Tuesday 24 October 2017

Totaranui- Bird Antics


Let's see if I can keep the typing (talking) to a minimum on this one, I still have another Totaranui blog to post and I don't want to get too far behind again. 

As I said previously, Totaranui (Abel Tasman National Park) is a great place to spend some quality birding time but the trouble is, if you're a photographer and a birder, you end up with screeds and screeds of photos to process, and way too many you want to share. I managed to whittle them down to these few; some cute shots, some fun shots, a couple of unusual shots and a sad one too.

I finally found some weka chicks during the second week, in fact after only seeing a couple of chicks during the first week, they were suddenly everywhere, although the parents do keep them hidden in the bush most of the time. 

It's easy to spot a weka who has chicks; if they find food while foraging out in the open they suddenly take off, running very fast (they are comical to watch), making a beeline for the bush, clucking loudly. Not a great strategy if you don't want predators to find your chicks I would have thought.

A few weka head down to the beach very early to check out the overnight tide lines, weaving up and down to the water and round and round in circles along the beach like some drunken sailor. It was cute to find adult footprints with tiny chick prints running alongside one morning. But it was also disappointing to find dog footprints one day. Dogs are not allowed in the Park but obviously someone thought the rules didn't apply to them.

I found this older Weka Chick standing out in the open all by himself. He suddenly decided he was out of there and ran off calling loudly for Mum 'Arrrggghhhh.....she's after me, she's after me, heeelp!!'  (and my settings were not ready for his quick departure).

This has to be one of the most unusual photos I have taken of a bird (and now a favourite). An acrobatic (pole dancing someone suggested) Kereru/NZ Wood Pigeon out to get the tastiest Tree Lucerne shoots at the end of a very thin wispy branch. They are very versatile and agile birds for their size but this is something else.

I was walking back to camp when I thought I saw some paper caught in a bush. It wasn't until I got closer that I realised it was a Kereru hanging upside down. It was so absorbed in hanging on while stripping off the tastiest shoots that it didn't take any notice of me as I crept closer. When it eventually spotted me it let go and hit the ground with a thump, before flying off. 

The pigeons were often the subject of my lens, there were just so many of them about. Here they are; chasing each other, stretching for shoots and flying off in the wrong direction when I was trying for some flight shots.

Even though they are quite slow flyers they tried my patience many times as I attempted to get those flight shots.

And sometimes they just played peek-a-boo...

Here are a couple of comparison shots- one taken in the shade and the other in the sun. While there seemed to be some slight variations in colouring amongst birds, you can still see how iridescent the head and in particular the breast feathers are here. That green is quite spectacular and stands out like a sore thumb when you're scanning the trees for birds.

Spring wouldn't be spring without ducklings and especially our native Paradise Shelduck ducklings. Here's Mum (one of the few native females that are prettier than their male counterparts)

And Dad (who is still quite handsome)...

And their four gorgeous fluffy ducklings... 

It's hard to believe that this isn't a pond they're swimming in, it's a small depression that has filled with water (so much rain over winter) alongside the 'Grand Entrance' trees. They also swam in another couple of large muddy potholes on the edge of a track on the other side of the trees. 

And it's where I headed each time I wanted to check in on the family. Although they spent a lot of time at the pools they would also do a loop each day, waddling all the way up to our campsite bay, cutting through and then heading back along the estuary edge to their pools; quite a feat for 4 tiny ducklings. 

I say 4 but it wasn't long before it became 3 and then 2 ducklings. Anyone who has been following my blog knows I'm a sucker for ducklings and it usually ends in heartache so I try not to become too attached to them.  But how can you not resist these cute bundles of fluff?  

"Please will you just sit down Mum!" says this duckling who reminds me of the 'Joker'. Check out his 'grin' (click to enlarge the photo), it's a dirt line from dabbling in the pool.

