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

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

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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 subzero 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.

matuku the Australasian bittern

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 , but sadly it died, We  think it was due to the inexperience of the parents so we hoped better things for this 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 birds adapt instantly to the new arrangement.  

Black Fronted Dotterels

 

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.

tūturiwhatu the New Zealand Dotterel

 

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

tōrea pango the Variable oystercatcher

 

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.

tūturiwhatu the New Zealand Dotterel

 

A Sand Pirate, I love back lighting

tōrea pango the Variable oystercatcher

 

Nite nite, sleep tight.

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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.

Californian Quail

 

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.

pōpokatea the Whitehead

 

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. 

Black Fronted Dotterels

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

Black Fronted Dotterels

 

The chicks are so well camouflaged that even if you think you know where they are, you can still stand on them if your not really really careful.  

Black Fronted Dotterels

 

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.

Black Fronted Dotterels

 

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.

Locked in a wrestling match.

tōrea pango the Variable oystercatcher

The Karate Chick strikes

tōrea pango the Variable oystercatcher

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 Royal Spoonbill committee meeting .

kōtuku ngutupapa  the Royal Spoonbill

 

Flaps down  but coming in hot.

kōtuku ngutupapa  the Royal Spoonbill

 

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

kōtuku ngutupapa  the Royal Spoonbill

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.  ❤

 

 

 

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Christmas message 2017

ruru the New Zealand Morrepork

 

It hardly seems a few months since my last Christmas message, but here we are, the year is winding down .
For some of us the cold is creeping in, others the heat is blowing us away, either way for us mad photographers, regardless of the season, each holds its own beauty and we are compelled to capture it.
For me Christmas is a time to remember that God incarnated Himself into His own creation. He did this so He could identify with us and our struggles and to help us overcome life’s hurdles. He went on to eventually experience death on a cross after living the perfect life and defeat it on our behalf. This opens the way  for us to fellowship with Him and share His new life for all eternity if we come to Him as a Father to forgive us our sins and walk with Him through this thing we call life.
Jesus is the ultimate Christmas gift to mankind.

For me the huge blessings this year has been the people God  bought into my life.
Some were just passing through, others will become life long friends, others may become much more and most somewhere in between.
I want to thank those who have hired me over the year to share with you my passion and to help me realise my dream of teaching and encouraging people to get the best out of their gear and to really look at things and life with deliberate intention.
Photography can be much, much, more than just clicking the shutter. it can change the way you see light, colour and life itself, if you let it.
Photography can stop you in your tracks and make you pay close attention to what is going on around you. It can force you to enjoy and live in the moment, something God has been impressing on me this year. God is not the,  (I was), or the  (I will be) , but identifies Himself as the I AM.
I also want to say a great big thankyou to all the members of my Facebook Group New Zealand bird image share 
Our group has grown to over 1,000 members now and is a dynamic community where people can post their bird images, both New Zealand birds and those from over seas  and share their excitement or disappointment.
We have a theme for every day of the week as well as post what ever bird you feel like.
The place is buzzing, exciting and inspiring for people at all levels of expertise.

Again A great big THANKYOU to you peoples for making the group such a success. ❤

November report

November was yet another super busy month with myself on a personal quest to get a good shot of the Black Fronted Dotterel  or little bandits as I call them because they have a natural mask.

Remain standing up and all you will see of these birds is them at a distance .
But get down on your tummy, lie flat and try and make yourself look half pie hidden and they can not resist coming in close just to let you know that they are on to you.

black fronted dotterel

 

The chick magnet thingie

November is chickie time, not human female chickie time,  but birdie chickie time.
The Wading birds on our coasts start laying their eggs and raising their young

The promise of things to come

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Thus the month started off with an irresistible pull to monitor and eventually photograph the next generation of birds.

Being an expectant Banded Dotterel is not for the faint hearted  out on the exposed sand spit at Waikanae  frequent sand storms make life very uncomfortable for days on end .
Dotterels are forced to face into the wind to prevent sand from getting in between the feathers at the root level and damaging the structure  so  with eyeballs dripping with watery sand, they face the onslaught and patiently await the arrival of their young.

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Still stormy but the wind has let up

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

Meantime I had a workshop back in the forest  where the sand does not go.
Remember to always clean your camera when you come back home from the beach

This is mr tīeke the Saddleback , once seldom seen but because of the tireless work of a few they are making a huge comeback on the mainland of New Zealand.

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The Cock Pheasants are still out strutting around showing off to the girls .

Pheasant

 

Back to the beach

One of two New Zealand Dotterel, the first ever recorded this far south on the western side of the North Island  Waikanae 2017. May we get more of these rare birds down here in the future.

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and eventually they arrive, the Dotterel Chicks, the moment we have all waited for

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

Not much bigger than a thumb nail

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

But within a few short weeks he wants to push his Dad around.

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The Oyster Catches nest along side the Dotterels

tōrea the Variable oystercatcher

On time their young arrived too.
Basking in the warm evening sun.

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All in all a great year thanks to the many peoples  I have in my life.
Esp the Dotterel Crusaders group that we use to keep each other up to date with life out on the spit, Steve for being a great mate, Rosie for helping me with my website and encouraging me into seeking God on a deeper level, Danger Mouse for keeping me on my toes and Kath my week day companion.

