Kapiti Island is a rugged lifeboat for endangered birds

Heading for Kapiti
Heading for Kapiti

Kāpiti Island’s 1965 hectares has been a rugged lifeboat for New Zealand’s endangered birds for over 100 years.

The local tangata whenua (Māori for ‘people of the land’) kept 13 hectares around Waiorua Bay and I spent a night at the lodge that is on the top, north-eastern, of the island.

The owner-operators of Kapiti Nature Tours are the whanau (family) – John and Susan Barrett, and John’s sister Amo Clark – who live there. John and Amo’s iwi (tribe) and whanau (family) have lived on Kapiti Island since the 1820s.

Kapiti Nature Lodge is the only accommodation on Kapiti Island and was inspired by the homestead of John and Amo’s grandmother who opened her farm homestead to visitors. It was a family member, and nature guide, Maanaki, who met us when we landed at Rangatira, about 2 kilometres south of our final destination, Waiorua Bay, for the nocturnal kiwi walk and our bed for the night.

web Maanaki IMG_5614

One of the first birds he introduces to us was the beautiful Tieke (north island saddleback). Its glossy black, has a tan saddle and long red wattles at the base of its black bill. Its birds such as this, he tells us, that they work closely with the Department on Conservation to nurture and protect.

The very vocal tieke
The very vocal tieke

Other species that need the safety this predator free environment provides include the Little Spotted KiwiTakaheKākāWekaKereru, Kokako, Hihi, and  Toutouwai (Robin).

Amo tells me living and working on one of New Zealand’s most precious Taonga (treasures) is wonderful. “Nature belongs to everyone, and sharing our knowledge is all part of our hospitality.”

Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi, making it one of the densest populations of Kiwi to be found and, “one of the easiest places to see them in the wild” we are told.

My next blog will be about our kiwi spotting tour and accommodation on this unique island.

See an earlier blog which sets the scene for this trip to Kāpiti.

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New Zealand’s national bird cannot fly

Did you know New Zealand’s national bird cannot fly?

Endemic to these South Pacific Islands the kiwi is unique among birds; no tail, the mere trace of wings and nostrils near the tip of its long flexible beak. Add nocturnal behaviour, whiskers, poor eyesight and hairlike feathers – it is not surprising that visitors to these south pacific islands are amused to find New Zealanders calling themselves Kiwi. (especially Americans  and others who call our kiwifruit – ‘kiwi’ – the correct name is kiwifruit!)kiwifruit

Ratite’s, the family to which the kiwi belongs, evolved on Gondwanaland. This southern super continent ( Jurassic period, 150 million years ago) split into what eventually became South America, Africa, Antarctica, Madagascar, India, Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand finally separated 85 million years and the flightless birds developed.

As well as the kiwi New Zealand has other flightless birds, all of which are in danger of extinction.

Apart from two bats, New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals until Māori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat).  Pakeha (European settlers) arrive some eight hundred years later and brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals.

Before that, with no predators, it seems the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.

Introduced animals have devastated these birds and their habitat since their introduction.

KIWI

Despite being raised to virtual icon status in its home country, the kiwi is a strange bird. Both male and female will fiercely defend their territory against other kiwi. They live in burrows and rotate the use of them to make sure of a wide territorial presence. Kiwi feed mainly on earthworms and a variety of invertebrates such as slugs snails spiders and insects and occasionally have been seen wading in streams for larger prey such as frogs and freshwater crayfish. (koura)

Size varies according to the species, ranging from the little spotted kiwi weighing in at a mere 1150 grams to the great spotted kiwi which is twice that size. Females are usually the larger of the pair by as much as a kilo.

Kiwi at Wellington Zoo
Kiwi at Wellington Zoo

Mating for life the female lays a huge egg, about 20% of her body weight, then promptly leaves it for the male to incubate over the next eighty days. After three weeks this baby bird, a miniature of its parents, leaves the safety of the burrow to fend for itself. The small chick is extremely vulnerable to introduced animals and during its’ first year their mortality rate is high despite strong legs and razor-sharp claws for defence.

Kiwi have shown amazing resilience in the face of habitat destruction by logging, pasture development and trees destroyed by possum as well as predation by stoats, dogs and other introduced animals.  We human kiwi are hopeful that we can save the mainland populations of their namesake.   We want our bush will continue to hear the hedgehog-like snuffling as they search for food and the hoarse guttural sounds of the female as she calls to her mate.

