Wednesday 19 March 2014

Goodbye Mavora

This will be my last post for a week or so, we're leaving for the Milford Road & Milford Sound tomorrow morning and we'll have no reception again. We've had a relatively quite time here in Manapouri catching up on various chores and computer work. But we did manage to walk part of the Kepler Track & visit Doubtful Sound & the Power Station, I'll post those blogs in due course. Catch you soon.....
I'll finish my Mavora Lakes blog posts with a pictorial of some of the wonderful scenery we were privileged to enjoy during our two week visit. We had a fantastic time and are looking forward to returning in the not to distant future.
Ka kite anō  Mavora





Tuesday 18 March 2014

Bush Robin Buddy

New Zealand's South Island Bush Robin -Toutouwai- is very similar to the North Island Bush Robin except that it has a yellow tinge to it's breast feathers, instead of all white, this gets darker during the breeding season. They are also very similar to the English Robin although nowhere near as bright with their white breast as opposed to a red one.

The robin is quite a large bird about the size of a black bird but it stands a lot more erect and with longer legs. The robin has a beautiful song which is heard often while walking through the bush. It's also one of our more visible birds although sometimes rather shy.

Having said that there are many birds that know when there are people about there is a free meal to be had. As we walk we are disturbing insects & our feet are scuffing up the decayed leaf litter on the forest floor exposing bugs & other insects. A robin will quickly & silently move in checking the disturbed ground for food.

At Mavora the robin's song could be heard all around camp, around the lake and especially up the back of the camp ground plateau, in the bush below the range. This bush is mainly beech trees and the forest floor is littered with fallen trees and branches which in turn are smothered in thick brilliant green moss.

We went looking for robins early on in our visit and it wasn't long after entering the bush that a robin found us. Not just any robin, this particular robin was very nosey and kept jumping in front of me as a wandered along. I moved a couple of small rotten logs and he was right in there beside me. scattering material all over the place. David carried on deeper into the forest where he located another couple of birds but I couldn't leave this guy.

He was very keen on having me move more bits of wood for him. To locate their food the robins also do a little tap dance (foot trembling) with one foot; they drum it rapidly on whatever they are standing on, it must send a vibration disturbing the bug which the bird picks up on. They do look funny doing this little dance, you can hear a tiny drrrrr as he drums his foot, he cocks his head listening and then quickly stabs his beak into the rotten wood or leaf litter grabbing a tasty morsel.

He stayed very close and watched intently as I pulled apart the wood. If he spotted something tasty he'd dart right on in, grab it and move just out of arm's reach to eat it. I found it hard to leave him that day as he was very cute and as we walked along the edge of the bush heading away from his territory he flew along with us ignoring other robins that came in to chase him. Finally we moved out into the open leaving him very intent on pulling apart and tossing bits of a large log about, one I had broken open for him.

I didn't make it back to the bush for a couple of days but when I did, I entered the bush quite a distance away from where we had seen our friendly robin, thinking I might find some rifleman before he disturbed them. But within a minute or two I spotted a movement and there flying silently in and landing a few feet away was my little buddy. I knew it was him because he was a little tatty at the base of his bill & his feathers weren't as smooth as most of the others we saw.

He also did not want to share us with any other bird. He had a little grey shadow too, a pretty little grey puffball of a robin that kept out of sight most of the time but followed my mate & I through the bush. I would disturb a few areas so she could have a scratch around too. But if my mate spotted her he'd send his little "rooster comb" high and chase her away. I think they may have been a pair as he tolerated her enough without being too aggressive. And apparently the males are very dominant during the non-breeding season. Plus she was very pretty.

I'd know what was going to happen everytime I saw him raise his hackles, I'd look around and sure enough hiding on a branch or behind a trunk not too far away was his little shadow.

She did come quite close a couple of times when my buddy was totally engrossed in hunting for food. Isn't she a sweetie?

After breaking apart a rotten log and turning a lump of moss for him, I sat down on the soft moss with my camera to get a few close up shots. He soon ignored the log and it was a great thrill when he jumped up on my shoe! How cool!

He moved down from the top & started pulling at my laces. I stayed very still..... 

Then he then spied something in the tongue of the shoe....

And he stabbed it.....with a very sharp beak! He then started pecking at my skin showing through the weave in my socks.

Next he jumped down and started pecking with a very sharp bill at a sandfly which had settled on my leg now that I was sitting in the moss (little did I know I was getting eaten alive, I was concentrating on the robin instead of all the black dots landing on me). He flitted about all around me running over my legs, grabbing sandflies in mid air and using my back as a springboard to catch them.