Have a great Christmas  peoples .

May next year be an exciting one. ❤

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

The heat shimmer blue’s

We are now into the beginning of Summer , for those of us who are now busy chasing after those birds that breed and raise families on our beaches and estuaries , our old enemy heat shimmer has raised its ugly head.
Once you hit the focal length of 300 mils and above, heat shimmer plays a major, if not the dominate role in robbing us of our beloved detail we all crave in our images.
Many of us love to get down low and shoot at the bird at about its head height as this often gives the most pleasing pose. Sadly this is where most of the heat is being bounced off the hot surface back into the air, this is where  heat shimmer is most apparent.
Sadly, often we cannot see the mirage effect through the view finder, esp if we are close to our subject and everything looks fine until you get home and load your beloved images into your favourite image processing program and desperation descends on you as you frantically search your images for one single sharp one.

So what does heat shimmer look like ?

Posted here is our  model Mr Steve Wass, demonstrating how heat shimmer robs us of clarity and detail and distorting the entire image.

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Notice the worst of it is close to the ground  and in the far background, so the closer you are to the ground and more distance between you and your subject the more heat shimmer effect will be visible.

So what does it look like.

This image below is an extreme example, nothing is sharp  even though the bird was very close.
I was low to the sand  which was rising slightly between the Dotterel and myself  resulting in nothing being pin sharp.

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

Here is another example
This could have been an awesome photo, it certainly looked that way through the view finder at the time . Sadly nothing is really sharp.

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A long range shot.
The Kingston Flyer out of Queenstown on a hot summer morning.

The Kingston Flyer

 

Other than hot concrete  Grass has to be  the next worse reflector followed by hot sand.
Even on a cool day here, the grass robbed me of sharp detail on this Hawk because the shiny grass makes for a great heat reflector, notice the effects further back in the image, the characteristic blotchy, squiggly, chaotic, mess  instead of a smooth out of focus background.

kāhu the Australasian swamp Harrier

 

Sometimes heat shimmer looks cool but mostly it makes you want to say bad, bad,  bad words.

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So what can we do about it ?

1. Shoot only in early morning is your best chance of avoiding the heat shimmer demon , even late evening  wont be enough to cool sand down.

2. Avoid  shooting from a low position when it warms up.

3  Go swimming and take up sun bathing over summer without a camera.

4. Try opening up your aperture as wide as you can.
Common wisdom says the least depth of field  or depth of focus  the less chance you have of distortion  ruining your image.
I have found this never to work for me but perhaps you will have better luck.

5. windy days have less surface heat but no guarantees, the  same goes for over water.

6 .  Get up early in the morning and shoot  when the light is best anyway  is the best remedy  then go swimming snooze or sunbath.

Bless you guys and gals heaps.

 

 

Wow October just blew past.

What on earth have I been doing.

Ive been very busy, either out in the field taking photos, or working away at home on my image gallery.
Im behind in my monthly updates  and the image gallery is a massive task as I am uploading hundreds of images for sale so I live in catch up mode.

Breeding is in full swing, with the first batch of chicks, especially our Dotterels and Oyster Catcher chicks racing around the  beaches keeping us busy and covered in sand.
Heat, wind, sand, sand and more blasting sand has been my constant companion for the last 6 weeks.
This is our windy season as the temperatures are rising leading  into summer and the heat shimmer has raised its ugly head (more on heat shimmer later in another post).

October Monthly update

The month started off with a trip to Staglands for a workshop.

Kath and Carolyn looking relaxed.  

Kath

 

Staglands  has a great variety of domestic and semi domestic wildlife .
Finding the birds is not hard, but photographing them is another matter all together, this makes Staglands an ideal venue for photographic  workshops.

A handsome Old English Game Fowl cock bird poses for me.

Old English game fowl-

 

The male Wood Ducks are always a star attraction because of their stunning colours.

Wood Duck

 

Next up we were entertained by the gold medal winning aerobatic red-eared slider turtle team .

Red-Eared Slider Turtle

 

A new batch of piggies also stole alot of attention.

Pigs--4

By the end of the weekend , we were all worn out  and went back home to our computers with memory cards bulging and more than a few days of sorting and processing to look forward too.

Next up  Steve and I got a chance to photograph  some pōpokotea or White Head.

The  pōpokotea or White Head occurs only in the North Island of New Zealand with a very similar bird the mohoua or Yellow head occurring only in the South Island which sadly I don’t have a photo of YET.

Small and zippy these bird can give you a very good work out trying to nail them.

pōpokotea  or Whitehead

 

Smudge

One early evening  Steve heard a ruru call just down the track from where we were scouting for Shining Cuckoos, so when we had more time we revisited the location, this time with the ruru as our main target.

Introducing Smudge, a female ruru or New Zealand Morepork.  so named because she lives in a very dark  gully where the low light means slow shutter speeds and getting sharp clear shots of her are a real challenge.

Female ruru are quite a bit larger than the male and don’t have the strong colour contrasting  in their feathering that the male has. 

ruru the New Zealand morepork.

