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.

 

 

 

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Size Counts

Today’s essay is all about size really does count.

Mostly this post is dealing with birds, big birds, little birds, huge birds and tiny birds.

Often we isolate our subject from any surrounding distractions in order to draw the viewer’s attention to the finer details of our subject, feather patterns, colour , shape and in doing so we divorce our subject from its place in the world.
We take away the relationship our subject has with its surroundings.
It is hard to tell their real size when the image has completely divorced the bird from its environment.
Remember our image tells a story to the viewer and size can be a very important part of the story .
Right lets start off with this little critter a young Variable Oyster catcher chick.

We have a nice closeup of the chick, plenty of detail to look at but just how big is it ?

Variable Oyster catcher-1678-Edit

 

Lets zoom out a little bit  and give the chick a bit of environment so we can tell just how big he or she is.

Variable Oyster catcher-1669-Edit

Just having the driftwood in the frame gives us something to compare the size of the chick with.

Lets try another bird, this one is a terek sandpiper.

Terek sandpipers

This is a pretty good shot of a fairly rare bird in New Zealand .
Again lots of detail  but tells us nothing of the true size on the bird.

Here is mister Terek again , this time we have some Bar tailed Godwits to make a comparison with.
Mr Terek is a very small bird not readily apparent in the first shot and has quite  a nervous disposition .

untitled-9157-Edit
The Southern Royal Albatross is the heaviest flying bird in the world and only just misses out on the widest wingspan to the Snowy Albatross by a fraction.

Southern royal albatross-9974-Edit
This picture above does not give credit to the birds real size.
These birds are enormous.

The following picture gives us a better idea of the true size of these monster birds.
the lead bird is a White Cap Albatross , not a small bird by any standards but it is dwarfed by the Southern.

Southern royal albatross-5314-Edit

Next up is a pukeko chick.
most of us know the average size of the pukeko  so here we have a reference point , the head of the muma pukeko

pūkeko-5366-Edit

Now here is a day old Banded Dotteral Chick

Banded Dotteral -9344-Edit
We know its small but just how small is it?

Pretty freakin small lol

Banded Dotteral -9434-Edit
Landscapes can also understate your subject without a reference point.

Elephant rocks in Otago , they look alright but how big is how big ?

untitled-5546-Pano-Edit
Using Steve as our reference  we can grasp the size more accurately.
Now Steve aint the tallest person on earth but we can still use him as a comparison.

untitled-5559-Edit
Finally  there is nothing like an open space to give context .
A young Spurwing Plover out in the open.

Spur-winged plover

Keep pressing the shutter button folks .
Spring has well and truly sprung, lets make the most of it before the heat shimmer makes late morning photography a delusion .

 

The art of composition

Composition.
In this post I want to talk about composition relating to bird photography.
I only way I know how to do this, is to explain and show you how I would approach this myself.
I use Adobe Lightroom combined with Photoshop exclusively.
After initially importing my images of the days shoot into a temporary holding folder that sits outside my main Lightroom library, I sort through my days effort discarding all out of focus and unpleasing images.
The next step is to look at shots that are similar (many shots of the same bird in the same situation) and select the very best shots and deleting double ups.
Once I have sorted out the images I want to spend time on processing, I get down to the nitty gritty.
Once I have selected an image I’m pleased with, the first thing I consider is the composition (the placement of the subject within the image) and the crop ratio.
Do I want a close up of the bird itself with as little distraction as possible or do I want to show the bird in relationship to its environment.
Many people including myself, especially at the beginning of my photographic career just wanted to fill the frame with bird.
Now days I’m more inclined to present the bird as part of the environment.
Crop ratio
Crop ratio and the posture of the bird are directly linked.
Often the posture of the bird dictates the ratio.
Compact upright birds like Kingfishers and Dotterals are not restricted to landscape crops like long necked Herons and Swans when they are stretched out length ways.

Please click on the images to see the full size

This Swan does not lend its self to a portrait crop

Kaki anau the Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

.

This New Zealand Dotteral,  or known by the  māori as tūturiwhatu, being very upright does lend its self to a portrait type of crop.

The New Zealand Dotterel, Red-breasted Plover, or New Zealand Plover (Charadrius obscurus) Māori names include Tūturiwhatu, Pukunui, and Kūkuruatu

Im going to use an Image of a kingfisher, taken in the early morning light for this exercise.
He is upright so I can choose either to use a upright (portrait) crop ratio or a (landscape)

Here is the original image

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)
I like both aspects, portrait and landscape with this bird so I will go both ways and save both versions to my library.

First off I will deal with the landscape version.
I have a few options here
I can choose the original aspect of the image  , 16 x 9   which is a wide screen aspect  or 16×10.

Because the bird is upright, 16×9 looks a bit long and narrow for me , I like the 16×10 option so with that chosen I now have to choose how tight I want to crop my image .

I don’t want to crowd the bird and as the bird is looking out across the flats for crabs I want to leave plenty of room in front of the bird.

Here the kotare is cropped way to tight .
he is squeezed top and bottom.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

I don’t want to crowd the bird height wise and squash him into the image, I want plenty of space for the bird to breathe   so to speak.

The line up

One common mistake I see is that the bird is positioned wrong in the image.
Rule of thumb is one third behind and two third’s in front is a pretty safe bet.
this gives the bird room to stare out .
A photo should always be about telling a story.

