Still bubbling over with excitement after our Rock Wren encounter, we held an executive board meeting and it was decided we would strike out west, then head south down the coast, so we jumped in our covered wagon,  pressing the go button we geeeeed up the  horseeeees and westward we went.
Eventually, we were faced with a huge puddle of water known as the Tasman Sea. With no way to get around it, we turned left and scooted south with the rain once again hot on our heels.
We wanted to get to Haast that evening so with the rain catching us up and pelting down at times we didn’t stop much on the way, however one place we did stop was at Whataroa, home of the famous kōtuku or White Heron colony for lunch.

I have made it my lifelong mission to search for the best feed of fishinchips in New Zealand  I have come close to that perfect meal a few times and the shop at  Whataroa  is now in the top ten bestser-rist fishinchips in the country. That is according to the  Boney Whitefoot scale and that counts.

For the uninitiated, this is a Kiwi  feed of “Fishinchips”

 

A Kiwi icon, Fishinchips

 

 

Okarito

With the Rock Wren already in the bag, we were now on the hunt for Yellowheads, Tit Mouses (Brown Creepers) and South Island Tomtits.

The drive down to the estuary and historic boat shed/museum at Okarito is well worth the extra 40-minute detour if you’re heading down the West Coast.

 

On the drive out to the boat shed, we found a suitable place to pull off the road and try our luck with a few TiT Moose calls.
We saw nothing at first but then a Black  Fantail turned up.
This was a serious situation for me as I had never seen one before let alone had a worthwhile image.
I stealthy stalked in on the bird using all my ninja skills, ever closer, pressing the shutter button while still on the way in, keeping that bird in the centre of the viewfinder as it flittered around all over God’s creation. I’m sure any special ops soldier would be impressed with my style and If this was a hard paragraph to read, actually doing it was much harder.
However, I was very pleased with the end result of that encounter and now had two lifers for the trip.


A Black Morph piwakawaka or New Zealand Fantail

 

 

Then Mr Tom Tit turned up to a Bellbird call just as they do in the North Island, in fact, we seem to have more success with Tomtits coming into the Bellbird call than their own. it was not long before  Mrs Tomtit came in to see what all the fuss was about.

Mr South Island Tomtit

ngirungiru the South Island Tomtit

A Male South Island Tomtit

 

Mrs South Island Tomtit might not be as colourful as Mr Tomtit but I think she is pretty.

A Female ngirungiru or South Island Tomtit

A Female ngirungiru or South Island Tomtit

 

Suprise Suprise a Female Bellbird came into the Bellbird call all covered in rata tree pollen

A Female korimako or New Zealand Bell

A Female korimako or New Zealand Bell

 

Followed by a very solid Mr Bellbird

korimako the New Zealand

korimako the New Zealand

 

 

Invasion of the Road Buzzards

Then we had our first, but certainly not last, encounter with Road Buzzards.
Let me explain.
Road Buzzards come in a few different species.
The main and most common species on the west coast this time of the year is the Asian variety, they travel around in mobs. Tightly packed in they travel around in a bewildering array of ‘for hire vehicles’.
Now the last thing you want when photographing birds off the side of the road is a gaggle of excited terrorists crowding in around you chasing the birds away.
They don’t speak English, so yelling at them  to ‘GO AWAY’ and shaking your fist at them will not drive this species back into their vehicles, in fact it seems to be a secret  signal that activates them, bringing them to a level of excited hysteria causing  those still inside their vehicles  to spill out joining the others already surrounding us.
They did spent a fortune getting to this country and they ain’t gonna miss out on nothing. When they see a car parked on the side of the road, they are compelled to stop and find out what it’s about and no amount of yelling at them, swearing or shaking a fist at them is going to stand in their way.
Road Buzzards normally only migrate here once in their lifetime for a short period of time but man do they come in numbers and are widespread.
I got my own back once when I had my caller hidden away in the bushes, the sound drew the Buzzards in like honey does to a bear and they crowded around a little bush looking for the bird that was calling its heart out.
Eventually, I tired of watching them and retrieved the call much to their amazement and some strange kind of ritualistic dance commenced, patting each other on backs laughing their heads off, pushing and shoving each other around. Then as fast as they came they jam-packed themselves into those vehicles and roared off down the road leaving us in peace for a few moments before the next mob of buzzards turned up.

