When Matthew and I walked in the Fiordland National Park, all seemed quite perfect . It was so quiet, so still. We had found ourselves in a primeval and pristine paradise at the southern end of the world. Hadn’t we…nothing was amiss?
The error was in the silence itself. We knew that it shouldn’t be so quiet. Prior to European settlement New Zealand forests had hosted symphonies of bird song and riots of chatter. In the past couple of hundred years the music has been hushed by rats and stoats. Can you believe it – the first rats were escapees from Captain Cook’s ship!? Later, stoats were introduced to correct the problem of plagues of rabbits (also introduced). And don’t forget cats, brought over to eat the (introduced) mice, and also to be our friends. Oh dear, what a mess we have made of it.
Matt and I heard bird songs of course but in between individual songs there were very long pauses of silence. A few birds came down to check us out as we walked in the forests. Those we saw were quite bold and inquisitive…none more so than the South Island tomtits.
Often birds were just too fast for me to get photos. The bellbirds were like that. We saw them and heard their exquisite songs but I couldn’t get one to sit still enough or near enough to photograph it. Same with the fantails; too gregarious, too busy to pause for me.
New Zealand conservationists are doing what they can to help the birds. They continually set traps and poisons for rats, stoats and cats. They take the most endangered bird populations to offshore islands where there are no predators. What a difficult problem though and can it ever be solved?
There were huge populations of kea in the past but they developed a taste for mutton (sheep). High country sheep farmers did their best to wipe kea out as they didn’t want them killing their livestock. As well as clearing the forests for pasture they actually had bounties out … ie paying people to shoot, trap and poison as many kea as possible. Though kea are now protected, our walking guide at Milford Sound told us that right now numbers are dropping…again. A theory is that they may be eating poison pellets which have been put down to kill rats. Sigh! And so it goes…possible solutions to environmental problems causing still more problems.
I haven’t mentioned possums yet. They were introduced in 1837 from Australia to create a fur trade. After all, possums are no problem in Australia where they have natural predators and such things as bush fires to control their population. But in New Zealand they have no predators and plenty of trees. They continue to wreak havoc as they eat their way through New Zealand flora.
At Mount Cook we saw a most excellent documentary called “Primeval New Zealand” about how New Zealand was formed and how the birds got there. It was so good that I bought the dvd but I see that you can watch the whole thing for free on your computer. Here is the link. It is 44 minutes long. Thank you “New Zealand On Air”! Everything we think of as quintessentially New Zealand comes from Australia according to the theory of the documentary – kea, moa (extinct flightless bird), even the KIWI!
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