Tuesday, 23 February 1993

1993 New Zealand Part 3

Fjiordland - Milford Sound

The crossing back from Oban to Bluff was a good one with more views of some good species: yellow-eyed penguin 1, little blue penguin 40, shy albatross 10, Bullers albatross 7, loads of sooty shearwaters and a single prion sp.

I then started to head for an area called Fjiordland so called because it resembles the coastline of Scandinavia. Beautiful snow clad mountain scenery with steep sided valleys tumbling into the sea and large freshwater lakes.
The road into the Fjiordland area from Invercargill follows a broad river plain with the mountains visible in the distance.

At Lumsden the road forks, heading north you skirt around the eastern edge of Fjordland turning west you head for Milford Sound. On the edge of Lumsden I had around 300 black-fronted terns which was a little unexpected for an inland area. I then found out that another one of their names is 'ploughboy' and they will follow the plough hawking for insects, so that explained it.

The main draw for me in Fjordland were a couple of bird species. An alpine parrot called a kea and a new species of penguin for me called, fjiordland crested. I was now on a road that was part of the normal tourist trail for most New Zealand visitors and the road traffic started to pick up especially coaches. These were heading down to the ferry terminal at the head of the famous Milford Sound a very scenic part of the very scenic area and one where I might be able to see the bird species I was after.
From the road you can get great views of the fast flowing rivers and forest borders.

Having left Stewart Island, I wouldn't make it to Milford Sound and get a ferry trip in on the same day so I decided to stop off at the hostel near Te Anau, which was about halfway there.

The view from the hostel across the lake was quite something.

Next morning I was up early and headed off to Milford Sound with the hope of getting onto one of the first ferries to travel up the sound.

Along the way, north of Te Anau is a place called the Homer Tunnel and on its south side is a site for rock wren.
There are no road markings or overhead lights in the Homer Tunnel and watch out for the fallen rocks as well as the on-coming coaches.

Below is the site for rock wren on the southern side of the tunnel, sadly for me I couldn't find one. Only occurring on South Island it has a restricted range being found in the alpine areas at lower altitudes. I read about another species of wren called Stephen Island Wren, discovered in 1894 and becoming extinct almost straight away as the island population were killed by a cat!

On exiting the northern side of the tunnel I drove out into a misty shroud and noticed a number of parked cars in a layby. It was the bird on a car roof that made me pull over and get out. I had managed to come across some keas. One of these incredible alpine parrots was working its way along the line of cars in the layby checking out anything that wasn't suitably fixed down. It reminded me a little of the baboons experience for those unwary people who took their cars into Longleat losing windscreen wipers and car ariels. My car was the last left in the layby and I had a kea on the ground and another in a nearby tree. I took out a shiny 5 cent coin with the kea on the ground watching my every move. Every now and again the two would call to each other and I carefully placed the coin on the bonnet of my hire car. The kea on the ground flew up onto the bonnet and deftly picked the coin up and then threw the coin. It landed in the windscreen wiper gully at the base of the windscreen and despite the keas best efforts it couldn't retrieve it. So bored with the coin game it scrambled onto the car roof and ambled over to the car ariel to check it out, it gave the ariel a very careful bite but not being able to dislodge it flew off with its partner and I lost them to view in the mist.
A kea the alpine parrot that is capable of killing a sheep! I really think it has to be a weakened/sick sheep and one that is probably stuck in the snow.

Other than the 2 keas I also saw rifleman, New Zealand scaup 6, grey warbler 1, harrier, bellbird 2 and silvereye.
There were just so many stunning photographic opportunities along the way.

Including more incredible moss carpeted forest.

Finally I made it to the ferry terminal at the head of the sound and booked myself onto the only ferry that did a full trip to the mouth of the sound and back, as I was hoping to see the penguin species I was after at the mouth.
Many types of trips were available from the ferry terminal, the one I chose cost $36.

At the allotted time the ferry left the berth and headed up the sound with its famously stunning scenery.

A haul out of New Zealand fur seals.

Impressive cliffs, the white blob on the water right of centre is in fact a large ferry!

This valley has special significance as it is the site were the kakapo was re-discovered in 1958 after it was thought to be extinct. The species is incapable of upward flight and progresses by walking along well worn tracks or clambering up leaning trunks and branches. The bird does posses large wings and can perform a downward glide of up to 100m.

Suddenly we were nearing the mouth of the sound and I was looking forward to a few minutes there looking for the penguins as the ferry maneuvered for its return leg. However the ferry captain obviously wasn't working to my itinerary as we did a very swift u-turn and started to head back the way we came not quite reaching the mouth of the sound. Needless to say despite some frantic scanning I didn't see anything that remotely resembled a penguin. Blast!

Back at the terminal I was a little disappointed but there was just no point in giving another trip up the sound another go, so I started on the journey back up along the road to Te Anau.

On the way back I stopped off at a place called Knobs Flat, an area of beech woods where I had a site for a good bird called a yellowhead. By this time I had started to make some further plans as I had been thumbing through the gen I had brought along to see if there was any chance I could try to see Fjiordland crested penguin anywhere else. I'd come to conclusion that there was a slim chance that I might see one at a place called Jacksons Bay which is the north of the Fjiordland area. As the drive to get there was a fairly long one I set myself a time limit looking for the yellowhead. It seemed quite straight forward as the gen said to look at the base of the trees and scrub areas for the birds, so that is what I started to do. The beach woods were good habitat with other species being seen well : south island tomtit, bellbird, tui, south island kaka 2, robin 2, yellow fronted parakeet 3, silvereye, New Zealand pigeon, rifleman, grey warbler, brown creeper, fantail and harrier but no sign of the yellowhead. I was running out of time and it looked as though I would dip on my second key species for this part of the trip, double blast! Something in me decided tghat it was no good looking around the base of the trees for birds and I might as well just start looking all over the place including the canopy which was a long way up.
The canopy was a long way up but that is where the yellowhead was!

Suddenly I caught movement at the top, did that bird have a yellow head? Surely not, but it also had a yellow belly and there wasn't just 1 but 4 of them feeding with a small group of other passerines. I'd cracked it and found my yellowheads, not grubbing about at the base of the trees but enjoying the very top branches. Hmm! this was the same gen that I was trusting to get me Fjiordland crested penguin at Jackson Bay...
Scored yellowhead, even with my stupid hat on, time for a brew before moving on.

South Island Tomtit

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