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Published: March 21st 2007
After the appalling failure of last month's trip to get most of the birds I was after, there was no option but to return to Arthur's Pass to try again for the rock wren. I've seen at least one "new" bird for every month since December 2005, which is a pretty good streak. It has to break sometime but the longer I can keep it going the better. I don't claim to be a fantastic birder but even for me the number of times I've dipped on the rock wren was getting embarrassing, so that had to be March's bird.
I caught a shuttle over from Christchurch and got the driver to just drop me off at the side of the road, at the top of the Pass, from where the Otira Track heads up into the mountains. I had decided to climb as high as was safe and then stake out every boulder scree on the way back down until I found the wrens. I knew they were up there somewhere, it was just a matter of finding the right scree. Rock wrens live solely in the Southern Alps, the mountain chain that runs down the spine of
the South Island. They are poor fliers, mainly relying on hopping and running to get around. When they do fly it is only for a few feet from the ground to a boulder or vice versa.
The first two screes were a bust. On the third I took a photo of the rock piles to at least have a picture of where the birds should be, and five minutes later a rock wren suddenly appeared on top of one of the boulders, bounced like Spring-heeled Jack from one to another then disappeared. Grabbing my camera I crept further down the track and found the wren again. To my surprise, he was not only un-alarmed by my presence but actively approached to within a couple of feet to see what I was up to. The impression I had had of them from books was that they were rather shy. This male obviously hadn't been reading the same books. The female, on the other hand, wasn't so obliging and didn't like having her photo taken at all.
The several previous occasions on which I had failed to find these birds became meaningless as soon as I had seen them. They
are absolutely THE coolest bird on the planet. If the Fonz was a bird, he'd be a rock wren. I fully suspect that if there is in fact a God (which I doubt) then after He had made the rock wren He basically just gave up on birds after that, because there was no way He could ever top them. Until you've seen a rock wren, all other birding experiences are worthless! (That's my opinion anyway).
I came down from the mountains on cloud nine. I was staying once again at Mountain House (where there was a different woman on the desk, who was extremely pleasant, unlike the one that was there last month!). I gave the great spotted kiwi another go that night and in the morning but there were none even calling. In the morning while wandering up and down the Bridal Veil Track photographing birds I spotted a yellow-crowned kakariki, which are scarce to the point of non-existance at Arthur's Pass.
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