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     Taupo


Apart from a quick stop in Auckland, Taupo was the only main stop on the North Island. The theory was that we would stay 5 nights there, and travel out to various spots as and when necessary. As it turned out, the Taupo area was interesting enough to find walks locally, and also turned up some of the birds which are likely to be fairly easy to find. The town itself lies on the north-eastern shore of the vast Lake Taupo, and it is worth walking the shores of town to pick up some of the commoner water birds. Duck are the most obvious, with small rafts of New Zealand Scaup and Pacific Black Duck amongst the more numerous Mallard. Closer inspection should also turn up New Zealand Grebe – they had reasonably young immatures feeding with their parents on our visit. Also obvious are the Cormorants. Great & Pied were the most common, but at least one Little Black was amongst them.

New Zealand Grebe Coot Little Pied Cormorant

New Zealand Grebe

Eurasian Coot Little Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant NZ Scaup

Little Black Cormorant

New Zealand Scaup

     From Spa Thermal Park to Huka Falls

 

Waikato River Waikato River Huka Falls

Waikato River

Waikato River Huka Falls

Taupo sits on the outlet of Lake Taupo to the Waikato River, which flows at some speed to pass through a narrow slit of rock after 3 miles to form the Huka Falls. The falls themselves are one of the most popular sites visited in New Zealand – worth seeing but busy! We were based next to the start of an excellent walk (easy and some good birds), which ostensibly begins at the Spa Thermal Park, on the first large horseshoe bend of the river. The park is very popular, being very open with quite a few paths winding through, as well as car park and toilets. One of the attractions for the visitors is a small thermal stream which empties into the river – folk seem to love floating downstream from Taupo to here and then dip their toes in the hot water. From here, the walk starts proper, meandering through mixed rain forest with views of the sparklingly clear river and the odd island it contains. We went on a warm, sunny Saturday, which brought out good numbers of other walkers. The good news is that this particular track does not allow cyclists, so fewer obstacles to the birding.

Despite the amount of people around the bunjy and thermal park, attention should still be paid here. At the end of the walk, a Grey Gerygone was in the trees next to the jump, and a New Zealand Falcon flew overhead into the gorge. Just beyond, and below in the trees of the gorge, a Long-tailed Cuckoo was picked out briefly. Even at the popular spot for bathers – the thermal stream – it was worth taking a look at the river. Even among the bathers – a Pacific Black Duck was padding around amongst the towels for some reason. On the water next to the opposite bank was a pair of Black Swans. Not native but now well established in the country. A pied form of Little Pied Cormorant (perversely, most of the birds here are the dark variant, apart from somewhat higher numbers on the North island) was perched on a log earlier on, feeding on the return. Just a little further towards the middle of the river were a trio of New Zealand Scaup. A couple of European Coot looked a little comical trying to swim directly across the river, battling almost sideways against the strong current. Downside of the birding through the riverside forest were the vast numbers of introduced species which almost dominated sightings, in particular the constant presence of House Sparrows, followed by Starlings and Common Mynas. However, Silvereyes were also very regularly seen, in small and busy groups which appeared often. They were easily the most common of the indigenous birds, with some other species seen in ones and twos, and these seen irregularly. These included Tui (great call), Bellbird (almost as good a call), and Fantail.

New Zealand Bellbird Black Swan New Zealand Fantail

New Zealand Bellbird

Black Swan New Zeland Fantail
Grey Gerygone Silvereye Tui

Grey Gerygone

Silvereye Tui

     Tongariro River Trail, Turangi


Torangiro River Farmland

Torangiro River

Farmland abover river

In New Zealand biding circles, and certainly for the North Island, this stretch of the river is probably best known for the potential to see Blue Duck. This species has been hit hard by the introduced predators such as Stoat, but action is being taken to reduce the numbers of these aliens (we came across one of the locals who was tending the traps to catch and dispatch introduced species). Blue Duck tend to like fast flowing rivers and stretches of the Tongariro River certainly fit the bill. It is possible that early morning or just before dusk might be the best time to look for this species, meaning that we were doing our walk away from the (potential) best time. The spots which seem of particular interest are from the Major Jones Bridge, which is not too far from Turangi, and the larger Red Hut Bridge, around 3 miles upriver. We parked as suggested by the iSite Visitor Information Centre just off Pihanga Road, but for a quick visit to the Major Jones Bridge, it is probably easier to park on the road side in the streets nearby. There are not too many vantage points over the river to look for the ducks, hence why the bridges may be good vantage points. I also found some of the angler’s access tracks helped to view extra stretches of the river, but to no avail today – no ducks spotted.

Quite a bit else to see in the area though. Much of the trail from Turangi on the western bank is through closed and thick woodland, with occasional views of the river. It also passes by the Trout Centre, which, unless you have a particular interest, is worth bypassing (there is an entrance fee to pay). Much of the birdlife in these woods comprised the abundant Silvereyes and very active Fantails, with a single Bellbird thrown in for good measure. At one of the points which met the busy road, a Swamp Harrier was hunting over the open land on the opposite side. Once the Red Hut Bridge was reached, the variety increased somewhat. A White-faced Heron was perched on one of the horizontal branches of a high tree next to the river – a couple more were seen further on the return leg of the trail. The woodland opened adjacent to spacious farmland on the eastern side of the river, and a pair of Paradise Shelducks and Australian Magpies added to the list. In a field further down, a small group of Masked Lapwings were on the ground, with occasional Welcome Swallows over the woodland. A couple more Swamp Harriers were seen hunting over the farmland.
 

New Zealand Fantail Australian Magpie

New Zealand Fantail

Australian Magpie
White-faced Heron Swamp Harrier Great Cormorant

White-faced Heron

Swamp Harrier Great Cormorant

     Aratiatia Dam

It’s amazing how something that is functional can be turned into a tourist attraction. Enter the Aratiatia Dam. Before this was built, to hold the waters of the Waikato River for hydroelectric purposes, this portion of the river narrowed and formed an impressive ladder of rapids, purportedly one of the longest drops in the region. The dam has now calmed this to a trickle, but the filling of the reservoir above from Lake Taupo upstream necessitates opening the flood gates at times. In the case of this dam, that is at 10am, 12pm, 2pm (& 4pm in season), which has led to the building of a couple of vantage points to witness the rebirth of the flooding channels at these times. It is certainly worth a look if in the area (and it’s free!), but there are also one or two of the more common species here. Outside of the calling Bellbird on the walk to the viewing platform, all the birds of note were on the reservoir side of the dam. These included very good numbers of Black Swans and ducks (Mallard, New Zealand Scaup, Pacific Black Duck) and European Coot. On the banks and the floating barrage were Great & Little Pied Cormorants, with a few Masked Lapwings nearby.
 

Dam NZ Bellbird Masked Lapwing

Aratiatia Dam

New Zealand Bellbird Masked Lapwing

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Introduction

Singapore

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