After many years of asking my friend, Lydia Mclean finally agreed that I could tag along with her on some Kea Conservation work. Happily, this was in the Murchison Mountains, a place I have long wanted to visit. So after some precarious debating with work, I was able to secure the necessary time off and met my fellow kea adventurers on the 31st of October for two weeks! My team was myself, Lydia and Veronika and we were basing ourselves out of the affectionately known 'Challenger' for the next two weeks.

The weather was poor, but we were just lucky enough to be able to fly in and we even managed to get dropped off at the Hut. It wouldn't have been much fun carrying all our food and kit from bushline to the hut, as people have had to do in the past. It was how every just a little too miserable to be catching kea. So we made some noise to let them know we had arrived and then drank multiple cups of tea before settling in for the night as a passing snow shower beat against the tin wall of the hut.
Trampers get ready for bed in a hut

Lydia tucked in a Veronika bringing in more layers for our first night in the 'Challenger'

Up early, although setting a theme for the trip not quite as early as we should have been, we laid out the kea mats. The weather was still a bit miserable at times but at least we got some views. And not long after we caught out first birds, a juvenile and a less common and highly valued female. There seems to be significantly fewer female Kea in the population and it's not really clear why. So catching one with her newly fledged chicks right off the bat, set expectations unrealistically high for the rest of the trip. It was amazing!
We caught five birds total the first day, it snowed slightly and we headed up the hill where we picked up what appeared to be a nesting signal for one of the birds across Lake Te Anau in the Stuart Mountains. 

Sun-glinting over a small tarn in tussocks

Waking up to this view from the 'Challenger.'

Scientists with Kea

Veronika holds our first customer while Lydia gets the bands on.

Large tarn in tussock

The very cold tarn behind the Biv

Miller Biv in the Murchison Mountains

The 'Challenger' also known as Miller Biv. Our base for this adventure

Fledging Kea

Cute fledgling kea!

Adult male kea with fledgling kea

Fledgling and Dad in the snow

Fledgling kea

Look who's curious about what I'm doing!

Adult male kea and fledgling Kea

Dad looks on while a fledgling investigates

Fledgling Kea in snow

Baby kea nap time

Fledgling kea investigates

... and back to investigating

Handsome fledgling kea

Who's a handsome chappy?

Adult male kea feeding fledgling kea

Feeding time with dad

Adult male kea feeding fledgling kea

Looks yummy!

Adult male kea, feeding fledgling kea

Note the bands on dad, he's met us before

Adult male kea feeding fledgling kea

Cute moment

Adult male kea feeding fledgling kea

All finished

Handsome fledgling kea

Now I'm handsome and well-fed in the snow!

Fledgling kea

Got something to say

Adult male kea on a rock

Dad shows us his back and the family heads off shortly after, the continuing snow sprinkles make it less than ideal catch weather anyway.

View from Miller Peak

View from Miller Peak

View from Miller Peak

It's pretty nice up here

Scientist using telemetry to locate a bird

Lydia on Miller Peak checking for radio signals from birds in the area

Black and white photo of mountains in Fiordland

Beautiful black and white mountains of Fiordland

Cold tramper on the summit of Miller Peak

Lydia demonstrates just how cold it is on the summit.

View of Lake Te Anau

View down to Lake Te Anau

Tramper in front of a view of Lake Te Anau

Veronika finds somewhere scenic to hang out and try to warm up a little

Tramper in front of view of Lake Te Anau

I steal Veronika's spot and use it to my own advantage!

Beautiful view of a tarn

So many beautiful tarns on the way back to the 'Challenger'

Mountains reflected in a tarn

Reflective too

The sun is shining in the morning and we can hear the kea, but we've lost the 'novelty factor' so they aren't coming into the basin. Thus it's time for us to head elsewhere and try to attract some new birds. So after a leisurely lunch, we pack up the camping gear and head back up and this time over Miller Peak to a campsite on the far side for the night. We are joined by one of the families of keas we've already seen and banded the fledglings of, and while the fledglings are again keen to hang out, no one is actually keen to get caught. It's still a beautiful place to camp the night though.
Trampers on the summit of Miller Peak

