Thursday 22 November 2012

Luck is with us

Up and off towards Queenstown, through some stunning scenery on another clear blue sky day! We passed through a lot of very beautiful scenery as we gradually made our way past Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu and headed further south towards Te Anau. We made a couple of quick coffee and fuel stops along the way, but anted to press on to Te Anau and the Eglinton Valley as quickly as possible.

In Te Anau we stopped to grab some lunch at Mile’s Better Pies – the favourite lunch stop in Te Anau, and although it wasn’t officially lunchtime, as we headed towards Homer Tunnel the sound of pie crumbs flying was almost deafening! We passed several fields which were being cultivated and saw a lot of black-fronted terns feeding over them, but pressed on and got to Homer Tunnel where our target was rock wren. With blue skies and sunshine this should be easy!

We headed off and staggering ourselves along the track, waited for a sound or flash of movement. Nothing…several groups of tourists passed us wandering off and coming back, but we still hadn’t seen anything. Then another couple of birders came along and headed past us, and about 10 minutes later yelled and indicated they had something. We ran up and discovered that they had found a nest in a crack and both the male and female were about and we had great views of them as they flew to the nest with feathers and other nesting material and fed nearby. The female then entered the nest and the male disappeared, and that was it for another 40 miutes or so, when she came off the nest again and showed briefly. Brilliant, but just proves that with this species the most important thing is patience, as even when right beside a nest they do not necessarily show themselves very often.

We then decided to head on through to Milford Sound to check out the river along the way for blue duck, and also view the Sound from shore. Heading through we scanned as many places as we could, with a lot of really lovely habitat, but no blue ducks!

At Milford Sound we took some photos and then drove back through Homer Tunnel and towards Hollyford to try and find these very elusive blue duck. With the two brief views we had had in the North Island we were keen to see them again, and so spent a bit of time searching, and it paid off. At one spot Lee cried ‘There’s a blue duck, I can see one!’, as it headed acros the river to join another on the river bank. We parked, jumped out, but they seemed to have vanished. Damn! Then one flew down the river, coming from well upstream, and some careful searching found another bird still perched on the side of the river on a rock. We set up the scope, but in the end stood just 30m or so away as it fed contentedly in the rapids, showing exactly how it uses that big bill in the fast flowing water. We watched it feeding and doing its thing for about 20 minutes, just brilliant. Stonking views!

With time ticking and the road closing at 6pm due to the big rockfall, we headed off towards Milford, making a quick stop at one of the view points, and then trying several spots for long-tailed cuckoo. This species had somehow eluded us in the north, with only the one heard calling the entire time. They seemed to be eluding us here in the south too, with no calls at all, and it was looking grim. Then on the last piece of road where there is beech forest on both sides a cuckoo flew over the road with a tui chasing it! Nobody else saw it, but coming to a stop we piled out and waited. No response to a call or two, until suddenly the bird called nearby and then flew over the road again for everyone to see! It perched in a tree nearby, calling incessantly, but took about 15 minutes to finally find, and with the scope on it, the tail and body, and occasionally the head were visible as it called and moved in the top of the tree. Wow, our luck had really been in today!

Continuing on to Te Anau, we pulled in to our accomodation pretty late, and then had dinner, before our headed hit the pillow to dream of blue ducks!

Bird of the day – Rock wren x6, long-tailed cuckoo x2, blue duck x1
Day total – Seen = 37 + 2 heard (Canada goose, South Island tomtit); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 148

The alpine zone whee rock wren live.

Rock wren perched on a boulder near the nest.

Mountain daisy (Celmisia sp) in flower.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) flowers up close.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) in flower on the side of the trail.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) flower up close.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) with alpine scenery in the background.

The team looking at the rock wren.


Blue duck feeding in the river below us.

Showing off how it can keep in the rapids.

Moving across white water with ease.

Feeding with head submerged.

A happy group watchs and takes photos of the blue duck.

Photo of the day, a blue duck perched on a rock with the fast flowing water surrounding it.

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