The New Zealanders are very proud of their birds and go to great lengths to preserve native species which, like in the rest of the world, face rapid decline and possible extinction. Here the problem is as much to do with introduced predators like rats and stoats as to loss of habitat. As we have travelled around the North and South islands and walked in many forests and open spaces we have been surrounded by bird song and lucky to see many of the more common species. We have also visited bird centres and sanctuaries where we have been able to see more threatened or harder to spot birds.
In our first day in Northland we spot and hear the famous Tui (above left). These common dark birds with unusual ruff feathers have a marvellous loud and complicated voice with tuneful notes mixed with coughs and wheezes. According to the esteemed JB this is due to their having two voice boxes. Also hard to miss is the NZ pigeon - big and fat you hear its wings swooshing in the air to keep it aloft. On our first evening in Northland a small owl flits into the garden and sits on a post. This is the Morepork, a compact dark brown forest owl named after its cry. This one above was actually in a rescue centre.
We see two common ground birds all over our travels. We first spot the pukeko (above centre) running around the fields on Waiheke and see them again around a lake in Marlborough. The weka (above left) is also a well known New Zealand flightless bird. They appear fearless to humans - one bit my toe as I was having a picnic on a beach in the Abel Tasman national park - and are quite common in more remote areas. We also saw one in Fiordland. Much rarer is the takahe (above right) - both the North and South Island varieties were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the Murchison mountains near lake Te Anau in Fiordland in 1948.This one is in the bird sanctuary in Te Anau - about 300 are thought to still exist in the wild and a breeding and reintroduction program is underway to reestablish them.
The fantail is one of New Zealand's best known birds. They flit around you as you walk in the forest hopping from branch to branch and displaying their fans, often only a few meters away. Also friendly chap is the robin. This one above sits on a log right next to us and is happy to have his picture taken. Another common bird that you hear frequenly is the song thrush. Introduced in the late 19C like many birds in NZ, they are now common and naturalised.
By the lakes and seashore we find lots of waders and seabirds. We were very keen to see the Royal Spoonbill with his magnificent black beak and found one at the Wairu river estuary by Blenheim with some pied stilts. The variable oystercatcher was on a beach in Abel Tasman NP. We also saw a couple on the west coast. Previously shot for food they are now protected and recovering nicely. The white-capped mollymawk or albatross is a fairly common mid-sized NZ albatross seen off most coasts. They are declining, largely as a result of long-line fishing off South Africa.
At the Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head, Dunedin, we learn more about the Northern Royal Albatross. Albatross started to land here after the military cleared the headland - it provides shelter, wind and rich seas. The have been successfully breeding since 1938 when local ornithologist Dr L.E. Richdale started to protect them. They mate for life laying one egg every two years. Both parents incubate and rear the chick. Adults life for 25+ years. The grown chicks will leave Taiaroa for 5 years going to feed off the coast of Chile before returning to start to find a mate.
Still by the water they are quite a few varieties of shag and guillimot. Above left are the pied shag and little shag spotted in the estuary by Blenheim. There are also many ducks although the blue duck or whio (above centre) is iconic to NZ. Now pretty rare and confined to rivers in the mountains we found this one in a bird park. You also see a lot of introduced species like this black swan. We also find Canada geese, Californian quail and skylarks.
We see and hear quite a few parrots and parakeets as we travel the country including the brightly coloured rosellas that frequent Auckland gardens. We heard the kaka (above left) quite a few times including in the Fiordland forests but I only managed to photograph one in the bird sanctuary. We also came across a great family of parakeets in the forest near Makarora although it was too dark to get a shot. This rare Antipodes Island parakeet above was part of a reintroduction scheme as they had almost been wiped out by rats on the Antipodes islands where they lived. The kea (above right) is a large olive green parrot that was almost wiped out by shooting as they are known to attack sheep and peck the fat from sheep's legs. They are now mostly found in the mountains - these three were perched next to the Wilmot pass road at Doubtful Sound.
We almost fail to see New Zealand's most famous bird. Walkers tell us that they saw kiwis by walking huts in the mountains in the evening but our only opportunity is in the wildlife centres. At the National Aquarium in Napier the kiwi enclosure is being refurbished so no kiwis there. At the Mt Bruce Bird park outside Wellington we see a rare white kiwi (above right) in a red lamp lit nocturnal enclosure. We miss the zoo in Wellington and the kiwi centre in Franz Josef so as a result we only see photos. The brown kiwi is actually quite common in both North and South Islands. However as they live in the forest and only come out at night they are not so easy to see.
Next blog will be Fjordland and the South. Watch this space...
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