Tuesday 25 February 2014

Falcons, falcons, everywhere

Another stunning blue sky day on the West Coast…how long could this last?  We were up a little later based on our nocturnal excursion the previous night, and headed south towards Fox Glacier.  Passing through some stunning scenery and superb forest we were again on the look out for falcon, so headed to a local spot near a lake to take a look.  With coffee in hand, this time the falcons neglected to show, they had obviously not received the memo!  However, stunning views of the mountains and surrounds were an excellent consolation, and epic views of Mt Tasman and Mt Cook topped it all off.

We grabbed some lunch, stowed it in the cooler in the back to stop random nibbling before lunch time (!) and then headed on south.  Not too far south of Fox Glacier a large bird circling way up high came in to view, but that was not the thing of interest, what was was the smaller shape circling near it! “Falcon” was the yell from the drivers seat, and finding the next available pull in spot we ground to a halt, to scan an empty sky.  Somehow the falcon and the great cormorant had both managed to dispear in the short time it had taken to come to a stop.  But then again the yell went up, this time from Geoff, and we all got onto a rather ragged looking female falcon flying across the road in front of us, giving good prolonged flight views as she headed away into the forest on the far valley wall!  Phew, the monkey was off our back!

We were pretty happy as we continued our way south, and as we neared the coast, winding our way back and forth through some of the switchbacks on the road, again the yell of “Falcon” went up from the drivers seat.  This time a bird perched up on a high snag above the road, and as we pulled into a nice wide pull in area a short way down the road the bird stayed right where it was.  With the scope on it, it was not hard to identify the bird as a recently fledged juvenile, probably a female based on her size.  As we all got great views of her through the scope, she suddenly started calling, leaving her perch and flying out over us as we realised there was nother bird approaching from further up the valley.  Hardly able to believ our eyes, right in front of us we watched the adult male fly in and pass food to this clearly female juvenile!  A mid-air food pass!  Wow!  The male headed off out of sight and the young female went up to a visible perch and started to eat whatever poor small bird had become breakfast!  All in the scope, but it didn’t last long and she was getting anxious, having inhaled her snack.  A short time later there was more calling and the young female calling, also left her perch and flew out again, with the adult male coming in and doing a second food pass!  It doesn’t get much better than this, and with 800mm and 600mm lenses pointing to the sky there were no doubt a few action shots snapped!  We watched the young bird consume most of her second meal, waiting a bit longer for any more action, but then deciding we needed to get back on the road.

We continued southwards, stopping in to try some local whitebait fritters – you just can’t drive the West Coast of New Zealand without having a whitebait fritter!  Of course, one fritter led to two fritters…a little snack before lunch!  We then continued south to try our luck at spotting a Fiordland penguin or two, but hadn’t reached our location when another falcon flew across the road in front of us.  Coming to a grinding halt we spun around and jumping out Geoff said “There it is”, hang on, he was looking at a different bird, so in the end we had another two falcon, again a juvenile and an adult.  We watched the juvenile fly around the place, harassing the adult, obviously wanting to be fed, and after some time had great views of them both on the same perch, with the adult flapping whilst the juvenile screamed “Feed me! Feed me!”.  Fantastic – a FIVE falcon day!  They both flew off across the road and disappeared, and so it was time to carry on.  We got to a piece of coast where we scanned for penguins, but alas nothing.  However, we did have a very close pod of about 10+ bottle-nosed dolphins cruising along, leaping and cavorting…love seemed to be in the air!

We had our lunch watching the dolphins and scanning for penguins, all the while bathed in sunshine (and swatting sandflies), and then were on our way again, heading inland and up and over the mountains towards Wanaka.  We made a couple of stops, checking out a forested area for bush birds.  There were a lot of rifleman around and nice opportunities to see them, a few tomtit, but otherwise the forest was relatively quiet.  We could distantly hear yellowhead, but they were just so far off and not showing any sign of coming any closer, so we decided to head for the accomodation in Wanaka.  As we left the forest wet West Coast, and headed up through to the very contrasting and dry Wanaka area, we decided what better way of having dinner than with a BBQ at the accomodation!  Even better with a couple of bottles of great New Zealand wine!

Day total – Seen = 37 + 2 heard (kaka, yellowhead); new for the trip = 0; total for the trip to date = 146

Mt Tasman (left) and Mt Cook
Checking out the falcons

The adult, sick of the noisy youngster takes off

Bottle-nosed dolphins heading past the shore

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