Below the bird is positioned to the wrong side.
The bird is gazing out across the mud flats looking for crabs.
The image does not convey that story clearly.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

 

Now we have the bird in a much better position.
He is not cramped in and has the breathing space in front and the image now conveys a much clearer story of the bird on its perch in its place in the world.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

 

Next we will look at the portrait version.
again this bird is far to cramped in with no room  to breathe.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)
Because with the portrait aspects the focus is nearly always on the subject and not on its place in the environment we can crop a little closer but notice there is more room ahead of the bird than behind.

Sacred Kingfisher or Kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)

I hope this has been of some help
I do one on one workshops for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Cheers and thanks for showing interest in my blog.

https://boneywhitefoot.wordpress.com/photoshop-lightroom/

Follow your nose

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

Click on the images for a bigger size

looking back at the inlet

Pahoa Coast

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

Pahoa Coast
Rock climbing was the answer to get the shot 

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

double trouble lol

untitled-2305-Edit

 

Finding the tube maybe ?

untitled-2402-Edit
This guy had a huge board and seemed to know how to use it.

surfing--11

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

On the way we stopped to show Ari this house

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

unstable foundations

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

This baby seal was unimpressed with my mere humanness.

 

untitled-2624-Edit
Play fighting a favorite pass time for baby seals

 

seals--7
Followed by lunch at the milk bar

 

seals--8

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

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

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

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

Highlights from 2013 prt1

Well we are into the new year, I was going to write up a trip report of our adventures over the Christmas period, but I haven’t even managed to write the Chrissie trip we did to Northland from the year before LoL.
So I think I will start the year off with a series of highlights from the year of our Lord 2013.
2013 was an insane year for me and one that I will remember for its many photographic challenges and the addition of a new lens a 300 2.8 prime and camera body a 1D.mrk4, which Steve kindly lent me.
To set the scene we must travel back in time to the northern most part of New Zealand, Cape Reinga new years eve 2012.
I will do a detailed essay on Northland sometime in the future, its an amazing place where you can go mad with a camera.
New year’s eve 2012 certainly was a cracker, the sun put in a good effort and managed to stay up in the sky for the whole day before running out of steam and falling off the edge of the earth or into the sea, Im not sure which.
As the sun was setting, we, Steve and I were joined by a sober bunch of happy tourists and together we watched the light fade to darkness.

Cape Reinga  new years eve 2012

Cape Reinga new years eve 2012

With the sun gone we returned to our campers park which had become a freakin new years night disco.
How were we to know that the camp doubled as a new year’s celebration venue for the locals ? I lay awake that night in my tent, buffered by screaming loud music and the groups of locals that milled around outside the venue right beside my tent, having a sneaky joint and giggling and carrying on.
I certainly wasn’t feeling all that flash as we pulled into the Cape Reinga car park just before day break next morning to catch the sun rise on a new year.
the sun hits the light house at the cape for the first time in 2013.

Sunrise at Cape Reinga New years day 2013

Sunrise at Cape Reinga New years day 2013


We were not alone, people turned up in their pyjamas, nighties, wrapped in blankets some in sleeping bags with the bottoms unzipped it was unbelievable.
Anyway that’s how the 2013 kicked off for me.
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Every bird photographer God ever created has a list of birds they want to get photos of, a list of trophies if you like, a new species captured and to tick off the ever growing list.
ticking the box on a hard to get bird is very much part of the wildlife photographers asperations, any that deny this are just great big fibbers.

My first bird challenge I achieved in 2013 was one I never really expected to achieve, namely to get a photo of kuera the brown quail. (Coturnix ypsilophora australis) an introduced bird from Australia.
Northland is the Promised Land for game bird hunters, this IS the place to go if you want to see lots of Pheasants and brown quail, so if I was to get a chance, this was the place to have a go at getting a brown quail.

kuera the brown quail is a very small Quail imported from Australia not to be confused with the stubble quail. (Coturnix pectoralis) and they don’t hang around out in the open much and if you do see them, they are usually hightailing back into cover. These birds are also my favorite Game bird to hunt over pointing Dogs, they hold well for the dog and fly low and fast, they make California quail look like a wounded turkey in flight by comparison.
Well every now and again things just go your way and we found a small bevy of them feeding out in a open-ish area quite confidant in their camouflaged suits believing themselves invisible in the rather dim light of the new day.
Once they realized they were not invisible, the running and wild zigzagging began and I tried my best to get the shots, sprinting around the slippery grass hillside after them snapping franticly, all too aware that this may be my only ever chance at this bird.
Im pretty happy with the shots I got considering the palaver I went through , but better was yet to come.

kuera hoping its invisible

kuera hoping its invisible

Later, on the way back to the camper park to pack up and move on, with eyes peeled to the side of the road in hopes of spotting challenge no2, a Cock Pheasant, both Steve and I spotted a brown quail on a bank on the side of the road, it wasn’t hard, the sun was full up and the bird was brilliantly golden colored, it stood out like a neon light.
Unbelievably the bird allowed us to get reasonably close before it rocketed off the bank and across the road into cover.
I don’t believe I will ever get better shots of this species of bird.

I doubt that I will get a better pick of this very hard to find let along get a good image of quail

I doubt that I will get a better pick of this very hard to find let along get a good image of quail

But wait there’s more lol
dropping down into Spirits bay on the way back, I got a shot of not only a Cock Pheasant but it was a melanistic cross , no white neck like the common or ring necked pheasant.