 

Such a pretty gal she has given us a lot of joy photographing her.
She has been absent of late and we hope its because she is on a nest.
If you are a female ruru, you get to look after the nest and eggs all on your lonesome  as the male will not participate in raising the young until they leave the nest and become perching birds.

ruru the New Zealand morepork.

 

Next up was a trip back to Zealandia as both Kath and I wanted some more Whitehead shots so that is what we set out to do.
It was slim pickins on the Whitehead front, but all the other species  put in an appearance and in abundance.

tīeke the Saddle Back is a loud bird and lets you know you have entered its territory during nesting time.

tīeke the NorthIsland Saddle Back

 

hihi  or the Stitch Bird are amusing little birds, very stroppy and often come in with tails straight up , the feathers on their heads  erect and full of attitude.
If you were to go back 20 years, you would never have seen this bird on the mainland of New Zealand, but thanks to the team at Zealandia and a hand full of other peoples in other locations around the country, the hihi, once again is breeding and starting to thrive in some of our forests.

hihi  or the Stitch Bird

hihi the Stitch Bird

 

Finally we found a whitehead that was kind enough to let us photograph it.
pōpokotea or Whitehead are very seldom noticed by most people although they are far from rare.
They tend to stay in the tops of the trees and move around the forest in groups chartering much like a Chaff Finch at times. Males have a whiter head than the female

A Male pōpokotea or Whitehead

pōpokotea  or Whitehead

Fluttering Pheasants 

Next on the agenda  was  a little  project Steve and I have been working on for a few years now.
Photographing Pheasants is a hard enough challenge in its self, but to photograph a Cock Bird during its call with its wings beating wildly in the air and at an incredible speed is a different challenge all together. I have many photos from over the years but still none that I consider THE definitive photo, the quest continues.

We managed to find a Cock Bird on sentry duty and settled down to keep and eye on him as he patrolled his territory hoping that he would issue his challenge where we could photograph him.
15 minutes later he had positioned himself for his call and clickerty click, click went the 1DX.

Cock Pheasant

Even at 3,200 hundredths of a second the shutter was  not fast enough to freeze his wings perfectly.

Cock Pheasant

 

Next up  was a quest for one of our favourite birds the pīpīwharauroa or Shining Cuckoo.
The day was fading and it was last light, in a last ditch desperate effort we approached a tree we had photographed a Shining Cuckoo in the year before to give it a finale whirl.  No sooner had the call gone out than this bird landed right in front of us centre stage.
Often Bird photography is just like this.
All day nothing happens and one becomes reconciled with the feelings of disappointment only to have victory at the last possible moment and this folks, brings the bird photographer out after that hard to get bird time and time again.

To have this  Bird respond to the caller land right in front of us in wonderful soft light  was the highlight of October for me.
pīpīwharauroa, the Shining Bronze Cuckoo

pīpīwharauroa the Shining Cuckoo

 

I like the way the two branches frame this shot .

pīpīwharauroa the Shining Cuckoo

 

October was such a huge month this year so I have to leave out so many images I would love to post, but I will wind up this month with what became a labour of love involving a number of us.

Dotterel time

While Louise AKA Danger Mouse was out scouting for Birds on the spit at Waikanae she spied a tūturiwhatu or Banded Dotterel nest and shared the news among us local bird peoples and thus began a 4 week vigil, shared among 3 teams to keep an eye on the nest and report the moment any of the eggs hatched.
Why the fuss  about the timing?
Because once the chicks are more than a day old they can run like Olympic sprinters  and don’t stop untill there is a good distance  between them and us.
During those first few hours when the birds are fresh out of the egg, they tend to crouch and freeze when people are near by giving us a chance of getting close.

Mr Dotterel on nesting duty, exciting times are ahead.

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

Mr tūturiwhatu

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

Mrs tūturiwhatu, notice she does not have the black band around the base of her throat like her hubby ?

tūturiwhatu the Banded Dotterel

 

You peoples will have to wait till next months report to see how it all pans out  as we have reached the end of October.

Ooooooh one last thing, did I mention wind and the sand?

This is what one has to put up with, this time of the year, sand gets everywhere and I mean everywhere, considering that one tries to get as close to the subjects height  for  a good profile this means being low down in that mess .

Its a hard life but I would not exchange it for anything lol

sand and wind

 

I will leave the last word  up to Mrs Smudge.

Good night folks and God bless yas heaps and heaps.

ruru the New Zealand Morrepork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2017 Monthly Report

September 2017 Monthly Report   

Well September was a busy but wet month here in Wellington.

After a hectic August September, 2017 kicked off with a fine weekend set aside just for Steve and I to enjoy. I love running workshops and making new friends, but nothing beats going out with a mate like Steve. He knows exactly what he is doing with his rig and we work together like a team. I can relax and concentrate on the job at hand and immerse myself in my favourite activity. Our style is more like hunting, particularly bush stalking than one might first realise. We sneak through the bushes and swamps seeking our target species.

First up I manged to sneak up on this kōwhai flower.
Yellow is my favourite autumn colour and also my early spring colour too.

kōwhai

Kapiti/Mana District

Our first intended target were Pheasants. So we headed off up the Kapiti/Mana coast north of Wellington looking for some action.

