Takahē and Lake Orbell, Fiordland National Park

Lake Orbell in the Murchison Mountains has long been a restricted area. It is the home of the Takahē Recovery Program. Run by New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation.

Sure I have a personal interest in all things New Zealand native birds! But the re-discovery of takahē by Dr G. Orbell in 1948 has a link to my childhood. He must have retired to Oamaru from Invercargill in the 1950’s as he used to live next door to my grandparents.

As a little kid I remember him waving to me from a high up window, in his two story house in Reed Street. He always seemed a friendly sort. And by then was definitely famous. So I knew about the takahē from an early age.

Photo courtesy of a DOC interpretation board Te Anau

The Murchison Mountains is a restricted area in the Fiordland National Park. To get a permit would be difficult, as a member of the public.

I’d known this for years, but of course forbidden fruit always leaves room for hankering. It can manifest a sense of mystery. Then one day I discovered DOC in Te Anau run the occasional day trip.

And this is my story of such a day:

My son on the right, and an old and dear friend on the left get ready to embark on a Real Journeys boat.

The destination across Lake Te Anau takes about 30 mins. to reach. There is a wharf there used for the popular Glow Worm Caves trip.

The trip across reminded us of Dusky, Preservation and Doubtful Sounds to the west across the mountains.

After disembarking we are very soon on our way into some surprisingly rugged country. But the route is quite moderate, as far as such lines go in Fiordland.

The rock on the left is limestone. And as we’re traveling upward parallel to a creek called Tunnel Creek I realised it feeds into the glow worm cave system now below us.

Speleologists can get permission annually to explore 6 + km of caves.

There is predator trap at the bottom of the photo. To the left of the marker.

Taking a breather. The route is relentless. After about two and half hours we branched left off a broad ridge and down a steep descent to said creek.

Red beech is a predominant tree here abouts. And I saw a weka and a tom tit. Occasionally we heard bell birds and south island robins.

After the frustration of not getting a view, suddenly we knew we were close to the real sub alpine environment. So time for a very brief nibble and drink. And refill of drink bottles.

Next we were able to cross the stream dry-shod using some awkward, but thankfully short boulder hops. It took about 30 mins. to get to the nearby hut though. A series of frustrating wind-falls had to be overcome.

And suddenly there we were. The Takahē Heritage hut. And Lake Orbell to be seen on peeking around it’s corner, to the left.

A close up of Lake Orbell. With favoured takahē style habitat to the right.
Looking back at the historic hut
We did not see a takahē though. This was no surprise to me – 16,000 hectares of often boggy and difficult ground would take an age to search. However it’s pretty easy to get up close and personal with them at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary near Dunedin.

All too soon though – we had to depart to catch the boat back at 5 pm. However not before a welcome brew at the hut.

We had a bonus on the descent.

An older kea followed us down almost all the way. Occasionally on the ground, And when flying – his shadow was constantly zooming over us. Sometimes he’d land on the most wobbly tree branch available, and gyrate about. Perhaps showing off!

This is not the kea though. We had no time to develop a relationship for a modelling session. But this bird is of a similar age.

We made it – bang on 5 pm. To my relief, as I was the slowest.

Looking up Lake Te Anau from the wharf.

For more back ground on the Takahē Recovery Program >>

And on Dr Orbell’s story >>

Unless otherwise above all photos by myself, Donald, or my son Red.

Many thanks for Te Anau Dept. of Conservation and Real Journeys for making this trip possible.

Godwits in trouble on migration from New Zealand to breeding grounds in Alaska

Ecologist Rachel Hufton reports

Many shorebird populations are in serious decline along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The rapid loss of coastal wetlands (attributed to land reclamation) in the Yellow Sea, which provide critical stop-over/ re-fuelling sites for shorebirds during migration is believed to be the cause of this alarming trend. The Yalu Jiang coastal wetland, a protected area in the north Yellow Sea, supports the largest known migratory staging population of bar-tailed godwits and great knot. Now, these shorebirds are further at risk as essential food resources such as bivalves and crustaceans are further under pressure due to a record cold weather period – the coldest in 69 years.

NZ Godwit
Godwits travel 17,000 km from the southern hemisphere to the north and back each each year

Bar-tailed godwits and red knots are currently looking their finest (in alternate plumage and full body weight) in preparation to leave New Zealand and begin migration north to their Alaskan breeding grounds. Most of New Zealands godwits have begun migration or have already arrived at the stop-over site in China at Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve. Here a variety of shorebirds depend on the availability of abundant reserves of bivalves, crustaceans and polychaete worms to promote good body condition and breeding success. This year there are likely to be a lot of hungry shorebirds such as flocks of bar-tailed godwit (a IUCN Red List species) which might not complete their journey to Alaska to breed.

