New Zealand; endemic birds

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New Zealand was, and still is, a remote set of islands crunched, sunk, and elevated by eons of living on the edge. The islands are along the intersection of the Australian and Pacific plates; great slabs of the earth’s crust that form the western and southern edge of the “ring of fire”. I will do several pages on New Zealand over the next few months and comment on the sad condition of the native animals (birds) of these islands. It is a very lovely place but sadly the native wildlife that so enchanted James Cook and Joseph Banks has been greatly altered by man and beast. The arrival of Polynesians (eventually becoming the Maori) and Europeans marked the beginning of competition for New Zealand’s tame and ground-nesting wildlife. There were no mammals and no real predators prior to the arrival of humans.

I am heading to Tanzania tomorrow and wanted to post something before I left – there will be lots of further background and photo-stories on New Zealand but I do want to get something out tonight. excuse the hasty presentation.

From the Auckland docks you can take a dedicated ferry to Tiritiri Matangi one of many islands that DOC (Department of Conservation) has cleared of invasive mammals (and many invasive plants) and has introduced many native bird species. The bird in the center photo is a Tui. This is one of the few native birds that wasn’t wiped out by cats, rats, weasels, stoats, and brush-tailed possums. Though the bird is abundant on Tiri it is also rather common throughout the North and South Islands. The bird with the funny beak in the lower image is one of the wattle-birds; this is the Saddleback. This bird is not at all common on the big islands but is doing well on the cleared and managed smaller islands. Many of the birds (remember, no mammals) nested on the ground and were easy prey for weasels, cats, rats, and other mammals that arrived with humans.

The birds above are the Stitchbird (Hihi) and the Red-fronted Parakeet (Kakariki). The heavily banded legs display the family history much the way Maori tattoos do for the resident humans. These populations are precious and great care is made to follow their breeding and breeding success. The bands mean very specific things to a researcher; sometimes heritage, other times, fledging year, or even location of the nest site from which the bird fledged. Cats, rats, and stoats have really knocked the parakeet numbers down on the mainland and the island populations are the only stable groups in New Zealand.

These last two birds are quite special; the top one (the Takahe) is one of the rarest birds in the world. It was thought to be extinct until refound in the late 1940’s. There are less than 150m in the wild; all on the South Island.. However, on the remote and cleared islands they are doing rather well. The Takahe is the world’s largest rail.

The last image is one that was sent to me by a very pleasant lady and I use it because my pictures of the Kokako are nowhere near as good. This, like the Riflebird, is one of the wattle-birds. This great looking bird lives only in Kauri and Podocarp forests. The habitat brings tears to the eyes of a naturalist as it also is wonderful, rare, and threatened. To see a Kokako one had best visit Tiri as there are several pairs on the island and are seen almost every visit. When in Auckland be sure to take the ferry ride and get a look at New Zealand as it was three hundred years ago.

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