Friday, 5 December 2014

Motuara Island and Queen Charlotte Sound

Motuara Island, at the mouth of Queen Charlotte Sound, is managed as a bird sanctuary by the NZ Department of Conservation. It is accessible by several boat tours. We chose Beachcomber Cruises, which also does the 'mail run' dropping off and picking up walkers doing sections of the Queen Charlotte Track so you spend more time on Queen Charlotte Sound after the pick up at Moruara Island.

Tracker, Beachcomber Cruises, Picton, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/80

There is a single walking track that winds around the island up to the summit

Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm
ISO 1600, f/8 1/400

affording spectacular views of Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook Strait and the North Island.

View from summit lookout, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 35mm
ISO 1600, f/8 1/4000 (stitched panorama)

Two of the three species of birds I really wanted to see were easily found: Saddlebacks could be heard calling almost everywhere along the first half of the track to the summit but were always hidden in dense vegetation so were impossible to photograph. New Zealand Robins, on the other hand, were much easier to see. They displayed the typical assertive behaviour of robins, displaying their whereabouts in full view. The first one we found taking a bath in a small pond by the edge of the track - a bit bedraggled but it cooperated nicely for a portrait.

New Zealand Robin, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8
ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/200

The next was foraging on the track and allowed me to get very close (not quite as bedraggled but still wet from the rain...).

New Zealand Robin, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8
ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/800

The third target was the Yellow-crowned Parakeet, several of which I heard chattering to each other high in the trees near the summit but they remained elusive. As I was about to give up and go in search for another location, I tried imitating (poorly) their chatter and almost immediately, one bird flashed past and landed in a dense shrub just next to me. My first instinct was to focus and shoot, not knowing how long I would have...of course, the deep shadow and relatively bright grey background resulted in a distinctly parrotish silhouette but not a great shot.

Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/320

I adjusted the exposure 3 stops and clicked off another two frames before the bird flew off, apparently no longer fooled by my feeble imitations of it and its friends. 1/30th of a second is not ideal for hand-holding a long lens but it was the best I could do quickly. These still needed a bit of work in Lightroom but I'm very happy I managed to call the bird in and get a recognisable record of the encounter.

Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/30
Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Motuara Island, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/30

We were picked up a after an all too short 90 minutes on the island and took the 'mail run' trip back to Picton dropping off and picking up passengers at several stops along the way. At the first stop at Ship Cove, I spotted several Weka on the beach near the jetty and the skipper said we had a few minutes so I went to investigate.

Photographing Weka, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
(photo courtesy of Joanne Smissen)

Weka are large rails but they behave more like turnstones, picking up and flipping over pebbles on the beach looking for invertebrates.

Weka, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/2.8 1/2000
Weka, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/5.6 1/800
Weka, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/5.6 1/640

Even the juveniles are adept at rock rolling. 

Weka, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, f/5.6 1/1000

Several flocks of Australasian Gannets were seen as we cruised back up Queen Charlotte Sound.

Australasian Gannet, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/4 1/3200

However, the one species I was really keen to see was the King Shag. There are only a few hundred of these birds remaining and they are only found around Queen Charlotte Sound and some small islands in Cook Strait. I asked the skipper if he knew where any were and his promise to find some was kept. He even stopped the boat for about ten minutes to let me get some shots.

King Shag, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/4 1/2500
King Shag, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/4 1/2500
King Shag, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough NZ
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 800, f/4 1/8000

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