Te Matua Ngahere the 'Father of the Forest', has a trunk over five metres in diameter, possessing the widest girth of any surviving kauri tree

Te Matua Ngahere the ‘Father of the Forest’, has a trunk over five metres in diameter, possessing the widest girth of any surviving kauri tree

Spirits Bay is a must see it has fantastic white sandy beaches and beautiful pōhutukawa trees.

2 horses with a fantastic pōhutukawa in the background. Spirits Bay Cape Reinga

2 horses with a fantastic pōhutukawa in the background.
Spirits Bay Cape Reinga

the brilliant red flowers of the  pōhutukawa  really add colour in early summer

the brilliant red flowers of the pōhutukawa really add colour in early summer


Tent packed and heading south I felt 2013 was off to a good start.

No one touring Northland should drive past Waipoua Forest and its huge kauri trees.
the crowning glory being tāne mahuta, the largest kauri tree left in New Zealand and almost impossible to photograph to scale.

Notice the person at the base of the tree on the right, not that right, the other right neo.

tāne mahuta is the largest  kauri tree  in the Waipoua Forest situated in Northland

tāne mahuta is the largest kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest situated in Northland

another shot of the forest giant
tāne mahuta

Te Matua Ngahere the 'Father of the Forest', has a trunk over five metres in diameter, possessing the widest girth of any surviving kauri tree

Te Matua Ngahere the ‘Father of the Forest’, has a trunk over five metres in diameter, possessing the widest girth of any surviving kauri tree

The next big stop was the miranda bird sanctuary.
The first bit of excitement was right at the gate, a lovely red headed lass in shorts and gumboots was setting a trap for ferrets. Having spent many years as a commercial trapper we had a chat about trapping stuff, she knew what she was doing, to see a pretty woman that could trap pests all in one package did this old mans heart glad, almost the perfect girl.
Any way we weren’t there to shoot the breeze, shooting birds was beckoning, farewell trapper woman and I headed out through the mud and out onto the shell bank and the sizzling sun to have a squizz.
Pure white sea shells and blinding sun made it quite an endurance.

For those not acquainted with the Miranda bird sanctuary it is the no 1 spot for wading birds in New Zealand, birds accumulate there from the ends of the earth in staggering numbers.

Godwits and lesser knots

Godwits and lesser knots

tarāpuka the Black billed gulls were there in number with their newly hatched chicks, so that kept us occupied for a while.
tarāpuka the Black-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri),

Black bills are considered nationally critical so it was good to see them creating some backups to take them into the future. 🙂

for two days we chased the birds around in the scorching sun and then headed home.

Torea the South Island Oystercatcher or South Island Pied Oyster feeling the pinch

Torea the South Island Oystercatcher or South Island Pied Oyster feeling the pinch

With the Christmas adventure at an end we made it back home in Wellington where our next challenge loomed, Mr taranui or Caspian Tern another endangered and threatened bird.
We had access to a nesting site where about 30 adults were raising their young and I wanted shots of them doing so.
But we will have to wait till part 2 of what I plan to be 3 parts .

Many of my readers will know that I am a born again Christian and have been now for over 30 years, for those who know me really well they realize, that , that doesn’t mean Im perfect, it means Im saved lol.
Any way Im a 6 day creationist, that means I believe God created the earth and a base set of animals the Bible calls KINDS likely this falls somewhere into the man-made category classification of FAMILY or GENUS that have diversified (speciated) and adapted to fill the earth over the last 6,000 years or so.
Some of you will be aware that Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis debated Bill Nye the science guy around the 4th of this month.
It was a huge success, simply because it bought the evolution/creation debate that has been raging for many decades out into the public eye once again.
This couldn’t have come at better time as feburary the 12th is our annual (question evolution day).
All we have ever asked is to be able to question the information put forward that is claimed, proves life started from naturalistic causes, billions of years ago, independent of an intelligent designer in the class rooms of our schools.
Most of us do not want to have the creation account as written in the Bible, pushed as science or confused with empirical science in public schools, but would rather it be used to challenge what at the moment has been protected from being challenged namely the theory of evolution.
It is my belief that neither has a place in the science room and that observable testable science, the type of science that benefits mankind should be reserved for such an environment.
I’m not hostile to those who believe in the theory that all life shares one single common ancestor, but I think we have the right to go head to head with this theory in public and in private without the hostile and abusive reactions we quite often receive.
I would encourage both atheist and Christian to go to the links provided, look at the 15 minute video, then look at the 15 questions here
http://creation.com/15-questions
this site http://www.piltdownsuperman.com/p/question-evolution-day.html has all the information one needs to start exploring the possibility that just perhaps the people who claim that the theory of evolution is a scientific fact, have not got all the answers they claim to have.
Use the information as a critical thinking tool and try to keep an open mind.
If you disagree, fine it’s your choice, just so long as you at least had a look into the issues, but please don’t remain uninformed.
Freedom comes from looking at both sides of the coin and making a more informed decision.
I personally believe that your eternal security is at stake, if you reject Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross as he is the only way of salvation to man.
If the belief that nature basically created its self proves there is no God and stands in your way of believing there is a creator God and He has revealed Himself to mankind, follow the bread crumbs.
Im not forcing anyone to follow the links and I will not answer any questions directed to me regarding this issue unless I feel it comes from an honest inquiring mind, Im not here to argue the issue, just provide the information.
Bless you heaps dudes and dudesses, Im looking forward to another year of adventure behind the lens.

