Friday, 22 December 2017

Several trips to Kapiti Island

 Kapiti Island is a must visit in New Zealand. It is a small island (2km by 10km) lying off the west       coast of the North Island, opposite the township of Paraparaumu. Nowadays it is a bird sanctuary of  
 international significance but it also has huge historical importance. Maori chief Te Rauparaha   lived and ruled parts of the North Island from here and later colonial settlers cleared the land and   ran several whaling stations. As early as 1897 it was recognised as important for its flora and   fauna. It is now predator free and the vegetation is as close to New Zealand pre-human as you are   likely to get. Endemic birds have flourished here and it is a haven for our priceless flightless birds.

 I have visited Kapiti Island several times while I have been in New Zealand and in the last part of 2017 have been lucky enough to journey there 3 times. On my last visit I stayed overnight in the   wonderful new glamping facilities. Whilst I am there primarily to photograph birds, it has been   exciting to connect with the residents and staff of Kapiti Island Nature Tours. They were   inspirational in their conservation work, not only of the birds but also of the Maori culture and history.

Here are the highlights from my recent trips.

Bellbird (anthornis melanura)

The korimako  or bellbird is a honeyeater with a call similar to the tui but with less coughs and whistles. It is smaller than the tui also and is often bullied by the more aggressive bird.

New Zealand pigeon (hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)

The kereru or New Zealand pigeon is our only endemic pigeon and is a very entertaining bird. With a huge body and small head it looks comical and can often been seen perching in the afternoon sun looking quite dozy. In the sunshine, the feathers shimmer with colour.

Morepork (ninox novaeseelandiae)

The ruru or morepork is our only endemic owl and is a real taonga (treasure). Much more likely to be heard than seen, it is so called because of the haunting call resembling an anguished soul asking for 'more pork'. I slept with my tent wide open and was woken regularly by a ruru calling from the trees close by. It was a real highlight of my trip to see one up close.

North Island kaka (nestor meridionalis)

The North Island kaka is a wonderfully comical character that sounds how I imagine a pterodactyl would as it screeches in the air. Typical of parrots, they are curious and will sit on your shoulder and try to steal your lunch. This is a youngster and you can already see a sense of mischievousness.

Red-crowned parakeet (cyanoramphus novaezelandiae)

The kakariki or red-crowned parakeet is usually spotted in pairs, wheeling overhead and calling loudly. In the early morning, they were everywhere and although I had previously found it difficult to get a shot of one in sunlight, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got lucky. Thrilled with this shot.

South Island takahe (porphyrio hochstetteri)
 The South Island takahe is one of the most special endemic NZ birds. Extinct on the North Island, it was also thought to be lost on the South Island until they were discovered in the mountains in 1948. There are still only 300 birds left and I felt so lucky to see them plodding around the island.

North Island robin (petroica longipes)

The toutouwai or North Island robin is an endearing bush bird. Tiny as it is, it will bounce around your feet and shuffle around in the disturbed undergrowth looking for food. This is a young bird, looking for a delivery of food from the parents.

North Island saddleback (philesturnus rufusater)

The tieke or North Island saddleback has long been my birding nemesis. I have spent lots of time around them, usually at Zealandia sanctuary in Wellington but have never managed to get a good photograph of them. I was hoping to get that corrected this time and this photograph is a real thrill and I can now call the tieke a friend!

Tui (prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

Although I regularly see the tui around, I have struggled in recent years to get a good shot of one. They are easily identifiable by the bright white ruff (colonists called them the parson's bird) and are loud and aggressive. The noises they can make put any parrot to shame, from beautiful melodies to coughs, clicks and sneezes. They are a remarkable bird.

Weka (gallirallus australis)

The weka is another flightless rail and I never quite understand why it doesn't receive the same amount of attention as the kiwi. It has all but disappeared from mainland New Zealand and only thrives in sanctuaries. You can see here the remnants of its wings.

Stitchbird (notiomustis cincta)
The hihi or stitchbird is so named because of the staccato call that sounds like a sewing machine. It is a flighty wee thing and difficult to pin down and more difficult to photograph as it lives in the gloom of the forest. What I love most about it is that when courting, the male and female both raise their eyebrows to become crests. Very distinctive and impressive.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Australasian Shoveler Family

Australasian Shovelers

It is not uncommon to see Australasian shovelers in the ponds around Foxton Beach but they are shy and will often flee as soon as they see you. To my huge surprise this spring, they have bred here. I have only seen a family of shovelers in the wilds of the Wairarapa and even then I couldn't get close.

Dad stuck around and watched over mum and her brood of 8 for several weeks. Miraculously, all 8 have survived to be fully grown even though one has a deformity with its bill. Mum and dad have now left them and they now skulk around the ponds together looking a bit unsure about what to do next.

I tried to photograph them each week to record their progress and I am delighted that they are all doing well. I hope some of them stick around!

23rd October
The first time I saw the ducklings was when the male was attempting to mate with the female. You can see the youngster behind them. I think it was a few days old. The remainder of the brood were not far away, screaming. I didn't think they needed my presence!

29th October
The first time mum was out in the water with the whole brood.

3rd November
That distinctive bill is beginning to be prominent.

5th November

8th November

13th November
I finally got close to the duckling with the deformity. It doesn't seem to have affected the growth of the bird.