Things were a bit slow at first. We were thinking about heading further north when we spotted a mob of one Cock bird with 5 female pheasants in his entourage. They were out in the paddocks some ten meters from the edge of some pine trees. So we put the stalk on them sneaking through the trees. But right at the last hurdle it became impossible to get closer without making our presence known. We were faced with a last minute scurry. bumble, stumble, up over and through a thick carpet of knee high pine branches stacked up right on the edge of the forest – meters from the birds. We made the best of it but the birds were on to us. However I shot this before the last hen departed from the main runway.

Often the Cock Pheasant gets all the attention. Nevertheless I think a female Pheasant is a very pretty bird in her own right.

Hen Pheasant

Time for a change of venue and do some swamp sneaking to find our star species. So it was further north for the pūweto or Spotless Crake.

Steve and I have spent so much time hunting this bird with good success at times that Steve Richards has been renamed Crake Richards. But alas today was not to be one of them days. However I got a wonderful shot of a kuruwhengi or New Zealand Shoveler Duck. It’s the bird Louise calls the Cock Pheasant of New Zealand Ducks because of its amazing colours.

kuruwhengi the New Zealand shoveler,

A warou or welcome swallow sat nicely on a steel post in lovely light so clikerty click went the shutter.

Welcome swallow

Staglands

The following week Louise and I had a training day out at Staglands Wildlife Reserve. While Nomad Kath and her sister Barbara accompanied us.

Louise was convinced if she just kissed this red-eared slider turtle it would turn into her charming prince.

She was disappointed lol.

Louise--13

Me old mate The Turkinator was lurking in the depths waiting for round 3.

Turkey

After a busy morning discussing how we can improve our workshops at Staglands we retired for lunch in the sun beside the bird feeder. The staff fed the birds while we enjoyed our food along side the feeder.

White Eyes

I still had a fascination for peacock feathers so I tried to think creatively and came up with this.

Peacock Feathers

We visited the the local bandits.
Rocky was in fine form.

Rocky the Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Louise aka captain cuddles can’t resist the rabbits. She pounced on this one!

Louise

A Red Pole put in an appearance and that rounded off a pretty busy day for us.

Red Pole

Zealandia

Next up Carolyn flew up from the South Island having booked the whole last weekend of the month. So it was a very busy end for my September.

The Saturday was spent teaching how to shoot forest birds without the use of flashes. Using a flash takes away the natural look of the bird in its environment. It eliminates contrast, flattening out the image and can deaden the over all dynamic of the image.

Learning to get the best out of your camera in poor light conditions such as in the forest takes a lot of practice and patience. I put Carolyn through her paces and gave her a lot to think about and will be putting those new tricks into practice when she gets home.

Zealandia has the most amazing opportunities to shoot native birds in the wild. Opportunities that you just don’t find in the main forested areas of New Zealand. That’s due to the very heavy trapping of predators and supplementary feeding throughout the year.

Shooting in the Dark

My rig and settings for the day …

  • Canon 1 DX and a 300 prime with a 2x converter attached to it.
  • That gives me a focal length of 600 mills which is a handful to handle in a forest.
  • The converter stole 2 stops of light off me.
  • For each one stop slower means halving the shutter speed.
  • So at f2.8 I might be around 1,000th of a second.
  • 2 stops slower at 5.6 means 250th of a second.
  • Reality was I was around 80th-  40th of a second.
  • I set the camera to 2,500  ISO and f5.6 for most of the day. Most middle of the road modern digital cameras can handle these modest settings.

My main target was the tīeke or North Island Saddleback. Eventually I managed to nail this one.

tīeke or North Island Saddleback

Next up was Mr hihi or Stitch Bird.

hihi or Stich Bird

There is much to consider when one shoots birds in the forest. The background light can play a huge role. You need to be on your feet. Pay attention through the view finder and not let the background light compete with the bird.

I will go into greater detail on how to go about this discipline in a later article.

korimako the Bell Bird also gave us a lot of enjoyment.

korimako the Bell Bird.

kākāriki the Red Crowned Parakeet

kākāriki the Red Crowned Parakeet

Latest News

I’ve a huge overhaul going on with the website. I’m creating a totally new and comprehensive image gallery from the ground up. As a result people will find it easy to browse for the image they need. However this will take some months so I will leave the old image gallery up until I’m ready to launch the new one.

Upcoming Events

Our Pelagic trip out into the Cook Straight was booked out pretty quickly. If any person who booked a seat early with a deposit has to withdraw for any reason I have a short list of reserves.

This is the second trip Boney Whitefoot has organised. I limit the numbers to 13 people including myself. That means that there’s enough room on the boat to position yourself to get those wonderful shots of the Albatross and other open ocean birds.

Our next trip out will be in February. So if you don’t want to miss out I suggest you keep an eye on this blog and get in quick next time.

Time to wrap it up , sorry this report came a bit late but better late then never.
I hope you enjoy my photos and God bless all you peoples heaps.


A great big thank you goes out to Rosie for helping me with some gamma lessons, thanks Sister.  ❤

July Monthly report 2017

July is mid winter here  in New Zealand , this means our  Rugby Season is in full swing and our national team the All Blacks are  furthering our designs on world domination.