The answer is out there and its looking for you, it’s the question that drives us.
is evolution really a scientific fact?

Here is something I would like you to think about .
ATP powers the cell.

The cell will not survive or indeed even kick start without The ATP synthase machine being fully functional to provide ATP to the cell.

The machine is made of several proteins.

My question is this, how could this machine and the ATP its self evolve in a step by step process when the cell that is all cells need this machine to provide fuel to keep the cell alive?

Death on the beach, Palliser Bay.

It was mid arvo and the sun was fair bleating down as we drove around the Wairarapa coast road out towards the tiny fishing village of Ngawi.
I wondered where our adventures would take us today. The theme for today was to be about death and survival, the struggle for life.
Cruising along, Steve turned his attention to a road that lead down to a stretch of beach we had not yet investigated and commented that we should do so, so down the road we went.
You never know what to expect on the Wiararapa coast and as I popped my head over the sandy slope down to the surf I spied my first ever sea horse.

To see a larger sized pic, double click on all of the images
Horse and rider-1065-Edit

A beautiful horse was being exercised in the surf. The owner later told me that the horse had, suffered a terrible accident involving barbed wire fencing followed by a bad fall and the injuries were such that the vets had seriously considered putting the magnificent beast to sleep.

A battle over many months with a life threatening infection led the vet to admit it was beyond the capabilities of the antibiotics administered. The owners in a last desperate attempt to save their horse decided to take the beast swimming in the sea, hoping that a course of washing the wounds with salt water would help the situation and this proved to be the case.

For over period of about a month these people had loaded their horse and travelled many miles to this secluded stretch of beach and swam the Horse regularly, the result was that the ugly wounds were at last well on the way to healing.

Horse and rider-1057-Edit

Feeling uplifted by the success story we bid farewell to the lovely couple and their horse.

We noticed some frenzied action further down the beach in the form of a menagerie of birds working a boil up of Kahawai, a Trout like, sea running fish.
A boil up occurs when larger predator fish drive the smaller fish, in this case Herring to the surface of the water where they also become targets for the diving birds. Frenzied attacks continue from both sides until the schools of Herring eventually disperse, the action is always intense and this warranted our further investigation.

Kahawai chasing Herring
Kahawai chaseing Herring

A little background for the theme is warranted before continuing.
I make no bones about being a Bible believing Christian, I filter how I see the world around me through what I have learned from Gods word and I see no contradiction at all between Gods written word and the natural world around us.
The Bible tells us that before Adam sinned, the creation was perfect and without death and suffering. The Animals fed on vegetation and not on each other, man ate the herbs of the field.
But things changed, death and suffering entered the creation because of Adams sin, but God knew this was going to happen, He hopes that as we look around us, we see clearly the consequences of our actions in the natural world and understand that we are forever intimately connected to His creation and wrote the following to encourage us.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”
The drama that unfolded before our eyes over the next 3 hours proved just how true Gods Word is.
Survivals at all costs, eat or be eaten, no mercy shown, survival of the fastest, cleverest and the luckiest.
The first evidence of corruption (death) and decay to confront us was a pile of hacked up Shark bodies being jealously guarded by some resident Seagulls.

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We hurried past the gruesome scene and made haste down the beach towards the action.
Seagulls and White fronted Terns skilfully wheeled and dived in a well-orchestrated dance of death picking up the Herring that had been driven to the water’s surface by the hungry Kahawai below.

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1103-Edit

Next the Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) grabbed our attention.

The Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, a first for me.
Skua is the Old Norse name for seagull.
Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) or Pomarine Jaeger-1169-Edit

These birds chased any other birds with a fish in their beak.

Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, (Stercorarius parasiticus) --4

This was the first time Ive come across this bird.
The Parasitic Jaeger is aptly named for the two main strategies it uses to get its food. The first half of the name refers to its habit of stealing food from other birds, termed “kleptoparasitism”. The second word comes from the German word for hunter, pointing to the predatory alter-ego of this aggressive and acrobatic bird of the high seas.

Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, (Stercorarius parasiticus) -

Jaegers spend the majority of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed. Upon leaving their birthplace, many young birds will spend the entire first two years over Open Ocean before returning to the Arctic to nest. During the summer months in the northern hemisphere, Parasitic Jaegers breed across the Arctic polar region of the globe. In the Americas, they nest along the Alaskan coast and Aleutian Islands and across the tundra of northern Canada. They also nest in northern Europe and Asia.
At other times of the year, these migratory seabirds fan out across the oceans of the southern hemisphere.
These birds specialize in harassing other birds, relentlessly pursuing them in mid-air and forcing them to relinquish their food. Prime targets are the White Fronted Terns and Seagulls.

All along the beach front young Terns squawked loudly, waiting impatiently for a parent to return with a small fishy meal of some sort.
Returning parents must run the gauntlet of Skuas and if successful the noisy juvenile Terns gobbled up the hapless fish and continued squawking for the next one, the parent once again heads out into the thick of it.

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1295-Edit

Passed the Skuas a hard working White Fronted Tern heads for its young

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1240-Edit

After about 1.5 hours of frenetic activity it began to slow down somewhat, the birds were resting now on full stomachs but just as we were about to leave, a pod of Dolphins arrived on the scene.

