Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'The Coast'

For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my time on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I’ve lived on the East Coast for almost four years now and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to venture over to the West (as it only takes 3hrs to drive to from Christchurch).  I was properly introduced to the ‘The Coast’ last month while giving a talk to the Greymouth Photography Club…  Big thanks to Nicki Mora, Elizabeth Passuello, Stuart Nimmo & John Reid for their wonderful hospitality and introducing me to the fantastic opportunities that the coast has to offer … check out their amazing photography! 

I decided to spend a few days before and after my talk photographing the birds on the West Coast. The West Coast of New Zealand is a wild place of rivers, untouched native forests and a dramatic untamed coastline all surrounded by snow-capped mountains! A truly magical place for photography! Click on the images below for a larger size...

The weather forecast for the week was looking pretty grim as I packed my bags for the coast... 7 days of rain and cloud ahead! 

I left on Friday after work; in just enough time to photograph the kea at Arthurs Pass National Park (a must stop on the way over). It was great spending some time with these cheeky alpine parrots, although keeping them from pulling your vehicle and camera gear apart is a full time job! I was a bit worried when a kea flew from my car holding a large piece of plastic in it's beak... I've still got no idea where it pulled it from (my car still works which is the main thing!). See photo to the right.

I spent the Saturday photographing spotted shags in between the downpours and high winds in Wesport. The spotted shags look fantastic at this time of year in their breeding plumage with stunning colouration around their eyes, white filo-plumes and awesome double mohawks! 

On the Monday Nicki, Elizabeth and I spent a few hours in search of tomtits in the bush. The tomtits remained quite scarce offering us a quick sighting every now and then... although the fantails proved to be more obliging. We were getting  eaten alive by sandflies when photographing this particular fantail (below) which was only too happy to stick around and eat the sandflies eating us.

Up to now the weather had been beautiful even though the weather report still was forecasting bleak weather! I'm increasingly suspicious that the locals ('coasters') deliberately forecast terrible weather to keep the tourists away :)

On my last full day on 'The Coast' (Wednesday) Nicki and I decided to head down to Okarito Lagoon. The Weather report was still forecasting heavy rain (Although I was beginning to 'catch on' that the weather report couldn't be trusted). 

We woke up at 4:30am as Okarito was a good 2hrs drive away and we wanted to be there for the early morning light! We woke up to drizzly rain (I was thinking to myself 'what a day for them to get the forecast right!!!') but being the optimistic wildlife photographers we are, we threw the gear into the car, had a much needed coffee and hit the road. 

As we pulled into Okarito the early sun started to peek through the clouds, creating spectacular light for photography! It was going to be a beautiful day! Not long after pulling the car over we noticed a brutal fight between two male paradise ducks was taking place over a female (notice the female watching in the background in the photo below)! I've never seen a more intense fight between two ducks and it went for well over ten minutes... the two ducks were locked shoulder to shoulder as they violently flapped and splashed oblivious to our presence! It was amazing to watch the drama unfold right in front of our eyes, with the victor getting the girl and chasing the losing male away (his head lowered in a submissive manner) to lick his wounds. What an amazing start to the day... definitely a 'high 5 moment'!!!

Next we headed down to the mouth of the lagoon to photograph banded dotterels that use this particular beach to nest at this time of year. It didn't take long to find our first nest when looking for the tell-tale signs such as the broken wing display (Right) where the adult bird fakes a broken wing to take attention from its nest site... it always amazes me the choices these little dotterels make for their nest sites as they always seem to be near areas heavily used by 4WD's! It was good to see a young chick. (Below: Banded dotterel chick, Lake Ellesmere).

After photographing the dotterels we decided to explore another spot further around the lagoon. As soon as we got out of the car we noticed two welcome swallows sitting beside a mud pool at the side of the road collecting mud to build their nests... we laid ourselves next to the mud (looking like crazy people to all those that walked and drove by) and photographed these awesome little birds as they repeatedly flew in a filled their beaks with mud! What a great day full of photographic opportunities!!!

I’ve just come back from a week of photographing penguins in South Westland but more about that in my next blog!


  1. Fantastic post,superb photography.

  2. Loving some of these shots and wouldn't mind a couple for my web re your link! Catch up next week and discuss your web?

  3. Thanks for the comments John and Dave!