Thursday 26 November 2015

Sneaking up on stilts

I don’t know what it is about Oamaru, but it always seems to look like it is going to rain in the morning when we are there?!  Anyway, loading the van, and starting the drive inland, it was clear we were in for a pretty decent day weatherwise in the dry Mackenzie Basin.

We spotted a few black-fronted terns in the fields as we drove, as well as a few South Island oystercatchers.  After a bit of driving we then made a quick stop to search a couple of small lakes.  We found lots of scaup, some with ducklings, and several crested grebes which gave beautiful views.  There were a lot of coot around, and we scanned the edges for any skulking rails, but no luck.

We then grabbed some lunch at a bakery, and headed to our first black stilt site.  As we arrived we scanned and checked the edges of the lake, nothing, nothing, nothing…bingo!  There was a black stilt on the edge of the lake, albeit standing next to a pied stilt, but a full adult plumaged bird.  We spent some time watching the bird, and the photographers had a bit of fun getting closer to take some images.  We then went a little further and found a second adult bird, which we again got reasonably close to and got some nice images.  They really are stunning birds, just such as shame the issues facing them are so huge!

We spent time scanning for other birds, seeing a few banded dotterel and black-fronted terns, and then decided to carry on to another spot.  On the way we drove slowly hoping for a stripy chicken…and blow me down if there weren’t two of them.  A male was standing looking around, whilst the female was enjoying a good old fashioned dust bath!  We pulled up in the van, got good views, and then everyone got out and viewed the birds unobstructed.  They were pretty calm, and so in the end the photographers moved in and managed to get surprisingly close and get some nice shots.

We then headed off to our initial target, a small lake, where we pulled up and enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine overlooking the lake.  The wind was a bit blustery, but a nice sunny spot out of the wind was found by all.  There were no black stilt, so we tried for some Baillon’s crakes, with perhaps a glimpse of a bird…  We then headed on down to another small lake, and found another adult and two juvenile black stilts.  There were several pied stilts present also, but we focussed on the ‘all blacks’ and enjoyed more excellent views.  The photographers decided to have another go, and got reasonably close ;) (see photo).  The funny thing was they just stood there and the stilts came to them!

We enjoyed the spot for a little longer, and then headed back to a spot with a fantastic view out over the surround lakes and scenery.  We managed to find a few butterflies on the top – the targets were the common tussock, and we managed to find a few of them despite a fairly hefty wind.  A rather relaxed and confiding New Zealand pipit was also nice to see again.  We then headed off to our last spot of the day, a local lakeside area where we hoped to find Baillon’s crake.  This bird can be pretty difficult, and although being found in many parts of the World, many people have not seen it.  New Zealand also has an endemic subspecies…

So we headed to the spot, and decided to all spread out and survey various parts of the wetland.  It wasn’t too long and a call went up…and the sharp eyes of Karen had struck again.  She had spotted a crake moving in and out of the vegetation on the edge of some water.  We all got into position and had pretty good views moments later of a crake moving around underneath the vegetation, feeding in shallow water.  It then moved off out of site, and we waited for another view, but to no avail.  We decided to spread out a bit in the hope of spotting it again, but again nothing.  Even a little playing of calls elicited no response.  So we decided we had been pretty lucky to have all seen it, and headed to our accommodation.

We checked in, had a little time to relax and repack things for the journey home, and then headed out for dinner.  A beautiful slap up dinner, with some really nice food at a local winery.  A nice way to end an incredible trip!

Day total – Seen = 42; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 169 (except Fulmar prion now accepted so, 170 sp seen, plus great-spotted kiwi heard).

Sneaky, sneaky

Black-fronted tern in flight

Even sneakier...

Black stilt adult up close

Male chukar with female in the background

Apparently you don't need to be sneaky, the birds come to you to have their photo taken!

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