Well this morning dawned better than we have seen in a while. Cool and crisp, but with a promise of blue skies to come. We headed up towards the Franz Josef Glacier and walked up to the viewpoint. On the way we spotted a few orchids – both greenhood and spider – and enjoyed the views from the lookout. They will soon have to change the name to Franz Josef Valley lookout, as the glacier has receded spectacularly in the last ten years, to the point where there is just a corner of it left visible. A pretty telling indicator of climate change.
We spotted a few birds along the way, with lots of tomtits heard singing away, and a kea made a quick flight overhead calling as it went. We then headed off to the south, winding our way through some spectacular scenery. We headed to a lake site, where we grabbed a coffee and enjoyed the views, and some caught a falcon flying across a field and into the forest…others were grabbing a coffee at the time (hmmm, even the leader!) and so missed it. We stuck around for a bit, as a small rain shower came over, but no sign of the bird again. So we carried on our way, grabbing lunch shortly after.
We scanned as we drove, passing through really prime falcon habitat. It was getting to the point that we really needed to see a falcon! We made a lunch stop, and bingo, we had just finished lunch and were about to start a walk to a beach, when a bird called and flew over, circling round and giving us great views. From appearances it looked like a female, and we all had great views before she headed off out of sight.
We did our walk through beautiful forest, mosses, lichens and liverworts all over the place, and lots of tomtits and bellbirds. As we arrived on the beach a pair of variable oystercatchers moved off, and we stood and watched the surf, hoping for a little figure to appear. And it did! At the end of the beach we had several penguins come out of the water over the time we watched. It was fun to watch them as they struggled in through the surf, almost made it to the beach, only to be sucked out by a receding wave, then retry their beaching attempt. We had pretty good views of the birds, both with bins and scopes, and then decided to leave them to it and head back to the van. Still a ways to go.
We encountered a very friendly pigeon along the way, and then just as we came into the carpark the female falcon called loudly overhead again and then landed and we got her in the scope. Excellent! So back in the van and then off through beautiful scenery, passing briefly through Haast, and then on up towards Haast Pass. We wound our way through the valleys and arriving at a location in the forest we jumped out of the van. We were just about to head off when Brent heard the staccato call of yellowhead, and not 50m from the van we found a small group of yellowhead feeding in the trees above. We had excellent views of these stunning birds, with yellow heads that almost glow. They fed and clung to the trunks of the mossy beech trees, kicking with their big powerful legs, and sending moss and debris raining down from the canopy. We spent some time watching them before they moved off a little and we did a short walk, seeing brown creeper and several rifleman.
Back at the van we loaded up again for our final drive through to Wanaka. More beautiful scenery with a quick photo stop, before we passed into the dry country in the rain shadow that surrounds Wanaka. It was a lot warmer in Wanaka and we checked in to the accommodation, then headed for dinner. Another great meal, checklist, and then bed…an early start in the morning!
Day total – Seen = 44; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 151