Monday, June 4, 2012

Tui Gallery

We were planning something a bit more adventurous for the bank holiday, but I was feeling a little under the weather so we decided instead just to go for a walk in the Botanic Gardens and see if we could spot (and hopefully photograph) some tuis. My attempts at tui photography in the past using the DMC-LS60 had not been an untrammelled success, so I thought I'd have a go with the new equipment.

We wandered around the park seeing the inevitable blackbirds and chaffinches:

A chaffinch (not a blackbird)

And we were just admiring some white-eyes when a tui came and landed on a branch right next to us. Naturally, he tried to get as much of the branch as possible between me and a good shot. The tuis in the Botanic Gardens are quite used to people, and didn't seem bothered as I tried to get a better angle.

Zealandia By Night

When we became members of Zealandia back in March of this year, one of the offers to new members was a free night tour. Zealandia run night tours daily - in fact they're more of an early-evening tour than night tour, as they start off in the daylight - so we booked a slot for Saturday night.

We turned up and joined our tour group. There were nine of us with one guide. First up, we went into the Visitor Centre, and watched some of the films and had a brief talk about the history of New Zealand...most of which we knew already, but always interesting to have a refresher. Then we set out into the park, just as dusk was coming on, and the last of the daytime visitors were hurrying home.

The main purpose of the night-time tour is to see kiwis. Being nocturnal, this is the only way to see them in a natural habitat - we had seen a couple last year in the aquarium at Napier, but it's not the same as seeing them in the wild.

Zealandia is a sanctuary for little spotted kiwis - a species that almost became extinct, but has since recovered with the help of Zealandia and other breeding programmes, to around 1,400 birds today. They are keenly studied by geneticists as the gene pool from which all remaining individuals are breed was so small.  Fortunately, our guide knew where to take us, as there was one particular individual who had made a habit of rising early and foraging on another kiwi's territory (kiwis are very territorial) before being chased off. We turned up there and were rewarded with the sight of this kiwi, happily rootling about in the undergrowth and not paying the blindest bit of notice to us. He was illuminated by our guide's red torch, red light being invisible to kiwis and a lot of other nocturnal fauna. We'd been similarly equipped with red torches of our own. I tried to take some pictures but obviously flash photography is a big no-no, and the red light wasn't strong enough to show anything.

We then toured around the rest of the park in the hope of spotting some more later-rising individuals, but with no luck. We came to the frog enclosure and saw a Maud Island frog, one of New Zealand's rare and unique amphibians - unlike other frogs around the world, they have no pouch and so cannot croak. They keep a few of them in a cage so that visitors are guaranteed to see some, but the majority of the frogs are free to roam around the park - and, presumably, take their chances with the rest of the local wildlife!

As we walked back, we hoped for a sight of another kiwi, and searched the undergrowth as much as we could with our torches, but it wasn't to be. Our guide told us that they generally have a success rate of around 75% of seeing kiwi, but occasionally you get lucky and can see half a dozen in one night. That wasn't us, though...maybe when we return another time.

As I've got no photos of a kiwi to show, here's a spider that we found on our deck on Sunday morning: