Sunday, 6 January 2019

Goofballs & Bobbleheads- Puriri Bay


There'll be a short break before the next blog. We're back in Kerikeri catching up with some friends we missed on our last visit and then we're due to have a couple of days out on the briny with my sister & her husband. See you soon.

There was a lot of chatter, squeaks, grunts, flapping and jostling coming from the end of Puriri Bay, high up in some large pohutukawa trees overhanging the rocks and water. Not to mention the continuous circuit being flown by harried parents, out into the harbour and back again. Along with the noise, a large white splash of guano alerted me to a colony of Pied Shag/Kawau nesting in the trees so I went to investigate...

...from the rocks underneath. Which turned out to not be one of my best moves ever. I ended up ducking and diving as big squirts of white poo came flying down from above. I even had to dodge a regurgitated long slimy dark thing that looked like a half digested fish.

With no hope of getting photos from below I thought I might be able to see into the nests from the bluff above. And sure enough, I was able to fight my way through the undergrowth off the Picnic Bay track until I was standing on the edge of a small cliff overlooking a very busy shag colony with approximately 15 or so nests, most with chicks of various sizes in them. 

While the chicks wouldn't win any beauty competitions, I fell in love with these three fluffy goofballs who look like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. 

And just in case you're wondering, although it may look like I am very close to the birds, I'm not. I have a good zoom lens and I'm also blending in with the scrub that's growing on the bluff so the shags are hardly aware I am there (that was until I slid down the a short bank trying to get further along the bluff!) I can only see into a few of the nests, some are higher up in the trees, some are hidden behind trunks or under the canopy.  

I was alarmed at first when I saw some chicks with their head hanging down the side of the nest. I've seen this before and always assumed it was a dead chick but it's not. I was pleased to see the eyes open and later, the head pop back up. This is how they keep cool on a hot day. Don't you love the chilled look on the face of the one at the back (remember to click on the photos to enlarge).

While Dad (or Mum) takes a break, junior does some house keeping in this nest.

I took to calling the chicks Bobbleheads because as soon as they saw a parent land nearby, they'd pop up out of the nest and wobble about squawking and clambering over each other trying to get the parents attention. 

These tiny Bobbleheads appeared from the depths of their nest when they felt the nest move...

...when the parent moved to the edge of the nest to aim a poo over the side (there are 3 chicks, one is hidden low behind its siblings). There also appears to be three chicks in all of the nests that I can see bar one that had 2 chicks. 

Ablutions complete, the parent settled back in over the tiny chicks. The parents took turns brooding and keeping an eye on the smallest chicks while at the older chicks nests, both parents were doing a near continuous circuit; feeding-flying-fishing...

Back at the Goofball nest, a parent has arrived home...'s arrival is announced by a cacophony of noise as the chicks squawk and jostle for the best position, stretching their necks as high as they can go, poking the parents crop with their bill and balancing precariously on the edge of the nest. It's a wonder they don't push each other out of the nest!

After, what seems like an eternity and obviously triggered by the chicks begging, the parent regurgitates dinner...

... and the chicks head disappears down the parents throat...

...a bloody long way down! 'What else ya got down there Ma?'

'Leave some for me!'

The adults must hold a lot of fish in their stomachs, I thought that the smallest chick would miss out after he tried his best pushing and shoving but he just wasn't tall enough and eventually backed off. Once the strongest chick had had his fill he moved to the back and the 2nd chick helped himself and then finally the littlest one moved to the front and had his dinner.

I can't imagine how sore the adult's throat must become with all the regurgitating and then having sharp beaks shoved down their throats, and they're not gentle about it either. There's a video at the end of the blog if you want to check it out. Eventually the parent turned away and then after some more pestering it jumped over to another branch and took a quick snooze. 

Over at the little Bobbleheads nest, the noise is more subdued as the parent gently gulps, dry retches and finally regurgitates a much thinner liquid into it's crop, you can see the expanding crop here as it fills up...

...and then the chick just about disappears down the throat retrieving it. It wasn't until I saw the photos that I realised the little chicks were doing this too. I imagined that they would gently reach in and slurp the liquid! 

I think the smallest goofball didn't get quite enough food during the last feed...

...because he's decided to steal some of his siblings dinner!

They really are quite crazy! Perhaps this is how the smaller chicks do end up surviving. 

And here's the movie. Once again, excuse my movie making skills, I'm not that good at the best of times but with no tripod and balancing on the edge of a bank it was even harder to hold the camera steady. Persevere past the first frames and it does get better! Even if you might then feel sea sick!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Perfect Puriri Bay- Part 2


Continuing on from Part 1

On a perfectly calm day, David gave fishing a miss for the morning and we went exploring around the Whangaruru Harbour.

This abandoned bach on private Motukauri Island would have been a great place to get away from it all; it's waterfront, air conditioned, fishing available from the lounge door and it comes complete with its own super sized NZ Christmas tree. Paradise lost.

There are several small seaside holiday settlements on the other side of the harbour; one of these, Ohawini Bay can only be reached by driving along the beach two hours either side of low tide. A concrete track around the rocks at the end of the bay allows access to the next beach Parutahi and then it's up over a hill and into Oakura Bay.

I was keen to see Oakura Bay, our family stayed in a bach here when I was 12 and I have memories of us kids walking out to an island at low tide. I'd asked several people about this during our travels but everyone had said 'No, there's no island'. Well I finally saw my 'island', a small rock at the end of a short reef. It obviously seemed liked an island to my 12 year old eyes, and in my memory it even stretched half way across the bay!

