New Zealand is a delightful destination for a nature holiday. I drove more that 3,500 km from the North Island all the way down to the southern most tip of South Island picking up a hired car in Auckland and dropping it off in Christchurch a month later. Very little traffic, easy to find your way around, and lots of good value accommodation to be found (in non-school holiday periods); and most important of all, lots of wildlife to observe, as you have seen in my two previous blogs – and this concluding installment. Below I have included some recommended reading and usefull websites as well. Enjoy!
There are two notable features of native New Zealand birdlife. The first is the high proportion of endemics, which constitute nearly 20 per cent of all native species found in New Zealand and its offshore island. The second point is that of the land birds, six are flightless, along with two species of ducks found only on the sub-antartic islands. Many of the extinct species were also flightless. With a few exceptions all of the birds illustrated in our New Zealand blogs are endemic.
Thought to be extinct for 50 years!
The Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri), which is critically endangered, is a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand and belonging to the rail family. It was thought to be extinct in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was rediscovered by Dr G Orbell in Fiordland in 1948.
The colours are similar to the Purple Swamphen, but that is probably the only similarity, the Takahe is more than double the size at around 50cms tall and about 2.5 kgs in weight.
It eats grass, shoots and insects, but predominantly leaves of tussocks and other alpine grass species. The Takahē can often be seen to pluck a snow grass stalk, taking it into one claw and eating only the soft lower parts which is a favourite food. The rest is discarded.
Formerly widespread, the near-extinction of the Takahē is due to a number of factors: over-hunting, loss of habitat and introduced predators have all played a part. The introduction of red deer represent a severe competition for food, while the stoats take a role as predators.
The Takahe can now be found in protected reserves, mainly on islands, where it has been released in the wild. An impressive success for the NZ Department of Conservation! The adult Takahē seen here with a juvenile was observed at Mt Maungatautari Reserve, North Island.
New Zealand is the albatross capital of the world. Here you can find ten species breeding, of which eight breed nowhere else. Above is the Salvin’s Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) seen at Kaikoura, South Island. It is is a large seabird that ranges across the Southern Ocean. It is about 90 cm (35 in) long and 2.56 m (8.4 ft) across the wings. It weighs 3.3–4.9 kg (7.3–10.8 lb).
It breeds mainly on small rocky islands with little vegetation, and the nest is a pedestal made of mud, feathers, and bird bones. A single egg is laid in September, and incubated by both parents until early November. The chicks fledge after about 4 months.
I photographed this individual at Kaikoura on South Island, New Zealand. If you look closely you can just about see a tiny droplet of water falling from the bill, which I like!
Caught in the act?
This Great White Heron (Egretta alba) appear to be looking my way to see if I saw him. Unlike many other places in Asia, the Great White Heron is rare in New Zealand, where the population is less than 200 birds. This individual was seen performing at Lake Moeraki, South Island, New Zealand.
I did a one day-trip to Ulva island, which is close to Stewart Island in the extreme south. One the beach I spotted this pair of Variable Oystercatcher (Torea) (Haematopus unicolor), which is an uncommon endemic. It is sub-adult in front (with dull coloured legs) hassling the adult behind for food. I like the long robust red bill together with the black plumage.
The Kōkako has a beautiful, clear, organ-like song. Its call can carry for kilometres. Breeding pairs sing together in a bell-like duet for up to an hour in the early morning.The kōkako is a poor flier and seldom flies more than 100 metres. The wings of this species are relatively short and rounded. It prefers to hop and leap from branch to branch on its powerful grey legs.Primary causes of kōkako decline were forest clearance by settlers and the introduction of predators such as rats, stoats and possums.
You get in a good mood seeing dolphins jumping about. The Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) seen here has a highly acrobatic behavior, performing a combination of leaps, flips, rolls and turns outside of Kaikouri in New Zealand.
Some of their most common foods include red cod, lantern fish, anchovies, horse mackerel, and they typically hunt for food in large groups where hunting can take place either in the day or at night.
The New Zealand Robin or the Toutouwai (Petroica australis), is a sparrow-sized bird found only in New Zealand, where it has the status of a protected endemic species. It is often inquisitive and confinding, and this individual was not shy when I took this eye-level close-up image on Ulva Island. They perch on a low trunk and flies to feed on the forest floor hopping about.
The Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) is successfully breeding in New Zealand and numbers are increasing as colonies have been strictly controlled by Department of Conservation. When you come this close you can really see the structure of the plumage. At Cape Kidnappers, North Island.
The endemic New Zealand Scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae) is the only diving duck in New Zealand. It is most common on high country lakes where it feeds mostly in the morning and evening. The individual showing off here is a male with bright yellow eyes. I like the little moving feather sticking out at the back. Seen in Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari on North Island.
This Northern Giant Petrel also called Nelly (Macronectes hall) almost looks like an alien creature. Like other petrel species it has a single tubular nostril on the top of the bill, as can be seen here. They are the scavengers gorging themselves on carrion until often they are unable to take wing again. They feed opportunistically on a wide variety of prey including seal, whale, and penguin carrion.
Overall their population stands at between 17,000 and 21,000 mature birds, based on a 2001 estimate. This number has been increasing over the last two decades, probably because of greater availability of food from expanding fur seal populations, and increased food waste from ships.
The common New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) can dive deeper and longer. Males can dive for about 15 minutes to a depth of about 380 meters when feeding. The New Zealand fur seals’ known predators are sharks, killer whales, and male New Zealand sea lions.
I saw this lazing fellow on a ‘private’ remote beach on the South-western coast of South Island when staying at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki
The Pipipi (Mohoua novaeseelandiae), also known as the New Zealand creeper, is a small passerine bird endemic to the South Island. They are specialist insectivores, gleaning insects from branches and leaves. They have strong legs and toes for hanging upside down while feeding. This individual was seen at Arthurs’ Pass.
Anyone seen a Kiwi (the bird) in the wild?
Actually not many people have. So this was one of the main objectives for my trip to New Zealand. The tricky part was that the endemic Kiwi is rare and nocturnal, which present a problem when you want to take photos. Research confirmed that it is possible to seen Kiwis in the wild, as a number of NZ nature guides are licenced to take visitors to remote locations where there is a good chance of seeing the species. Only special torch lights can be used by the guides in order not to to disturb the birds.
Reading all this I decided to go to Stewart Island, where it is sometimes possible to see the Kiwi during the day. Having overnighted and spent two days in the ‘rough’ on Stewart Island only having seen two Kiwis for a few seconds (and no good photos), it was time for plan B, and I joined a guide, who had a permit to show Stewart Island visitors their most elusive nocturnal bird:
The Stewart Island Southern Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis lawryi) classified as Vulnerable by IUCN. It is unlike any other bird that I have ever seen. I spent two evenings observing this pre-historic species on a remote beech on Stewart Island.
Bradt, New Zealand Wildlife, A visitor’s guide. 2009.
Barrie Heather & Hugh Robertson, The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. 2005, Penguin Books.
Kathy Ombler, Where to Watch Birds in New Zealand, 2010 New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd.