Braided river bird survey – Hunter Valley, Otago NZ

Over the last several years I’ve been fortunate as a volunteer to take part in several braided river bird surveys in Wanaka / Mt Aspiring National Park area, with the Dept of Conservation. Notably the Makarora and Matukituki rivers, but this week saw my first one in the Hunter river valley that feeds Lake Hawea.

The Hunter from the point of view of road access is truly quite remote, and herein lies something quite interesting, and even a bit sad: the pictures below could have been typical of the Wanaka / Mt Aspiring National Park area pre development decades ago. That’s not to say the Hunter is pristine – it’s farmed intensively, but its feel is closer to what must have been the norm a hundred years ago and longer ago.

Our team of four assembling packs prior to flying over the mountains separating the Makarora and Hunter valleys. This was the most economic and efficient way to begin the bird survey. When done a 4wd would pick us up near the head of Lake Hawea to bring us back home to Wanaka.
Makarora, Otago NZ

We were quite amazed at the nature of the terrain we flew amongst – it was pretty rugged…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Flying in

Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Flying in

Out of the wild country we arrived over the top of the head of Lake Hawea…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Lake Hawea

This is what we soon had to walk down – each of us a few hundred meters apart and in radio contact, logging every bird we’d see in front of us, and crossing the river and/or it’s branches as needed and as possible…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

We landed near the hut we’d stay in that night, and dropped off our food and overnight gear, before flying further up the valley to begin our walk for the day of 19 Km…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Pilot Eric and Flo our organiser discuss where to land…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Gear and people out Eric prepares for lift off…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Jess, Stu and Flo plan our strategies for the day…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Many river crossings were done in style and safety. The water was cold, but given the heat of summer, quite refreshing and even welcome…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Sand and grass occasionally provided us with a welcome change from the miles of stones…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Some shade, and out came the camera almost as an excuse to linger…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

These surveys can bring up some interesting feelings as it’s a harsh environment to slog along in. Fortunately the on-going need to plan and strategise re the terrain and river ahead, constantly planning where to cross so all non grass areas gets covered, and the thrill of finding rare and endangered species distracts from the gruelling heat, glare off the stones and the hardness underfoot.

Green Bush Hut was a welcome sight as evening caught up with us…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Evening looking down valley to the head of Lake Hawea. The river to the right, our task for the morning – a bit more difficult now as it’s larger and harder to cross…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Lake Hawea and End Peak

I love these old huts – they are so gracious and full of character. It’s actually a farm hut. A few decades back I once spent a week in it in the rain, while on a vegetation survey. It was nice to be back and see it not only in good condition, but improved…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Green Bush Hut

The toilet was a source of amusement…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Back on the riverbed the next morning…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Two oyster catchers – they were a bit distressed trying to lure me away from the nest, which I could not locate…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. Oyster catchers

There is public access into this area, but from a tramping perspective it does not make much sense, and thus the track is not known/used, but none-the-less the signs are there. Looking at the 8-10 hours bit I was glad a 4wd was on it’s way to pick us up, as it’s not much fun slogging through farmland for so many hours in such heat…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Fortunately the riverbed is not all this uniform and gruelling..
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

No more river – this is the head Lake Hawea. So we all turned to our left and traversing some wetlands found our way up through thick kanuka to the road.
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Lunch before the 2 hour drive out. Our driver Brendan had already been the hut to get our gear. He had trouble as the road was gone in places, but he’s very skilled in traversing this sort of terrain, so got it sorted OK…
Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago

Braided river bird survey - Hunter Valley, Otago. End Peak and Lake Hawea

About this Like Minds Blog Donald Lousley