Saturday, 5 December 2015

Nature in the Rock Garden

There’s quite an expanse of sand and uneven rocky ground to cross every time I make my way from the NZMCA Park over to the ‘good’ lupin patch on the edge of the Lake Tekapo.

A large patch of ground that turns out to be home to many birds; birds that live quietly and without fuss in an area that usually sees very little foot traffic. Until the lupins are flowering that is. Of course the lupin flowering coincides with the nesting season which means there are often people blundering about in amongst the rocks or passing through (like me) to see the lupins, disturbing the nesting birds and sending them into a panic.

I found this redpoll feeding on the grasses very near the walkway as I cross to the lake edge. Redpolls usually tend to stay high in the trees moving through in flocks chattering away to each other. They are quite skittish and this one didn’t hang around too long. He’s also at the end of lens reach. Redpolls are an introduced species and are quite common in the South Island (not so much in the North Island), and are usually found at higher elevations.

As I approach the edge of a small bay there are a few Pied Stilts/Poaka which are quick to let all and sundry know there’s an intruder on her way.

I scan the rocky terrain ahead and catch sight of a flurry of movement in all directions around and over the rocks. Tiny little birds are dashing about calling little ‘chip, chip, chips’ to each other.

This is the Banded Dotterel/TÅ«turiwhatu, an endemic small plover (found only in NZ) whose conservation status is ‘Nationally Vulnerable’.

There are nests about and the incubating bird runs off as soon as danger approaches. The birds are well disguised amongst the rocks, and being so tiny, you don’t see them until they run. Some find a high rock to stand on so they can scan their territory, others rush off bobbing up and down and calling as they go.

The nests are shallow scrapes in the sand or gravel and are especially vulnerable to predators and unwary people stepping on them so I tread carefully as I go. The bird on the right is mid-bob. When feeding, Banded Dotterels have the classic ‘run-stop-peck-run’ foraging behaviour.

Sharing the rocky lake side with the dotterels is a bird that is higher up on conservation status than the dotterel, this one is ‘nationally endangered’. The smart looking Black-fronted Tern/Tarapirohe is another endemic bird and one I've been waiting to see at close quarters for awhile. We've see them flying near rivers and as we cross bridges but not up close until now.

The Black-fronted Tern is a small grey tern found on the braided rivers (where they mostly breed), estuaries and harbours of the eastern South Island. They move to coastal areas after breeding and some small populations also head to the North Island.

You might remember the post I did on their much more common cousins, the white fronted terns that danced in front of us on the beach at Greymouth earlier in the year. In that post I explained how the name ‘white-fronted’ refers to the forehead, where a strip of white separates the black cap from the black bill. Most other ‘capped’ terns, including the black-fronted tern, have black caps that reach the bill when in breeding plumage. You can see the distinctive black cap clearly on these birds.

There was a small colony of black-fronted terns nesting in amongst the rocks very close to the lupin patch and before I know it, I was upon a nest. Unlike the dotterels the terns stayed put until the very last moment. The bird on the left is sitting on a nest. They quickly took flight as I backed off…

...and they started dive-bombing and squawking at me. They also bombarded me with sloppy poop, I’m not sure whether that was intentional or they just happened to let go because they were flying. Whatever it was it was very effective and they have good aim; my jacket was covered in great big smelly splotches.

But I did manage to grab one quick shot of the nest! And then exited stage left as fast as I could.

I saw other people cutting through the area at various times and they all made a hasty retreat as well. Unfortunately it was a direct line through the rock garden from the NZMCA Park to town and those that didn’t take the walking track were taking a short cut straight across the nesting area.

Another pair of terns were nesting closer to the water, I stayed well away from another splattering but managed to capture them in the setting sun as they flew past. They are quite gorgeous, I love the cap and their beautiful soft grey tone, and those tiny little feet. Yes, I think these are my favourite terns.

I thought I’d tag the rabbits on the end here…well they are nature too. There’s a rabbit plague around the Church of the Good Shepherd, along the lake front and in amongst the lupins. I took these shots very early in the morning when I went to catch the sunrise. The grounds around the church were alive with rabbits. And they weren’t too worried about the humans walking in amongst them either.

This little cutie was pulling down a flowering bush….

… to have a nibble.

And this one was finishing off a bunch of lupins someone had brought him. A pest eating a pest. Perhaps that’s the answer. Corral the rabbits around the lupin patches and they’ll soon both be gone.

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