I was sitting on the van steps one afternoon when the family came waddling through, now with just the two ducklings. I reached inside to get my camera and went to take a photo just as a weka came racing out from underneath the van and grabbed one of the ducklings. I managed to click off a couple of shots as I raced towards the melee waving and shouting (excuse the photos, once again I wasn't expecting so much action). Here you can see the duckling in the Weka's bill,  Mum was quickly after it, trampling the 2nd duckling as she chased. 

Dad was a bit slow off the mark, the weka still has the duckling but dropped it soon afterwards. Weka are known to predate ducklings and I've also been witness to one stalking a Pukeko chick at Lake Kaniere on the West Coast. 

The family departed at a very fast pace down the estuary track, quacking and cheeping to each other. Later in the evening, when I checked in on them at the pools, there were still two ducklings.

But the next day they were down to one. It's a tough life being a duckling, it's no wonder they usually have so many.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Abel Tasman Coast Walk- Awaroa to Totaranui

Real-time (although we have moved on from Totaranui)

We have visited the Tasman Bay area and the Abel Tasman National Park numerous times over the last 4 years, stopping for extended stays at Kaiteriteri, near the southern end of the Park and visiting the Golden Bay end a couple of times also. Although we've not walked the complete 60km 3-5 day  Abel Tasman Coast Great Walk, we have walked the Medlands Bay to Anchorage section on a previous visit after doing a boat tour right along the coast to Totaranui.

This time I was thinking that David could run me to the Awaroa Inlet in the boat and I'd walk the 7km section from Awaroa back to Totaranui but in the end we decided we'd drive to the Awaroa carpark and I'd walk from there. The carpark is at the end of a very narrow, winding road, the last time we explored the road we came across a rental motorhome that had slipped off the road. There are a number of holiday baches and a few lodges on the far side of the inlet near the beach, the carpark is where owners and visitors leave their vehicles. They then either use dinghies to cross at high tide or walk across (or around) the estuary at low tide.

From the carpark I crossed the estuary to that tiny island and then headed towards the track entrance which is around that little finger of land and across to the far left. The Awaroa DOC hut can be seen on the shore on the right. Trampers cross directly from there to the track entrance on their way north.

The water, in places, was deeper than I'd hoped for but I'd commandeered David's socks off him at the last moment in case mine got too wet. I wasn't going to take my boots off; while it's lovely to walk on the sandy parts, much of it was sharp shells and mud. You can then spend half an hour trying to dry your feet and get rid of the sand between your toes before you can start on the track.

David waited until I rounded the island; can you see him above the dinghies? (click to enlarge the photo- use your back arrow to return to the blog)

He's taking a photo of me taking a photo of him! 

Walkers can cross the estuary 90 minutes before low tide and up to two hours afterwards, and as I neared the crossing point, I spotted a group making their way across from the DOC hut.

I decided to let them go ahead of me, that way I could take my time once I got onto the track proper and not have them breathing down my neck (and nattering away disturbing any birds). I wanted to walk down towards the beach anyway but decided not to cross over as the river got deeper towards its outlet. 

Awaroa Beach is world famous in New Zealand; it's the beach that over 40,000 Kiwis bought through a crowdfunding campaign when it looked liked it would be lost to private ownership once again, you can read about it here. There are also some lovely aerial photos of the inlet in that link too.

As I walked alongside the streams and channels that criss-crossed the inlet, I once again found dozens of shoals of whitebait fighting their way upstream against the current. As soon as they spotted me they turned tail and were swept downstream, only to turn and head back up over the same ground as I stepped back.

Someone else was keenly following their progress; a Kotuku/White Heron, and I'm guessing the same one that we were seeing in the Totaranui estuary on a regular basis.

The group of trampers hadn't made much progress, there was much laughter and squeals of surprise coming from them, some had taken their boots off and were struggling across the broken shells, while others that hadn't, had sunk to their shins in mud. A few other walkers were crossing in the opposite direction and having the same problem. 

I stayed with the white heron for awhile, waiting until they eventually disappeared up the track and then made my way to the track entrance where I met another two couples heading across the estuary. I guess low tide at the estuaries along the walk are always going to a bit of a bottleneck as walkers time their crossing to suit the tide. 

