Now, continuing on from Part 1-
It's a hot, dry and dusty track down to the Lake Tekapo waterfront…
Below is a photo from the other day, taken looking down on the bays we’re heading to. You can see the caravans- white dots- in the trees at the bottom of the road, centre left (click to enlarge the photo). It’s a huge area to explore and once over a shingle bank that separates the dried mudflats from the lake, the going is rough, stones, big rocks and boulders most of the way. I start to think there can’t possibly be any life along the barren lake edge when…
…swimming towards us come two grebes! They’re quite close and not at all afraid and although they don’t stop, they do turn around and follow us back along the lake edge.
Ahead of us we can see two South Island Oystercatchers resting on the very edge of the lake and behind them what appears to be a couple of chicks sitting on the sand. It’s not until we move a little closer and check through the binoculars again, that we can see that they’re not Oystercatcher chicks at all but two rare juvenile black stilts!! Yeehaa!
They let us get quite close before deciding to stand up…
…stretch their wings, do a little rearranging of their feathers before slowly moving off, scanning the waters edge for tasty morsels. What a thrill and they weren’t that much worried by our presence either, obviously used to humans, having been bred in captivity before being released into the wild. Both birds had a serious amount of leg bling on. As you can see in the bottom photo the grebes stopped to check out the stilts too.
We getting closer; first it was the black stilt with the hybrid partner and a chick on a farm pond near Lake Pukaki, they were a good couple hundred metres away. Then it was another black stilt with a hybrid mate on the other side of the Cass River, we saw that one a little closer when it flew overhead. And now two juvenile black stilts very close, hopefully the next sighting will be of an adult kaki at close quarters too.
We walked a little further on along the bay before deciding we’d turn just before the next bay and head for home, it was getting hotter by the minute and we still had a fair way to walk. Both the bays we were exploring were a much more vivid aqua blue than the rest of Lake Tekapo.
'Rock flour'- ground up glacial rock which causes this beautiful colour when it's suspended in the water- must be very concentrated here in these shallow little bays. Until there’s heavy rain, there’s nothing to wash it through.
Across the lake, I can see, once again, the bright yellow ribbon of broom I visited the other day with Lisa.
I walk back along the lake edge hoping for another glimpse of the stilts but they and the grebes have disappeared. I catch sight of movement in the rocks ahead of me and see a little bird darting about. I think it’s a banded dotterel until it gets close and it’s a great surprise to find out that it’s a Wrybill.
We’ve seen the Wrybills at the Miranda in the Firth of Thames in the North Island where they migrate for the winter but none in the South Island until now. Wrybrills are a small plover and are endemic(found only in NZ) to New Zealand. They also breed only in the braided rivers of the South Island which makes them particularly vulnerable when the braided rivers become clogged with lupins.
And here's why this tiny little bird is extra special. The Wrybill is the only bird in the world with a laterally curved bill- and always curved to the right- which it uses to reach insect larvae under the round riverbed rocks. This is possibly a male, their breeding plumage includes, but not always, a black line above the forehead. This guy has a slight hint of one.
Wrybills usually allow a close approach and this little guy was no exception, I had to keep winding my zoom in as he got closer and passed just a metre away from where I was crouched.
Happy with our very fruitful birding afternoon we headed back over the road and along the otherside of Lake McGregor and past the drowned willow forest, checking for more waterfowl as we walk. That’s when we catch sight of movement in one of the trees, something running along one of the fallen branches, jumping from one to the next, climbing higher and higher.
I wonder if you can guess what I failed to catch in the blurred photo on the right? It’s a blasted weasel and it has a large unidentifiable chick in it’s mouth- that’s it, the dark inverted V on top of the branch, the left hand red arrow points to the chick being dragged along the branch at speed, the right arrow is the weasel's head. We lost track of it within seconds, I cursed the fact that I didn’t have my camera ready to go and cursed the weasel too. Bloody introduced pests! It was not a happy note to end the afternoon on.
Of course I couldn’t resist another lupin shot as we neared home, this patch growing between the road and the lake at the entrance to the camp.
On the hill above the lupins I spotted something attached to a power pole- someone with a sense of humour has adorned a sheep skull with sunglasses and fixed it to the pole.
It faces away from the road and the campground so unless you see the horns out the side of the pole you’d not know it was there.
Back at the van, as the afternoon draws to a close, I track a magpie pair over the roadside fence and along the hill to see why they have been harassing a black back gull that circles the area each afternoon. I can see them from inside the van and they chase and attack the gull each time it passes overhead. There are no trees nearby so they haven’t got a nest but I’m sure they’ll have a fledgling nearby that they are protecting. And sure enough sunning itself under a matagouri bush while it’s parents feed nearby, I find a magpie chick who isn’t too perturbed that I am approaching him.
He squawks loudly as I get nearer and I expect the parents to come racing over but they’re not worried and carry on rummaging about in the grasses on the otherside of the fence. He waits awhile and then walks off towards the fence still squawking loudly.
He’s not too steady with his wings but manages to fly to the top of the wire, calling constantly for his parents who still ignore him. He balances precariously on the wire and then nose-dives to the ground running off to another bush where he settles down again waiting for his parents to bring dinner to him. He was rather a cutie (and yes, I know he's a pest too).
On the way back to the van I flush out another late afternoon/early morning visitor to the large grassed area between the road and the campground, another teddy bear! He heads for the hill as fast as he can, launching himself through the barb-wired fence like there are no tomorrows.
I’ve spotted him and his mate (hares always seem to come in pairs) a few times from inside the van. They have been feeding on the lupins in the middle of the field, and using a couple of deep grassed ditches as escape routes back to the safety of the hill. But no matter how many times I try to sneak up on them, I always get a shot of their rear ends!