While most of our country is in a fever pitch, warm at home in the comfort of their lounges, screaming at thier television sets , some of us more hardy souls venture out in the weather, tasting what nature has to offer, while trying to squeeze it all through our lenses and record it onto our digital sensors.

This July past, was no exception, the month started of for me with a Father and Daughter team workshop, at Staglands Wildlife Park.
Corinne, (Wren)  and her Dad, Adam, (The Blade), , had booked a sunny but freezing cold day with me .

Adam is a saw doctor, hence his nick name (The Blade) , thats saw, not sore doctor lol .

The Saturday morning  started out warm enough in the Staglands cafeteria.
We were parked up beside a large roaring fire, with cups of coffee resting on a warm wooden table.
All was very cosy as I drew diagrams of cameras and explained their mysterious workings and how we could go about fooling them into behaving for us.
It didn’t seem very long however before I ran out of words, coffee and diagrams and we forced to head outside to face the cold head on and try and put into practice what I had just been teaching  them.
This was not our first time out together as this dynamic  father and daughter duo had booked a workshop about the same time the  year before  and they got right down to business building on what they learnt last time.

Wren keeps her eye on her target, in this case a Kea .

Wren 2-

Mr Mute Swan  is always a popular subject for my clients  and he was next up.

Mute Swan--3

 

Sometimes I do take photos  of non birds, these mushrooms  grabbed my attention.

Mushrooms--2

 

Next on the agenda was Rocky the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.
Ive become quite good at coaxing him out of his warm nest box,  up on the hill  above the track . Most times I can get him to come  down for a few treats, where he can be patted and made a big fuss over.

Wren and Rocky the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Wren and Rocky 2-

Once Wren and Rocky ran out of conversation we went off in search of something else to challenge us .

Mr Peacock has been slowly growing his tail feathers  for mating season in a few months time.

Peacock-5434-Edit

 

A visit to the Mandarin Ducks  was next on the agenda.

Mandarin Ducks

 

Soon it was lunch time so we filed back into the warmth of the cafe for a bite to eat  and then put in another hour before calling it a day.

This peacock was posed just too nice, to pass up on.

Peacock-5742-Edit

 

Mrs whio looked a bit grumpy as it was getting colder by the minute as the light was fading, so we packed it in and headed home.

whio-

 

Mid winter at Staglands is a real challenge for any  photographer, there is not a great deal of light available for most of the  day, however during the summer  the sun floods in all day long.

As we drove away we were being watched by a Silkie chicken, his hairstyle is very similar to mine lol.

Silkie  chickens --3

 

Thus ended a wonderful day out with Wren and Adam and as they had already booked for yet another adventure in 3 weeks time and  I was looking forward to seeing them again soon.

Pelagic Paradise. 

The highlight of the month was to be our pelagic trip out into the Cook Straight.

The boat launches from Seaview in the Wellington Harbour and is the only boat that I know of  that caters for Bird photographers.
In fact I think its an unbeatable deal for those living in the lower North Island  wanting to photograph Birds that inhabit the Pelagic zone.

What is The Pelagic Zone 

Twelve people turned up besides myself, for our event out on the wild sea.

The trip  lasts  for 6 hours, One hour steaming out and one back with an amazing  4 hours  where we would meet up with birds that never come ashore  save for breeding which is in the sub- antarctic regions of the Southern Seas.

This trip was going to be the highlight of the year for me personally and as it was the first event on this scale I have ever undertaken to organise, I was more than a little nervous.

I had nothing to worry about  as it turned out, as the quality of the people who came on the trip and the professional staff of the the fishing vessel Seafarer II made it  a very enjoyable excitement filled event indeed.

Most if not all of the people on board knew each other through my facebook page . 

The team for the day, two of which came all the way from the south Island .

the pelagic team

 

As day broke, our team embarked onto the boat, we given a quick safety talk and we were off .

Last year I was invited to go on a trip with 19 other birders out onto the Cook Straight.
I had a ball  but with 19 other folks on board, the boat was pretty crowded and most of them were birders but not photographers .
The trip was amazing, but as soon as I got home I decided I would organise  my own event next time  and  design it just for bird photographers and limit the amount of people on board .

The Birds

I have a gazillion images from the team to post, so what I will do, is post a full trip report in a few weeks time  showing off some of the amazing images  these enthusiastic people captured .

For now Im happy just to post a series of images of some of the species list of what we saw on our trip.

First up a Giant Nothern Petrel cruised past the boat.

Giant Petrel

 

Last year I saw lots of Buller’s and White Capped Albatrosses, but only one fairly weather beaten Salvin’s Albatross.

I really wanted some tidy looking Salvin’s this time out and they turned up in numbers, I was thrilled.

The Salvin’s Albatross. 

Salvins Albatross

 

 

Next up to visit us was the huge Southern Royal Albatross.
This is the heaviest bodied Albatross in the world  and only a fraction shorter in wing span from the largest, the true wandering or Snowy Albatross, by a very small margin.

Still being early in the morning, the light still has a soft pinkish glow to it.

Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatross

The close up

Southern Royal Albatross

 

From the biggest to the smallest bird for the day and another species I desperately wanted, the Fairy Prion.