The first section of the track is a gentle climb over the inlet headland to Waiharakeke Bay, the wide and gravelled track was very easy going, passing through beautiful bush and running alongside two crystal clear streams, one exiting into Awaroa Inlet, then once over the top, the other running down to the beach. 

There's plenty of evidence of pest control in the Abel Tasman Park (and in many of the parks we visit)- wasp bait stations and stoat and rat traps on the ground but this is the first time I've seen this type of trap (below left). I think it's for possums, they'd climb up on the board and put their head in.....well, no need to give you any graphic details. The Abel Tasman Park has the added bonus of Project Janzoon to help with predator control, a privately funded trust, working in conjunction with DOC to restore the local ecology. And in case you're wondering; 'Janzoon' was Abel Tasman's middle name. 

Once over the headland I take a short detour to check out the Waiharakeke Campsite, it's tucked up in the bush just behind the beach. I decide to have my lunch at the picnic table listening to all the birdsong and watching the antics of a couple of tui chasing each other and anything else that dares to land in a nearby tree. 

After lunch I walk back to the track and out onto Waiharakeke Beach, there's no missing this entrance if you're coming from the other direction.

The group of trampers ahead of me have spread themselves out along the beach to sunbathe and explore. 

Awaroa Beach can be seen in the background here.

I carry on my way, up the stairs at the far end of the beach. It looks like the group will be here for awhile and I can get a jump on them. Perhaps this is as far as they'll be going and they'll pitch their tents in the campsite.

There's a short steady climb after the stairs and then the next section of the track follows a part of the rocky coastline around Ratakura Point. There are peeps of the ocean here and there and also a view across to Awaroa Head through a tangle of bush.

Photos clockwise- 1) Awaroa Head, 2&3) Punga/Tree Fern, 4) Awaroa Beach(zoomed in), 5) Bush Lawyer/Tataramoa flowers (a scrambling thorny native climber, with sharp backwards-curved hooks that grab and rip clothing and skin. Once it seizes hold of you, it doesn't let go, presumably the reason for it's English name.), 6) Nikau Palm

And then the view opens up to something more spectacular; Goat Bay, the next beach on the walk. The tour boat in the background is heading into Totaranui.

I step down from the rocky platform at the end of the track...

...and out onto Goat Bay beach where no one has gone before me (yeah right). There are obviously a few walkers in a hurry because I have the whole beach to myself.

I stop to say hello to a Variable Oystercatcher/Torea Pango, with leg bling that looks a might uncomfortable. Variable Oystercatchers are mostly all black in colour (I know, it used to confuse me too, 'variable' means, well, variable doesn't it, not all black, right?)  This is an intermediate morph adult (it was with an all black mate- haha no pun intended!). They are not to be confused with a South Island Pied Oystercatcher who looks similar but has distinct black and white markings with a white breast and underpants, and who is also a larger bird. 

I leave the oystercatchers to their foraging and carry on to the far end of the bay, to where the next section of the track begins up and over Skinner Point. The cloud formation certainly makes for some fab photos.

I put my camera in my pack (very unusual for me) for the next climb, it a steep steady haul, with many switchbacks. I wonder when I'll reach the top. This is a reasonably new section of the track. If you look at the photo above (click to enlarge), you can see two slips on the point; they wiped out the old track which was just a very short climb to that low section on the point. The new track enters the bush at the base and then does a hard left before weaving back and forward to the top which I think must be close to the left edge of the photo. From the top it's a steep descent down the other side with lovely views through the manuka of Totaranui below- can you see the 'Grand Entrance' trees?

Half way down I take a short side track to Skinner Point Lookout, it's where the old track used to pass by and thankfully they have kept this part open, who'd want to miss this fabulous view of Totaranui.

On my way back to the main path I watch as a water taxi arrives at the beach...

...and zoom in on a long line of trampers waiting patiently to board; the owners of all those footprints perhaps? 

