NEW ZEALAND 2001 ONE-MONTH BIRDING TRIP

Friday, April 20, 2001. Week 2, Day 2. Birding Pureora Forest. Tell Me a Whakapapa.

We get up about 6:30 AM, and are the first to the living room upstairs. I work on the computer while Sharon reads. After a bit, everyone else joins us and we have breakfast at the great dining room table. I have cereal, but Syl fixes eggs, and they are delicious.

Then it's picture time. First I get one of their cat Fran jumping throgh a hoop to get a treat from Bill. The cat knows that if she jumps through exactly three times, she'll get a treat. Next I take a super one of Bill and daughter Rachel, then Syl and Sharon. Their friend Sue was in the photo too, but I've cropped it because the camera caught her with a terrible expression on her face. Hey, I should have used it! Sharon takes one of me and pal Bill. And I get one last one -- of Syl, Rachel and Bill. This wraps up Visit Number 1 for this trip. We'll be back here May 10 or 11 or so.

But now it's 10:00 oclock, and we're at Hamilton airport, Highway 21, intersecting with 3. We turn south towards Waitomo Caves, where we saw great glow worms in '94.

We are headed for Pureora Forest today, where we have high hopes for uncommon bush birds. If we finish in time, then maybe we'll make it to Tongariro National Park tonight. Hoping for Blue Ducks tomorrow!

It's 10:25, and we are at the Waitomo Caves turnoff. Highway 37 goes off to the right. Sharon points out that this town of Otorohonga is where her sister toured with us, and we visited a Kiwi House in '94. And it's also the area where Sharon bought her famous stick back in '94.

10:55 and we are in the town of Te Kuiti. Highway 3 going over to New Plymouth is to the right. Highway 30 goes straight ahead to Rotorua. We temporarily take the Rotorua direction.

At ten after noon, Sharon and I are out on the road, 100 yards from the Totara walk, in the Pureora Forest. This walk goes through great forest, which is also an island in the middle of cleared farmland.

We hear a bird going "tew tew," and it's a Tui, master of verbal disguise. There are several more up the road, we can hear five or six talking to each other. Our bird tosses in other notes, making us think it might be a Cuckoo (but they're all migrated out, we later read). Still walking towards the forest entry, we get a pair of Gray Warblers, ten feet up in the bush facing us.

12:38 PM. We are now insidethe forest, the temperature has dropped five or ten degrees F, and a big bird flew overhead. We don't know what it was. Sharon calls in a Bellbird, right in. There are Tuis, Bellbirds, Robins plus something we just can't locate. It's big. We can hear it moving, can hear its wings as it moves.

1:04 and we finally nail the big bird -- actally a couple of New Zealand Pigeons, way up high. Another human couple, faster than we are, passes us and we chat a little. They are looking for birds too, and pick up three Tuis, high up. They move on, and I move up to where they were. "Three Tuis," I tell Sharon. She walks towards me and maybe something catches her eye, and she looks up, but in a different location than the Tuis. "I think I got a parrot," she says softly. It feels like we should talk softly in the forest.

It also reminds me of when Sharon, Sharon's younger grandson Sieren and I were walking over to the local park, near where we live, in San Jose. There is a place where trees overhang to the center from either side for a few feet. "Grandma, I think we're in a FOREST!" three-year old Sieren said. So Sharon and I will often say that comment, one to the other.

I get on the parrot too, after some difficulty. It's a very large bird, brown, and is peeling away bark from the tree. We have read about him. He's uncommon here, or maybe rare. It's a parrot called a *KAKA, and we enjoy watching him do his peeling bit for about five minutes, then move on. This will be one of our best birds of the trip.

2:43 now, and we are on the top floor of a newly-built wooden tower. It's about six flights to the top, and there are two couples already on the top. A strong call brings a "That's a Kaka," from one of the women. We wait, but it doesn't show itself. No problem, we already saw a great one. It's a great, upper story forest view from here. We finish and head down, me first, Sharon following.

3:28 and we are sitting in our folding canvas chairs next to our RV, having lunch. Two green parrots of unknown type fly over us. A Tomtit stops near us, and is so close, Sharon gets a good look as its orange feet. We get a super view of a Bellbird.

Lunch is over. Puruero Forest is over, and we head out for Blue Duck country, catching some grassy Yellowhammers beside the road. At 3:47, we hit the visitor center again, and are off of gravel back onto asphalt.

Soon, we hit Te Kuiti and turn south.

The kilos crank by and we are at the corner of Tongariro National Park, as darkness closes in. We turn east on 47, then north to Whakapapa and the Tongariro ski area. This area reminds me of Mt. Shasta. A large cone, to which everything else around pays tribute. We find the Tongariro Holiday Park and go to check-in, but it's closed. They say grab a bathroom key with your site number on it, and go to that site. We do this, find our site, then take off looking for a couple of things.

The only thing open is a lodge called The Chateau and a huge bar. We go to the bar, and find our first item - a Coke for Sharon to have with dinner, back at camp. The bartender is Jim. I ask him my second trip Magic Question, "We are looking for Blue Ducks," and I tell him the locations our book mentioned.

