Send in the Birds

A weka on the Milford Track.

A weka on the Milford Track.

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?

Is this a female South Island Tomtit?  I am hoping that a kind reader will identify this bird for me.  Seen on the Milford Track.

A female South Island tomtit on the Milford Track.

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.

A male South Island Tomtit on the Milford Track.

A male South Island tomtit on the Milford Track.

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.

Another South Island Tomtit at Borland Saddle (south of Lake Manapouri).

Another South Island tomtit at Borland Saddle (south of Lake Manapouri).

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.

I need help identifying this bird too.  Again, I wonder if it is a female Tomtit?

Female tomtit at Borland Saddle.

This New Zealand Robin seemed very interested in us.  He flew into a tree and scrutinized us.  It was Matthew who realised that a huge worm was on the ground near us and it was this that the robin wanted.  He was trying to figure if he could get to it despite us.  We carefully stepped backwards and the robin took his worm.

This New Zealand robin seemed very interested in us. He flew into a tree and scrutinized us. It was Matthew who realised that a huge worm was on the ground near us and it was this that the robin wanted. He was trying to figure if he could get to it despite us. We carefully stepped backwards and the robin took his worm.

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?

Keas are alpine parrots.  I photographed a few who visited the accommodation area known as Borland Lodge where we stayed.

Kea are alpine parrots. I photographed a few who visited the accommodation area known as Borland Lodge where we stayed.

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.

Keas will have a go at eating ANYTHING.  They are especially known for attacking interesting textures on cars.  Here one tests its beak on an old chimney.

Kea will have a go at eating ANYTHING. They are especially known for attacking interesting textures on cars. Here one tests its beak on an old chimney.

You may think that keas look most drab.

You may think that kea look  drab….but…

...they keep their parroty extrovert colour for underneath their wings.

…they keep their parroty extrovert colour for underneath their wings.

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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About juliepodstolski

I am a realist artist who works in coloured pencils.
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2 Responses to Send in the Birds

  1. Those are fantastic photos Julie, you must be both quick and quiet to get so many good ones. I especially like the two kea on the rooftop. It is an eternal circle isn’t it, of introduced species and tactics to then eliminate them, as well as the elimination of ‘pest’ native creatures. It was done with such innocence by our forebears, they had no idea of the legacy they were leaving. All we can hope for is that awareness can be raised and whatever actions possible are taken.

    • Quick, quiet … and lucky, Anna. Also I have to keep my iso (speed) very high – so that I have heaps of light sensitivity and therefore don’t get blur. Wasn’t quick enough to get the whole flying kea in my frame though.

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