Then it past the sign board and home to have a much needed cup of tea; 3hrs 30mins and 9.5km later (inclusive of all photo stops, snack breaks and up and down the inlet). Job done!

Monday 16 October 2017

Out There on the Briny

Real-time (and I haven't forgotten, I've still to do a couple of blogs from Golden Bay)

We're still at the DOC Camp at Totaranui, Abel Tasman National Park and we're having a great time especially with the fine and sunny weather finally. David put the Takacat up not long after we arrived but unfortunately he's had a few problems with his back again and then when it came right, the wind got up (an offshore breeze) and he wasn't keen to disappear over the horizon with the chance of his bad back kicking in again. 

The 'Grand Entrance' as seen from the sea.
Eventually the stars aligned one afternoon so we headed off to explore a little of the coastline north of Totaranui.

We were bobbing about on the ocean waves while David pulled up the beach wheels when three Blue Cod (my fav fish) landed in the boat, literally. Lets just say there are some generous people about.

With dinner sorted we spent the next few hours exploring the tiny coves and rocky coastline.

In places the exposed bush has been sculptured by the elements.

Can you spot the Spotted Shag nests in the photo below?  Nearly dead centre, these ones were pretty stable on their small ledges, others we could see, were in some very precariously places. I wonder if there some sort of hierarchy amongst the colony or if it's first in, best site (a bit like motorhoming). 

The first bay north of Totaranui is Anapai Bay, it's accessed via the Abel Tasman Walk and there's a small camp site for tenters near the centre of the beach. Most walkers head on to the Whariwharangi Hut, a day's tramp from Totaranui but those that are taking their time on the walk and have tents, can stay here before moving on. We thought we might have lunch on the beach...

...but decided it was far too busy; with a loved up couple canoodling on a log at one end, someone having a swim and others just arriving on the beach in the middle and still more setting up camp or drying gear near the camp site.

We headed back towards Totaranui where we'd seen a couple of small coves...

...and pulled up onto our very own beach for lunch.  

Not only did we have our very own cove we also had our own miniature version of the Tonga Arches, granite rock formations sculptured by the sea. These were hidden from view as we approached from the sea and as there's no other access to the cove I doubt many would have seen them unless they landed here at low tide. The actual Tonga Arches are further south along the coast and part of Abel Tasman Park; many kayakers visit them, we saw them on our last visit when we took a boat tour up the coast. 

With the incoming tide quickly shrinking our beach we pushed off and headed back towards Totaranui, checking on a seal pup we'd seen on the way up and looking for more shags. 

It was a great surprise when David spotted a Reef Heron/Matuku Moana peeping out from behind some rocks. It's dark grey colour the perfect camouflage for its coastal habitat.

While there are only an estimated 300-500 Reef Herons in New Zealand they are regularly seen at sites they occur and have had a steady population for the last 40 years, although they are still on the 'Nationally Endangered' conservation list. 

There are two boat ramps at Totaranui, one you can see on the left, the other one is inside the estuary and can only be accessed at high tide. The entrance to the estuary is on the far right against the rocky cliff (don't forget to click the photos to enlarge) 

It's not quite high tide but being the little boat that we are, we ride the waves over the bar...

...and into the estuary...

...chasing hundreds of tiny whitebait ahead of us (although this is just a small school)!

The narrow channel sweeps around the edge of the sand and straight past the second ramp. As calm as it looks, we get caught in a small whirlpool just as the wind picks up and as I'm climbing out ahead of the ramp to go get the ute. The wind whips up a mini tornado of stinging sand and leaf litter and dumps it over us and the boat!

There are a number of whitebaiters fishing the incoming tide including a group of noisy Variable Oystercatchers who stand on the edge and chatter while David waits for me to bring the ute down to the water's edge. 

And while these photos show how calm it can be, here's a video I took of the water taxi picking up trampers during the wild weather we had when we first arrived at Totaranui. The usual pick-up is in the middle of the beach at the 'Grand Entrance', but this day the skipper sent the walkers down to the boat ramp to board where I happen to be out getting some fresh air; watch for the woman in the jandals!