He mentions a couple of others, then says, "A couple of weeks ago, I shot these," and pulls out several photos of Blue Ducks. They are excellent. "I had to wade out in the water to get them, because I didn't have a propuh telephoto," he continues.

"Where is this?" I ask, hoping, hoping for the right kind of answer - namely, that we can drive there.

"Have you got a dog?" he asks. "No," just us, I say, wondering at the question. He apparently meant if you have a good dog, the dog can find them FOR you. Your job would be just to follow the dog.

Anyway, he describes the location. Back down to 47, turn east, go to the first road to the left. "It's at the end of the fahming land. If you get into the pines, you've gone too far. Follow this road to the end. Blue Ducks cover a big stretch of river, so there's no guarantees, you know."

We know, and completely accept "no guarantees." It's also called "Birding," and what makes it fun. Like fishing, I suppose.

But before heading to our spot, we both recall the kiwi-crossing signs we saw driving up here. "Let's check for kiwis crossing the road," Sharon says. All right, that's my Sharon! Off we go. Not a peep, not a kiwi. Nice try though.

Back to camp, dinner, off to bed. Dreaming of Blue Ducks. This is supposed to be a very difficult bird to locate. The problem is that they eat on the river in early, early morning and late, late evening and not in the daytime, when a normal human would go looking for them. Unless it's raining. Then they come out and feed all day long, I suppose, theoretically because they figure there won't be people about to bother 'em.

Another thing Jim the Bartender said was to "Listen for the whistle. They call to each other with a whistle." I hadn't read that, but I just missed it. Indeed, our books say they whistle to each other. The male calls first with a clean, clear whistle. The female responds with a kind of rumble, softer.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 1. Kaka (Bush Parrot).
For the Trip: 38.

Trip Birds:
Today: 1. The lifer.
For the Trip: 54.

Saturday, April 21, 2001. Week 2, Day 3. Tongariro National Park. Lonesome Dove.

7:07 and we are out of Spot Number 11. Last night, after picking up the key for number 9, and going out to meet Jim the Bartender, and check for kiwis, another motorhome didn't stop at check-in, because they probably assumed they wouldn't be open anyway, and followed the normal, universal rule of motorhomes-arriving-after-closing: pick any open spot and pay in the morning.

We stop at the now-open check-in, pay for the night, buy bottled water, bananas and other staples -- for examples, M&Ms for one of us. I won't say who.

7:10 AM. We say goodbye to the Chateau and the Pihanga Cafe and T-bar (tea bar, get it?). We've got rain and the wipers are doing their job. We pass the golf course, and what's that thing out there? It looks like a kiwi, all huddled up, but it's a rabbit, scrunched down in kiwi shape.

We come to a gravel road that turns left, and wonder whether Jim meant take this road, or the first paved left. Uncertain, I decide to take this one. We drive in about twenty minutes and come to not only a locked gate, but about thirty sheep which have gotten out of their pasture. I turn around to drive back out, and about twenty of them run away in the direction I want to drive, back down the road.

I drive slowly at first, then notice that several run beside me, but give up, stop and watch me pass. So I speed up a little. Now it's the athletes among them who are leading us. Now only two, and first one, then the other run out of petrol.

In the fields on either side of our gravel road, during the trip in and chase out we see New Zealand Pipits, a lot of White-backed Magpies, and a flock of about twenty Shelducks. They take off, and it's a joy to watch their wing stripes define the movement of their wings. I want to get a video of this. It's so incredible.

Back on the main highway, we continue in the direction Jim told us, now assuming that he meant the first PAVED road. Sharon finds a paved road taking off to the left on one of our maps, so now we're confident. Sure enough, here it comes, and I exit stage left. We follow this road a bit, and it ends up in a car park below a dam on the river.

This is the intake structure that one of our books has told us about, and we are excited. The book intake structure location matches Jim's location from last night. I park, we get out and it's raining lightly but steadily. I decide to leave the scope, but take the video camera. It's hard managing all the equipment AND carry an umbrella. But if I leave the scope, it's do-able.

There is even a little viewing platform at one end of the car park. We go up onto it and scan the river below the dam, but can't get anything. So next, we go to the far end of the car park and turn left (walking) and going downhill, towards the river. Now there are two choices: first, go back below the viewing stand, towards the intake structure, or second, go down a gravel road, which looks like it may go further downstream. We opt for the gravel road. There is a little patch of grass, then bush at the edge of the grass. Here it drops straight down to the river. And where we first walk over, it's about 30 feet down. We look through the brush, and can see part of the river, unviewable from the stand in the parking lot. This is good. But we can't see anything.

But then, holy moly, we both hear a definite whistle. Then a kind of "pddddd" sound. Excited, I go on down to the end of the gravel road, while Sharon tries for more views of the river at this spot. I get down to the bottom, but it looks pretty iffy to walk beside the river on the boulders and rocks. There is a fair chance that one would fall into the riv-- WHAT'S THAT? Sharon is calling me.

