Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cooper's kiwi

A lazy start to the day, with a late night for most the night before.  So we headed to a local café at Punakaiki and had a leisurely breakfast, before then heading out and around the walk at Pancake Rocks.  With the large swells and a relatively high tide, the blowholes were doing their thing, rather spectacular to watch.  We checked the surf for dolphins, but no little fins could be seen, but there were a few white-fronted terns roosting and passing by, and the odd spotted shag.

We then loaded up and headed off back down the coast, making the most of the stunning scenery bathed in beautiful sunshine.  We stopped just north of Hokitika at the sewage ponds, and checked through all the waterfowl, but other than one of the feral Cape Barren geese, there was not a lot of interest amongst the Paradise shelducks, mallards, shoveler, etc.  So we picked up some lunch in Hokitika and headed to a local spot with lovely scenery and some forest, having our lunch in the sunshine.  After lunch we did a short walk through the forest, but it was very quite and although we found a few dragonflies, there was not a lot else flying!

We carried on down the coast, making a couple of quick stops to check out lakes, and spotted some distant great crested grebes, plus kept our eyes peeled for falcon.  Passing through a lot of good falcon country, but just not spotting any – day fourteen and still no decent views of this species – rather unusual!

As the weather was so stunning we decided to head up to have a look at Franz Josef Glacier, so we parked and walked up the short trail to the glacier lookout.  Walking up through some very mice forest we had excellent views of several black morph New Zealand fantails, as well as grey warbler, silvereye and brown creeper.  Black fantails are not something we see on every tour, so a nice addition, and they hung around for sometime feeding in the subcanopy around us.  As we continued walking we noticed all the seed capsules of both spider and greenhood orchids, and in one place on the track there were seven different species of orchid visible.  Unfortunately they had all finished flowering, but pretty nice to see them anyway.  The view from the lookout was spectacular, with clear skies and the towering mountains feeling like they were just there.  The glacier continues to receed, with only a part of the face now visible – a big change since the photo in the itnerary was taken back in about 2003.

We headed back down into the town and checked in to our accommodation, and had a chance to relax, before then heading into have dinner and then towards Okarito to head out on our kiwi hunting expedition.  We arrived early, and checked out the area for a few other species, managing to get absolutely stunning views of fernbird within about 1m, totally exposed and sitting on a branch in plain view!  The bird sat there for perhaps 3-4 minutes giving cracking views, totally unperturbed by us.

Ian Cooper from Okarito Kiwi Tours arrived and we set about getting our gear ready and being briefed on what was going to happen.  We then headed deep into the forested area along some logging tracks to get into position for the evening.  Along the way we had more excellent views of fernbird, and several South Island robin came into investigate also.  Nearing our position we discussed the plight of this kiwi and what makes the bird so special, and then as the light faded and the mosquitos began to hum, we got into position.  The two birds we planned to target were roosting quite close to the track and to each other, so it wasn’t a very long wait and we could make out the sound of leaves being trampled nearby as the birds came out of their burrows and began to feed.  We waited with baited breath, anxiously hoping that the birds would feed slowly towards us, and as the rustling sounds increased in volume we knew we were in luck.  It was almost dark as we all got into final position along the trail, and with Ian and Brent intently focussed on the growing sound of a kiwi approaching, both keeping an ear to their telemetry gear to make sure the other member of the kiwi pair was still nearby, we waited quietly.  A were we rewarded!  Ian carefully put his light on just as ‘Joeline’ the female of the pair came out of the ferns on the side of the track literally 2m from us!  She cautiously sniffed and peered towards us, but completely unperturbed, fed briefly, then ran right to Etienne’s feet, fed a little more within a couple of feet, and then slowly ambled into the ferns and bushes on the other side of the track.  She had been in view for probably 30 seconds, giving stonking views and her behaviour seemed completely unaffected by our presence, the goal that Ian always strives for!  Although we wanted to whoop for joy, this was of course not possible, and we remained quiet as she fed off away from the track on the other side, but we knew from Ian and Brent’s body language that the male – ‘Fancy’ was not far off and was probably also going to come out onto the track.  We quietly adjusted our position, and sure enough several minutes later he too came out into the open on the track, gave a great but slightly briefer view, before also disappearing into the undergrowth on the other side of the track.

Ian slowly and carefully got us to move back up the trail and away from the birds, and we then out of earshot and away from them we had a chance to congratulate each other and thank Ian for an aboslutely stonking kiwi experience!  And all this before 10pm!  We headed slowly off back towards the vehicles, and once in range of another pair of kiwi, Ian checked carefully that they were not too close, as we headed through their territory.  They were well off the track, so we headed straight for the vehicles.  We thanked Ian for his incredible skill and for giving us such a great experience – he had after all put us right in front of these two birds and had done so in a way that had not impacted them.  Perfect!

We drove back off into Franz Josef and fell into bed, dreaming of Okarito brown kiwi – the rarest of the kiwi!

Day total – Seen = 45; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 146

Young weka chick at our accommodation

Waves crashing at Pancake Rocks

Hazy sea air along the coast

Stack of pancakes

Fern frond in the sun

Kidney ferns

Franz Josef glacier in the sunshine

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