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Tongariro-West Weekend Birding

Posted: Tue Nov 05, 2019 11:19 am
by RussCannings
Hi all,

After cancelling a winter birthday weekend for my wife Lisa (due to weather), we finally made it down to the Tongariro area on the weekend--and what a great weekend to be down there! Views of the snowy volcanoes were stunning, and it even got up to 27 degrees in Raetihi.

We headed south from Morrinsville through the King Country, stopping off for the first time at the Mangaokewa Gorge just out of Te Kuiti. This is part of the Te Araroa Trail and offers some lovely livestone canyon views with nice regenerating bush. According to signage, robin were returned here around 20 years ago though we didn't see or hear any in out short stay (It didn't help that an entire tour bus had just unloaded its noisy ballast onto the trail. Still, Shining Cuckoos we singing all over the place and NZ Pigeons displayed overhead---a great picnic spot.

Next up was another first time visit for both of us--and I was surprised it wasn't yet an eBird hotspot--so definitely check out the Ohinetonga Reserve in Owhango next time you're on the west side of Tongariro National Park. Owhango was a mill town last century, though they kept a patch of native bush "for scenic purposes" next to the town, which includes one of the largest totara in the country and some decent-sized rimu, matai, and miro. Kiwi are apparently in the bush, but as this was a hot afternoon, we were happy to settle for a family of BLUE DUCK below the Whakapapa River bridge, abundant tomtits, whitehead and friendly robins in the bush. The highlight of this reserve is its secluded forest lagoon. Unfortunately only a few corners of it are accessible via boardwalk and tracks, but it really is a lovely spot. The big surprise here was when my wife spotted a WHITE HERON flush out of the lagoon just as we were approaching down a steep track.
alexlagoon.jpg (236.4 KiB) Viewed 587 times

[Alex pointing to where the White Heron disappeared]

We finished the day by driving up the Makakahi Valley (NW of Raetihi, near Ruatiti) where I had booked a farm cottage near the lovely Manganui-o-te-Ao River (same river as in Ruatiti Domain--a long-established Blue Duck site--but further downstream). A gorgeous area to spend an afternoon. As luck would have it, a pair of BLUE DUCKS showed themselves right below our accommodation, and we marveled at some of the most extensive kowhai-cloaked hillsides either of us had ever seen. Hidden peafowl called in the dusk (Is there a NZ region with more peafowl than the Wanganui catchment? I think not!), and we saw our first Shining Cuckoo of the spring (after hearing many).

After a lazy morning the following day, we grabbed a second coffee in Raetihi then explored the west flank of Tongariro National Park. At Tawhai Falls (north side of the road into the chateau), we spotted yet another BLUE DUCK on the stream. Redpoll were plentiful overhead, and Whitehead and curious dunnocks followed us through the subalpine heath.

We had planned on hiking the Jade Lake near Turangi on our way home, but not wanting to be too late coming home with baby Alex, we opted for a picnic at the Tokaanu wharf (NW of Turangi), where among the usual scads of wetland birds, a lone bittern was heard booming.

Another fluke WHITE HERON was spotted in a small roadside pond up the west side of Taupo on our drive north, and Whakamaru Dam was birdy as usual with all 4 species of shag present (a single adult Pied being the highlight), a single Caspian Tern, and a range of the other usual inland waterbirds.

That pretty much does it for our very summery weekend. Strange to wake up to a chilly fog in Morrinsville this morning!

Steady bins,

Russ Cannings
Morrinsville, NZ

Re: Tongariro-West Weekend Birding

Posted: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:47 am
by David Riddell
Sounds like a great trip, Russ. I agree that Ohinetonga reserve is a fantastic place - I walked around it in cold steady rain about four years ago and found a blue duck on the river and a dabchick on the lagoon, and the number of robins and whiteheads in evidence was remarkable considering the weather.

Re: Tongariro-West Weekend Birding

Posted: Wed Nov 06, 2019 4:43 pm
by zarkov
The marina at Tokaanu is probably better for water fowl, and the trout hatchery is nice for a walk, birds, and often caged Blue Duck juveniles being prepared for transfer to other habitats. The ducks are hugely entertaining.

Re: Tongariro-West Weekend Birding

Posted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 7:53 am
by RussCannings
Cheers Zarkov,

To be clear we were at the marina (what I call the 'new wharf'). Hard to go wrong for ducks down in that corner of the lake. Great area.

Re: Tongariro-West Weekend Birding

Posted: Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:32 am
by philbattley
We popped into the hatchery one time when there was a "take your kid fishing day" in one of the pools, and there was a male whio swimming around on the fishing pond. Apparently it had a mate on a nest in the sedges at the edge of the pond. The male flew off to the river after a few minutes. The suspicion from the fishing chap was that it might have been a bird that spent time in the hardening facility. Also nice for whiteheads up close too.

zarkov wrote:The marina at Tokaanu is probably better for water fowl, and the trout hatchery is nice for a walk, birds, and often caged Blue Duck juveniles being prepared for transfer to other habitats. The ducks are hugely entertaining.