Dolphins-1329-Edit

The Hunters, (the Kahawai), had become the hunted and the sea erupted with desperately escaping fish in all directions.

Kahawai chaseing Herring

The Dolphins relentlessly worked the schools of Kahawai and Herring, driving them up and down the beach while we watched on from the shore line along with the happy well fed Terns.

Dolphins-1333-Edit

Many of the Kahawai were now very close to shore and then when it seemed to be all over, the ultimate predator arrived with the roar of quad bike engines.
Kids leapt off the bikes with the ease that only the youth possess and spinners were hurled into the surf, often followed by immediate hook ups, the Kahawai were winched ashore, man had arrived.

this fish is Foul hooked, the fish were winched out onto the beach, Man had arrived.
fishing--2

Most Kahawai were released back into the surf and both adults and the kids turned the beach into a colourful, loud hive of activity.
fishing-1372-Edit

The sun sulked lower in the sky, eventually less Kahawai were there for the taking and slowly people started departing for home.

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What I had experienced was 3-4 hours of death and survival, peace descended, it was time to move on like the rest of the participants in the drama so the long trudge back up the beach to the car beckoned, at home, a computer hungry for new images and a bottle of red wine awaited me. The mighty Skuas were a first for me, I was happy and content, another day spent in my favourite office.
For those interested in Biblical creation issues I’ve included links regarding the problem with evil and death from CMI.

http://creation.com/the-fall-a-cosmic-catastrophe
and some rebuttals that may prove interesting.

http://creation.com/pre-fall-animal-death

Falco ferox, the ferocious falcon.

Last year, our native Falcon or Sparrow Hawk (Falco novaeseelandiae), known to the Maori people as Kārearea was nominated New Zealand’s bird of the year.
As luck or good planning would have it, we Steve Richards and myself had been planning a trip to the Bay of Plenty to photograph the New Zealand Dotterels and then onto the Firth of Thames to visit the Miranda shore bird centre and on the way home we would be passing through Rotorua, the home of the Wingspan Bird of Prey Centre, a place best described in their own words as
“a place where people can visit and see birds of prey up close during interactive flying displays, hosted by the country’s leading experts.
The displays showcase the spectacular flying skills of these amazing birds and are a unique educational experience enjoyed by children and adults alike”.
Well if you do indeed want to see the spectacular flying skills of these amazing birds, Wingspan is just the place to see it.

Right let’s look a bit closer at the fearless, ferocious Kārearea

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

General description and range.

Kārearea comes in three forms or perhaps subspecies as defined by Dr Nick Fox the man who was the first to launch any in depth research into the numbers, habits and range of these birds and is as follows.
The Southern falcon:
This bird is middle sized and inhabits Southland and Fiordland, in Fiordland it preys on unsuspecting Wapiti calves.
The Fiordland Wapiti foundation is trying to get them to target Red/Wapiti Hybrids and leave the pure Wapiti alone. Just joking folks

Secondly the Bush falcon:
This bird is the northern most and smallest form of the bird, ideally adapted for hunting the bush lands and less open terrain of the North Island.

Finally the Eastern falcon:
This bird is the largest form of the bird, utilizing the more open tussock plains of Central Otago, South Canterbury and the Mount Cook regions.

The Kārearea is our fastest flying raptor and is endemic to New Zealand (that means it is found only in NZ)
Nothing in this country can match this bird for speed and acrobatic maneuverability.
Being one of the smallest raptors in the world means that this bird is ideally suited for dealing with our tight forested bush clad mountains where it dines on smallish birds, rabbits and hares.

Some history of the research into these birds.

The Kārearea has been fully protected since 1970

When Dr Nick Fox (founder of the Raptor Association of New Zealand) arrived in New Zealand to study these birds from the UK in 1974 he was informed by the then Wildlife Service, a pre-runner to the now Department of Conservation that there were only 6 known breeding pairs in the whole country.
That number really surprised me and I’m sure there were many more breeding couples out there producing baby ferocious falcons, but it does go to show just how little was known about the bird by the authorities at that time.
Dr Fox set out determinedly to remedy that situation and eventually he described the three forms of our Falcon, but stopped short of calling them a subspecies set. Dr Nick Fox in his article that he penned for the 20 Year anniversary edition of the Wingspan magazine does not give any reason for this and it is from this article that I am gleaning many interesting facts and opinions about Raptors in New Zealand.

Atareta zeros in on the target a bird wing swung on the end of a light rope, with wings cupped he is going unbelievably fast.

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

it all starts with a slowish pass over head just to scope the area
New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

followed by steep banking maneuver

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

into full attack mode

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

Threats to the Kārearea
The Falcon is not a scavenger unlike the Harrier Hawk, but will take advantage of the weak and slow moving, so the birds do become susceptible to secondary poisoning from Rabbits dying from the lingering effects of 1080 along with other unfortunate creatures dying a slow and painful death from the dazzling array of humane poisons Doc and the AHB spew out around our country. Sometimes a southern Fiordland Falcon can be stomped cruelly to death by an enraged Wapiti mother whilst it is dinning out on the baby Wapiti and not watching its tail feathers.
Most seriously though and much to my surprise, Man appears to be the biggest direct threat to this mighty bird.
The Kārearea is a cunning, intelligent and calculating killer, when the bird has a find like a chicken coop, (which to them must be like a kind of Raptors super market), the bird will return to the coop daily, until the super market runs out of tasty yummy Raptor food, understandably a situation that the chicken owner cannot tolerate.

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno
Lets see how this pans out, the life of a few half naked, mangy chickens, versus the life of a magnificent Falcon, still under the generally threated status.
I say get more chickens man and take photos.
Man and raptor history.
In Genesis, the book of all beginnings our Creator told us we were to have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
In Genesis 1, 28 we read
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
So the mandate to partner with nature for mutual benefit was given to mankind to administer under Gods guidance.
The history of hunting partnerships between man and beast is a fascinating one and what could be more natural than that of a team between a raptor and his trainer. Sure we have dogs that hunt for us now, but first we had birds to take the prey out of the sky for us. Later we teamed up with flushing dogs that flushed prey into the sky or from ground cover to be taken by the raptor. Later came the setting or pointing dogs that set the prey (standing rock steady indicating the prey directly ahead of the dog) a net was thrown over both the dog and the prey and finally the pinnacle of perfection, the firearm, a shotgun of sorts was introduced into the equation to take the prey. Eventually the raptor was no longer needed, but there seems to be something wild and romantic about a partnership between a man and a half wild bird.

Wingspan

Wingspan holds demonstrations every afternoon starting at 2pm, when we were there it was very overcast, the worst conditions for photographing fast moving targets but we were there and we tried our best.

Meet the stars of the show

Atareta the star of the show.
New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

Andrew Thomas Handles Atareta

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

Meet Millie the Millennium Falcon handled by Ineke Smets, she is considered a bit of a drama queeen, thats Millie not Ineke.

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

this photo was taken by Steve Richards

The New Zealand Falcon or Karearea -5754-Edit

Everyone who wants, gets to hold the birds, something that the
young

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

and old get a thrill from

New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also kno

Millie
The New Zealand Falcon or Karearea -5752-Edit
For more information on the great work wingspan does visit their website. http://www.wingspan.co.nz

Chasing the light Christmas 2011 prt2

I lay awake cursing the Wekas that had kept me awake half the night and wondered what the fast approaching day would bring us.
As the night began to change into day the pitter patter of light drizzle tattooed on the tent roof.
The West coast of the South Island of New Zealand is famous for its rain, but wait, I’m quite sensitive to climatic conditions and something just didn’t feel right.
I unzipped the door of my tent and peered into the gathering light, bazillions of sand-flies were dive bombing my tent like flocks of demented miniature Gannets in a feeding frenzy, such was their desperation to suck my life juices from my flesh. I quickly zipped the tent up and applied a potentially toxic amount of insect repellent to my exposed flesh whilst beseeching the lord to protect me from the heathen hoards.
Eventually plucking up the courage I tentatively crawled out of the tent to greet the new day, a cloud of sand-flies stayed at arm’s length hissing insults at me but unwilling to penetrate through the thick fumes of my anti insect perfume.
It is Christmas Eve, there is not a cloud in the sky, from only meters away the sound of the surf fills my ears and fresh smell of the beach fills my nostrils, yet equally close in the opposite direction stands of beautiful native forest thrive, alive with abundant bird life, you just can’t beat the West coast of New Zealand on a good day.

The plan for Day2: Explore the Karamea area, focusing on the Oparara basin; also try to get photos of Wekas, an opportunistic, inquisitive, flightless, bird prone to having light fingers, well beaks then..
Steve had never been in this area of the West coast before and I hoped the area would really show it’s self-off for his benefit.
Most travellers start their South Island adventure arriving in either Christchurch by plane or the top of the South Island by ferry. By far the majority head for the main arterial route crossing from the east to the west coast via Arthurs Pass, which spills out onto the West coast over 2 hours south of the Westport/Karamea district and continue heading south coast towards major attractions like the Fox and Franz Glaciers. So Karamea is tucked away from the majority of tourists, this is a pity they miss out on this real gem.
Wekas (Gallirallus australis) zoomed around the campground looking for opportunities to steal food; I really wanted decent photos of these birds.

click on any images to see a larger version

With a quick breakfast we were on our way.
Steve enjoys company at breakfast time

I couldn’t help but try and get real close, note the sand-flies on my back

Out in the open of the campground they were reasonably approachable but once they were in cover they became a different bird altogether, crafty and quick they were very hard to get interesting photos of.

We knew we wanted the sun to rise high overhead in order for the light to reach deep into the valleys of the Oparara basin so we spent the first part of the day exploring the coastal strip hoping to get shots of the wildlife and enjoy the sun and the beach.

It is very important that one reads the signs and obeys the instructions so I guess this surfie girl was making sure she left all the sand behind.

I knew there was something special about this place.

Nearly every paddock we passed held Hares out enjoying the the sun.

The teak coloured rivers can make some great images

Out at the mouth of the Little Wanganui we got some nice shots of Variable Oyster catchers.

Variable Oyster catchers

We found a juvenile Oyster catcher hiding among the piles of driftwood, its camouflaged was so good that when I had to take my eyes off the bird to change my card in the camera I couldn’t find the blessed thing again.

After a leisurely lunch and a yak to the friendly locals we headed up to the Oparara Basin, the ride in was spectacular, the silver beech trees were in prime condition and shone an almost iridescent green, neither Steve nor I had experienced such colours before, it was the same for the length of the Coast.

