Monday 16 November 2015

Okarito in our dreams

We awoke to another rather drizzly start, not enough to dampen our spirits though!  We stopped quickly for a coffee in Arthur’s Pass and then headed on up and over the Pass.  We stopped at a few spots to scan the river to check for blue duck, but to no avail.  They are there, you just have to be lucky!  As we headed out towards the West Coast the weather seemed to brighten a little, although showers passed through periodically.  There were lots of NZ pigeons as we drove, with 5+ in quite a few trees, and in one at least 15+.  Amazing to see.

We started to also see weka on the side of the road and in the fields, and we even had one little dare-devil run out in front of us, luckily he lived to tell the tail.  We carried on through to Hokitika, stopping at the Hokitika sewage ponds on the way.  There were lots of waterfowl on the ponds, with grey duck, scaup, and shovelor, but no sign of the long-staying escapee Cape Barren geese.  In Hokitika we grabbed some breakfast stores, some lunch, and then headed on through to a lake to have our lunch.  The sun almost came out, and we couldn’t work out whether to take our jacket off or leave it on, funny old weather!  After lunch we went for a walk and had an adult weka with four almost fully grown young ones come and investigate us.  They are such comical and inquisitive beasts, and just so much fun to watch all the antics and family dynamics.  Everyone managed some nice images and so we carried on into the forest to look for other forest birds.  We had several nice close views of small groups of brown creeper, with some coming right in to investigate us.  They too are stunning little things and really have to be seen to do them justice.  Several male tomtits were also evident, as were grey warblers.

We then carried on south, keeping a sharp eye out for falcon.  So far these birds have been elusive, but with everyone on the lookout one has to pop into view at some stage…we hope!  Lots more pigeons, a good number of swamp harriers, and several magpies, but no falcon.  We made a few short stops along the ay, and the headed out to Okarito to take a look at the lagoon.  We saw several very distant great egrets, and a few other bits and pieces, scanned for falcon, and then carried on to Franz Josef.  On the way we made a stop for fernbird, getting quite nice views of a bird skulking in the shrubbery, as well as a stonking little black fantail.

In Franz Josef, we checked in to our accommodation, had a quick unpack, and then headed into town for a fantastic Asian dinner at King Tiger – superb food and highly recommended!  And then back to the accommodation to do the checklist and then out to Okarito for our rendezvous with Ian Cooper from Okarito Kiwi Tours.  We arrived a little early, with rain still drizzling, hoping like heck it was going to stop.  As Ian arrived the drizzle seemed to ease 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.  Our first position was near the male of a pair whose territory was closest to the road.  It seemed like he may have already been stirring when we arrived, and as it got darker, he gradually moved further away from us up the hill.  The drizzle was still holding off, so Ian headed off down the trail to try and locate a second pair and see if they were in a better position.

A short while later, the radio sparked into life and Ian called us all towards him.  We quickly, and as quietly as possible headed off down the dark trail towards him, and after a steady walk for 10-15 minutes we managed to catch up with him.  He had Joeline, the female of the next pair, not too far off from the track, and knowing this bird, he knew she would want to cross that the trail we had just come in on.  So we got into position and waited.  Every now and then we could hear movement in the dense vegetation, and Ian kept moving us along the trail in the direction of her parallel movement.  Then a glimpse of her feeding in a less dense area, before she moved off into denser brush.  And then the drizzle started again, first just a few drops, then a little heavier, until it was not quite rain, but light drizzle.  We kept moving along the trail with her, and then with us all in position, she walked out of the forest and stood for a moment right in front of us.  Sniffing the air, and then slowly walking along looking for food, completely unperturbed, she walked right past us giving incredible views.  She ran a little along the trail in front of us, and then disappeared into the thick bush on the other side of the trail.  In all viewing for about 20 seconds, and as usual Joeline gave beautiful relaxed views.  Wow!  What a fantastic experience, Ian had worked his magic again!

Having all had super views we moved ff down the trail away from Joeline to leave her to her nights foraging, as we did the rain eased a little and then stopped.  We gathered up and excitedly discussed what had just happened, before then heading off back to the van.  What a fantastic night!  We said our good-byes and thanks to Ian and then headed back to the accommodation, spotting a couple of possums on the way…home and in bed before midnight!  Luxury!

Day total – Seen = 48 + 1 heard (morepork); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 148

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