During my last trip to New Zealand I covered more than 3,500 km, and saw some of the most amazing nature reserves on the North and South Islands, below are some of my images from the trip: –
Fighting Vultures of the Antarctic
The Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) is a large petrel (0.9 m) the size of a small albatross with a large wingspan (up to 2 m) and an enormous bill. Like all other petrel species it has a single tubular nostril on the top of the bill. They are the scavengers in the Southern Ocean, also known as the vultures of the antarctic, gorging themselves on carrion until often they are unable to take wing again. The large beak is particularly well designed for tearing flesh. 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.
They are very aggressive and territorial, and these two individuals were fighting just next to our boat less than 6 meters away. I like the eye contact.
One of the most endearing species I observed during my New Zealand trip was the Stewart Island Robin (Petroica australis rakiura), which is an uncommon endemic species.
On Stewart Island I saw them mostly in mature native forests, where they often would approach you quite boldly if you enter their territory.
The Red-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) is a protected native species of New Zealand. Rare outside protected areas and islands as it is very susceptible to introduced predators, because they often feed on the ground and nest in holes close to the ground.
I heard and saw them on numerous occasions on off-shore islands, but never managed to take even one photo. This image is taken at Mt Maungatautari Reserve on the North Island.
As you can see here Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) has a highly acrobatic behavior, performing a combination of leaps, flips, rolls and turns, and learn to perform these tricks by watching more experienced dolphins at play. I watched a pod of these dolphins with more than 300 individuals outside of Kaikoura 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 depending on the group doing the hunting and their location.
I like the hairstyle of this male California Quail (Callipepla californica) taken on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, New Zealand. It is not a native but an introduced species.
The endangered Black-browed Albatross (Diomedea melanophrys) is a medium-sized albatross close to 1 m long, with a wingspan of ‘only’ 2 – 2.4 m. They feed on fish, squid, crustaceans, and fishery discards, however, they have also been observed stealing food from other species.
Increased long-line fishing in the southern oceans, has been attributed as a major cause of the decline of this bird, in fact, sadly the Black-browed Albatross is the most common bird killed by fisheries.
Despite its wide spread, the NZ endemic Yellow-crowned Parakeets are rather sparse in numbers, although populations are recently regarded as stable.
The Maori name for the Kakariki, which is most commonly used, means “small parrot”. Nesting yellow-crowned parakeets are very susceptible to predation by introduced mammals because they are hole-nesters and the chicks are very noisy prior to fledging. Extensive predator control programmes are benefiting yellow-crowned parakeet populations in areas of native forest throughout their natural range.
This curious individual was spotted in the Mt Maungatautari Reserve
The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) is classified as vulnerable, and is the largest of all Albatrosses, and one of the largest birds in the world.. Males can weigh up to 13 kg and stand above 1 meter tall. It is uncommon in New Zealand.
It has the largest wingspan of any living bird ranging from 2.50 m to 3.50 m, and some reports indicate that they can travel up to 1,000 km in 24 hours. The Wandering Albatrosses spend most of their life in the air, and land only to feed and breed. They can lock-in their wings and spend very little energy while airborne.
I saw several of this species on the water outside the Kaikoura peninsula, which is really a fantastic place to watch albatrosses! To see these huge majestic birds soaring in the air is one of those wonderful sights that you will not forget!
The Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) or Hoiho is a penguin endemic to New Zealand.
This species of penguin is classified as endangered, and with an estimated population of 3-4,000, it is considered one of the world’s rarest penguin species.
The Yellow-eyed Penguin generally forages 8–13 km offshore, and traveling on average around 17 km away from the nesting site. Birds normally leave the colony at dawn and return the same evening during chick rearing, although may spend a couple of days at sea at other times. Average depth dived is 30+ m .
Sadly another mass mortality has occurred over the past 12 months, when 60 adult yellow-eyed penguins have succumbed and died around the Otago Peninsula, according to Prof. Phil Seddon from the local university. Similar events have happened in the past, but the exact cause is still unknown. During my visit at Stewart Island I also came across one dead yellow-eyed penguin on the beach. Department of Conservation is working hard to solve this mystery according to newspaper reports.
Most Antarctic penguin species nest in large high density colonies of birds, however, in contrast, the yellow-eyed penguins are not social birds, and they do not nest within visual sight of each other.
I took this image on the Otago Peninsula, where the species can be easily seen.
The New Zealand KEA (Nestor notabilis) is an endemic parrot of the South Island’s high country, and the only Alpine parrot in the world. Although keas are seen in reasonable numbers throughout the South Island, the size of the wild population is unknown – but is estimated at only 1,000 to 5,000 birds by the Department of Conservation, and it is nationally classified as endangered.
I saw this young individual at Arthurs’ Pass, where is it comparatively easy to see.
To survive in the harsh alpine environment the kea have become inquisitive and nomadic social birds – characteristics which help kea to find and utilise new food sources, such as camp sites, which it is know to steal food. It is one of the most intelligent birds in the world, and very interesting to watch!
The Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) is successfully breading in New Zealand and numbers are increasing as colonies have been strictly controlled by Department of Conservation.
I had the opportunity to visit Cape Kidnappers having one of the biggest mainland colonies of gannets in the world. Amazing spectacle with birds coming and going all the time and chicks of all ages. At Cape Kidnappers the gannets return yearly in late July, eggs are laid in late September to December, and chicks leave the nest from early February.
A privilege to watch these beautiful birds on a glorious late summer morning with a fantastic blue sea and blue sky!
End of part one