With the Christmas season over and the new year well under way, it’s time to get back to work and finish last year off with Decembers adventures.
We start December off with an amazing day out at the Wairio wetlands on the eastern shores of lake Wairarapa, hunting for the elusive matuku or Australasian Bittern.
Ducks Unlimited have put in countless hours and moneys into bringing the Wairio Wetlands to life with huge success, creating wide open swamps where water fowl and birds like the matuku can go about their business.
Ducks Unlimited is New Zealand’s leading wetlands and waterfowl conservation group.
They work to save our wetlands through protection, funding, technical aid and education so
that the flora and fauna of our most endangered ecosystem are a legacy we can pass
down to future generations. and they do a great job to see more information about their work please click on this link.
Feeling safe is the major consideration for water fowl and being able to see danger approaching from a long way is how they like it. The once Willow choked wetlands have been cleaned out and clean, fresh, oxygenated, water now flows through the system and the whole place has come to life.
Just as the sun poked its head over the horizon providing enough light, Steve and I were right on the spot, searching for the elusive Bittern and it wasn’t long before we spied our first one out in the middle of the wetland where it had the advantage of seeing us approaching for hundreds of yards. We enjoyed it through our binoculars for a time, admiring it before we moved on.
Mr Bittern is safe from us way out there in the open.
Waterfowl wheeled in great flocks around the surrounding wetlands , hundreds of them, mostly Grey Teal in this image.
Hot as it was, we made a plan to walk the Lakeside of the wetland, hoping to pick up a Bittern that wasn’t paying much attention or one with a sub zero level of intelligence.
We found neither, but when we flushed one into the sky ahead of us, an amazing thing happened, it was joined by 6 other Bitterns from all corners of the wetland and then they flew right over us. A total of seven bitterns over head , I could not get them all in the frame at the same time.
No matter what I tried and the best I could do was five.
By now the sun was high in the sky and beating down on us so we beat a retreat back to the wagon and home.
Next up was a trip to Peka Peka Beach to look up on some old friends of ours, a local pair of Blackfronted Dotterels to see how they were going.
They were acting in a way that could only be explained by having a nest close by and although we had a quick look see, we could not locate it.
Once I got home I contacted, Louise my human bird tracking device and put her onto the task of finding it, which she did.
Being much shorter than me, she has an advantage when it comes to finding nests on the ground.
I call Blackfronted Dotterels, Bandits because bandit is easier and quicker to type than Blackfronted Dotterels. No not really, they have a black mask across their face hence the name Blackfronted.
Earlier this year the bandits had, hatched a single chick, a first for Peka Peka beach , but sadly it died, We think it was due to the inexperience of the parents, so we hoped better things for thier next attempt.
Louise had surrounded the nest with sticks and logs to protect it from being run over by people using the beach as a rally track.
The sticks do not upset the birds and they adapt instantly to the new arrangement.
We waited impatiently over the next few weeks to see how events stacked up.
Meantime life further down the coast was well, … lifeing.
Next up,Chris came down from Tauranga to join me for a two day workshop and that first evening found us out on the Waikanae spit.
We spotted the two rare New Zealand Dotterels That we had found a few weeks before, both females who had laid 6 eggs in a communal nest. This was the first time NZ Dotterels had been recorded this far south on the west coast of the North Island. Sadly the eggs were not fertile we waited for weeks for them to hatch which they did not but it was still exciting all the same.
Certainly something you don’t see every day, six Dot eggs in one nest and NZ Dots too boot.
Variable Oyster Catches ( Sand Pirates ) were raising their young out on the Waikanae sand spit
We had an awesome time running around in the golden light of early evening photographing the birds. I wont mention nothing about driving all the way from Upper Hutt and getting nearly to Waikanae, an 1 hour 20 min trip, only to turn back because someone named Chris realised that he had forgot his camera and it was back at my flat, no we wont mention that lol
A New Zealand Dotterel in the last of the sun.
A Sand Pirate, I love back lighting
The next day we were up bright and early and off to Zealandia for the day
Our first bit of frenzied activity came when we discovered two herds of Californian Quail chicks on the path and we got to work trying to get some photos of them as they zig zagged on and off the path ahead of us.
After so many years of trying to get a really good Quail chick shot it happened , they ran up a bank through the broom, stopped and looked back and that was that.
That day Chris was to find out how to shoot birds in the bush. Little birds, little birds that never sit still. The day passed quickly as we tried to keep those blasted little birds in the view finder LoL.
Chris went home with more questions than answers, but that is the nature of the game.
Bush bird photography is the most hardest discipline.
Bush Birds don’t came much harder than the pōpokatea or Whitehead.
The Baby Bandits
With our bandit nest being kept under almost constant surveillance, eventually the day came when two tiny baby Dots were spotted by Louise just on dark, so the next morning I was there to capture their first full day.
Daybreak and I was just down from the nest site staring into the gloom, sniper Roge nicknamed because takes his camouflage seriously was to meet me that morning.
As I stood there looking into the gloom a faint sound of, “Tony” drifted across to me in the breeze, I stared and stared in the half light trying to find the source of my name, “Tony ” the call was repeated over and over again. I could hear it but be blowed if I could see sniper Roge out there among the occasional tussock bushes and sand dunes. I walked vaguely in the general direction of the calling .
Eventually the calling was emanating merely meters away and then finally there hunkered down in a full camo suit, amidst a tussock bush was Roger, pointing excitedly below him, I hit the deck and crawled up close and peered over the edge and saw one of the adults with two chicks 20 meters away .
At last my first ever bandit chick.
We stayed dug in for a while watching from our lofty tussock knoll, then decided the birds were settled and crawled down a bank on our tummies and got a bit closer, They didn’t pay us any mind so we got some more shots as the sun came up.
These birds have proved to be extremely interesting . When approached at first they will flee while your still a good way from them. But if you sit down or even better lie flat on the ground, curiosity gets the better of them and within minutes they will be right back, up close feeding around you and carrying on their business but keeping a close eye on you.
So these birds were well use to us as we had been photographing them all early spring into summer .
Just so long as you sit still, don’t make fast moves or any noise the birds settle down and carry on with their busy lives.
Mum showing off her two new babies.
The chicks are tiny, roughly half the size of a Banded Dotterel chick, not much bigger than a mans thumb nail.
Once I had my shots, so I left them to it .
Sadly one did not make it, but the other is now looking like its parents and one can hope that it will return to Peka Peka with its partner and raise its own young one day.
Next up were the duelling Sand Pirate twins.
Apparently when baby Oyster Catchers get to a certain age they fight for one day to decide who will be the boss. I just happened to strike it lucky and got these two on that day.
They wrestled and fought for hours non stop, it was quite amusing to say the least, they were still going when I left them to it.
The Karate Chick strikes
There’s nothing like a solid karate kick to the mid drift to settle scores.
Finally for the month, we visited a Royal Spoonbill colony where we saw many new chicks and their parents up to their comical antics, they aint called the goons of the lagoon for nothing .
A committee meeting, Royal Spoonbill style.
Spoonbills may not look that smart, but this chick has its chin or bill rest sorted.
Well that’s just a taste of what December bought us, by the 19th, Steve and I were on our way north for few days to try out the new boat on Lake Taupo but more on that in the next blog.
Bless ya heaps and heaps, I hope you peoples had a great Christmas break, a happy new year and a awesome January. ❤