Other species of road buzzards spoke English mostly Germans and Americans and understood what I was saying but something must have been lost on them.
They became offended at my thinly veiled threats and wild gesticulating arms and looked upon me as some kind of offensive retard, still didn’t stop them from chasing away our birds though.
At one stage we were left alone so we tried the TiT Mooselet call and what would you know, some came in.
They came in fast and chattering, never still for long . I had never seen these birds before so they were my third lifer (a birding term for a first ever sighting of a species)
These birds came in, buzzed around and never came back but what a thrill.

pīpipi the Brown Creeper or Tit Mouse

pīpipi the Brown Creeper

pīpipi the Brown Creeper

pīpipi the Brown Creeper

 

By the end of this trip I had come to grips with my emotions and mostly learned to ignore the Buzzards and get on with it, MOSTLY that is.
I WILL do better next time.

We hit the road south heading for Haast with two more birds on our most wanted list ticked off.

It was a long day and we were relieved to find this cute little cabin in Haast to spend the night sheltered from the showers that were still dogging us.

home sweet home

 

Winter Workshops

May will bring the start to our Winter Workshops in the greater Wellington area.

For more information clikerty click here 

Waikanae sunset

Sun set on the Waikanae Estuary

Sun set on the Waikanae Estuary

 

 

Our local King Fisher is often a willing subject this time of the year, so get in touch with me via the contact page and let’s get out there and learn some things.

Mr Poser the kōtare the Sacred Kingfisher

 

 

 

 

The Otira Rock Stars

Slowly my internal computer system booted up for the day. The synaptic connections in my brain were fizzling and spluttering, fading in and out but fired up once a solid connection was established.
Once upon a time I could leap out of bed and hit the floor running.
Nowadays it’s not even a controlled stagger, I’m more like a drunken dancer, lurching and weaving around the bedroom until my error correcting software runs its diagnostic program, ignores all my missing and damaged sectors on my hard drive and fools me into thinking I’m running just fine and dandy.
Coffee in hand I walk out on the balcony of the two-story Otira Hotel and I am confronted by the weather trying its best to behave its self, but sadly not having much success.
Drizzle and fog permeated the landscape, but no breeze, so two out of three ain’t bad according to Meatloaf.
Today was to be the big day out there yonder in them there mountains.
Just kilometres up the road lay a beautiful alpine Valley where two tiny little birds lived and we have to find them. I mean how hard could that be?
The very reason we, Steve and I have come to the South Island was to find and photograph the two little Rock Wrens that reportedly live up the Otira Stream.
We are excited to get going, so up to the Otira summit, we zoomed, to have breakfast among the clouds with the local Kea population, hoping that the cloud will lift and give us a great day.

The Kea is a smart bird but also gorgeous.

The New Zealand kea

 

The Otira Stream

Slowly the clouds lifted revealing a huge valley and steep sides but what looked like a gentle grade for most of the way up the stream so off under the now beating down sun we went.

Hmmm two tiny, little birds live up yonder in that, there valley somewhere, how hard can it be to find them?

It did not take long before the fact that neither of us had prepared for this walk. Sweat is leaking out everywhere all over my body, but onward I push, wishing I had another spare pair of lungs to connect to my blood system. We never really appreciate oxygen till we are running really low on it and my body was using it all and faster than I could suck it in.
I  huffed and puffed my way up that valley towards an area known as the Rock Garden where these little birds can be seen from time to time.

Yes indeedy how hard could it be lol  I was feeling a little overwhelmed at this stage.

Yeah whats hard about finding two wee birdies among that lot lol

 

We knew once we made the bridge an hour into the walk it was going to get harder and steeper and the track became more like a murder mystery trying to kill us every chance we gave it.