I hustle back up and there, on a rock in the middle of the fast-rushing river is a *BLUE DUCK. Unbelievable. Fantastic. It is dipping its head into the onrushing water just like an American Dipper. I grab my video camera and start shooting. Through the lens, I see the mate swim up from behind, and climb onto the rock. Then they both pop into the water, and swim to the far shore. I switch back and forth between the video camera and my digital still camera, but the best digital photo is blurry. Take my word that the video is stunning. And we can watch the male whistle, and the female return her rumble. Ah, it just doesn't get any better than this.

I go back for the scope, and we get more looks through the scope. We can see all the details of their feather patterns. I begin to go back and forth between the high spot, and down right at the river. Suddenly, the male spots me, I'm sure, because his behavior changes. He begins to nod his head up and down, about four times. Then he runs down the rock they are both on, and takes off flying, straight at me for a second or two. She follows, and they turn upstream, landing just below the dam. Now too far away for any photos. Finally satisfied, we go back to the trailer and have breakfast. Sharon washes the dishes, and I'm so excited that I don't remember who dries them.

One of my favorite TV miniseries was Lonesome Dove. In this movie, there was a very bad Indian character named Blue Duck. So the phrase meant bad stuff to me. But now it has transformed, and it's a very special phrase.

We drive back to the main highway, then back up the road to Whakapapa. Whakapapa, by the way, we learn a few days later, means story [Well, not exactly, it turns out, but sort of]. I'll hold off on telling you that Whakapapa till it happens. [In the Maori language, you pronounce 'wh' as 'f,' so this sounds like "fakapapa". The 'f' is a soft sound, as you just barely touch your upper teeth to your lower lip]

We stop in at the visitor center, buy a bunch of stuff, and the girl behind the counter says that she sees the Fernbird (which Sharon shows to her, in her birding book) all over the place. She suggests that we walk over and take the Rapids Walk. But first, I just have to take a photo of a stuffed Brown Kiwi with its egg -- all lifesize. It turns out that this walk goes right by where we slept last night, and we take it. We cross a bridge which passes over the stream. No bird shows his fern, and we head back out. On the way, we see the Kiwi Crossing sign in the daytime. Pretty cool.

We drive back out to 47, then head west for 4. The sun has broken through the clouds, and we feel that the clouds and rain were hugging the mountain only. At Highway 4, Sharon thinks she sees a shorebird, but when we park and go back there, she attributes it to imagination. I do that sometimes. We go across to the other side of 47, where Sharon has heard weka weka weka. Then a DUNNOCK pops up, a trip bird.

We are headed at freeway speed in the Wanganui direction, namely south. Tongariro National Park is behind us and to the left. A railroad track is also on our left, and a train passes in the opposite direction we are traveling. It is an electric train, as we then notice the overhead wire arrangement all along the track and the carriage on top of the engine. One engine and six cars. Pretty small load, we guess.

I am sleepy, so we take a nap, then have lunch at a pullout looking out over a nice valley. We get a couple of Greenfinches but nothing else is happening.

We continue on. Our highway runs through high lands, ranching country, where obviously a lot of lumber has been cut out of here, probably 100 years ago. A river runs beside the road, and it's far, far below -- the Wanganui River.

Suddenly, we see a Peacock in the middle of nowhere. Our book says that there are escaped Peacock bands, who established themselves some decades ago, in several locations in New Zealand and one of them is along the Wanganui river. We decide to claim this one as wild. The wild *PEACOCK.

We come into Wanganui, and Sharon finds us the route to Virginia Lake. There is supposed to be a life bird here. We check around. Mallards, AUSTRALIAN BLACK SWANS, a MUTE SWAN, and two white geese. Sharon looks for a Weka. No luck, but then there is our *AUSTRALASIAN COOT, right on this lake, as advertised.

Sharon goes into her Eagle Eye mode, and spots two small black shags across the water. As we are trying to ID them, two more swim right in front of us. They are *LITTLE BLACK SHAGS, with no doubt whatsoever.

It's 4:42 PM and we are in the town of Bulls. I pull into a BP station, where diesel is 74.9 NZ cents/liter. That's up five cents from when we got here. We resume our trip, turning right at Foxton, where it's supposed to be only a few kilometers to Foxton Beach. A nine-year old boy named Jesse takes a liking to us, and follows our motorhome on his bicycle, as we first check into the Holiday Park with Janelle (who calls us Luv about three times in five minutes), then drive straight out to the estuary. Lots of exciting stuff, mostly shorebirds, but we spot another life bird, a group of *ROYAL SPOONBILLS.

There is an unknown tern out there, plus a flock of 15 or so darker birds across the way. We see several Banded Dotterels also.

We head back to make our camp, Sharon fixes dinner, and we collapse from the long, but enjoyable day.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 5. Blue Duck, Peacock, Australasian Coot, Little Black Shag, Spoonbill.
For the Trip: 43.

Trip Birds:
Today: 8. The 5 lifers, plus Dunnock, Black Swan, Mute Swan.
For the Trip: 62.


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