I had to make a quick trip to New Zealand to visit family earlier this month. Not much birding scheduled but I did manage a few trips to some protected areas to see a few native birds. Most of New Zealand's native birds were wiped out due to introduced mammalian predators and most of the ones that aren't extinct can only be seen in a few predator islands and reserves with predator proof fences, traps and poison bait stations.
- Tawharanui (pronounced Tah-fahrah-noo-ee) up near Matakana. This is a recently predator-free park that is having native species reintroduced.
- Tiritiri Matangi which is an offshore predator-free island reserve off of Auckland
- Zealandia in Wellington which is sort of a Ecopark with a large protected fenced valley with native species still present (or reintroduced)
One species you can see everywhere in NZ is the Tui. This is a big weird Honeyeater with strange feathery tufts on its neck -
Tui's have amazing voices, are great mimics and are known for having regional dialects
NZ has a few introduced Australian species as well. The Australian Magpie is common in agricultural areas, although this one was at Tiritiri Matangi -
Another introduced OZ species is the Brown Quail. NZ did have a native quail but is extinct and so only the Australian Brown Quail (and California Quail) are left. The CA Quail are everywhere, but the Brown Quail are generally found in protected areas -
One of the main problems NZ birds face is that they evolved in an environment with no mammalian predators so they are incredibly approachable. This New Zealand Pipit literally walked right up to my while I was sitting on the step of a building.
But to me, the NZ bird that exemplifies this type of dangerous oblivion to possible predation is the North Island Robin. New Zealand has several of these little Robin species and they are only found where predators have been eliminated or never existed. They are stupidly curious and will hop right up to you. You have to be careful not to step on them some places and the hardest thing about photographing them is keeping them far enough away from your lens!
The forests of New Zealand must have once sounded amazing with all the weird and loud calls the local birds make but there aren't many places you can hear a NZ dawn chorus anymore. One of the main contributors is the drab but curious little New Zealand Bellbird. The sounds of these songsters ring through the forests of some protected areas making you almost be able to imagine what the country must have sounded like a few hundred years ago.
While Bellbirds are found throughout New Zealand and have been reestablishing themselves where predation has been able to be controlled, the Stitchbird is only just making a comeback and then only in a few places where it is predator free. It is a beautiful little bird and at Tiritiri Matangi it is doing quite well. There are sugar water feeding stations in the park that attract them making them easy to see -
To give an idea of the sounds of these birds, I placed my recorder on top of one of the feeder stations and stood back while the bellbirds and stitchbirds fed noisily. The warbling muscial calls are the Bellbirds. The Stitchbird's call is a metallic nasal "Heee" call, from which they get their Maori name "Hihi". You can hear a few do their "Hihi" call in this recording.
Another bird that is trying to make a comeback is the North Island Kokako, a large crow-sized plant eater with strange blue wattles around its mouth. These birds are doing fairly well at places like Tiritiri and even some unprotected areas have them. The South Island species is extinct.
New Zealand also has few native parrots. The Red-crowned Parakeet is getting reestablished in some predator free zones. We saw them at Tawharanui and Tiritiri Matangi. This species is not nearly as confiding as some of the other NZ species -
New Zealand is also the home of the largest rallid bird in the world - the Takahe. Actually the Takahe was believed to be extinct at the end of the 1800s due to hunting but a small population was found on a farm in the South Island in the 1950s and is now being carefully monitored and some birds are being relocated to protected areas. The North Island Takahe is extinct, but in some areas of the North Island a few South Island birds have been reintroduced to try and create new viable populations. Tiritiri Matangi has had them for several years and Tawharanui just got some this year. Although they look a bit like a gallinule, these are massive flightless birds. They are about the size of the NA Sage Grouse but weigh twice as much or if you prefer, it is 3 times the size of a North American Purple Gallinule and weighs nearly 10x as much!
Their feet and beaks are massive -
This bird at Tawharanui is wearing a radio transmitter so they can track it while it settles in to its new home. You can see the antenna on its back -
New Zealand, of course, is surrounded by the sea so many of its birds are marine or at least coastal.
There are several species of Cormorants or Shags in NZ. This is the Little Black Cormorant -
and a nesting Pied Cormorant -
and because it is surrounded by cold, deep, productive waters it is a great place for pelagic birds. I didn't get offshore this trip, but even the ferry ride to Tiritiri Matangi produces pelagic species in New Zealand. The Fluttering Shearwater, while it is a "pelagic" bird, can often be seen from shore with a pair of binoculars. We were passed by streams of hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters on the ferry ride out to Tiritiri Matangi -
.....of course, this is the field herp forum so I might throw in a few herp shots. I was there in winter so didn't get to do any herping.
Zealandia has a few displays showing some native herps in cages. This is the Wellington Green Gecko (Naultinus elegans punctatus) -
and of course, the poster child for NZ herps, the Tuatara. Here's some cb babies from Zealandia -
but of course, those are captive animals and don't count. I did try to look for them while at Tiritiri Matangi but the rangers said the chances of seeing one out on a winter day is pretty slim (they are nocturnal). She was right, I didn't see any. You can spend the night on Tiritiri and see them that way, but we weren't set up for that this trip.
In Zealandia, they advertise that you can see "wild" Tuatara. I'm not sure how "wild" they are since they are in a large fenced hillside within the reserve. There is a long railing with numbers that you can walk along looking into this fenced area. When people spot a tuatara out, the mark it on the sign ("seen at 9:30am at marker 135" for example). To make it even easier, there is a strip of metal flashing on the fence and docents walk along periodically and put a magnetic Tuatara sign along the fence where one has come out of its burrow. Not really a "wild" sighting, but they aren't caged and it is the only practical way to see a Tuatara in NZ without staying the night at Tiritiri Matangi or getting permit to access one of the islands where one of the real free-living, non-introduced populations exists (not easy to do for a tourist).
Here's one of the individuals we saw out basking on this sunny winter day (temps in the upper 50s) -
So not too much birding this trip. If you want to see some birds from my other trips down there, try reading these posts -
All things winged, in the field or your own private aviary.
Moderator: Scott Waters
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