The bridge marked the end of the easy stuff.

Steve might look a bit pregnant here but he had Binoculars and goodness knows what else stuffed down the front of his shirt.

Now the clouds were passing overhead coming and going and the temperature was doing the yo yo. One minute it was so hot, the next very cold and dark.
Once we reached a certain rock that we had to squeeze past to keep our feet dry from the stream, we knew we were not far from the Garden, so we made our way on jelly syndrome legs upstream, then parked our bodies where we could look over the Rock Garden.

Welcome to the Rock Garden

 

Part of the rock garden, If you look carefully you will see Steve using his binoculars.

Steve stuck to the bottom of the Garden with his binoculars searching the rocks while I made short sorties up and around the tops of the garden above the big boulder,  hoping to flush them out.

One hour turned into two hours and then three. NO birds were seen.
Then cloud turned to rain and Steve found a rock shelter for us to hide our gear in out of the wet and keep us kind of warm and dry, the time moved slowly, still not a bird in sight.

The rock bivvie, our shelter from the weather. 

Still, we kept an eye out through the rain and even got a few photos as well

 

The darkness before the light

Then it got really crappy and cold as we sheltered in our little rock bivvie.

At one stage on one of my walkabouts, I spied a green bird fly past quite away, away and convinced I had spotted a Rock Wren I sped as fast as I could, bounding like a young Gazelle risking life and limb over the boulder field only to find it was a silver eye.

We were now into our fourth hour camped in our little bivvie with rain showers passing through I was was running out of hope of ever seeing these birds.

We decided to give it another 40 minutes and then we would pack it in and come back tomorrow for another go, if we could get our legs working again that is.

Ten minutes to go, I turn to go on my last walkabout and Steve says I can see them.
Now normally I would have said something like BS,  but I saw the expression on his face.
I know that look, I’ve seen it so many times while out hunting on many a mates face as they see a Stag coming through the bush to our call, you just can’t fake it.
I did not have binoculars, I forgot mine I could not see the wee birds at first.

The birds slipped out of sight so we slowly snuck in on where they were last seen.
They were right here says Steve, then a Female Rock Wren popped into view right in front of us.  What an adrenaline rush, at last,  here was the bird we had planned to photograph if we got the chance for many years.

The wee bird popped up on a rock right in front of us

Clikerty click went the 1dx , remembering the drill for such occasions, take  2 shots, move closer, 2 shots move closer and closer we moved in.

The bird did not seem to mind us much at all, it must have been dinner time because that bird bounced over the boulders looking for food almost completely ignoring us.  We had to jump, hop, trip and crashing to the ground among the huge slippery wet boulders, then heave ourselves upright and jump and hop a bit more trying to keep up with it.
We stayed on that bird for 30 mins getting some great shots in the lovely overcast light.
We knew we had good shots so we left the bird to continue terrorizing  the local insect population and headed back to our gear
We had our gear all sorted ready to leave when Steve turned around behind us  and said “look” and there was the male bird which we had not seen, spying on us only 10 meters away. Well, that started our manic ballet act all over again, but it was so worth it, we got some great shots of him.

pīwauwau The Female Rock Wren

The Male Rock Wren is much more colourful than the female.

 

We put our packs on absolutely overjoyed with our success and made out way back down to the car.
A huge thanks has to go out to Mike Ashbee for giving us the information on where to look for them and Yahweh for getting us back down the creek in one piece and looking after us.

I will give the last word to the  Rocking Wren

LATA DUDES and DUDESSES.

 

 

 

 

and with our cameras bulging with images we left him in peace and we made our way back down that valley .

