UA-31290512-1

Saturday, May 7, 2016

NZ's Extraordinary Birds

Pukeko with attitude, Whangaruru,
Northland, New Zealand.
Penguins, parrots, fantails, tuis, pukekos, oystercatchers, wekas and of course kiwis are just a few of New Zealand's unique and fabulous feathered inhabitants.  New Zealand's isolation, temperate climate, and lack of native mammal predators created the perfect petrie dish for exotic birds.

Months before arriving in New Zealand, back in American Samoa, we were primed to seek out the country's almost freakish feathery natives after watching BBC's South Pacific Series, a much appreciated gift from Drew and Shelly of Firefly.






Stoat trap, Moturua, Bay of Islands,
New Zealand.
Not long after our arrival, we began cruising New Zealand's legendary Bay of Islands, hiking the island trails.  

"What are those little boxes?" we wondered, noting they were set up for some kind of small animal entry, but, much like entering a Las Vegas casino, getting out was another story.  Then we noticed the "Project Island Song" signs and surmised we were looking at a stoat trap.  The Project Island Song website reports "In winter 2009, DOC (Department of Conservation) eradicated all rats, mice, and stoats from the islands of the eastern Bay” (Bay of Islands).



Songbird sign, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when the small interpretive center at Urupukapuka gave more info about the weasely stoat. A glass display case sported a stuffed stoat, teeth bared in all its predatory evil.

Stoat at the interpretive center at Urupukapuka,
Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Stressed-out oystercatcher on Motuarohia (Roberton)
island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
By this time, we'd seen and heard a good cross-section of New Zealand's birds, including blue penguins, kingfishers, pukekos, paradise ducks, shags, tuis, oyster catchers, wekas, dotterels....  

We were surprised to discover dotterels and oystercatchers nesting on well-trod beaches.  The dotterels tended to feign injury and sacrificially lead encroachers away from their nest.  Pot-bellied, long-legged oystercatchers, with their beady, comically close-set, cross-eyed-looking little red eyes, became visibly distressed, shouting pitiful warning cries at nearcomers.


Paradise ducks on Urupukapuka, Bay of Islands,
New Zealand.
As we traveled further afield, we also came across falcons, pigeons, parrots (keas and kakas), even saved a panicked fantail that accidentally trapped itself inside a clubhouse by capturing it in towel and releasing it outside.

The only kaka I was able to photograph,
though really I did see them in the wild, including
in Whangarei.
Later, we were tickled by the fantail that followed for quite a while us on our Whangaruru hike, nearly landing on us.

The next day, at Whangamumu, a welcome robin entertained us, twittering gaily away on our boat’s lines.

Welcome robin, living up to its name aboard
Journey in Whangamumu, New Zealand.
    
One of the best parts about camping in New Zealand, was waking up to the
 rich audio tapestry of bird song, and while I never spotted the morepork (owls) I often heard them, and was enchanted by their cry.  Tuis, on the other hand, were even far easier to spot, more chatty, with incredible vocal variety -- tuis were my favorite bird to listen to.

We never did see the near-extinct nocturnal kiwi or visit to the isolated islands where the also nocturnal and flightless and even rarer kakapo survives.  Nor did we spot the rare and also flightless takahe, similarly colored to the more common, equally exotic-looking red-beaked, cobalt-splashed pukeko, which we saw repeatedly.

Gone forever long before are New Zealand’s almost monstrously large moas*, which made ostriches seem hummingbird sized, comparatively. According to BirdLife International, “New Zealand has lost more than 8 percent of the birds that were alive as of 1500, with roughly a third of the surviving species now classified as imperiled.”

*If you visit Auckland, be sure to check out the life-sized Moa replication in the Auckland War Museum.

Still, we’re impressed.

Close up of the egg “bait”
inside a stoat trap, Bay of Islands,
New Zealand.

Conservationist t-shirt worn
by tourist at Huka Falls,
New Zealand.
Granted, with stoat, rat and possum poisoning and trapping, aerial spraying along with other native plant protection, conservation activities sometimes take some strange and controversial forms.

"New Zealand conservation is comprised of chop it, spray it, trap it, kill it" wryly opined Kate, a New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) surveyor we met.

Possums in particular are known for devouring mass quantities of the best of New Zealand’s aviary food canopies.  Rumor has it these long rat-tailed marsupial imports numbers equal New Zealand’s sheep population -- 30 million! Fortunately, possum fur apparently enhances merino wool products and makes some might tasty albeit foul-smelling dog food.






Nesting shag on Urupukapuka.  They seem to be very
communal birds, with large colonies clustering in
the large trees at the water’s edge.

We applaud New Zealand’s efforts to protect their feathered treasures.  On my when-we-return-to-New Zealand-someday-list-to-see includes sighting kiwis and penguins ashore in the wild.  I’m betting when that time comes, they will be there in force!

I confess I did purchase a little toy stuffed kiwi to hear its voice.  With wifi access, will listen to these DoC recordings when I feel homesick for the rest of New Zealand’s wild chorus.



Typical stretch of New Zealand pastureland.  This
Northland spot is between Marsden Cove and Tutukaka.
Location Location
We're still in New Zealand, waiting for a better weather window to our first major stop - Fiji. At the moment we're anchored just off Russell (S35.16.355 E174.07.423), about a mile from Opua, tomorrow we'll move to just off Opua.  The next viable weather window currently appears to be between May 12th and May 15th. Once we check out of Opua, Bay of Islands - where we first arrived in New Zealand in November) and set sail, it will take us nearly two weeks to get to Fiji.  At 1170 nm, Fiji will be our 2nd longest ever passage.   

Gulls, neither rare nor unique to New Zealand.  This
one's atop our dinghy outboard motor.
Sailing by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles.  This year, from Fiji, we’ll go to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia.  After we arrive in Australia in around November, completing another 4,500 or so miles this cruising season, we plan to sell our boat.  Then, it's back to work, somewhere.