One of the exciting aspects of my job is that I have the privilege to go places that the public are often unable to access. The Oparara is a very public place with great information boards, toilets and many tracks for all levels of walking. The bird life is abundant and the bush green and lush. There are whio (blue duck) who have territories close to public tracks and it’s a good place to have a whio encounter. However the birds habitat are throughout many of the rivers on Kahurangi National Park and our task was to try to find them and their nests.
The first day rivers were still a bit too high for safe crossings. Graeme (the DoC ranger) decided we’d check around Mirror Tarn. This is a beautiful walk, you could almost push a wheel chair around it! Of course we didn’t walk much of the track, but we did enjoy the wonderful walkway in places. Lunch was at a special spot with stunning views of the Moria Gate. Unfortunately there were not many whio to be found, but we saw kereru, kaka, robins, weka, and other bush birds. There was also plenty of kiwi poo on and near the track.
The day ended on a rather depressing note as the results were not what had been hoped for. Sure the birds were about, but they were not showing any signs of nesting and not in the abundance hoped for. Oh well … we’d try again the next day, with predictions of lower river levels as no rain was forecast (for a change).
The next day, Mica and I met Kate (another DoC ranger) at out place and together we all travelled to Karamea. We had a helicopter to catch! We were booked to fly into the Huia River, which feeds into the Kakapo River. It’s very remote and absolutely wonderful. Some of the hungriest sandflies in the country live on the confluence of this river! Wayne (the chopper pilot) dropped us off and he was soon a small dot in the vast sky. Mica is pretty good in the helicopter – she’s a pretty seasoned flyer now, having clocked up many k’s about the ground. Her first flight was in a Robinson and she travelled in the pod on the skids. I think she was quite cosy in there but now DoC don’t use the ‘Robbie’ so we fly in a jet ranger. This is a bigger helicopter and much noisier. This trip Mica got to sit in the back with me and she was interested in all that was happening. However it must be said, she was pretty happy to have her feet on the ground once we landed.
Kate and I planned to walk up the Huia River to the confluence with the Bellbird River. Up the Bellbird River for a kilometer or so and then cross over land to the Huia again and walk down it to the Helicopter pick up point. We were scheduled for a pick up around 4:30pm. Kate expected we’d find a lot of whio, but we only spotted two pair and they were not showing any sign of nesting. Up the Bellbird Mica indicated a lone bird. Her call indicated her gender and there was no male about. It was a bit of a mystery, perhaps the birds are nesting late this season, or maybe they’ve been adversely affected from flooding with all the high rivers we’ve experienced this year.
This video clip shows a pair of whio on the Huia River and you can hear the male call (whistle) and the female call. Mica is looking at the birds.
The following day had a last minute change of plan – the cloud was too low for the helicopter to fly so a Plan B was devised and implemented. Kate and I drove to the Oparara again, this time we would follow the Oparara river beyond the Oparara Arch.
I was rather excited as I had always wondered what was ‘beyond the arch’. There was many, many large rocky areas that were difficult to clamber over and around. Sometimes the river was so dark and deep and we had to clamber through the bush until we could get back onto the river side.
We found a pair of birds on the river … again, no nesting. Carrying on we came to a long swing bridge. Mica isn’t super keen on swing bridges, but there was no alternative, so over she went, albeit reluctantly!
The day was drawing to a close and it was time for us to head back to the ute and our way home. We had found two pair and another single female on this river, but no nesting birds. The plan will be to try again in a week or two and see if there are any updates. I’ll be sure to keep you updated, so watch this space 🙂