Southern Rock Shuffle

230am, I hug my pillow closer and tighter to my good ear, but no amount of pressure can shut out the loud, excited babble coming from a small group of bikers parked right outside my window.
Looking through the glass I can see them huddled around one of their bikes loaded up with saddles and other carrying accessories and the owner proudly showing off his pride and joy.
Road tripping around the South Island is almost a religious right of passage in this country for motorbike enthusiasts.
Trucks clattered up the ramps, the mixture of sea and diesel fumes fills the gloomy night air.
Sleep will never come, I know that from past experience, but hey, that won’t stop me from trying. But really I know I will have to wait until we can board the Inter-Islander Ferry and I can find a quiet place to spill out onto the carpeted floor before I can let my mind drift off as best I can.
Travelling between Our 2 Islands is best done in the middle of the night, you get to sleep on the 3 hour trip between the two Islands where ever you can find a space on the floor or a comfy seat. I prefer a semi-hard floor where I can stretch out, to a padded seat that has you scrunched up on. When you hit the South Island 6.am in the morning, you can roar off the boat refreshed and you’re on your way.

The Plan

This was the second part of our two-part annual photographic road trip.
Having been forced to postpone this second part, TWICE, due to pesky tropical cyclones, we were finally on our way, all be it 8 weeks late.
We had decided to split this year’s adventure into two halves, two weeks in the Central North Island and then two more in a mad sprint circumnavigating 3/4s of the South Island.
Our three main objectives were to photograph the pīwauwau or Rock Wren a high altitude bird, followed in order of importance by the Yellow Head or mohua and Brown creepers, pīpipi, or New Zealand titmouse.
Seriously ……..a bird named a titmouse?  Who comes up with these names?

After the big three was a small list of birds we had already had photos of but wanted more.
New Zealand Falcon
Crested Grebes
Kea
TomTits
Rifleman
Weka
Black Stilts.
Then there was the Landscape side of the trip, the list will unfold as I post more in the coming months.

As day broke over the Sounds, the ferry smoothly made the wharf at Picton and off we went heading into the weather moving up from the south.
Our first destination was to be Otira in Arthurs Pass for the number 1 priority and the very reason we planned this trip, the Rock Wrens, or pīwauwau, I had never seen one let alone photograph one.
Black threatening clouds, turned to wet grey clouds and the drizzle was periodically interrupted by hard out downpours, this kept the window wipers feeling useful.
4 hours later and we were on the road to Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur’s Pass is a high alpine pass that divides the East from the West coast of the South Island , one of three mountain passes,   we were to cross two of them three on this trip, plus the Buller Gorge which cannot be classed as a true alpine pass but does cut across the Island giving access to the eastern and western sides.
As we headed towards the Pass, weka started showing up on the side of the road making the most of the wet soft ground to peck for bugs and worms.

Ole muddy beak

 

Otira

Otira Stagecoach Hotel.

Our first and second night, if needed was to be spent at the famous Otira Stagecoach Hotel.
The Otira Hotel has pretty much kept its 1700 century atmosphere and is not unlike like a small museum that you can stay overnight in. The Hotel is cluttered with so many interesting objects from days gone by and other oddities, it would take 2 days just to go over all the fascinating objects and photographs that fill the bar, lounge and every space in between.

The restaurant.

The Bar

The Lounge Bar

All sorts of famous characters have stayed at Otira and some of them have never left.

 

Once we had booked in and unloaded our gear,  I went for a walk around the adjacent Otira Railway station. Shrouded in mist with drizzly rain, it had real West Coast character

The Railway line joins the city of Christchurch on the Eastern side of the South Island with the Western coast mining town of Greymouth.  Huge trains carrying coal are pulled through the 8-kilometre Otira tunnel and over the pass, but unfortunately, I got no chance of photographing one.

Huge trains need huge pulling power, here four engines provide the muscle to haul the coal train through the pass.

 

 

 

Kea Facts

We wanted to photograph the Keas up at the Otira lookout, these birds are wild birds but love entertaining the tourists and fellow bird photographers so it was up to see them before the light faded.

Kea are on a serious decline in New Zealand.
Kea are considered by some to be the smartest bird in the world.

Watch this if you don’t believe me.

 

On the way to find Kea, one thing that stood out from the muted colour’s of the wet bush rocks and trees, the amazing bright orange moss that grows on the river rocks in all the streams in the area.

 

Slowly we ground our way up the steep grade to the Otria lookout

When we got there, the Mumma and junior were in residence.