Some fact about NZ birds

We have:

100 endemic (New Zealand only) birds

83 native birds we share with other counties

139 migrants who have found their way here, and

43 introduced birds – such as swans, starlings, sparrows, geese as examples

See more in Birds of New Zealand (Colins Traveller’s Guide)  by Julian Fitter and Don Merton ( Haper Colins) ISBN 978 1 86950 851 7

 

 

watch carefully for kiwi - especially at night
watch carefully for kiwi – especially at night

Zealandia EcoSanctuary Wellington New Zealand

Just a few of the native birds I saw at Zealandia this morning. Free bus from downtown for visitors

 

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Otago Peninsula: ‘finest example of eco-tourism’

Dunedin, New Zealand: setting the scene for a series of blogs about attractions in the area including ‘the peninsula’, the ‘ finest example of eco-tourism.’

dunedin rainbow IMG_20140123_163041

Otago Peninsula was a volcano some 10 or 13 million years ago – give or take a week or two.

65 thousand years ago it became an island when sea levels rose and, more recently, now a  peninsula, Captain Cook and the hardy self-sufficient pioneers fought battles along  the notorious 2000 kilometres coastline which is now scattered with shipwrecks.

With an annual rainfall of 700/800 millimetres and mists that roll in from the sea it now has 5% of the area covered in bush: mainly broadleaf trees and kanaka.

  • Neville Peat a local nature writer based in Broad Bay says the area is a ‘kind of supermarket for marine life, souped up by currents and adjacent deep-water canyons. The accolades continue.
  • Botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy said the peninsula is ‘the finest example of ecotourism in the world’   while Mark Carwardine,  zoologist and outspoken conservationist, writer, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer, columnist,  best-selling author, a wildlife tour operator calls New Zealand a “wildlife hotspot”.

He says it’s one of the best places in the world to see great wildlife and recently he was on a whirlwind tour, searching for our equivalent to Africa’s ‘big five’, the New Zealand ‘small five’ endangered species: hector’s dolphinkeakiwituatarayellow-eyed penguin .. all found on or around this amazing outcrop of land.

This area is not just a day trip from Dunedin but a place to base yourself – a destination in its own right.

So watch this space (make it easy by signing up for email updates on the top right-hand corner of this page) for stories about albatross, penguins, castle,  boat trips, fur seals, settlers museum, bus stops, birds, gardens, fabulous cottage accommodation, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui ecosanctuary and more!

The New Zealand rental car company I used in Dunedin  was the  New Zealand Rent A Car  (branches all over NZ)

NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the sables
NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the Stables, Larnach Castle

 

Another new book for nature lovers – all homes should have a copy

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE                       by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris

Here is another new book for nature lovers and with many oddities in New Zealand’s fauna all kiwi homes should have a copy.

  • Did you know there are no island groups anywhere in the world comparable to New Zealand in size, latitude, climate and isolation.
  • And, of the world’s total land area, only about 0.17 per cent lies under the New Zealand flag, but about one per cent of all known land animals in the world live within our borders.
  • This is made up of around 10,000 species of insects, 2000 spiders, nearly 300 snails, and perhaps a further couple of thousand of all other groups combined.

This book is a completely updated edition and an extensive guide to well over 400 species of New Zealand fauna, including both native and  introduced species.

Each entry succinctly describes both habits and habitats, distribution, classification, breeding patterns, food and recognition tips to aid amateurs – like me – with identifying a creature.  It also includes the latest research findings and changes in classification and nomenclature that have occurred in the past 10 years, along with many new photographs.

It seems to me, far too few people — New Zealanders and ‘foreigners’ alike — are aware of just how extraordinary New Zealand wildlife is. For any animal enthusiast with a global perspective, it’s right up there on the billboard with its name in lights along with Hawaii, the Galapagos and Madagascar.” says Terrence Lindsay (Zoologist and ornithologist) 

Rod Morris’s stunning photographic work has also received widespread international acclaim. Previously a producer with Wild South, he is now a freelance natural history photographer.

I know I will spend a lot of time with this book and am sure you will too – all NZ homes need a copy of this!

