Wednesday, 3 February 2016

'Murder' At Monowai


We’re now back in range and parked up at a POP (NZMCA Park over property) behind the Waiau Town & Country Club in Tuatapere…

…after an interesting time at Lake Monowai, which is south of Te Anau on the edge of the Fiordland National Park. We stayed at the DOC camp at the lake for a few days where we were parked in the carpark- there are two other areas but both were in the bush and not ideal because we couldn’t get TV reception. Mind you, if we had parked in them, not many others would have been able to join us, they were quite small.

The carpark was fine but we shared it with quite a number of vehicles and boat trailers as boaties, fishermen & hunters came and went.

The mist and cloud hung low over the lake most days which was a shame, especially when we could see a clear blue line away from the mountains and back towards the main road. We shifted just 10kms away to Borland Lodge after three days so we could explore Borland Road and do a few walks in the area. Borland Lodge is an outdoor education centre (it used to be the power project workers camp) where movanners can park in the grounds for a small charge and connect to power if they wish. The site is only available when there are no groups at the centre so it pays to call ahead if you're thinking of staying there.

Borland Road is a 30km narrow, winding, gravel service road for the power pylons that carry electricity from the power station at West Arm, Lake Manapouri to the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter near Bluff. Borland Road finishes at South Arm on the lake, a place where there are squadrons of sandflies the size of helicopters! The views and scenery are fabulous to the top of the Borland Saddle and down through the Grebe Valley (nice name there)…but I’ll do a blog on that in due course.

This blog is about a ‘murder’ committed right beside the carpark at Lake Monowai.

I was walking back across the dam wall to the van when I heard this horrendous commotion coming from the bush beside the carpark (in front of the blue car on the right in the photo, two above). I walked up to the edge and peered into the dark gloom (it was about 8:45pm); the bank ran down to an overgrown swampy area. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a rare NZ Falcon/Kārearea flapping about in the undergrowth.

At first I thought it had a nest and the noise was coming from it’s chicks, and the surrounding birds were complaining about it being too near. But then falcons usually nest close to the ground or in fact on the ground and this seemed too high plus the other birds were calling and flying about too much. While I was trying to decide what was happening the falcon flew out and up into a nearby tree. I hurried back to the van, grabbed my camera and called for David.

As I got back to the bank edge again, the falcon flew back down to the tangle of vines and branches where I’d seen it the first time. I could hardly see what was going on because it was so dark and getting darker by the second. My camera recorded it in much more detail that my brain! For those that know the workings of a camera, I shot these with the ISO set on auto so I could get as much detail as possible out of the dark ‘hole’. I usually shoot at ISO100-200, these are all at ISO25,600! The reason why there is so much noise (grain), but worth it for the shots.

The falcon was peering into the bush (above) and then looking over it’s shoulder at me, I presume, although I couldn’t quite see that as I was clicking away.

She(or he, I have yet to find out) looked back down into the vines, all the while the birds in the trees around me were alarm calling and flying about; tui, bellbird, brown creeper, grey warbler amongst others.

She disappeared through a gap in the vines…

…to reappear seconds later in a different area of the vines, checking to see if I was still watching…

…and to decide what to do…

…it looks like she has a vine tangled around a leg as she pulls at it with her bill…

…she then stretches forward and peers about before jumping…

… back near the hole she disappeared into the first time, checks on me again…

…before flying off…

…to the top of the trees once again, the other birds still protesting loudly and flying after her.

Just moments afterwards she’s back down on the vines; the hungry call of her chicks no doubt ringing in her ears;

…as she decides I’m no threat and jumps across to be the hole in the vines again…

…where she takes one last look around…

…and dives down through the gap...(the other birds are now really going berserk and the volume of noise increases tenfold)…

…to reappear just a second later with….…a squawking tui chick in her mouth!

Remember I can’t actually see all this, I’m just clicking 20 to the dozen but I can see the outline of the falcon and hear the screaming chick though and I can guess what is happening.

She flies off, up towards the tree tops and then across the road where we can see three adult tuis in hot and noisy pursuit. The falcon circles around and flies off across the lake heading for the top of a ridge a few kilometres away. The bush falls into a deathly silence.

There are no chicks left in the nest and we’re left wondering whether she maybe took a chick on the first visit when I heard all the commotion and ate that for herself before returning to steal the second one for her chicks. Or perhaps she’d already snatched a chick earlier in the day or the day before and knew there was one more there for the taking. Then again perhaps there was only one chick in the clutch. Whatever it was, she had flown a long way and found the nest in a obscure and nearly inaccessible patch of vines. I assume she was initially attracted by the hungry squawking of the tui chick(s)

It was a huge surprise when I uploaded the photos to see that I managed to capture the falcon leaving with the chick in it’s mouth, although I kind of wish I hadn’t. Everytime I woke that night, I had visions of that poor baby squawking for it’s mum! Nature in the raw, such is life.


  1. Fabulous shots and action of the Falcon, ain't nature beautiful, especially in the raw....tough on the Tui chicks.
    Borland Lodge looks sweet as....thanks for another place to visit.
    We're going to the Rata Blossom Festival this weekend, at the Otira Hotel
    Cheers Jimu

    1. Hi Jimu, hope you had fun at the Rata Blossom Festival-aside from the blossom it would have been an interesting stop at the hotel to say the least. Was there much blossom in the area? I've seen lots carpeting the tracks we've been walking lately. Great to see possum control is having an effect in some areas.

  2. Hi Shellie & David.
    Not much Rata Blossom about this year, and Lester was not so well organised, however highlights were the Black powder demo guys from Reefton, his 2 Clydesdales pulling 34 people in a tug of war, also a Cobb & Co type stagecoach ride ( also two Clydesadales). The Penny Farthing guys from Oamaru racing on gravel...uphill. They even went down and paraded for the Trans Alpine train, it was a real trip back in time. Am falling behind in my blogs hopefully when I catch up you'll see some of it. Cheers J

  3. Hi Shellie

    I have looked but can't find if you did a post on the Borland Saddle Road down the Grebe Valley to South Arm?

    Currently at Te Anau.



    1. Hi Harvey, nice to hear from you. We won't bump into each other for awhile now that you've headed south and us north! Borland Road is one of the blogs that I never got around to doing, I have so, so many great photos and then we went to Stewart Island afterwards and life just got away on me! :) I still have every intention of filling in the gaps eventually, but I'd have to be laid up in bed for a few months to force me to do it.
      Anyway I can give you a brief outline- we stayed at Borland Lodge, greal place but you need to phone ahead to make sure no school camps are there (quite probable at this time of year). When you get to Borland Saddle, you must climb to the top of the mountain on the left (it's not too hard or far) especially if it's a clear day- there are 7-8 small tarns terraced across a plateau before it drops off into the valley below. Magnificent sight and views and a view of two small lakes! The road is fine, we never saw another person, quite steep going down the other side but ok. The DOC camp at the end was a awash with sandflies, the most I have ever seen. Looked like people had shifted to camping on the stones beside the lake, back a bit from the camp, to escape them. They were there but not so many. Worth doing just to say you've done it! Safe travels.


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