While David fished the harbour I went exploring. Picnic Bay is just a short walk around a small bluff at the west end of Puriri Bay. As the same suggests, it's a popular place for day-trippers, and a sheltered bay for swimming if Bland Bay on the ocean side is rough.

I also walked the 5km Whangaruru North Head Track which I'd have to say was quite a challenge. Jocelyn had warned me that there were a couple of steep sections, which weren't too bad...

....and a lot of steps.

But I hadn't quite banked on 53 flights of them; 45 up and 8 down and all of them between 10 and 18 steps long! I like to keep count of the number of flights on walks. Usually I'm OK keeping the number in my head but not this time. I kept a track by taking a photo of the number at the top of a flight when it looked like there would be no more.

And that's why I now have about 10 or so leaf litter numbers in my photos, just when I thought I'd seen my last flight another one appeared! At least making them up gave me a chance to catch my breath before the next lot...

... along with taking photos of the native Greenhood Orchids I kept finding growing out of the steps.

The walk (and stairs) were worth it in the end just for the view of this beautiful little cove (which unfortunately you couldn't easily access)...

...and the rugged coastal views north of it.

I enjoyed the mass of Flax/Harakeke bushes alongside the track, all with flowering or in-bud spikes reaching for the sky. But I'd have to say I was happy to see the light at the end of a tunnel and know that it was all downhill back to camp from there.

During our stay at Puriri Bay, we made a day trip to Russell to top up with supplies. It's been a while since we've driven this road along the south coast of the Bay of Islands and without the rig on the back we were able to stop and admire the views along the way. Though these photos are ocean side south of Cape Brett.

And this is Elliot Bay, a stunningly beautiful private bay and beach. David has fond memories of summer camping here with friends just after he arrived in New Zealand back in the late 1960s, he thought he'd landed in Paradise. The farm, beach and camp area have been for sale for a number of years. It's yours for at a cool $15 million!

Puriri Bay was home to a pair of Variable Oystercatchers/Torea Pango and the day after we arrived I noticed them scratching about and carrying grass to the railings on the edge of one of the camping areas. I was up early the next morning to catch the sunrise and while they were both down on the rocks I went to investigate what they had been doing. A nest and an egg! They soon flew back squawking in alarm and dive-bombing me.

A couple of days later a second egg appeared...

...and then they took turns (although the female seem to do most of it) sitting and waiting...

...right in the middle of the campground on the edge of the bank, beside a track to the beach and with the holiday weekend fast approaching. I went and spoke to the camp manager and she gave me some tape and standards and I roped off the area around them, hoping that would offer them a little protection. It seemed to do the trick, most people avoided them or they were dive-bombed if they got too close- though this was usually little kids who had no idea what the tape was for and wanted to swing on it. They soon learnt.

This particular pair of birds were actually the friendliest Oystercatchers I have come across (when they weren't protecting their nest). They often flew in to get tip-bits from people who were feeding the ducks and I actually gave them pieces of snapper which they took from a couple of metres away. Disappointingly we left before the eggs hatched but I heard from another friend who stayed longer that two healthy chicks eventually hatched and were well looked after by a pair of doting parents.

If you've been a regular blog reader you'll know spring wouldn't be complete without a fluffy duckling drama or three!

I'm a sucker for duckling cuteness and no matter how many times I tell myself (and David tells me) not to get involved, I just can't help myself.

Puriri Bay certainly didn't disappoint. There were two families of ducklings in camp when we arrived and more joining them from the shelter of the reeds & creek on a daily basis as they hatched.

A continuous waddle of fluffiness moved back and forward through camp or along the beach during the day looking for handouts and trying to keep out of harms way.

I took a shine to the family in my photos because they were very friendly, they would often rest for an hour or so by our door mat. The ducklings weren't afraid to walk over my hands when I put them on the ground, so I was able to give them quick cuddles. Mum wasn't too concerned either. But that meant we had to watch where we stepped as they scrambled about over our feet too.

After a suitable rest period the ducklings would start to stir and shuffle about trying for a better place under the shade of mum's wings...

...then ready to go walkabout again, they'd stretch, do a little preening...

...and before waddling off have a drink and a swim in a bowl of water I put out for them. 

I used to have a large shallow planter dish for this purpose but I think somebody who shall remain nameless 'accidentally' left it behind somewhere. 

From the archives
Often the mother would leave the ducklings in a pile in the long grass near our front door, perhaps sensing that they'd be safe with us, while she flew off to God knows where, or sometimes she'd have been chased away by a drake and the ducklings would just wait for her return.

A Puddle of Ducklings
The numbers slowly dwindled as the days passed. It's a big bad world out there for ducklings. It's no wonder they have large broods as there are often only 2-3 left after a few weeks.

If they don't manage to get left behind by their unobservant mothers (I rounded up several ducklings to returned them to their family), they then have to walk the gauntlet past other duck mothers, bigger ducklings and marauding drakes all quick to give the younger ones a hammering.

And then there were the shags & pukeko. We witnessed both of these catching and killing ducklings; the pukeko were the worst, stalking the duck family until they saw a chance to make a grab and then making a run for it back to the high grass. Of course they were only feeding their chicks but still, it wasn't nice to watch (and not be able to do anything because we were too far away unlike the hawk I chased away another day).

I couldn't get close to the pukekos at all to take photos, the race off into the grass at any movement; this photo is at the long end of my lens and blurry but don't you love the chick's big feet!

But wait there's more!

Still to come- Shag City