NZ Godwit
Bar-tailed godwits in alternate plumage with extra body fat to aid migration flight, Golden Bay wintering site, New Zealand

What Can Be Done

An ambitious plan to create a giant bird feeder kilometres long and wide, with farmed shellfish dropped over the mudflats to feed the birds and help them on their way to their breeding sites in good condition.

As well as helping the birds continue their life cycle this year, this work will also provide information about future mitigation/ compensation strategies for shorebirds. The mudflats of the Yellow Sea are being destroyed through reclamation and, increasingly more common extreme weather events.

Bar-tailed godwits getting ready to leave Miranda and fly to Alaska stopping off at Yalu Jiang Reserve

Immediate action is required to help contribute to funds already raised to feed the shorebirds at Yalu Jiang coastal wetland. The Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalist Trust (PMNT) is collecting donations in New Zealand to be transferred to the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society, a Birdlife International Partner.

Nelson Ecologist and Ornithologist David Melville is currently working in China and confirms that so far half the total funds required have been raised, but any further contributions would be much appreciated.

“We need to act fast as the seeding of clams has to take place on the spring tide series in Mid-April, or not at all.” He said (Radio NZ).

NZ red knot
Red knot in alternate plumage, feeding up before departing Golden Bay, NZ March 2017

This article highlights the importance of maintaining the quality of protected shorebird staging sites and other habitat, as important in shorebird conservation as is safeguarding of staging sites from land reclamation.

In New Zealand, pressure of pollution and coastal development are common and the outlook for shorebirds is a concern particularly for endemic species such as dotterel and wrybill as well as wintering Arctic migrants. However, the pressure here is on a reduced scale in comparison to the rate of habitat loss in the Yellow Sea – a global threat to shorebirds difficult to compensate.

Hope on the horizon

In January this year China announced it would dramatically curb reclamation of wetland for commercial development. A decision that can only have a positive impact on shorebird populations. Ongoing joined up international conservation efforts are essential for the future of endangered shorebirds.

NZ red knot
Red knot, Miranda wintering site 2016


Shou-Dong Zhang, Zhijun Ma, Chi-Yeung Choi, He-Bo Peng (2018). Persistent use of a shorebird staging site in the Yellow Sea despite severe declines in food resources implies a lack of alternatives. Bird Conservation International.

Rachel Hufton is a former shorebird guide of Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre (sister site of Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve) and a founding member of the Aspiring Biodiversity Trust

The great New Zealand lupin debate and why it matters

First we need to talk about the lupin’s favoured environment being mainily the braided rivers which drain the Southern Alps – rivers that find it impossible to run in a straight line, and be anything other than dynamic.

When in flood braided rivers carry sediment from the ever rising mountains [geologically speaking] and landslides that frequent such a young country, and at every point where the water flow slows down the carried sediment settles onto the bed of the river, thus in time raising the level of same, and the river, seeking always the path of least resistance, flows off to the side. Thus during high water levels and floods the nature of this predominately gravel environment can change in several hours

The Hunter River that flows into Lake Hawea…
Hunter River

The delightful, endemic and endangered NZ banded dotterel / tuturiwhatu is one of many birds that has evolved to breed in these river beds. Despite exhibiting a variety of seasonal movement patterns ranging from sedentary behaviour, through migration within New Zealand, to trans-Tasman migration, it is hard to not love their comical stop-start actions…
Banded Dotterel

This is typical tuturiwhatu breeding ground – also shared with wrybill and other like minded birds. OK to us humans it is pretty desolate, but keep in mind it lets them see any predators, and when they do they mimic an injury to lure rats, cats and stoats away from off-spring…
Riverbeds 2

Well meaning flower lovers of decades ago decided to brighten up the desolation, and spread the non native lupin seed. They probably never realised the above, and that each seed being coated with a type of oil to preserve it, can survive for several years sprouting only when ideal conditions exist. The perfect seed for such a dynamic bed – they of course then become impossible to get rid of, apart from annual spraying and that is not a cunning or cheap thing to do in waterways annually…
Lupins in The Ahuriri river valley

And then there are wilding pines – these ones have been sprayed. The terrain hosting cushion type vegetation is again the sort chosen for nesting…
Tasman Riverbed

