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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

White Heron Sanctuary‏

March 4th, 2010 · 2 Comments

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If not for my friend Sharon, who is beginning to teach me how to appreciate, look for, and photograph birds, I might have missed the high point so far of my visit to New Zealand. I also thank the driver and tour guide of my trip to the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a few days ago who told me about the White Heron Sanctuary when I asked him the places on the South Island that he thought I might like as much.

The White Heron Sanctuary is near Whataroa and just a few miles from where I am staying two nights at a campground in the town of Franz Josef. When I first looked out of the van this morning, my day started with a bang as I saw this sight:

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

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A few minutes later I was in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve in the middle of a rainforest roaring along a river at 50km/hour on a jetboat. What fun!

Looking Back on the Waitangitaona River on an Absolutely Still Morning

Looking Back on the Waitangitaona River on an Absolutely Still Morning

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As we approached the white heron breeding place we slowed to a crawl. Otherwise we would have missed this beautiful bird on the bank:

A New Zealand Pidgeon

A New Zealand Pigeon

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Seven of us, including the tour guide and driver Dion, went down the river for 12km until we came about 200 meters from the ocean. There we stopped.

Dion and his Jetboat

Dion and his Jetboat

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We had reached the only breeding place in New Zealand for the rare white heron, which the Maori call the kotuku. Only about 140 white herons remain in the country, but that’s a lot more than New Zealand had in 1940, when this species had almost disappeared.

This jetboat tour is the only way people are allowed to come into the nature reserve. At the end of our exciting ride we got out of the boat and took a boardwalk about 500 meters through as dense and beautiful a rainforest as I have seen anywhere.

Only in this and one Other Place did the Forest Open up to the River

Only in this and one Other Place did the Forest Open up to the River

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Believe it or not, but this plant is actually a fern:

A Kidney Fern in the Rainforest

A Kidney Fern in the Rainforest

Easter Orchids Grow on this Tree

Easter Orchids Grow on this Tree

This Red Flower is the Rata Vine

This Red Flower is the Rata Vine

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Skipping along the boardwalk with us was this bird:

I Think I Know Why They Call this the Fantail Bird

I Think I Know Why They Call this the Fantail Bird

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When we reached the end of the boardwalk we came to a blind on one side of the river with the white heron breeding site directly across from us. About a half dozen young birds were waited for us. Actually, they were waiting to learn how to fly and more immediately for dinner.

Mixed in with the white herons were a couple of royal spoonbills. These two species look similar, except for the black color and spoon shape of the royal spoonbills’ beak and the yellow color of the white herons’ beak.

A Royal Spoonbill Flies over a White Heron Chick

A Royal Spoonbill Flies over a White Heron Chick

This Juvenile White Heron Practices Spreading Its Wings

This Juvenile White Heron Practices Spreading Its Wings

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Actually, what the white herons were waiting for was food. The big excitement of the day came when an adult male arrived with a fish. Note that the chicks at this stage are as big as the adults.

Feeding Frenzy

Feeding Frenzy

First Flight?

First Flight?

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Soon, all of these beautiful white herons will be leaving their breeding place. They will flight to new homes all around their country, New Zealand.

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Posted in: New Zealand

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gretchen // Mar 23, 2010 at 7:24 am

    More great photos with a lot of variety. Maybe I’ll move to NZ.

  • 2 Karen S // Jul 11, 2010 at 1:48 am

    David — Good on you for your beautiful photos and adventures. It makes me miss New Zealand terribly! If you ever return to North Island, be sure to meet the Frankum Family. They have a lovely bach to let on the water south of Russell, and are the kindest people you’ll ever meet

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