Sunday 3 April 2011

Falcon and black stilt on day one of a tour??!!

Well the last week has been a hectic one!  I continued with some of my contract bird survey and report writing work on Monday and Tuesday, visiting some stunning spots in Central Hawkes Bay.  Wednesday through to Saturday morning was spent packing up the house, moving across the road into Mum and Dad’s place which we are renting from them (thanks Mum and Dad!), and packing the rest of our stuff into a shipping container for storage.  My own extremely optimistic target of having everything moved by Friday was never going to eventuate, despite a fair bit of pre-packing by Adel and having Mum and Dad to help!  So we finally finished packing the last of it Saturday late morning, had some meetings midday, and then I flew to Christchurch late afternoon to start a tour the next day....phew!  Will have to remember to never agree to start a tour the day after moving house again!

Anyway, the flights to Christchurch were a good chance to catch up on some sleep, and then spent the evening catching up with Aaron and Sarah in Christchurch.  Thanks for a lovely dinner guys!  I must say despite seeing the footage on TV and knowing what had been happening in the city since the big quake in February, I was still shocked to see Army/Police barricades around the central city, and the degree of damage to house, walls, buildings and roads.

Although the forecast was not looking promising, we left Christchurch this morning with positive thoughts, and someone must have lived a privileged life, as the weather held all day, and was actually quite warm in parts.  We headed south through to Ashburton, and then inland towards Omarama.  Our main targets were the special birds of the Mackenzie Basin, with black stilt of course being the key species.  The Mackenzie Basin has amazing scenery any time of the year, but with the autumn colours coming through it was even more beautiful.  This was to be Day One of a seven day Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ tour around the bottom of the South and Stewart Islands.

We made a couple of quick stops along the way, before grabbing some lunch in Lake Tekapo, and then heading up Mount John armed with enough paper napkins to mop up even the most monumental of food spills!  Despite a cool breeze and predominantly cloudy conditions, the views were stunning.  As we slowly made our way up the road towards the top, scanning for chukar, a bird perched on a rocky outcrop only 50m or so away caught my eye, and at the same time Lily said ‘What’s that over there?’...the answer came pretty was a NZ falcon!  Not a bad start to the tour, with a beautiful juvenile female falcon there right in front of us.  We got great views of it perched in the stiff breeze for several minutes, before it took flight and headed out in front of us, giving lovely flight views as well...what more could you ask for, except perhaps a great shearwater (read here)!!!

Heading up the road a little further, within literally 100m we had a small covey of around 8 chukor within 30m of the road.  There were several juveniles still not quite fully feather amongst them, and they feed on the tussock and grass seeds, completely at ease with us despite the close proximity.  They really are stunning birds up close, and especially so with sun peeping through the clouds, with the colours of the tussocks and grasses against their grey and fawn feathers.  Having had great views, we headed to the top, parked in the carpark and admired the views, and then slowly made our way back down, parking with the spectacular Lake Tekapo in front of us as a backdrop for lunch.

After lunch we headed through to Glentanner, with the target bird keenly in our sights.  We had hardly edged through the gate before I had one in the bins, and driving to the edge of the lake we had a pair within 60m.  Several other adults could be seen further around, and after spending around an hour at the site, we had a minimum count of nine birds...probably around 10% of the wild population!  Statistics like this make you a little uneasy!  The initial pair we had seen obviously felt that 60m was a little bit far for us to be admiring them from, and at one stage they moved to within about 20m of us, feeding casually in small pools and lakeside muddy margins – awesome!

We spotted a few more new birds – banded dotterel, NZ scaup, Pacific black duck,etc. and then headed back, and onwards to Lake Benmore.  We made a brief stop at Lake Poaka, seeing huge numbers of Canada geese and another black stilt, and then down to the Lake Benmore where we had lovely views of crested grebe and tried (unsuccessfully) for Baillon’s crake.  We had to miss something I guess!

We arrived into Omarama and checked into the great Ahuriri Motels (Rose and Tom really look after us), before a nice dinner and couple of wines at the Wrinkly Rams.  All in all a very nice first day with some stunning birds!

Merino sheep in tussocks in the Mackenzie Basin

One of the nine black stilt seen at Glentanner

Sweet briar 'hips'

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Reflecting on toetoe along the Ohau channel

Bird of the day – black stilt x2, white-faced heron x1

Day total – Seen = 38 + 1H (pipit); new for the trip = 39; total for the trip to date = 39

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