The Mumma

Junior, notice the yellow around the eye

 

The rain made getting photos of these birds a bit of a test but we persevered and got some to take home with us.

Dinner time

The local Dunnock seemed to accept the weather conditions.

 

The next day would be the most important of the trip as the Rock Wrens, just 2 of them live up the Otira Stream.
Two birds the size of  Tomtits up that great big valley,, I mean no worries the success of the whole trip depends on us being able to find them right 😛

The invasion of the baby bandits

With the Christmas season over and the new year well under way, it’s time to get back to work and finish last year off with Decembers adventures.

We start December off with an amazing day out at the Wairio wetlands on the eastern shores of lake Wairarapa, hunting for the elusive matuku or Australasian Bittern.

Ducks Unlimited have put in countless hours and moneys into bringing the Wairio Wetlands to life with huge success, creating wide open swamps where water fowl and birds like the matuku can go about their business.

Ducks Unlimited is New Zealand’s leading wetlands and waterfowl conservation group.
They work to save our wetlands through protection, funding, technical aid and education so
that the flora and fauna of our most endangered ecosystem are a legacy we can pass
down to future generations. and they do a great job to see more information about their work please  click on this link

Feeling safe is the major consideration for water fowl and being able to see danger approaching from a long way is how they like it. The once Willow choked wetlands have been cleaned out and clean, fresh, oxygenated, water now flows through the system and the whole place has come to life.

Just as the sun poked its head over the horizon providing enough light, Steve and I were right on the spot, searching for the elusive Bittern and it wasn’t long before we spied our first one out in the middle of the wetland where it had the advantage of seeing us approaching for hundreds of yards.  We enjoyed it through our binoculars for a time, admiring it before we moved on.

Mr Bittern is safe from us way out there in the open.

Waterfowl wheeled in great flocks around the surrounding wetlands , hundreds of them, mostly Grey Teal in this image.

 Hot as it was, we made a plan to walk the Lakeside of the wetland, hoping to pick up a Bittern that wasn’t paying much attention or one with a sub zero level of intelligence.
We found neither, but when we flushed one into the sky ahead of us, an amazing thing happened, it was joined by 6 other Bitterns from all corners of the wetland and then they flew right over us. A total of seven bitterns over head , I could not get them all in the frame at the same time.

No matter what I tried and the best I could do was five.

By now the sun was high in the sky  and beating down on us so we beat a retreat back to the wagon and home.

Baby Bandits

Next up  was a trip to Peka Peka Beach to look up on some old friends of ours, a local pair of Blackfronted Dotterels to see how they were going.
They were acting in a way that could only be explained by having a nest close by and although we had a quick look see, we could not locate it.
Once I got home I contacted, Louise my human bird tracking  device and put her onto the task of finding it, which she did.
Being much shorter than me, she has an advantage when it comes to finding nests on the ground.
I call Blackfronted Dotterels, Bandits because bandit is easier and quicker to type than Blackfronted Dotterels. No not really,  they have a black mask across their face hence the name Blackfronted.
Earlier this year the bandits had, hatched a single  chick, a  first for Peka Peka beach , but sadly it died, We think it was due to the inexperience of the parents, so we hoped better things for thier next attempt.
Louise had surrounded the nest with sticks and logs to protect it from being run over by people using the beach as a rally track.

The sticks do not upset the birds and they adapt instantly to the new arrangement.

  We  waited impatiently over the next few weeks to see how events stacked up.
Meantime life further down the coast was well, … lifeing.

Next up,Chris came down from Tauranga to join me for a two day workshop and that first evening found us out on the Waikanae spit.
We spotted the two rare New Zealand Dotterels That we had found a few weeks before, both females who had laid  6 eggs in a communal nest. This was the first time NZ Dotterels had been recorded this far south on the west coast of the North Island.  Sadly the eggs were not fertile we waited for weeks for them to hatch which they did not but it was still exciting all the same.

Certainly something you don’t see every day, six Dot eggs in one nest and NZ Dots too boot.

