Saturday, 1 December 2012

Black stilts forever!

We grabbed some breakfast and lunch and it was time to head inland again. We headed towards Omarama and then through to Twizel, and the hunt for black stilt began. We checked out a couple of spots, seeing black-fronted terns hawking over paddocks and searched a couple of small lakes for crested grebe, but no sign. Did get some nice views of scaup and grey duck, and then moved on to our next black stilt spot.

We found some banded dotterels, and there were quite a few pied stilt, but no black stilt….damn! Searching, searching, and then as if out of nowhere there was one standing in shallow water, where moments before there hadn’t been one! It was hard to explain how we had missed it, but it must have been up on the shore and amongst the rocks, and had luckily moved into view. We enjoyed watching it through binoculars waiting for everything to settle down before getting the scopes out and getting them on to the bird. A really nice dark adult bird, with beautiful red legs and glossy black plumage. What a treat!

We continued watching it for some time, with pied stilts nearby the whole time. But nobody saw what was about to happen coming…all of a sudden one of the pied stilts approached the black stilt, displayed briefly and then mated with her! What! Right there in front of us, one of the very reasons this species is in dire straits, with the problem of hybridisation ever present. And we had just witnessed a cross-species mating. We continued to watch the bird for a while, no more mating, but we decided to move on and see what else we could find. We had stunning views of a completely clear Mt Cook as we drove northwards and so stopped to take a few photos against the backdrop of Lake Pukaki. We then continued on with the hope of finding chukar. We drove a section of road, with Phil glimpsing a falcon, and then stopped to have lunch at a good viewpoint. Within a few minutes the characteristic chuckle of a chukar was heard, and then spotted, and we assembled the group to get good but distant views of a chukar perched up on a rock calling. It sat there obligingly for everyone to see. We then set about looking for any other critters that could be found, finding a red admiral butterfly without too much difficulty, then a common skink, and then a tussock ringlet. We had great views of this male butterfly up close, a real treat to see with the beaut eye spots and silver gilding on the underside of the wing.

After admiring the views, with Mount Cook still prominent, we headed off and soon the call went up for more Chukar – Lee’s sharp eyes had spotted another bird perched on a rock, and nearby there was another with several feeding in the grass. Much closer and better views.

Next stop was one for an extremely difficult bird globally – Baillon’s crake. I’ll never forget showing this to two birders back in the early days of Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ, with both of them having seen around 5,500 species and it being a lifer for them. Just shows how difficult it can be! We got into position and waited, scanning the edges and tussocks. After a little while there was a response to the calls, and then a fleeting glimpse of it moving between clumps of vegetation. But over the next 15 minutes we had excellent views of this little guy swimming, creeping along the edge of the vegetation, and standing motionless with head poking out. Awesome! It is definitely a great bird, and a really excellent bonus bird.

So with that in the bag we left it in peace and headed to our accomodation and the last supper. Over dinner we voted for the favourite birds of the trip, always interesting to see the spread and hear why, but as with other years there are always clear favourites.

Day total – Seen = 41; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 162

Mount Cook in all its glory across the beautiful Lake Pukaki.

Nearby mountains covered in snow across Lake Pukaki.

The group with Mount Cook in the background.

Mount Cook.

Tussock ringlet with wings closed as it feeds on a small flower.

Merino sheep looking up from its meal.

Baillon's crake skulking in the undergrowth.

Bailon's crake zipping along the edge of the vegetation.

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