21st November
The growth of the birds is markedly different as you can see here.

26th November
Dad disappeared long ago but now mum has gone as well. The juveniles are now on their own.

2nd December

8th December

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year Finalist!

So excited today as it was announced that I am a finalist in the NZ Geographic Photographer of the Year competition. The bittern photograph I took in April of this year is my entry and while I don't think it is glamorous enough to win, I am thrilled to be a finalist. 

Check out the competition and other photos here:

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Sunday Morning Walk

Before deciding what to do with my day, I took my dog for a walk. Most Sundays we walk along the estuary walkway towards the beach. As usual I am toting my camera and I see very little to photograph. Until I reached the little pond on Holben Parade. And I didn't get any further. The pond was stuffed with interesting birds. My greyhound, the neighbouring skateboarders and other dog walkers did not share my excitement but that's their loss. Here are my highlights:

Royal Spoonbill (platalea regia)

This is the best image of this adult breeding spoonbill but I had so many others of it fishing and preening that it took the rest of the day to process them. Go to my website to see more of them.

Grey Teal (anas gracilis)

Grey teal are very shy but this pair were relaxed and let me reasonably close.

White-faced Heron (egretta novaehollandiae)

This is one of a pair of young herons that are about to leave (or be kicked out of) their nest. The parents were very busy gathering food and returning regularly to feed them.

 Pukeko or Purple Swamphen (porphyrio melanotus)

This family were feeding on the edge of the pond. There were 3 chicks in total probably only a day or so old. 

Little Black Shag (phalacrocorax sulcirostris)

Little black shags are usually seen in groups but this bird was perched drying its wings alone. The bright eye and white plumes indicate it is in breeding.

Australasian Shoveler (anas rhynchotis)

The only time I have seen young shovelers was in the wilds of the Wairarapa and even then it was only the back of them as the fled from the scene. While we have resident shovelers in Foxton Beach, they are very shy and it is always tricky to get shots of them. I was amazed to see this female with a healthy looking very young brood.

Australian Magpie (gymnorhina tibicen)

I heard this young magpie before I saw it, squealing like it was the end of the world. A very patient parent duly brought it food. Juvenile magpies are tricky to photograph as they are so fluffy.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Cuckoo season

We have 2 migratory cuckoos in New Zealand: the bronze shining cuckoo (chrysococcyx lucidus) and the long-tailed cuckoo (eudynamys taitensis). The former is native (some are resident also in Australia) but the long-tailed is classed as endemic as it breeds here even if it only visits in the summer months.

The shining cuckoo arrives first with its distinctive call being heard from mid-September onwards. I have been searching for this bird for years and although I have even seen the poor host grey warblers trying to feed the larger chick, I have not managed to get a decent image. But of course, it has all changed now I am living at Foxton Beach. I have found several local areas where the cuckoo can be heard and over the last week have managed to track and photograph them.

Their behaviour is really interesting. I saw a pair interacting by calling and displaying and what sounded like squabbling. They chased each other around the bushes until a grey warbler saw them both off.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Godwits have returned!

It is a time of celebration in New Zealand, when the bar-tailed godwits return. It is a sign of spring. Arriving in September, the count at Foxton Beach increased this week from the half dozen over-wintering birds to 120+. The godwits are incredible birds, not only for their magnificent bills but also for their endurance flight from the northern hemisphere. They hold the record for the longest non-stop journey of any non sea bird. Whilst in New Zealand, their body weight will double. They leave us in March, giving a glimpse of their breeding plumage before departing. The female bird is considerably larger than the male with a proportionately larger bill as well. You can see that clearly in my first image.

Bar-tailed Godwit (limosa lapponica)

The birds wander the shoreline digging for food or rest in groups. I like to watch them as the tide comes in, pushing them up the beach often on one leg. They also have the ability to bend the top part of their bill which makes them look very odd.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Garden Birds in Foxton Beach

Winter is a great time for garden and bush birds. They gather in groups on the berms, colour up looking for partners and come into the gardens in search of food. This is the only time I get a good look at greenfinch and the silvereye come to my bird table in the dozen. They are still little swines though. Even though I have my window open and my lens propped up with everything covered, they still know I am there and only put on their best displays when I have closed up shop! However, this winter has brought a bonus. I have discovered a group of redpoll that frequent an area very close to where I live. I have previously only seen them in real country areas. It has its downside though, I get lots of funny looks stalking them with a huge lens in the township streets!

Greenfinch (carduelis chloris)

Silvereye (zosterops lateralis)

Sacred Kingfisher (todiramphus sanctus)

Eurasian Skylark (alauda arvensis)

Song Thrush (turdus philomelos)

Common Redpoll (carduelis flammea)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

This weekend's birds

Four seasons in one day for sure this weekend in Foxton Beach! It has been cold, warm, wet, sunny and windy this weekend but there has been plenty of opportunity to see and photograph birds. 38 species is a pretty good count for this time of year. As well as stalking the beach for arriving migrants, I have found some terrific spots in the bush for endemics and natives. Here is the best of them in photographs.

Australasian shoveler (anas rhynchotis)

Chaffinch (fringilla coelebs)

Grey Warbler (gerygone igata)

Masked Lapwing (vanellus miles)

Red-necked Stint (calidris ruficollis)

White-faced Heron (egretta novaehollandiae)

Wrybill (anarhynchus frontalis)