Maungatautari: Sanctuary Mountain
14 December 2014
A couple of days ago Dave and I decided the weather was stable enough (just) to risk a trip down country about 160km to Sanctuary Mountain at Maungatautari.
The reserve itself is huge, 3400 hectares, and we saw less than a tiny fraction of it. The southern enclosure is fully surrounded by a predator-free fence, and is the main hang-out of the kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis) — as well as a long list of other native birds. Stopping to take photos of flora and fauna every few steps means the distance we covered was minimal, because there is just so much to see. It would be a fantastic place to revisit with the prime purpose of walking, rather than photo-taking.
The only tricky part, from a photography enthusiast’s perspective, is the lack of light. It was a grey, overcast day (with occasional drizzle — so much for summer!) when we were there, and even at an ISO of 4000 and F8 I was only just achieving sufficient shutter speeds (1/400) to hand-hold my lens at 400 mm. Even though the high-ISO performance of my 70D is absolutely streets ahead of my old 550D, there is still a lot of grain present in the images.
The highlight of the trip, however, wasn’t caught on film.
We entered the bush about 20 minutes after a guided tour, and quickly caught them at ‘The Clearing’, a small area where the staff feed the kaka with a few peanuts in their shells. The group of people moved off shortly after, but we hung about to watch the kaka and finches. As I crouched down right next to one of the benches to get a finch-eye-perspective, I heard Dave say, “Look to your left.” And hopping brazenly along the bench towards me was a kaka. Bold as anything he decided to taste my bright-pink windcheater! Not much later, when we were up the tower (a tall, wooden structure of stairs and platforms) I was leaning on one of the rails lining up a kaka sat atop the structure higher up, and again Dave called out to, “Look behind you.” Another kaka decided to check me out, coming within half an arm’s length of my face, and studying me intently. I sat still and talked to him (wanting all the time to reach out and pat him but figuring that wouldn’t be wise!) and slowly moved the camera around so he could see it better–and he promptly latched his beak on to the lens hood. Talk about cheeky!
I’m guessing both of these birds (if, indeed, they were not the same one) were youngsters curiously exploring their environment. I’m also not sure about the colour vision of a kaka: perhaps my bright attire was a point of interest? Or perhaps I just looked a lot like the two-legged beings that hand out the peanuts!
On the other hand, with the tripod (carried the whole way by the long-suffering, ever-patient husband) the fungi shots were more successful. I did some focus-stacking, but still managed to get a fuzzy edge on the left side of the tree in the second image.
My mission now is to find out what they’re called!