Tiritiri Matangi, New Zealand

Over the years I have been able to see most of New Zealand’s remaining native wildlife; that really means bird life. New Zealand has no native mammals to speak of – a couple small populations of tiny bats were the only land mammals on these remote Pacific islands. It was all birds, a remnant reptile, and some invertebrates. The plants were mostly wind pollinated and the birds were often flightless. Even the resident falcon, usually known as a bird of the wing and remote cliffs, nested on the ground (and still does). The oceans around the Islands are rich in sea birds. There are albatrosses, petrels, storm-petrels, shearwaters, fulmar, prions, and diving-petrels. Any trip to New Zealand for birds should focus on coastal visits and boat trips.

Sadly much of the native wildlife (and plant life as well) has disappeared from these islands. First the Maori arrived in about 1350 and proceeded to develop a taste for the array of large flightless Moa (birds), and they incidentally and probably accidentally brought a Polynesian rat (Kiore) with them. Perhaps the rat was eaten as well, but the rats soon discovered that the birds were quite tasty and that their even tastier eggs were just laying about on the ground. Then the colonials arrived with agriculture, cats, sheep, goats, dogs, and other trappings of Europe. The woods soon lost their birds and bird song. The new residents released brush-tailed opossums, stoats, weasels, and an array of birds best seen in Kew Gardens in London. The islands were changed.

Modern New Zealanders have spent a great deal of currency to re-establish some of the wildlife that Lieutenant Cook and Joseph Banks wrote about when they first arrived in the area. The kiwi, stitchbirds, tui, red-fronted parakeet, and kokako are all now being favored on island sanctuaries like Ulva (south of Stewart Island which is south of South Island) and Tiritiri Matangi an hour or so north of Auckland by a dedicated ferry. The DOC (Department of Conservation) cleans the islands of the pest (alien and invasive) species and then creates vegetated habitat and finally introduces native threatened animals. Cats are usually the worst predator. They kill and eat just about everything they can catch. But now the Brush-tailed Opossum is the most wide spread alien species. It is a rather nice looking Australian animal brought in for a fur trade. They escape, they breed, and they eat plants and animals in large quantities.

Well, anyway there are some very cool birds out on Tiri and I offer a few images below. The woods are thick, the light is dappled, and the birds move… a lot; so the pictures are a bit varied in quality but they’ll have to do. I offer captions for each of the twelve images.

 The harbors in both New Zealand and Australia cater to the folks in the area. The cities have subways and buses but they have great water taxis and ferries as well. These options are usually located in a lovely harbor full of history, charm, and places to eat. Auckland is one of the good ones. There is a Tiritiri Matangi ferry that leaves downtown daily at a sensible morning hour and gets you to the island for a five hour stay and returns you for supper. This is a view from the deck as we pull out.
One of the first things you notice about the deeply southern hemisphere places is that ducks, shorebirds and gulls are pretty thinly represented. Most shorebirds are migrants from Siberia and other northern climes and some even fly from Alaska. However there are a few that are resident and rather common and here is the black phase of the Variable Oystercatcher. There is an adult in the foreground and a youngster in the back.
The European-heritage birders in both Australia and New Zealand have honored their country’s first residents by using traditional Aboriginal or Maori names for plants, animals, and geographical sites. In New Zealand this big rail is called Pukeko. World-wide it is better known as Porphyrio porphyrio or the Purple Swamphen. It is one population of a complex of kin that range from west and southern Africa through India and southeast Asia down through the myriad of islands into Australia and then on to New Zealand. There are at least 13 populations that are identifiable by size and feather pattern. In New Zealand it has become quite a tame resident of pastures (paddocks) and golf courses.
Once into the woods of Titri the less common native birds start to appear. One of these is the tiny New Zealand Robin. It is  represented by several populations through the region and the one shown above is the North Island race. This is a perky, upright, curious little guy that is a treat to watch. However perky, upright and curious are not traits that prolonged life once predators arrived in New Zealand. This bird is still found in areas of native vegetation but is safest and more prolific on islands and sanctuaries that have been cleaned of cats, weasels, and opossums.
The Whitehead is aptly named. I use this image because it shows a somewhat typical exposure of an energetic and active bird. This bird travels in flocks and they are all constantly in motion. I do have a few sharp images but most are much blurrier that this one. This species is always moving, hopping, and chattering, and usually rather high in the forest. They do exist in native and non-native forests but seem to do best on predator-free islands.
The Bellbird is another that exists outside of sanctuaries as long as there is a good deal of shelter. They can be found in most of the North and South Islands, especially the wooded regions. it is often heard and has a nice clear rich tone. 
As I was leaving Tiri headed downhill to the boat ramp I stopped at a water pan along the trail – and in came a North Island Kokako. I quickly snapped off a couple images without taking time to make the settings exact and this is what I got. I never did get the setting right as the battery went dead just after this image. The Saddleback and the Kokako are two of the wattlebirds that now live on Tiri. I may put a Saddleback in the next blog. The wattles on the Kokako are the patches that look like blue silly-putty just lower than the base of the bill. 
Australia has dozens of parrots, New Zealand not so much. New Zealand has four introduced Australian parrots, three rare big green parrots generally seen in remote mountain areas, and three parakeets that are considered to be native. (As an aside it should be remembered that all creatures on these islands probably came from somewhere else. New Zealand was likely submerged and then raised (rebounded) rather recently.) This bird is only common on Stewart Island and the sanctuary islands and remains rather shy and easily spooked.
One of the great recovery projects has centered around the Hihi or Stitchbird. They now exist only on predator-free islands and have served as one of the stimuli for creating places like Tiritiri. It is a splashy bird. It has color, motion, and erectile feathers. It is the hardest to photograph also. As you can see here, and in many of the images, the rare birds are banded. They are all being studied for productivity and population success. The researchers can trace heritage back several generations by noting the color and arrangement of the leg bands.
This big clunker is the flightless Takahe. They are almost extinct in the wild and the few places they are assumed to live are reachable only by helicopter. They were rediscovered about fifty years ago by a man who noticed droppings and deduced the existence of the bird. They are now on predator-free islands in reasonable numbers. They were rediscovered in the mountains west of Te Anau where they lived in high areas of tussock grass.  
The Brown Teal is a rare endemic bird also. It is not common on Tiri but there are usually a few around if there is water. The ducks of the south are now threatened by the genetically promiscuous Mallard. The Mallard is now found in both Australia and New Zealand and has little fidelity to its own kind. Hybrids of all sorts will appear and some of the rarer ducks are at risk of being genetically swamped.
The last bird to be shown from Tiritiri Matangi is the Tui. This glossy blue and black bird has odd little (or cute little) white feather tufts under the chin. The white tufts are called poi by the Maori and are represented in Maori culture by the white puffballs on a string used by the Maori women in many of their dances. This is a rather common bird on the protected lands and can still be seen through all of the North Island and most of the South Island; though not so much in the Christchurch environs which are all given over to non-native vegetation and agriculture. 

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