Tweet huggers

Tweet huggers

All roads lead to ObanUlva Island
New Zealand
14 Oct 2017

For the birds 

That’s why we are here. Our guide, Furhana from Ruggedy Range, moved silently through the rainforest, her ears in the trees, eyes awake for the slightest flicker of feathered movement.

Tweet huggersWe did our best to glide along the gravel path behind her.

Bird calls were all around, but finding the source in the verdant forest canopy was difficult. These are small birds for the most part. Small and rare and perfectly suited for their environment, which means they blend in well. We looked with binoculars, with our ears, with our senses attuned for the slightest feathered rustle.

Where could the thing be?

Furhana, as you might expect from someone who practically lives here, was usually the first to spot the bird, and would call us up to the best spot for spotting and photography.

Photography skills

Tweet huggersSadly, despite my many cameras, I was rarely able to capture the image. Yes, I saw a lot of birds, but do I have photographs of all of them? I do not!

I have a great number of excellent shots of branches and leaves and trunks and forest, and there are birds in most of them, but usually hiding behind a branch, or out of focus, or in motion, or unlovely in some way.

We saw:

  • Southern blue penguin
  • Spotted shag
  • Wood pigeon
  • Parakeet
  • Owl
  • Fantail
  • Brown creeper
  • Yellowhead
  • Tui
  • Saddleback
  • Weka
  • Tomtit
  • Stewart Island robin

There were certainly a few more that I can’t recall.

Among the tall trees

I did get one shot – of a rare saddleback – which came down and frolicked in a nearby tree. Even then I had to do quite a bit of massaging in post to get a reasonable image. I cannot say that I’m a great bird photographer. Jennifer managed far better shots than I, but then again, she had a bigger camera and a longer lens.

There were birds abounding. Not a minute went by without a bird call, and sometimes the action was intense. We found a bunch of smaller birds mobbing an owl roosting the day away in a tree. While we were trying to spot the owl, a pair of parakeets flew past.

Tweet huggersApart from the birdlife, the forest was grandeur enough to make the trip worthwhile. We had four hours on the island, and most of that was spent walking through the rainforest along the trails. Beautifully maintained, gravelled, level – with a few steps here and there – it was easy going and safe.

Tweet huggersWe were never more than a few metres from lush greenery and tall trees. Furhana was able to point out various interesting examples, from orchids a few millimetres in size to giant rimu that towered above the canopy.

We only met two other people besides our group, a couple doing a self-guided walk through the forest. I hope they had swallowed a few guidebooks, because if not, they were missing out on a lot!

Furhana had suggested that we bring our own water and a light snack. We stopped at a rest area after a couple of hours to open our packs and compare goodies. Jay, to nobody’s surprise, had brought along two types of chocolate, and I had another.

Mine was Whitaker’s hazelnut; I had selected it to get a rise from Jay, who had once tracked down her favourite band in Columbia Missouri, been invited back into the band’s bus after the show – she had come the furtherest distance, you see – and offered them a block of hazelnut chocolate.

The band’s name was Sister Hazel, and the lead singer was Ken Block. I like the way her mind thinks.

On that occasion, they had looked at the proffered bar of New Zealand chocolate in some puzzlement. “Ah, what do we do with it?” one asked. “Do we sign it?”

“No, silly!” Jay said, “You eat it!”

Tweet huggersWe’d been travelling across America after a BookCrossing convention, and naturally here in a forest on the other side of the planet, we explained to Furhana how it all worked. Megan offered a book. Oddly enough some of us may not have packed wet weather gear, but we all had books somewhere on our persons!

We talked about our Black Friday book tree shenanigans the previous night, when we had hung books from a tree, and propped Albert the skeleton against the trunk.

“I saw you walking up the hill,” Furhana exclaimed, “and this morning everyone in town is talking about you!”

Yeah. We’re crazy. But in a good way.

I cannot praise Furhana and Ruggedy Range high enough. Her experience, her skills, her knowledge, and her thoughtful guidance were all ours for four magic hours. I’ve had guides around some of the iconic places of the world, who seemed to be unaware that their customers were hoping to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime trip but instead delivered a canned speech and a boring experience.

Furhana cared about each one of us, and she worked hard to make sure that we, as individual human beings, took away as much as possible from the day.

And we did. Except for the chocolate. What was left of the hazelnut block stayed with Furhana.