He found a sandfly on my shin just above my sock line and gave it a mighty peck, actually about four mighty pecks before I shooed him away. It was a little mole and he'd made it bleed. He kept returning to peck at the blood. In fact he made my leg bleed in about 4 places pecking at sandflies & moles. I have a video of him but I can't upload it due to data restrictions, hopefully I can do it next time we have wi-fi at someone's home. I'll post a link if I do (see bottom of the blog post for the link).

It was a few hours before I could drag myself away from enjoying this little character's company, he again followed me right along the bush line willing me to stay & play.

It was another couple of days before I returned to the bush and this time he took awhile to turn up. I caught a movement out the corner of my eye and there he was sitting on a trunk that I'd lent my pack on. Next he was on the pack checking that out.

Before he came close again he must have heard something because he flew onto a log and stretched himself tall looking about, probably for his little shadow, nothing in view so he jumped down and came close to my shoe again.

He started pecking at stuff stuck in the sole before jumping up on the top but before he could do any damage I saw his rooster comb puff up; he had spied his mate. I hadn't even see her fly in.

This time she had crept up very close & was hanging onto a branch just a couple of feet behind me. She didn't stay long before he chased her away again. Two beautiful dark grey birds effortlessly, silently & very fast, swooping through the bush weaving in and out of the trees. And before long he was back.

I went to see him one last time before we left the lakes, he only came to check me out for a minute or two before flying back down to the bush edge where a family had set up a tent. I didn't feel so bad leaving him then; he obviously makes friends easily.

Here's the You Tube link to the video -  Robin Antics

Monday 17 March 2014

Kiwi Burn

A swingbridge, a waterfall or a hut at the end of, or somewhere in a walk, always attracts our attention when we're looking to do a tramp and if it's a loop it's even better. The Kiwi Burn Loop was three & half hours long & ticked three of the four boxes. We could have walked down the river from the South Mavora Lake but that would have added another 5 hours to the return trip so we drove the 6-7 kms down the road to the carpark beside the river.  We were rewarded with the swingbridge straight away, it's just beside the carpark and crosses Mararoa River into the Snowden Forest where it joins the track that comes from South Mavora Lake.
We could have also done the walk straight to the hut but as I've said, an out there and back track is not much fun after you've walked half of it and hey, it was only another 2 hours to do the loop. Yeah right. DOC suggested that you walk the track anti-clockwise & that it wasn't that well marked, but in fact the two bush sections, at the beginning and end, were very easy to follow. Crossing the clearings took a moment or two to locate the markers on the otherside but the burn itself was not well marked at all.
The first third of the track was a gentle climb through some of the most beautiful bush we've seen so far. Thick spongy emerald green moss covered the forest floor in all directions smothering everything in it's path. Large fallen tree trunks were great mounds of green. If you stood on or pushed a fallen log with your foot it fell apart without much pressure revealing a completely rotted centre with various fungi, mould & bugs exposed. The tiny soft foliage of the beech trees above filtered the dappled sun through to the forest floor. It looked like a fairy wonderland and we had the whole walk to ourselves.

Although I did wonder what was hiding inside the many deep dark holes that were under most of the tree trunks. I like to think it would be a kiwi asleep but I'm sure there would have been a few possums and some rats.

There was quite a bit of bird life although you had to pause awhile & listen for them (as you should do if you're bird watching) The amount of people we have come across on our walks who come crashing through the undergrowth or chatting ninety to the dozen and then complain that there are no birds in our bush!
I found some more rifleman-titipounamu-  but missed the focus again! I wanted to include these so you could see how she is digging away under the mosses, the bottom left one make me laugh, she has her eyes closed. One day I will get a good shot.

We passed through several small clearings on the way up to the top a ridge, some were quite boggy under foot but with carefully paced feet we managed to miss the deep muddy bits and come out at the other end with clean boots........famous last words!

Once at the top we crossed onto the far side of another larger clearing, crossing a couple of deeper streams before descending into the Kiwi Burn alongside the Whitestone River.  Great we thought, it's all down hill from here.

Below is Kiwi Burn, a burn is a Scottish word for a 'water course', the other smaller clearings we had passed through were actually smaller burns, hence the swampy ground underfoot. We didn't know that then, we thought it would just be a matter of making our way down the burn, maybe back into the bush for a bit, a few streams to cross and then we'd be at the hut. Wrong. A marked route led the way through the burn most of the way down to the Kiwi Burn Hut, although the posts were spaced well apart and in places hard to spot.
The burn was a good 2-3kms long and went on and on and on. That wasn't so bad. It was a hot and still day and the sun bet down on us. That also wasn't so bad. The marker posts were few & far between and there was no distinct track to follow. That wasn't so bad either, luckily a guy & his dog must have passed through ahead of us and flattened the grasses a bit; we saw their tracks in some mud.
The problem was the ground underfoot was so uneven with dead tussock mounds surrounded by deep & sometimes very wet trenches, with all the growth over the ground you could not see where to place your next step. The burn was one large thick boggy expanse with giant tussocks towering overhead & deep narrow water filled ditches criss-crossing the whole area, in between the ditches was thick soggy sphagnum moss.  

