Thursday, December 17, 2015

NZ Tour 2015: Part 2

Well after our long day travelling from Stewart Island, we awoke on the shores of massive Lake Te Anau under showery skies. Somewhere over there in the distance is where the flightless Takahe was discovered to not be extinct in the 1940s, and up the valley to the right (north) was our destination for the day: Fiordland National Park (and more specifically: Milford Sound).
On our way to Milford Sound we stopped at the Monkey Creek x Hollyford River confluence to check for Blue Duck. No luck there but we did nab our first Keas (alpine parrots) of the trip. Will post a photo later of birds that weren't soaking wet! 
The water-gorged limestone formations known as "The Chasm" is always a great place to stop after crossing through the Homer Tunnel from the east side of the mountains, down the hill to the Tasman coast at the head of Milford Sound.
Once at Milford, we boarded a tour boat (Thankfully covered as it was still raining steadily) and headed out into the fjiord. Two important points: Kiwis spell fjiord "fiord" for some reason, and yet call all of their fjiords/fiords "sounds" even though the true definition of a sound as we discovered, is a ocean-filled valley carved out by a river, whereas a fjiord is carved out by a glacier. These inlets are all glacier-carved so really it should be Milford Fjiord. That word wasn't commonly used in Captain Cook's day so they made due with sound...anyhoo! To avoid confusion, they should really call this place "Lots of Waterfalls Land" because that's really what it is. I'm only including about half of the waterfalls I photographed so enjoy below. 

A couple Fiordland Penguins sticking to the correct habitat.
Any birding trip to Fiordland National Park is of course incomplete without a stop at the Homer Tunnel boulder fields. This is where 99% of visitors attempt to tick NZ Rock Wren--an amazing wren-sized bird that attempts to survive in avalanche chutes year-round. Evidently on rainy days they prefer to remain hidden!
Skipping forward to the next day, our hope was that cruising further north and east into the heart of the South Island would give us some respite from the wet weather. This turned out to be partially true as the dry Okanagan-like valleys of Central Otago did indeed sport some blue skies though wind kept the temperatures somewhat cool. Pictured above is a northward view of Lake Wakatipu, not unlikely the Peachland area but with higher mountains... The bustling tourist mecca of Queenstown is at the far end of this lake and we soon discovered that on marathon day it gets ridiculously busy so we quickly scampered north to the quieter town of Wanaka.
Whao! Fast-forward again--no photos of Wanaka? Here's the next best thing, the gorgeous Lindis Pass and its tufts of Golden Tussock. One can easily imagine 'heard' of Upland Moa grazing these hills, keeping an ever-watchful eye above for the 4.5 m wingspan of the Haast's Eagle. Instead today there are grazing Red Deer and singing Yellowhammer (Both introduced but pleasant on the eye, all the same).
Our reason for crossing the pass from the Otago region into the 'Mackenzie Country' was simple: To see one of the world's rarest shorebird species: The Black Stilt (Kaki). With less than 100 individuals left in the wild, this once wide-spread endemic has suffered immensely from mammalian predators as well as hybridization with the commoner and recently (Last couple hundred years) self-introduced Pied Stilt of Australia. Here, the pressure is mercifully lifted early on in the day, as we scored several Black Stilts at this wetland near Twizel, including a copulating pair. 
Mr Kaki
Another NZ celebrity bird: The Wrybill, the only vertebrate in the world that produces a form of consistent asymmetry (There's probably a more technical term than that). Basically it's bill ALWAYS curves to the right. This is used for scooping prey-items from underneath rounded river stones, though geneticists are still struggling to discover the evolutionary mechanism that produced this adaptation.
The glacier-blue waters of Lake Pukaki, a man-made reservoir built in the 1960s. Not great for birds but looks nice on a sunny day.
Although we had already found our main targets for the day, we cruised up to the north end of Lake Pukaki where the braided Tasman River delta provides many miles of great habitat for nesting Black Stilt and Wrybill. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing 100 km/hr so we ended up doing more of this than actual birding. Somewhere behind those clouds lies Mount Cook (Aoraki), the highest peak in Australasia.
On the drive back to Wanaka we stopped along the Ahuriri River--another possible Black Stilt site--where the lupines were in full bloom and looking dandy! If you squint, you'll see that the central river bar in the distance is white. That's because it's covered in endemic Black-billed Gulls (nesting colony).


  1. Very cool the fjords remind me of beautiful Norway

  2. Very good And excited place to visit. DTW Airport Taxi delivers the best Metro airport taxi service.

  3. Mr.cannings, you were the dopest English teacher ever.