(See  this post – in this blog – for a new travellers guide  for NZ birds too)

top travel tips for visitors to New Zealand

My top travellers tips for visitors to New Zealand are very simple: all the usual safety travel tips apply here as elsewhere in the world. my tips are more prosaic, more ordinary, and New Zealand centred.

  • Firstly we’re a long skinny country at the bottom of the world,  surrounded by a huge ocean – that means the weather can AND WILL change often. Carry rain gear, and warm clothes, with you except mid summer. You have been warned!
  • Many of our traffic lights for pedestrians NO NOT activate unless you push the button .. a hint.. if the red man is glowing you don’t need to push it .. it has been activated by someone else or is automatic.
  • If someone stops to offer help if you look lost, or confused, we are not selling something, we really do want to offer help or information – FREE – no hidden agendas!
  • It will take longer than you think to get from A to B on our roads … we have very few motorways.  Remember we only have a population of 4 and half million in a land similar in size to the UK or Japan

More tips will follow – but in the meantime here are three of our national treasures.

Te Wao Nui, Auckland Zoos’ latest development

Te Wao Nui,  Auckland Zoos’ latest development opens in one month (Sunday, 11 Sept. 2011) and, one of the benefits of being a travel writer is you can get off the beaten track – or in this case, behind the fenced off area! With my ‘high-vis’ jacket on, I’m taken on a mini tour of the area by Jane Healy who is enthusiastic about the project.   

“Much of the work the zoo has done with native species has taken place behind the scenes. The Archey’s frog, for instance was housed off-display. Now, with Te Wao Nui, people will be able to see them and many more New Zealand native species” she tells me.

Covering one fifth of the Zoo, the area gives locals and tourists a unique experience of New Zealand with over 100 New Zealand native plant species and around 60 different animal species through six habitats’

I cross over the Old Stone Bridge and can see most of the area which is very close to completion and have the birds move in and settle before the public come to see them.   Here is a little of what is saw … in no particular order!

Jane tries to duck from the camera as we enter one of the areas of Te Wao Nui

The Islands area has a large Kauri Dam (originally a working one that has been moved here) and a large aviary where Tuatara, the Campbell Island Teal and Antipodes Island Parakeet, skink and geckos will live.

Wetlands has a large walk-through aviary, backed by a high mock-rock wall,  will hold: native eels, Kotuku, Pied Stilt, Kingfisher, Ducks  such as Shovellers,  Scaup, Grey Teal, and one of my favourites, the Paradise Shelducks.

The Night Forest is a large shed and will house the North Island Brown Kiwi, Ruru, and Short-tailed Bats. Its great people will be able to see these natives up-close, in the middle of our largest city.

On an island like New Zealand, the Coast is highly important. In this area of the zoo, Sea Lion and Fur Seals will be on show, while in the refurbished shore-bird aviary, Little Blue Penguins, White-faced Heron and Spotted Shags will be resident.

The Forest is the old walk through aviary (upgraded and re-fenced) which I well remember as that is where I first saw the beautiful black and tan saddleback (tieke). Evidently, Kokako, Kakariki, Brown Teal and kereru will be just some of our wonderful birds that will live in there.

Waiting for the whio!

As a Cantabrian, I was of course interested in The High Country. This will house the cheeky, and intelligent Kea, and the Blue Duck (Whio) – in its fast flowing ‘mountain stream’. The Whio is a unique and threatened species of waterfowl endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of its genus and has no close relative anywhere in the world. Curious weka will also be here: a children’s playground is sited here too – a great place for parents to sit and chat while kids burn off some energy and natural surroundings.

I look forward to returning to the zoo to see the birds (and others) in their new, reproduced ‘normal’ native habitat. Te Wao Nui will be an asset to Auckland Zoo with its current and future conservation efforts on behalf of New Zealand’s native species.

new zealand birds

Black-backed gull on Matu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour
Black-backed gull on Matu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour

I have just posted  a blog about New Zealand birds .

Listen to them, just as I do every morning  on Radio New Zealnd National ( 7am & 9am)

You dont have to be a twitcher to enjoy the sounds of them .

watch out for our nocturnal, flightless kiwi
watch out for our nocturnal, flightless kiwi