The Oparara Basin

The Oparara Basin is part of the Kahurangi National Park and is located about 20ks north of the township of Karamea. The basin is limestone and consists of cave systems and impressive arches carved out by massive flows of water in times past and surrounded by native forest with teak coloured rivers and streams.
The whole place is fantastic with prolific bird life and the colour of the rivers in the bright light was like gold, which was just what I wanted, it set the whole place off. Once at the very fancy car park we headed off up the Oparara stream, sometimes you can see the native Blue duck on this part of the river but manly during the winter months as they breed in a more secluded spot during early summer.

From a photographer’s point of view the massive Oparara arch will test your photographic skills to the limit, the sheer size of the cave like structure makes a 14mil lens on a full frame camera seem like a zoom lens once you get inside the mouth of the cave, you just can’t get a wide enough view through the view finder.
From the darkness of the inside of the cave to the brilliant brightness outside is around 2 million stops of light and outside of visiting these structures on a rainy day or early evening or morning you have little chance of taming the light. We chose the heat of the day to visit as I have other images taken on a rainy day so although I didn’t tame the beast I was satisfied with my results over all. A bit of softness crept into some of my images due to a breeze at the mouth of one cave moving the vegetation during the long exposure that was necessary to gain some light inside the cave also my scale model (Steve) wouldn’t stand still long enough and came out blurry.
When dealing with certain subjects often Its a very good idea to get a human or an object of known size in the shot to give the idea of scale, a person in this case is ideal to show off just how massive the Oparara arch is but pick a more patient human subject than the one I was stuck with.
Steve bottom centerish just wouldn’t stay still long enough as he wanted shots in all directions.

Note the person on the water’s edge on the corner really shows how massive this cave really is

The Moria gare arch is just as difficult to capture as one is always tempted to shoot from the centre and try to make a panoramic image, this is my best attempt …so far.

Outside it’s a easy shot.

Hot and tired it was time to head back to the camping grounds and prepare for an evening shoot and perhaps a snooze. The problem with doing a summer trip is the very long daylight hours, they do eventually wear you down, its best to pace oneself if you don’t want to burn out and loose enthusiasm.
With the customary Sunset session in the can it was time to turn in, hopefully without the night chorus of Wekas to keep me awake this time, it was a strange feeling to realise that tomorrow would be Christmas day, for the last 20 years I had shared Christmas with my kids and extended family. In my mind I relived a few Christmases past before slumber over took my conciseness and replaced clear memories with garble mosaics of random events real or imagined all mixed up in a nonsensical mishmash.

With the customary Sunset session in the can it was time to turn in.

A trip to Waitewaewae

How long has it been since you have been in to Waitewaewae?
30 odd years I suppose, says I, reflecting back on my younger days working for the then New Zealand Forest Service (now known as DOC).I haven’t even seen the new replacement hut built 20 years ago.
Right, says Tramper, Let’s get our backsides into gear and go and have a squizz, besides, it will be a good walk for us and a chance to get some miles under our boots in our build up for our summer adventures. Memories take me back to my last walk out of Waitewaewae one very hot Sunday in 1977. I was a young lad of 18 with legs the size of ski poles, I carried the back end and head of a large stag for 12 hours to get it back to the wagon That was one very long day.12 hours of agony, up Arapito stream and across the Plateau, then suffering from a severe case of shaky leg syndrome, down Saddle creek, out the sidle track between the old steel and log tram-lines, down to and across the Otaki and Waiotauru rivers and finally up the steep climb onto the road to arrive at the car park across the Roaring Meg totally knackered.
I took a swig on my cheap glass of Shiraz and stealing myself I says, let’s do it.
Arriving at the cark park beside the care takers house I felt very much at home. I was born in Otaki both naked and illiterate and so I had a pretty hard start in life. My Grandfather I believe secured the very first permit to catch Possums in the Tararua Forest Park or at least up the Gorge.
My earliest recollections of the Gorge started on my fifth birthday. My present was to be a weekend running behind my Dad clearing his trap line. Dad ran trap line up the Gorge for 20 years almost every weekend since he was a kid. Although I was mostly clothed at this stage my illiteracy was still very evident. I can remember vividly that first night, we were lying on a floor of an old worn out hut, darkness surrounding us, the night birds and sounds seeping through the holes and cracks of the broken down hovel. The glow of my Fathers cigarette as he lay beside me brought comfort and excitement of the next day kept me from sleeping. The reason we were up there that night instead of coming up in the morning was that tomorrow we were to have a crack at shooting a Deer, hence a very early start. At this stage of life my Dad knew little of Deer stalking he was a possum trapper, it paid the bills. The highlight of the hunt next morning was being made to stand on a waste high rock exposed out on a grassy flat in the dimness of early morning.I had to stay on the rock while Dad stalked a crackling sound in the gloomy, supple jack infested bush not 15 meters from my rock, Dad was soon swallowed up by the trees and the poor light but after a few tense minutes all hell broke loose, a huge black heaving mass of Bush Bull burst exploding out of the trees, broken branches flying through the air the beast charged up the flat passing so close to me I could smell him, Dad walked up to me and lifted me off my rock and said “that was exciting boy”, I was more than ready for home after that.
Years later my friends some of which I still have today and myself spent endless hours learning to hunt deer and to drive on gravel roads up the Gorge and dodge the massive Bush Bulls.
The Otaki forks gets its name because the Waiotauru, Otaki and Waitatapia rivers converge on each other all within a few hundred meters, the Otaki being the largest river maintains its name and flows on down to the Kapiti coast.
How things change, where once the old wooden walk bridge (a welcome sight for the returning tired and weary) spanned the Waiotauru river, a spanking new steel contraption now stands, all be it a little downstream and I’m not sure but the one across the Otaki seems pretty new to me too.

