Wednesday, 6 May 2015

We're Not Quackers- Visiting the Whio Again

After finally finding the rare and endangered Blue Ducks/Whio in the back blocks of Hokitika we were keen to see them again after the first visit was nearly a wash out. We actually made another two visits to the hydro canal before we left the Coast, one was unexpected when we found ourselves just a few kilometres away at Jacksons where we were waiting for the rain to stop before crossing Arthurs Pass.

The canal road is about 5kms long and runs along the top of the canal bank, passing two large settling ponds along the way before we reach the inlet. This part of the road is also a section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail which starts in Greymouth and finishes(for now) in Ross- as an aside if any of you are keen cyclists this would be an awesome cycle trail to do through some stunning & isolated scenery. A section of the trail also passed us at Lake Kaniere and followed the water race down stream from that lake.

Once we reached the end, I scanned along the canal where we’d seen one of the ducks feeding on our last visit. No sign, so I thought I’d cross the gangway and climb to the top of the bank to see if they were up the actual river. As I got to the other side I heard a shout from above the roar of the water. It was David calling me back. He had spotted one of the ducks resting on the concrete wall across from the canal outlet. At first he thought it was a pigeon, it looked so small. The duck moved off and swam down the canal feeding as he went.

This is the intake for the canal, the wall where the duck was is on the left (you can see poop spots if you zoom in, he must rest there often) and the gangway is to the right. There’s a spillway under the walkway….

and water not directed into the intake flows over the wall and away down the normal river route.

David left me tracking the whio downstream while he went to get his rod out of the ute so he could try at catching the big brown trout he’d seen the other day- he had no luck and didn’t see a single sign of any fish this time.

I managed to get some more shots of the duck, this time without the pouring rain although it was still dark against the bank and under the overhanging plants.

Here’s a couple of shots that show the fleshy ‘lip’ at the end of the bill more clearly; as mentioned in my first Blue Duck post, it’s helps with scraping larvae off the rocks and protecting the bill.

I decided that this must be the male again, there was no sign of his partner, perhaps she was feeding up the river.

Once he reached the end of this short canal section he turned around and swam back up stream stopping to feed whenever he came across a rock.

I watched in amazement when he got back to the concrete ramp. (I was so amazed I forgot to adjust my camera settings for the bright light! A ‘bugger’ moment.) He hauled himself out of the water and waddled up the ramp, right up to the top right corner and jumped up onto the top of the wall. You can just see him in the back corner. He then walked along the wall, jumping over the pipe and continuing on until he reached the end. He then launched himself off, landing a few metres downstream in the white water where he bobbed about for a few moments and then disappeared to pop back up further down stream to feed again.

I watched him feeding for another 15 minutes or so before he climbed onto a rock, stretched his wings out and flew back up-stream over the inlet and over the bank at the back to land on the rock beach in the river proper. What a gorgeous bird and how lucky were we to find the ducks on both our visits (albeit only one the 2nd time)

Our next visit was 2 weeks later after we’d moved on to Greymouth, then to Lake Brunner and finally to Jacksons where we were waiting for the rain to stop. We did a bit of exploring around the area and when I mentioned to David that we were only about 10 kms from the canal at the other end of the road, we decided to visit the ducks one last time. After all the rain the West Coast had been having it was no surprise to see that the ponds and canal were very full, and the rocks that the duck had been feeding around were totally submerged under at least two foot of water. There was a large amount of water moving through the intake pen and outflow and the concrete ramp where David had spotted the duck on the last visit had nearly disappeared. There weren’t going to be any ducks in the canal today.

I crossed the gangway- scary with all the rushing water underneath- and climbed up to the top of the bank to look up the river. I had a hunch they might be on the beach where I’d seen the male on the previous visit. And sure enough right at the top point of the rocky beach I could see not one but two blue ducks dabbling about in the rocks (remember to click on the photo to see a larger version).

It was great to see the two ducks again although they were quite a distance from us. With the river in flood there was no way for us to cross and move up on them through the bush but that was fine, we’d seen both ducks and three sightings out of three visits was a pretty good success rate.

They spent quite some time feeding in the rocks before one of them decided to check out the other side.

How’s this for camouflage, he swam very fast through the turbulent water…..

……before climbing onto a rock on the other side and calling his partner across. They fed for a short time around these rocks before both swimming back to the beach again. Eventually they flew off up the river and out of sight.

We made our way back to the carpark satisfied and very pleased with our third Blue Duck encounter. I wonder what will happen when they have ducklings, their nest will likely be up the river as that seems to be where they head to after feeding in the canal. Which means the ducklings won’t be able to get to the canal until they can fly. I wonder if the parents will stay with the ducklings on the river or perhaps one of them will fly off to the canal for some me time…..

You might wonder why there's a screen shot of a 'Google Doddle' below- look closely. Big Brother is watching. I was googling something regarding the ducks a moment ago and when I saw the doodle I though 'hmmm....I wonder what famous person was born on my birthday?' I sure got one heck of a surprise to see my name appear when I hovered over it! 


  1. can't agree...your definitely Huntley & Palmers....alright you've convinced me to start my search for the famous, endangered & rare blue duck..... I have no problem with cakes of any colour!
    By the way...what famous person was born on your birthday?...(not asking what year....I wouldn't dare!)
    I share a birthday with Leonardo da there!

    1. Take your pick! George Clooney, Sigmund Freud, Orson Wells, Tony Blair, Rudolph Valentino....and me! :)

  2. Wonderful shots Shellie !

    1. Thankyou Lena, glad you enjoyed them. They weren't the easiest of birds to shoot.


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