Okarito - Part 2

To continue with our Okarito adventures! (See part 1 yesterday!) 

Our off-road drive continues with Dion providing an interesting commentary about the area and stopping to offer opportunities for me to photograph Mt Cook etc across the vegetation. We pass through gated areas, Dion alighting to open and lock gates, and there’s increasingly a sense of getting to a secret, special place.  

Eventually, the minibus is parked, and we continue on foot though the forest, Dion identifying bird song and vegetation as we go. It’s a really lovely walk.

At last, we’re at the river and from our viewpoint see several spoonbills sitting in a tree. Soon we’ll see more, he tells us, and they’ll be nesting. A little further on, we reach the hide, two storeys high and offering a great view of the opposite bank where the Kotuku have their breeding colony. 

I’m pleased to see a fair number of birds remain - all juveniles, the product of this year’s nesting season, but at least as large as their parents who are currently away hunting. Some move down to the water, tentatively practising their own hunting skills, sometimes catching a fish, at other times, making do with sticks or leaves. 

Above the nesting site, in the highest branches of the forest, there are adult spoonbills on their nests, and one of them has two chicks who occasionally lift their gawky heads above the parapet of sticks. Elsewhere, an adult spoonbill battles with a stick, seemingly unsure what to do with it - presumably engaged in a little nest tidying or renovation! I love their tasseled crests, yellow eyelids and those crazy beaks! 

At times a Kotuku will fly across the water - always elegant, or across to branches near the hide allowing closer captures, the adults still sporting remnants of their gorgeous breeding plumage. One finds a place to hunt upstream of us, only his head and beak visible through the reeds. 

Although there’s no breeding displays or cute fluffy chicks to see, there’s plenty going on, and we’re both loving every minute. But then comes the ‘icing on the cake’; adults start to return to feed their stroppy teenagers. Of course, there really is no need to feed them now, but if mum and dad are willing, why do the job yourself? 

This ‘feeding’ frenzy is fascinating; most of the youngsters seem to have completely forgotten the basic premise of getting food from their parents’ beaks, so rather than opening their own to accept nourishment, they seem to lose all self-control and just launch themselves into attack. They are by now at least the same size as their parents, and have the benefit of lazing around all day while mum or dad has been off fishing in the lagoon. We watch in fascinated horror as they wrestle, necks intertwined, sometimes holding the poor adult birds in headlocks with their beaks. These frantic displays of flapping wings and constant struggle seem to continue for some time until finally, either beak-to-beak contact eventually allows the passing of food or the adult loses patience, extracts itself then flies off to a higher branch away from its recalcitrant and - let’s face it - very stupid offspring. 

It’s been so much more than either of us ever could have hoped for. Beautiful birds in a beautiful setting  - we’re so pleased we had this chance to visit this very special place. 

We return to Whataroa, tired but so very happy with our day, and make our way back to our delightful cabin, sitting on the deck until it’s time for our meal in Franz Joseph township. Tonight we try a quieter part of this busy little settlement, and enjoy a far better meal sharing a delicious cauliflower steak and vegetarian pizza before returning for our final evening here. 

Thank you so much for your generous response to yesterday’s lagoon adventures. Today’s set is equally indecisive, but my main shows one of the parent-offspring food fights, with a variety of other shots in extras. 

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