Occasionally we came up onto a shingle shelf beside the river where we took a breather before ploughing on hoping we'd spy the hut very soon. We spotted deer droppings on quite a few of these stony patches, they must rest on them too. On more than one occasion we had to backtrack a bit and try a different route. I couldn't get over the height of the tussock, it was in flower as well which didn't help as the long feathery spikes grew higher than usual.

At one stage we thought we'd come to the end of the burn, there was a narrow neck & a thin row of bush crossing from one side to the other but no out the other side the burn continued as far as we could see. Finally after what seemed an eternity we spied the hut way down the bottom of the burn, which in fact wasn't quite correct as the burn continued on for another 500 metres or so past the hut, we found that out when we continued on after a break. And while the hut doesn't look that far away here it took another 45 minutes or so to beat our way across the area between here & the hut.

Unfortunately either someone had removed the last marker posts or DOC thought we didn't need them because we could see the hut but it was extra difficult picking our way through the bog for the last couple hundred metres. We arrived at the hut worn out and covered in grass seeds & mud. With all the uneven ground my poor feet had taken a beating, I could hardly stand and I wondered how I was going to manage to walk the last hour & half back to the car. As it was the walk so far had taken an extra hour which meant that we were now running behind time by quite a bit.
Just as we unloaded our day packs another tramper arrived from the other direction. He told us he was walking the 3000km Te Araroa Trail and had just walked an hour up from the Makaroa River to stay overnight in the hut. He said he'd rather do that & have a soft bed than pitch his tent down near the track, it was just a short detour. That put us in our place!

Kiwi Burn Hut- looking more like a school room than a hut.
We sat inside and ate our lunch at the heavily engraved (graffiti-ed) wooden table while our fellow tramper told us about his travels. He had left Cape Reinga in the Far North back in November and had another 3 weeks before he finished the walk in Bluff. He would then fly home to Philadelphia  in time for his mother's birthday. He showed us some of the 147 specially printed maps that were needed to cover the track. Obviously he couldn't cart them all at once so he sent small amounts ahead of himself to collect at various points.
He had had an awesome time and had seen some of the most remote areas of New Zealand, he'd met some great people & plenty of others walking the trail from both directions. While we ate our lunch we also offered him some of our extras which he eagerly accepted; half an apple, some baking and cheese & crackers. I guess dried food would soon lose it's appeal after a few weeks, let alone a few months.
I would have liked to have rested longer but with a long walk still ahead of us we pulled our boots back on, threw the packs on our backs and headed out down the track again. About an hour later we came across the sign board for the Trail. Eleven & a half hours certainly put our walk into prospective.

We were now following the Makaroa River upsteam back to the carpark. Along the way I spied a female & male South Island Tomtit-Miromiro.  Like the South Island Robin, the SI Tomtit also have a yellow tinge to their breast feathers. The female looks rather strange standing so upright on the branch, she looks like she has feathery trousers on. And once again these are not the sharpest shots, I just have to get a handle on these small birds, dark bush shots, or I'll have to go back to shooting with the flash.

And finally after about 12kms & five long and weary hours we arrived back at the swingbridge. What a welcome sight!

Looking north towards Mavora.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Mavora Flora & Fauna

I found the plant life around Mavora especially fascinating, in particular the low profile alpine plants that grew on the tussock grassland plateau. I would suspect that most people would just see a scrubby dry expanse of green & bronze with tuffs of tussock here & there. But stop & explore down low and there's a myriad of tiny little ground cover plants with equally tiny flowers & berries. There is also plenty of dried rabbit poo and half dug holes everywhere but there must have been a major pest eradication programme happening because in all our time there I only saw two rabbits; one we startled when we stepped off the swingbridge & the other I saw way up the back of the campsite running about like a mad thing on the thick covered moss in the forest.
Unlike the drive through Nokomai Station & along the Nevis there were only a handful of Spear Grass at Mavora, this one in flower with some nasty looking spines protecting it.
This is our native bidi bidi, there were a number of small patches at the edge of the gravel tracks. The red was very bright in amongst the greens & browns of the grass. The little hooks on the end of the red spikes latched onto your socks without warning and then when you went to remove the flower ball it fell apart in your hand dispersing individual seeds with their own hooks on to everything within reach. A typical bidi bidi.