The new walk bridge across the Waiotauru.

Bridge across the Waiotauru

Bridge across the Waiotauru

Waiting always waiting

Robert waits yet again

The weather was cool and once we had dropped down and crossed the Otaki we moved up the sidle track toward Saddle Creek, catching glimpses of the Waitatapia stream way below us.

The bridge across the Otaki seems new too.

The newish bridge across the Otaki river

We stopped every now and again to take pictures of the old tram lines. I am fascinated by the tram lines running the length of the sidle track up to the old steam powered log hauler just off Saddle creek, they hold a special interest for me, my Grandfather was a mill boss up here in in the old days and had he been alive when I was old enough to be inquisitive I would have had some stories to extract from him, but life was hard on men in those days and I grew up not ever having had a conversation with him.
From 1927-1930 D.Corrigan operated a mill towards the bottom of the Waitatapia stream, later in 1931 it was moved a mile upstream where it continued operating until around 1936.The main reason I wanted to do this trip was to get photos of the hauler and tram tracks that fed massive Rimu logs to the mill. The Otaki gorge was a different place 100 years ago, it was a hive of activity, with mills cutting down huge amounts of native hard woods such as Rimu, Matai and Totara.

Tramper checking out the past

Robert checking out the tracks

the bush is slowly over taking the tracks.

Slowly the bush is taking engulfing the tracks

In some places the wooden sleepers have survived.

Old wooden sleepers remain after almost a 100 years.

training the ferocious Tussock, the wonder dog between the rails.

Tussock the wonder dog

Eventually we made to the remains of the old steam powered log hauler. Things had changed, in my day you could walk past it without noticing the old relic was hidden away amongst the Punga ferns and thick supple jack, now it enjoys a place of prominence and rightly so, a wonderful photo opportunity and a wee insight to a time hopefully long past. After taking the required images we were off, knowing full well what was ahead of us immediately.

the lag hauler enjoys a place of prominence and rightly so.

The old steam powered log hauler, Waitewaewae track

Tussock the wonder dog finds a new kennel.


Now let me tell you I’ve done some pretty boring walks in my day but Saddle Creek seems to me my second most miserable, the first prize goes to Marchant ridge the worst forced march on the face of the earth, anyway up Saddle creek we go, over slippery rocks and banks, in, out, around and over water dripping rotting trees. Time slows to a stand still, the boots fill with water and the lack of visual stimulus makes the mind hallucinate.

After about 3 years we make the top of the creek and amuse ourselves with lunch and a quick cuppa.

Robert and Tussock sharing lunch

Nowadays life’s easy from this point onwards, years ago the Plateau was a bog from hell, now, even in early spring the place is easy to skip over, not that I was skipping being a long way from peak fitness, I was dragging the chain slowing Tramper down but still happy at the track improvements. Eventually some 5 hours from leaving the wagon I stumbled up to the hut door and marvell at the new hut, anyone who is acquainted with the old hut will know what I mean, it was a bit of a hovel to say the least. The new hut although seemingly in a bit of a strange place for a hut, attracts heaps on internal light, is roomy and allows 30 people at a pinch to sleep in dryness.

Robert having a sit down,Waitewaewae hut.

The gloomy sky had been whisked away and now the sun shone brightly on the Otaki River, in the 70s a bunch of bright sparks from the city decided just downstream was a great place to build a dam and create a power house.

The Otaki River is a very beautiful place both upstream and downstream from the hut looking at the sunlight filtering through the trees onto the river I’m so glad those idiots didn’t get their way.

Otaki river a jewel of the Tararuas

For those who might be interested the trip downstream from here to the mouth of Penn creek may be the last you ever take, but in our day there were heaps of deer and gazillions of fat Trout, it was a wild adventure getting down the gorge, do it in late summer it really is a great adventure, don’t take a inflatable and cheat walk it. Upstream from the hut had good numbers of deer, the upper/mid Otaki always held very good numbers and one never really had to leave the river bed to score, going by the amount of sign in the creek things haven’t changed that much Tramper got photos of a mob of Goats just upstream just before the forks of the Otaki and Waitewaewae My favourite place for a deer was the clearings up the Waitewaewae stream, sometimes at night but mostly first light. It was fantastic just to reacquaint myself to one of the most well known hunting spots in the Tararuas.

Goats

Goats in the Otaki.

The trip back out the next day was exactly the same as the coming in but in reverse and it rained….. hard….. and I got wet……….. as usual.

The old hauler in the wet

Some good news and an apology.

Firstly, the good news.
Some of my landscape images have been chosen to help promote New Zealand at the grand opening of the Rugby World Cup at Eden Park in Auckland. They will be displayed on the big screen at the park; I’m pretty stoked about the whole thing.
Secondly, an apology.
I apologize to any shop assistants I have offended with my last post.
Not all shop assistants are monkeys, many, esp those in specialized camera shops are very knowledgeable being keen photographers and well able to give good advice, it’s the big apartment stores that I would advise caution when taking advise.
Have a good week folks.