These tiny sea birds are just stunning and so fragile looking,  yet they live  their entire life out on the open angry Southern Ocean.
To say I was over joyed with this shot would be an understatement, it made my trip. They hard hard targets to track up close on the moving boat, a real challenge.

Fairy Prion

Fairy Prion

 

Next up was the Black Browed Albatross

Black Browed Albatross

The close up

Black Browed Albatross

 

Next the Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

 

The Northern Royal Albatross has heavy dark coloured wings that remain constant through out their life span , where as the Southern has a dark wing that fades from dark to white, from the leading edge of the wing towards the back, that increases as they age, until very little colour remains

Northern Royal Albatross

 

The cape petrels were next on the list  and these two came round like two little jet fighters on a strafing run.

Cape Petrel

 

Cape Petrel

 

Salvin’s, I just couldn’t get me enough of these birds that day.

Salvins Albatross

 

Albatross often have their wing tips  dipping into the water.
Its become a bit of a challenge to me to catch this behaviour.

Salvin’s  dipping his wing.

Salvins Albatross

 

A White Capped Albatross .

White Capped Albatross

 

These little Fairy Prions were a real challenge.

Fairy Prion

 

The trip was so successful we have immediately booked another trip  for the 12th of November and all ready we are half booked out.

 

That’s it for this month, I will leave the last word  to Mr Salvin’s

Later dudes and dudesses   ❤

Salvins Albatross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posture. How to improve your bird photography, part 2.

In our last article on how to improve our bird photography, we looked at composition from the photographers side and what we can do to position ourselves in such a way as to  get the best possible composition here .
In this short article  we will look at the posture, position, or if you like, the attitude of the bird.

Patience. 
Being patient is the key here, wait till your subject is in a good posture or position  to show themselves off before tripping that shutter.

In this example below, the bird has wonderful, interesting, early morning light, falling on the face of the  bird, we are positioned correctly, sun is behind us and we are down low so the profile is great,  but I pressed the shutter with the birds  head in the wrong position.
It doesn’t take much to ruin the image or to lessen the impact the image, could have had if one had been patient.

Having the birds face angled away from us like this, detracts from the image.

Wood Ducks-1509

 

Remember, you are trying to show the bird off at its best, your photo should be all about the bird.

This image below has the bird looking alert with the face in a good position.

Wood Duck--19

 

Here is another example of how not to take a picture of your bird.
Going away, head facing away, just about everything about this image is wrong .
Bad boy Tony lol.

tētē the  Grey Teal-2569

 

Not all going away photos are bad.
This image still works well, because the all important face of the bird is still a strong feature in the image, especially the eye .

wood ducks-113-Edit

 

This next image should need no further explaining as to why it simply sucks.

It might be a tad over stated, it might be a bit on the extreme side, but we should be getting to point.

Lady Amherst's pheasant

 

Be  patient, wait, wait, wait,  till you get a chance of a shot that flatters the bird and shows him or her off at his or her best.

Lady Amherst's pheasant

 

This week I am starting a series of images on my face book page here  that showcase New Zealand landscapes  in the format of a virtual road trip.
Starting from the top of the North Island we will work our way down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island on the West Coast side and then work our way back up on the East Coast.

We start our journey at Cape Reinga (Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori), which  is basically ,the northern most point of New Zealand.

The joining of two oceans, the Tasman on the left and the Pacific Ocean to the right , certainly  no place to float a dingy .

Cape Reinga  or te rerenga wairua

 

Tourists watch the year ending as the sun slips quietly out of sight behind the horizon.
Sunset New Years eve 2012

Cape Reinga (Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori)

 

 

 

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 part 3,The Crake arena.

We finished part 2 with Steve and I back home in Upper Hutt, waiting for the windows on the wagon to get fixed, determined not to let the thieves spoil our trip.
The down time was spent at home processing the images I  already had for the trip  and fine tuning the third phase of our trip, while also keeping an eye on the birding community, just in case something big was happening up country that we could poke our nose into.

Word soon filtered through to us that Donald had replaced Steve “CRAKE” Richards as the Shakespeare Crake Spotter in “Steve’s spot” with great success.
But what was even more exciting was that Oscar, his sidekick had located a whole community of Spotless Crakes feeding on the wet mud, surrounding a small pond hidden among the toi toi bushes in the spot I had casually pointed out to Don as being an ideal spot for Crakes.
Dons photos of the Crakes started appearing in the forums fuelling our determination to return to the north.
Mike Ashbee and his partner Amber from Christchurch in the South Island had lucked out timing a trip up north on a pelagic trip that coincided with the finding of the Crakes and ended up with the  massive bonus of being able to photograph them. 
Spotless Crakes are very rare in the South Island and in fact I dont know anyone who  has ever seen one down there ,  Mike was over the moon with his images.

Steve made new windows for the wagon out of some material he found lying around,  as we had no time to wait till the local businesses to re-open after the new year’s holiday.
Steve had spent many years living on the isolated steward Island, where he learnt many skills and fixing stuff was one of them.
An opportunity like this is rare indeed, so the gear was thrown into the wagon and back up past Auckland we headed.

