13 Apr 2009

Kea at Arthur's Pass

After leaving Kaikoura I made my way to Arthur's Pass in the Central Southern Alps. I stopped a few miles out of Kaikoura on the shoreline because I had seen some Terns that I hadn't seen before and was glad that I caught up with the Black-Fronted Tern (Tarapiroe)

They were on a bar where one of the braided streams met the sea. There were also a number of Caspian Terns (Taranui)

I love the Caspian Tern it is the biggest of the Terns and is distributed throughout the world. I saw them previously in Namibia.
On the beach there were quite a few black phase Variable Oystercatcher a NZ endemic. They were quite approachable.

The other bird on the beach were a number of Pied Shag (Karuhiruhi) also approachable but not to the same extent as the Oystercatcher.

I had three days before picking my son Jeremy up from Christchurch Airport and one of the stops I had decided on was Arthur's Pass to see and hopefully photograph the Kea. Then potentially onto Twizel to catch up with a very rare bird the Black Stilt (Kaki). It is the rarest wader in the world with at present no more than 61 adults in the wild, and of these only 14 are known to be female. Just seven productive breeding pairs exist in the wild.

However!!! after driving the very scenic route upto Arthur's Pass and at this stage having driven nearly 3000 kilometres in all I was exhausted and I decided to stay the three days in Arthur's Pass. I stayed in the Youth Hostel in a room of my own for NZ $55 per night which I thought was pretty good value. I ate in the Wobbly Kea Cafe and Bar each night and had excellent food. On the first night I was having a pint of beer outside and I saw my first Kea of the trip landing on top of the Arthur's Pass Store, which is opposite the Wobbly Kea Cafe.

It then flew down to the road and started to cross it towards me.

The road through the village is one of the main highways from the East Coast to the West Coast and many people stop and photograph the birds.

The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is one of the few Alpine Parrots in the world and found only in the forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. There population is unknown but thought to number around 5000. they are now a protected rare endemic. It has an omnivorous diet and also feeds on carrion. They have the reputation as sheep killers while they may feed on dead sheep and occasionally kill sick and injured sheep only a very few birds have been known to kill healthy animals. They are attracted by the prospect of scraps and will often carry off unguarded items of clothing. They also will attack the rubber on cars and many a tourist has returned to find his windscreen wipers in shreds. In Arthur's Pass there are a number of signs requesting the public not to feed the Kea.

The following day I thought I would take a day off from photographing birds and went down to the Dept of Conservation (DOC) office to buy a local map and ask where I might find Blue Duck another rare endemic known to be in the region. The lady behind the counter told me and I rather naively said that I would walk over the hill to the river on the other side of the valley. Whereupon she told me that it was a mountaineers track and suggested very politely that I didn't. In the end I saw a small track that went from the youth hostel upto a peak behind Arthur's Pass so I decided to climb that instead. When you go hill walking or tramping as they call it in NZ you fill out a form and leave it with DOC saying where you are going and then you return the bottom portion of the form when you return. If they do not hear from you within 24 hours they then call the police.

It was a beautiful day around 24C or 75F and I started off on what was to be an epic day for me!!! (It also taught me to map read properly in future) The climb to Avalanche Peak (1875m) from the village was 1200metres or about 4000 feet in 2 kilometres. In Scotland there are only seven mountains over 4000 ft. It took me 7.5hrs to get up and down. I had climbed to above the bush line and was feeling absolutely knackered and was seriously doubting whether I could go on as I had about 500m to climb at this point. When out of the blue a Kea landed on one of the waymark poles within twenty feet of me.

This bird completely changed my frame of mind which at the time were very much in the negative: thinking I wouldn't be able to get to the top and I didn't feel very good about it. I sat down and for twenty minutes this bird stayed around me. First of all it landed on my backpack

Then it walked around and started picking things off the bottom of my hiking boots.

I put on my wide angle lens and it came to within a few inches of the camera which meant I could get some quite interesting angles to photograph it.

I also quite like this shot of the bird in its true habitat.

I had at the point just before the Kea landed been cursing myself for bringing a camera and two lenses with me as they were quite heavy but now was delighted and the rest of the journey to the top was alot easier. When I finally got to the top I was ecstatic and reckoned it was the most energetic thing I had done in the last twenty years. This is a self taken photo.

These were the views from the top the first looking towards MT. Rolleston at (2275m)

The journey down was exhausting and even though I had taken a few litres of water with me I was desperate for water and probably had one of the best pints of beer I had ever had when I got back to the village. My legs were killing me and I got cramp a few times in the night.

The following day I walked 10 kilometres up to the head waters of the Mingha River climbing 400m and then back again looking for Blue Duck which I failed to see. So all in all I had a very energetic few days before I headed back to Christchurch to pick Jeremy up from the Airport before driving to Kaikoura to take him on another Albatross watch.

Jeremy and I then stayed with my Aunt Sally and her husband Bob near Nelson at Stafford Place their Bed and Breakfast. Jeremy and I went out for a day in the Abel Tasman National Park and we saw this Arctic Skua chasing a White fronted Tern

All in all I had an absolutely wonderful holiday and now I am back can't wait to go back there. I must also thank my father very much for funding most of the trip. Here is a photo of three generations of Nash in New Zealand.


Patrick Belardo said...

Love the post and the pics of the Kea. I hope to see one someday.

Dale Forbes said...

stunning backdrop to the kea photos. a great way to put it in context.


Marilena said...

very nice photos! i started bird watching about 2 years ago, and its been very rewarding to say the least! i just started my own blog, birds of a feather and critters altogether. if you have time, feel free to dropby here:


Ben T said...

That must have been amazing to have a Kea interacting with you like that. The settings are amazing as well!

*I Donate to Cornell Ornithology*

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Kea in context shot. A very gripping read, I'd love to go to Kaikoura.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, it makes me happy. I would so like to visit NZ and see me some birds. Loved the pictures.

Ceri said...

Lovely shots! I spent a day hiking to Rob Roy Glacier near Wanaka to try and see kea. I learnt a valuable lesson - what New Zealanders classify as an 'easy' walk is not the stroll with a pub lunch that it would be in Britain! Didn't see any kea, but watching ice fall from the glacier made it worth the trek. Was running out of time and thought I'd never see a kea, then set up camp one night and turned around to find a kea staring at me. The next day stopped at Arthurs Pass and a group of kea climbed all over the camper van. Loved the fantails in NZ too.