Lydia and Veronika enjoy a much more pleasant time on the summit of Miller Peak

Mt Cook Lily in full bloom

Beautiful Mt Cook Lily

Mt Cook Lily in partial bloom

Although this partial bloom so full of promise is potentially even more beautiful

Panoramic view of the Stuart Mountains and Lake Te Anau

Panorama of Lake Te Anau and the Stuart Mountains from Miller Peak

Fledgling kea

This fledgling is keen to play

Fledgling kea with bands

He's already been to see us the day before though, hence the bands

Fledgling kea ready to take flight

Ready to fly

Women in front of view of Lake Te Anau

Veronika setting up for our evening catch session

Two fledgling kea with an adult male kea

A group of kea - dad and two fledglings - colluding as to how best to destroy our tents

Fledgling kea with adult male kea

Thinking hard about it

A group of four kea

The whole family together - we never managed to get the mum though

Kea in flight

Kea coming in to land

Two fledgling kea

A pair of cuties - two fledgling kea

A pair of fledgling kea

Still cute

Beautiful evening light in the Murchison mountains

Beautiful evening light in the Murchison mountains

Black and white photo - girl on a ridgeline

Lydia handling the communications

After not catching anything at our ridge camp, we decide it's time to head elsewhere in the Murchisons for a few days. So we pack up our stuff and after lunch head down into the Snag burn and then up to a lake at 1130 at the head of the valley. It takes a bit longer than expected, even when we find a shortcut track. So we stumble out onto the edge of the lake just on dusk. To our surprise, we can hear people! Not exactly the wildlife you expect to be encountering in the remote Murchison mountains. Turns out catch team Michael, Jamie and Sarah are also in this basin as they make a large circuit through their territory. It's nice catching up with them and receiving the news that the radio transmitter has been fixed so we should be able to chat with them nightly from now on. We hear kiwi calling in the night, but arrived too late to catch anything.
Two trampers in a hut

Debating where we are going to go, given that we are going to run out of daylight, in Snag Burn Hut

I wake up and leap out of my tent in one not very smooth bound. Lydia got up when she should have and she has caught a kea and needs someone to hold it. It was our only visitor in the morning though, and then we settled into a day of lounging around in the sun. Or so we thought, but we surprisingly had a lunchtime visitor, not traditional kea catching time by any means. The day was long and hot, and the sandflies unrelenting. The others had rolled out of camp fairly early in order to get on with some DoC work that they were also doing during the days. So after lunch, I wandered up the hill to their campsite to get a view. Then had a most refreshing wash in the lake before trying to get comfortable switching between a very hot tent and or a cloud of persistent sandflies. We eyed up several routes on Mt Max but never actually set off to climb any of them. The evening passed with only the metallic call of a kea over a speaker and no sign of the birds themselves.
'What's that glow,' Lydia asked me at one point indicating the sky behind Mt Max, 'is that an Aurora?'
'Surely not,' I took a quick snap with the camera, but couldn't convince myself. I was wrong though and missed a particularly good Aurora hunting session in a stunning area. Lessons learnt for next time.
Two scientists handling a kea

Lydia and Veronika look after our lunchtime visitor while being eaten alive by the sandflies

Mt Cook Lillies

Mt Cook Lillies in the valley

View of Mt Cook Lillies

Beautiful view down the valley

Lake below Mt Max

View of the lake below Mt Max, our campsite was near the outlet

Black Weka

Darkest Weka I've ever seen - shame I couldn't get a better photo of it

Beautiful lighting on a moutain

Lovely lighting at the end of the day

Evening light on Mt Max

Mt Max

Black and white photo of mountains and clouds

I always think mountains are better with mood and clouds

Once again woken by Lydia needing a hand as she has caught a bird. I could get used to this sort of morning wake-up call, it's a very privileged start to the morning. After sorting the bird we sit and enjoy a cup of tea before too many sandflies wake up, and then we pack up camp while being eaten alive. We're moving on to another area, dropping through the head of the Ettrick Burn before climbing up two a new basin for a night. This is part of a slow loop we are doing back to our base at Miller Biv while checking an old kea nest on the way. We haven't picked up any nesting signals in our travels, so aren't expecting to find anything in it. After breakfast, we head off. Although we have heard kiwi calling in the night, we haven't seen any Takahe yet, something startles in the scrub ahead of us on the slope, but we can't catch a good enough sighting to confirm what it is. Lunch is spent in just about the most beautiful bush I've ever seen and our evening at camp has a constant distant chorus of rock wren, although we don't manage to spy any. And right on dark, we have a visitor, although we just can't catch him. Maybe tomorrow morning?
Early light on the hills