Day 1: Heading North
As it was, this gave us another chance at the Black Kite on the way north , so Oram Road, the birds happy hunting ground was our first destination.
It was late afternoon around 5pm when we made Huntly a small town 20 mins south of Oram road, here  we held a meeting of the board of directors and it was unanimously decided that dinner (supper if you’re a yank) would be purchased in Huntly and then devoured in the wagon at a well known corner on Oram Road where the Black Kite had been spotted before and so it transpired.

We had just pulled up and parked off the road, my packet of fish and chips, once safely wrapped in paper, was now spread open on my lap, a generous amount of tomato sauce was being applied to the chips when I happened to look out the window.
(&%$$^%$””)  Not 30 meters away, here comes the Black Kite flying directly at us.
Camera on the floor under my feet, a lap loaded with fish and chips, tomato sauce bottle open, all in all a recipe for a great big mess lol.
Steve was outside the wagon looking over an area of swamp with his back to me.
KITE, KITE, KITE, I hissed, making sure it was more than loud enough to get Steve’s attention.

I cant say Im aware of exactly what happened in the next few seconds but most of my fish and chips remained in the paper and there is to this day NO tomato sauce stains on the seats .
But I was out side in a jiffy trying to focus on that bird as it glided past oblivious to the frantic panicking going on below.  Click click  I managed to nail it on the way past .

For the uninitiated  this a packet of fish and chips once wrapped in paper , now spread open on my lap

Hokitika-

I nailed the Black Kite on the way past.

black Kite-1922-Edit


It glided past up the road out of sight, Steve was now in the driving seat, engine roaring and off up the road in a  a spray of pebbles, and dust we went in hot pursuit.
We got to the end of the road without seeing it again, Back down the road we came, lamenting such a missed opportunity when Steve spotted the bird coming out of the sun, if it stayed on its current course it would pass right in front of us.
This time we were prepared , the wagon glided to a stop , out of the wagon spilt our two heroes and clikerty click, click went the cameras as the bird glided  right over us.

The sky was very bright over cast and the sun still well above the bird so I choose to shoot one and a half stops over the reading the camera had made its mind up to use.
This way the bird would not appear as a sharp black silhouette in a pure white sky.
I always shoot in pattern or average exposure mode, so the camera looks at all that bright white sky and the little dark object (the bird) and decides to set the exposure for and over all average exposure based on that combined information , the result is devastation for the user as they end up with a perfectly exposed sky and a jet black bird. Solution? force the camera to over expose the sky  called over compensation and hope you are in the ball park.
Experience plays a major role in knowing how to push the camera exposure in the right direction and by how much.
Much back patting went on as we both had pretty good images of a bird seldom seen in New Zealand, we were off to a great start.

I could have done with pushing the exposure another half a stop,  but you takes what you get  in this game.

Black Kite-1981-Edit

 

Day 2 :The Crake Arena
Day 2 found us at the Crake Arena and we set up and settled down well hidden with a feeling of great excitement and anticipation .

The pond is perfectly placed in the centre of a mixed forest of toi toi and flax bushes, with  an open area of about 30 feet in circumference.
Several Crake families were using the area to feed and disputes were frequent hence the name Crake Arena.
Some of us will remember a computer game called Quake Arena, so that’s where the idea came from.

Crakes love damp to very wet gooey mud, close to cover that contains worms and many insects.
With summer now in full swing the water table in the swamp had dropped reducing the wet areas the Crakes use to feed, this made the Crake arena a hot spot of activity and it wasn’t long before we got our first customer.
The first character to appear was a young Crake chick, I lay as still as I could, flat on the damp ground the camera out in front of me and me trying to hide behind it.
The Crake did not seem to care, it fed incredibly close and my eyes must have been popping out of my head.
This first image will give us an idea of just how small these birds are.
This bird is almost full size , the blades of grass are just inches high

Spotless Crake or puweto-21
This juvenile is almost adult size

Spotless Crake or puweto-9
Off and on various Crakes visited the arena and as the day wore on the light became very harsh and we retired to Dons house for a snooze and a bite to eat.
Unfortunately that night, it became very overcast and the light faded very quickly.
Spotless Crakes are food for just about everything out there and certainly all the predatory birds in the sky as well as ground based predators, so they are super, scatty, nervous, creatures that are ever on the alert.
Crakes move around with quick, jerky movements, never stopping , often speeding off into cover for no good reason. Sometimes they just leave you scratching your head.
Without good light my shutter speed was not going to be fast enough to give me sharp images on these fast moving birds, so it was pack it in for the day and hope for a better luck tomorrow.

Day 3: The Crake Arena revisited.
Tomorrow arrived and it looked like just what we wanted.

Day 3 dawned perfect for what we wanted

sunset-

For most of the day the arena was visited by a mixture of chicks and juveniles, but there was also more going on in and around the arena than just the Crakes.
tui flew, or more accurately, hovered, above the arena snatching insect’s out of the air on the wing, very impressive.

Anyone who has tried to photograph tui on the wing will appreciate just how hard it is and Im very pleased with these shots as the light at the time was less than favourable.

tui-1

 

The shutter speed was not fast enough to freeze the wing beat of this bird,  but I was very happy with this shot .

tui--2
Eastern Rosella landed close by and I managed to stalk a few, there was always something going on to keep us amused, most valuable though by far was being able to watch the Crakes completely out in the open doing their thing  and we learnt heaps about their feeding habits and survival skills.