A montage of tiny alpine ground cover, the ones above look like mini pine trees. The tiny yellow spikes were a few millimetres high, they were obviously flower spikes of some sort. The more mature ones let loose a cloud of brown dust when you touched them. The single tiny red spikes in the fourth photo were flower spikes of some sort too.

More bidi bidi flowers followed by tiny berries on a bush, fungi & a ground cover orange berry in the fourth photo; no wonder our birds are so small, these berries are pill sized. The fungi wasn't as colourful as what we saw in the Catlins but there was still many varieties along with many different shades of green moss & lichen.

I happened to be walking along the access road one afternoon when I got the fright of my life as a bird lifted off the fence right beside me and took off up the valley. As it flew I quickly registered that it was, of all things another NZ falcon -Karearea.  How exciting. I didn't have my camera ready but managed to grab a couple of shots as it disappeared. We saw or heard the falcon just about every day while we were at Mavora. At 7am most mornings it would circle high above us calling with it's distinctive call as it went. We saw it land high on the slope at the north end of the lake when we were out in the boat one day, we thought it may have a nest close by but we lost sight of it by the time we got close.

Another day we watched as it chased & had a aerial battle with a harrier hawk that had intruded into it's territory. David also saw it flying with & swooping around a black backed gull along the lake edge. It didn't seem to be battling with it, just cruising & checking the gull out. These photos aren't in focus but if you look closely at the one on the right that I've blown up, you'll see that he's turned his head & is looking at me.

Just on dusk one day David also spotted it land on a ridge not far from our campsite. He came racing back to get me & it was still there when we returned in the ute but it lifted before we could get close. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any close up shots of him but it was a thrill just to know that he was out there (no pun intended) around us everyday.

If you have been following my blog you'll remember that while in the Catlins, try as I might, I just could not get a good photo of our fast moving smallest native bird, the Rifleman- Titipounamu. At Mavora there were lots of Rifleman, well lots compared with elsewhere where we've seen them. But they were still proving to be elusive, I could hear their tiny high pitched peep as we moved through the bush but unless you caught sight of a movement you had no idea from where the noise was coming.

We were out on the boat one day, another calm day with the lake a millpond when we both spotted some movement in the water quite a way off to the side as we passed. At first it looked like a thistle "fairy" seed head and then like a fish was nipping it from down below making it move. Just a slight movement but enough for us to turn the boat around and take a closer look. As we approached we both realised at the same time that it was a tiny waterlogged bird floating on the surface; a Rifleman no less!  I quickly scooped it up in the net, it was just alive but died in my hand moments later. I massaged it's tiny breast and cupped it in my warm hands then wrapped it in the towel for awhile, willing it to take a breath, but sadly it was gone. So finally I had my close up photo of a Rifleman but definitely not the one I wanted. When we stopped later, I buried it on a stony beach, wrapped in some soft leaves with a tiny stone cross & some wild flowers on top.

Around camp & at regular intervals on any bush walk we did we'd hear the loud & familiar call of the Bush Robin- Toutouwai, and on many occasions they'd step out onto the path looking for stray insects that we disturbed along the way. These are the South Island Bush Robin (of course), they are virtually the same as the North Island Robin except that they have yellow tinged breast feathers. Robins are quite large & very cute, I'm going to sign off my Mavora posts with one on a very special little bird I made friends with but you'll have to wait a couple of days for that.

Once again David found the fishing hard going, this was the only one he managed to land & of course it went straight back in. Just before this though he had a monster on line....true, I saw it jump. Jump right off the hook & swim away!

And finally just before we left Mavora, I managed to get some reasonable Rifleman shots although I'm still not 100% happy with them. Rifleman are busy little blighters, they were moving in and out of the bush and sunny spots and I couldn't keep up with my camera setting changes. This was a family of rifleman (or should that be riflemen); male, female & two fledglings. I had gone out into the bush specifically targeting rifleman & trying hard not to get distracted by the nosey robins but although I heard and saw quite a few they were all too far away or in too dark a bush to get clear shots.
Female Rifleman
I was heading home through some trees where there is a camp area when I heard their familiar high pitched contact peep and there they all were racing up & down the trunks, along the grass, under the branches & of all things, climbing over & under a vehicle parked beside the wood BBQ. One disappeared up the exhaust pipe, another hung off a bit of string that was tied to the bumper. They ran up and down the grille and in and out of the headlights & mag wheels & all over the number plate picking off all the dead insects. 
Male Rifleman

Juvenile Rifleman

And after the vehicle they moved onto the BBQ, picking their way through the embers and running up the metal grille behind. Some seriously adapted habits there! But at least I got some shots to replace the ones of my dead little buddy.