Wednesday 7 October 2015

One Brown Creeper, Two Swallows

The next couple of posts are all about birds; birds we saw at Whites Bay, Marlborough before we crossed over to the North Island and birds we saw at Zealandia in Wellington, after our visit with the most famous bird of all, Sirocco the Kakapo.

This is a Brown Creeper/PÄ«pipi, and some have said that this is the one of the hardest birds in New Zealand to photograph, and I would have to agree with them.

Brown Creepers are endemic and are found in a wide range of forest and scrubby habitats in the South Island only. I saw my first and, up until now, last Brown Creepers when we visited Weatherstons goldfield near Lawrence a year or so ago. They are a small, noisy flocking bird seldom seen but often heard as they pass through the forest canopy high above. They rarely stop for long as the noisy chattering flock moves quickly on through the forest, feeding.

I was lucky enough to spot half a dozen birds making their way through the bush near the van & at window height, while we were parked in the DOC camp at Whites Bay- one of the advantages of having dark tinted windows is people & birds can’t see in.

At first I was thinking what are those birds, they don’t look familiar. Then I couldn’t believe my luck as it dawned on me, they were Brown Creepers! I was out the door and following their chatter over to a stand of bush on the inside of the campground. I spent the next couple of hours trying to get the ‘money shot’. I got plenty of ‘bum shots’; they are quite shy and hide their heads well. They are also fast moving and with the dark bush it was hard to catch them, and in fact I had a fair few empty frame shots or shots with just the last couple of centimetres of their tail feathers as they disappeared out of frame.

Brown Creepers are insectivorous, but do eat some fruit. Their main prey are beetles, spiders, moths and caterpillars and I think they were catching insects attracted to flowering Five-finger (Pseudopanax arboreus) here. And that's what held them in the area for awhile, a plentiful food source. They were certainly cute little birds, I loved their bandit eye stripe and long legs.

Quietly moving about on the ground around me while I was targeting the Brown Creepers was another very shy bird, the introduced Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow who has the most beautiful song. This one wasn’t as shy as most I’ve come across and followed along as I moved around the bush. It stayed nearby all the time I was looking up but when I looked down at it, it would quickly move into the undergrowth until I moved on. Then it would appear again. I think it was probably catching the insects I was disturbing.

There were a couple of puddles of water & mud on the track at Whites Bay with two Welcome Swallows doing circuits collecting mud for their nest building. In fact there were three couples trying to collect mud but one pair spent most of their time chasing the others off. I tried to catch them a few times but they were disturbed easily and I couldn’t get close enough for any decent shots. Even after I re-filled their puddle with water when it dried out.

So I was thrilled to find another pair collecting mud from a puddle beside the road at Rarangi when we moved over the hill to the DOC camp there.

And this pair didn’t have any competitors so they were free to spend all day flying back and forward from their nest site to the puddle without any interruption.

Which meant I could lay in wait for them knowing that they would be back every 5 minutes or so. They were flying a large circuit from a rock wall near the beach, across a carpark, then the campground to the road edge. And this time I had a couple of small bushes to hide behind while I waited for their return. They could see me when I stepped out to take the photo but they didn’t seem to be too fazed.

They took an occasional brief rest together on a large piece of driftwood on the beach but then they’d be quickly back to the task at hand, always arriving at and leaving the puddle together, keeping in contact all the way with quiet chattering.

Welcome Swallows are a self introduced species from Australia, they first appeared in the North Island in the late 1950s and increased greatly through the 60s and 70s until now they are very common throughout New Zealand.

If you look closely you can see that the mud is collected on the top of the bill, they sort of head-butt the mud pushing the bill through so it mounds up on top, which is much faster than trying to peck at it and carry it home. They would also collect a lot more doing it this way.

And as most would know that have tried to catch the swallow in flight, it’s a very hard thing to do. They are tiny and extremely fast flyers weaving and ducking and diving. I did have the advantage of knowing that they would be leaving or arriving at the puddle but it was still very hard to lock the focus on them as they flew in and out. Most of these photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/2000 to 1/2500 and still the wings are a little blurred. Still blurred wings gives a sense of movement so I’m happy with them.

Don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge, if you want to have a closer look.


  1. Your bird radar is highly developed, you spent much happy time photographing, made easier in this digital age....thumbs up on NZMCA version 5 cover
    Cheers J

    1. Thanks Jimu, yes I wasn't ready to leave Whites Bay, I could stay in a place for days stalking birds.


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