Eastern Rosella landed close by and I managed to stalk a few.

eastern rosella-2572-Edit

 

Mostly  the arena was visited by youngsters , this one was very young .

Spotless Crake or puweto-43

Two sizes

Spotless Crake or puweto-3

 

As the day wore on, the sun began to slip from the sky the adults came out to feed, talk about a challenge. Them little muthas were close and moving at speed, I was lying flat along the ground in the grass to get my preferred head level straight at the bird profile shots, trying to keep them in the view finder kept me busy.
To have these birds so close to us at last, was a real treat.
The adult birds tended to stalk stealthy in on the insects, then rush at them at the last moment, click blast  missed, click ,click, click……..click, blast missed again, it was tricky to say the least .

Spotless Crake or puweto-24

 

Ready to pounce

Spotless Crake-2487-Edit
A bit of breeze up the bum every now and again made for interesting images

Spotless Crake or puweto-11
Insect eating, mud monster

Spotless Crake or puweto-15

 

 

Day 4 : Pureora Forest Park

However, how many similar shots of one species of bird does one need in the same environment ?
The next day would be wasted spending it with the Crakes yet again, as we would getting the same type of images, so it was throw everything into the back in the wagon and blast back down the Island to our beloved, koekoeā or Long tail Cuckoo  spot, in the Pureora Forest Park, deep in the heartland of the King Country.

Every year for the past 4 years this has been our grand finale.
As far as Im concerned to get good photos of these birds in flight is the most rewarding  and satisfying. 
These bird have caused me to create new and unheard of swear words over the few years, just especially for them, they are truly in a class of their own lol.
When they do pass you by, they do not fly level, they fly almost nap or the earth, that means they follow the contour of the landscape up over high points, diving down in the dips.
You just don’t get to appreciate how fast these bird fly and how tricky they are till you try to keep them in the viewfinder.
These Cuckoos migrate here each summer to lay eggs in the Whitehead nests, a bird about the size of a sparrow.
pōpokotea or  Whitehead is about the size of a house sparrow

pōpokotea or the Whitehead

 

During winter, long-tails live on a heap of different Islands scattered around the Pacific Ocean where they spent their time lazing around in the sun all day, but each year they fly here to New Zealand, pop out an egg or two into a Whitehead nest and force their kids onto the poor unsuspecting whitehead, who is then forced to feed a baby that becomes 6 times their size for the summer months.
Then they and the chicks fly back up north into the Pacific during our winter, have a friendly family party of it , patting each other on the back celebrating a job well done.

Some one really needs to sit down with these birds and explain just how irresponsible parents they are.

It would be a lot easier if the birds could be found in the same areas every year, but that just isn’t so.
We have to hunt and scout for them each year, but when we track them down the fun begins.
We are not really looking for single birds, what we are after mainly is communities of these birds, that’s where the action really is.
This year it took us 2 days to find them but when we did, man did it go off.
If you can imagine 2 rows  of trees about 150 meters long  with an open corridor of about 4 meters between them  with over a dozen birds screeching at each other from the trees on both sides.

A long tail flies over head, a very challenging target 

koekoeā the Long tail Cuckoo--24
Low and hard out  its even more challenging lol

koekoeā the Long tail Cuckoo--14

 

It was deafening and impossible to photograph them most of the time as they flew from  one side to the other before we could get anywhere near ready , they are also experts at putting branches between them and us once they know we are after them.
We snuck up and down those trees trying to photograph the birds screeching and hollering making such a racket it was hard to hold onto to our sanity. These birds make no wing beat noise when they fly so we had no warning when one would break cover to fly across in front or behind us. We were pretty much nervous wrecks by the time we left them to it.

Sneaking up and down the row of trees, as stealthy as possible, has its occasional rewards.

koekoeā the Long tail Cuckoo--18

What a way to finish what had certainly been our most rewarding trip to date.
but  the longtails are not the only game in Pureora.

An adult Bell bird with its chick.

Bell Bird-3692-Edit
The bell bird is so  named after the bell sounding call it makes.

Bell Bird-3698-Edit

A tomtit singing for all its worth.

Tomtit-4151-Edit

 
So much had happened over the last  few  weeks and as per normal we were already planning or next trip away during the winter months.
We had learnt a lot of new information and it would prove to be invaluable in aiding us on the Crakes we had lined up closer to home.
What a trip we had this year.

I manged to knock the top of my wish list  for a home run.
Marsh Crake
Spotless Crake
Banded Rail
Black Kite
Fairy Tern.
This summer trip will be long remembered not just for the birds  but for the shared memories .
Sharing the excitement with my mate Steve CRAKE Richards  lol   and meeting up with some amazing people.
A big thanks goes out to Don, his partner  and Anna  for putting up with us .
I will leave the last say to the longtails
please have a listen to these incredible birds here .
Go to the speaker Icon on the right with the heading “songs/calls from several birds”  to get an idea of what the longtails sound like.

Bless you peoples heaps , its back to the normal monthly reports , tips and tricks and notices about upcoming workshops  in the months to come.

 

 

 

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