Monday 2 December 2019

Day twenty-one - peepless

Up and out the door pretty early, with a lovely sunny but crisp morning.  The weather yesterday had deposited some new snow, but the peaks were now clear and visible, so beautiful views of Aoraki – Mount Cook as we drove past.  A couple of quick photo stops and then on through to Fairlie.  A quick bathroom break and then a stop at the Fairlie Bakehouse, home of the most amazing pie in the World – the Salmon and Bacon pie!  Delicious.  The shop was almost bought out of pies as we headed off towards Christchurch.
We drove on towards Lake Ellesmere, our planned stop for the morning.  There had been recent sightings of little stint and a range of other vagrant shorebirds there, so what better way to finish the trip than with a new shorebird?  There was not a lot of wind and conditions were nice, so we checked out a couple of locations.  We found good numbers of black swan, pied stilt and more skylarks than you could shake a stick at!  There were a few shorebirds, and the first we looked at was a Hudsonian godwit!  Wow, that was a good start.  We kept scanning and found a few bar-tailed godwit, wrybill, banded dotterel, but nothing smaller.  Then a small tern was found amongst a group of roosting bar-tailed godwit, a common tern – a strange place for this bird, but we’ll take that as well.
Time was ticking, but no small peeps could be found, so we headed for the city to start our good-byes.  We dropped everyone at various locations around the city and said our good-byes.  It had been a great three weeks together, we had seen almost all of the endemics we hoped for (and perhaps a few more), and on the whole had encountered pretty amazing weather.

Day total – Seen = 38; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 162

Sunday 1 December 2019

Day twenty - stilted

Up and on the road early with overcast conditions, but hopefully some good birds ahead.  We drove straight through to Omarama where we picked up some coffee, lunches, etc.  We had been on falcon squad red alert the whole way, but only a couple of false alerts with harriers.
We headed on and suddenly spotted a black shape as we drove.  Whipping the van around we scanned a small pond and bingo! The prize was there in the form of two adult black stilts in all their glory!  We got the scope on them and everyone had a look, before they suddenly took flight and flew directly across the road and out of sight…. Wow!  Beautiful views of our target bird for the day and it wasn’t even 0900!
We carried on, stopping at some ponds for nice views of several Australasian great-crested grebe chicks, as well as several others and a lot of scaup.  Several coot also in evidence.  Carrying on we drove to a spot where we searched for more black stilt, a false alarm with several pied and then a single black object squatting in a field.  Hmmmm.  Looks kind of like a black stilt, but strange posture.  Several pied oystercatchers around also, so out with the scope.  Indeed, it was a black stilt, but it seemed to have sprouted two small pairs of legs from its breast as it squatted low over the ground!  It ended up standing up and showing off three tiny little chicks!  Super cute, as the bird moved off the tiny little chicks followed and then fed in a nearby bit of water.  Very nice.
We carried on to another location, and the wind was absolutely honking by this stage.  The weather was closing in a little and the views of the mountains disappearing.  But we came across three juvenile black stilt that were super confiding and gave excellent views and photo opportunities.  And then went for a bit of a walk, more a side-ways shuffle in the wind, and found at least four wrybill that also showed really well.  Our best views of these great little birds to date, and on the breeding grounds with nice plumages as well.  There were several banded dotterel also that posed nicely.
We decided the wind was going to beat us, so headed back to the van and headed on to our next stop.  This was a little more sheltered, but only just.  And a great place for lunch as we watched yet another pair of adult black stilts.  Superb!  Some took a chance to get some photos of the adults, to go with those of the juveniles, and just a lovely setting to enjoy our lunch.  We then retraced our steps, checking all likely areas for falcons, but falcon squad was still drawing a blank.  We bounced down the road, with the wind buffeting the van, and called into a wetland area to look for skulky crakes.  We ended up hearing a Baillon’s crake, and searched and searched, but nothing showed.  So, it goes on the list as a heard only, rather underwhelming…
We headed to the accommodation, checked in and then on to a lovely last dinner.  Some of us started to formulate our top five birds of the trip, we all had a lovely dinner, and then celebrated Romania’s Independence, 101 years to the day!

Day total – Seen = 37 inc 1 heard, (Baillon’s crake); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 160
Juvie black stilt out the window

Derek enjoying a juvie black stilt, no pressure Derek!

Mountains out there somewhere