Early light on the hills

lake and tussock scene

Leaving our lake outlet campsite

Trampers look out down the Snag Burn

Lydia and Veronika look out over the Snag Burn, our lake campsite in the background

Tarn and tussock

Tarn on the saddle

Tramper on bush edge

Heading into the bush for a short stretch before going back up into the basin visible straight ahead

Two trampers in the forest

Absolutely magical forest

Magical creek in the forest

Beautiful waterway

Beautiful light in the forest

Such wonderful light

Tramping sitting in mossy forest

Just a magical lunch spot

Tramper at bush edge

Emerging from the bush in the next basin over

Campsite in the mountains

Camp for the night

Tent in the foreground pink clouds in the sky

Pink clouds of sunset

Tent lit up at sunset

I've been trying for a while to get a good image of a tent lit up at night - hopefully, this will be the first of many to come!

Our friend came to visit in the night, as evidenced by several small beak-tip-sized holes in the tent and gear, he's no longer around in the morning anymore. We set off, up over a small pass and back down into the Snag Burn. The kea nest is predictably empty. We stop at Snag Burn Hut for lunch, it's very well stocked which is good, we had actually planned on being back at the 'challenger' for lunch. After lunch, Lydia strides off ahead to get a few things done and not miss the evening catch session. Veronika and I take it a little more leisurely, and are rewarded by the most spectacular swimming hole! Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos though. Thus refreshed we charge up the hill, stopping to have a quick but not successful hunt for another nest. On the way down a few days ago, we had spotted a kea with a transmitter on in that location and it would have been good to find her nest. We arrive at the hut not too long after Lydia returns from higher up on the range and recapture an adult male initially named by my friend Max some years prior. He tries to bite me, but having suffered a severe kea bite at the lakeside camp a few days ago I'm having none of it! (I still have the scar from that one.)
The weather is starting to turn on us so we are going to have to think about getting out of the mountains before our two weeks are up.
View of Miller Peak

View from the saddle above camp back over to Miller Peak and the basin where our base hut it

Miller Biv in evening light

Miller Biv in the beautiful evening light

View of the Snag Burn valley

Looking back at the saddle of where we came from 

Murchison Mountains

Wonderful evening light

The problem with Miller Biv also known as the 'Challenger' is that it sits in an area on many tarns, and in fact, a tarn has actually formed beneath it. Making it somewhat of a damp place to be, so I endeavoured to drain it. This was actually a project initially started by a friend of mine several years prior, so step one was to dig out his old channel. The problem with that though was that the tarn in front of the hut was only marginally lower and it was then a long way to dig a channel to drain over the lip of the hill. With this task completed, I still wasn't happy with the state of the puddle under the hut. I realised that the tarn behind the hut was also a problem as it was continuous through the swampy ground to the under-hut tarn. Upon closer inspection, this was actually the main problem and it appeared that a previous attempt had also been made to drain this tarn and by extension the puddle under the hut. So I dug out this channel also, with much great success. Under the hut dry, at least until the next rain (so tomorrow), I went back to other activities. Although I had run out of green wool for the knitting project I'd bought with me. So maybe it was just as well we were flying out the next day.
Tarn in tussock

The offending tarn in front of the hut

Challenger Hut

See I'm not making it up it is called the 'Challenger'

Mt Cook Lily

Tired-looking Mt Cook Lily

Ominous looking clouds

Interesting cloud formations - or just ones that indicate a shift in the weather

Sunset Murchison mountains

Sunset is always better when the weather is changing

Sunset in the Murchison mountains

Loving the cloud-bow at sunset

Interesting cloud features at sunset

I love clouds

We flew out of the mountains. Successful kea catching trip over. I'm hooked and can't wait to go along on the next one!

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