Variable Oyster Catches ( Sand Pirates ) were raising their young out on the Waikanae sand spit

We had an awesome time running around in the golden light of early evening photographing the birds. I wont mention nothing about driving all the way from Upper Hutt and getting  nearly to Waikanae, an 1 hour 20 min trip,  only to turn back because someone named Chris realised that he had  forgot his camera and it was back at my flat, no we wont mention that  lol

A New Zealand Dotterel in the last of the sun.

A Sand Pirate, I love back lighting

 

The next day we were up bright and early and off to Zealandia for the day
Our first bit of frenzied activity came when we discovered  two herds of Californian Quail chicks on the path and we got to work trying to get some photos of them as they zig zagged on and off the path ahead of us.

After so many years of trying to get a really good Quail chick shot it happened , they ran up a bank through the broom, stopped and looked back and that was that.

That day Chris was to find out how to shoot birds in the bush. Little birds, little birds that never sit still. The day passed quickly as we tried to keep those blasted little birds in the view finder  LoL.
Chris went home with more questions than answers, but that is the nature of the game.
Bush bird photography is the most hardest discipline.

Bush Birds don’t came much harder than the pōpokatea or Whitehead.

The Baby Bandits

With our bandit nest being kept under almost constant surveillance, eventually the day came when two tiny baby Dots  were spotted by Louise just on dark, so the next morning I was there to capture their first full day.

Daybreak and I was just down from the nest site staring into the gloom, sniper Roge nicknamed because takes his camouflage seriously was to meet me that morning.
As I stood there looking into the gloom  a faint sound of, “Tony” drifted across to me in the breeze, I stared and stared in the half light trying to find the source of my name, “Tony ” the call was repeated over and over again. I could hear it but be blowed if I could see sniper Roge out there among the occasional tussock bushes and sand dunes. I walked vaguely in the general direction of the calling .
Eventually the calling was emanating merely meters away and then finally there hunkered down in a full camo suit, amidst a tussock bush was Roger, pointing excitedly below him, I hit the deck and crawled up close and peered over the edge and saw one of the adults with two chicks 20 meters away .
At last my first ever bandit chick.
We stayed dug in for a while watching from our lofty tussock knoll, then decided the birds were settled and crawled down a bank on our tummies and got a bit closer, They didn’t pay us any mind so we got some more shots as the sun came up.
These birds have proved to be extremely interesting . When approached at first they will flee while your still a good way from them. But if you sit down or even better lie flat on the ground, curiosity gets the better of them and within minutes they will be right back, up close feeding around you and carrying on their business but keeping a close eye on you.
So these birds were well use to us as we had been photographing them all early spring into summer .
Just so long as you sit still, don’t make fast moves or any noise the birds settle down and carry on with their busy lives.

Mum showing off her two new babies.

The chicks are tiny, roughly half the size of a Banded Dotterel chick, not much bigger than a mans thumb nail.

Once I had my shots, so I left them to it .
Sadly one did not make it,  but the other is now looking like its parents and one can hope that it will return to Peka Peka with its partner and raise its own young one day.

 

Next up were the duelling Sand Pirate twins.
Apparently when baby Oyster Catchers get to a certain age they fight for one day to decide who will be the boss. I just happened to strike it lucky and got these two on that day.
They wrestled and fought for hours non stop, it was quite amusing to say the least, they were still going when I left them to it.

The Karate Chick strikes

There’s nothing like a solid karate kick to the mid drift to settle scores.

Finally for the month, we visited a Royal Spoonbill colony where we saw  many new chicks and their parents up to their comical antics, they aint called the goons of the lagoon for nothing .

A committee meeting, Royal Spoonbill style.


Spoonbills may not look that smart, but this chick has its chin or bill rest sorted.

Well that’s just a taste of what December bought us, by the 19th, Steve and I were on our way north for few days to try out the new boat on Lake Taupo but more on that in the next blog.
Bless ya heaps and heaps, I hope you peoples had a great Christmas break, a happy new year and a awesome January.  ❤