No one denies the lupins look beautiful. And by-the-way after the brief flowering is over they become anything but ethereal, and more of an eyesore…
Lupins in The Ahuriri river valley

Another beautiful frequenter of the braided river environment is the black fronted tern tarapirohe. They spend hours swooping for bugs above and on the glacial silt laden blue/grey water surface, and of course breed nearby…

The natural state as another dawn breaks on a braided river in The Southern Alps…
Tasman Riverbed dawn light

If only lupins could be confined to roadsides! But even in such a place they invite suicide by flowery eyed tourists, toting cameras that are scant protection against the 110km/hr traffic that rushes by their nearby vehicles, the parking of which is more spontaneous than well thought out…
Lupins again

The two villains together on the shores of Lake Pukaki…
Lupins and a wilding pine - Lake Pukaki

The uniquely billed wrybill / ngutuparore which breeds only in braided rivers of the South Island. It is the only bird in the world with a laterally-curved bill [curved to the right], which it uses to reach insect larvae under rounded riverbed stones. Wrybills are completely dependent on the greywacke shingle of the riverbeds…
Wry bill

Are there more tūī in Wanaka, and other NZ towns?

Over the last few weeks a funny thing has been happening to me re. our New Zealand bird, the iconic tūī.

Perhaps because I’ve been able to spend sometime with a few and apart from taking the opportunity to capture the way light reflects from their stunning feather colours and texture, I’ve also used their speed and aggressiveness as they chase other tūī and other species away from food sources, to learn better ways to get my camera to focus faster and more accurately.

New Zealand Tui

And then as if by coincidence I started to learn via word-of-mouth and social media that they seem to be on the increase, especially in the Wanaka and nearby Lake Hawea areas.


Is this because of my own heightened awareness of the species, or are there simply more about? Could it be due to a healthy increase in the variety of native trees and shrubs providing a year-round food supply for them, along with a decrease in predators?

NZ Tui

They are an indicator species – a good sign of a successful habitat restoration programme.

Tūī are unique [endemic] to New Zealand belonging to the honeyeater family, feeding mostly on nectar from flowers of native plants such as kōwhai, puriri, rewarewa, kahikatea, pohutukawa, rātā and flax. Occasionally they will eat insects too.

If you feel inclined to leave comment here, please feel free to do so.

Or better yet, or as well as, go online and be a part of Landcare’s the NZ Garden Bird Survey 24 June – 2 July 2017

World’s rarest wading bird the kakī / black stilt gets new lease on life

Exciting News Today – kakī New Zealand’s black stilt, has been granted funds to help secure the population status of the worlds rarest wader.

Black Stilts

Juvenile kakī following release at Tasman Delta, Nov 2016 (Photo by Rachel Hufton)

Finally, the Twizel Recovery Centre can begin to increase its capacity for hatching, rearing chicks and releasing juveniles back into their iconic braided river habitat.

I will always remember being part of one of the releases of juvenile kakī on the Tasman Delta with the DOC Twizel team – one of those special moments, indeed. A project well deserving of international support.

Rachel Hufton

Global Wildlife Conservation Partners in Future of New Zealand’s Kakī ~ For immediate release June 22, 2017

kakī / black stilt
photo credit Kate-Lawrence

Global Wildlife Conservation today injected some additional hope into the once-uncertain future of the world’s rarest wading bird, a critically endangered species found only on the South Island of New Zealand. In recent years, the kakī, or black stilt, has begun rebounding from the brink of extinction thanks to the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s captive breeding and reintroduction program. Through a significant contribution to the program, GWC is helping ensure that kakī can one day thrive on their own in the wild.

Adult Kakī with New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook
Adult kakī with New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, in the background. (Photo by Liz Brown)

New Zealand is a true conservation jewel, but there are ongoing declines of native species and habitats”, said GWC board chairman Brian Sheth, who is visiting with the Department of Conservation this week and whose philanthropic organization, Sangreal Foundation, provided funds for the project. “We are excited to partner with the forward-thinking and collaborative Department of Conservation, who innovatively partner with non-profits, Māori communities, businesses, and other stakeholders to preserve the country’s unique natural and cultural heritage. The critical conservation program in the Mackenzie Basin, including the recovery of the kakī, will be a model for the country.”

pair of Kakī adults in the Tasman Valley
A pair of kakī adults in the Tasman Valley. (Photo by Liz Brown)

Kakī were once widespread across… [Read More at the Source>>]

Juvenile Black Stilt
Juvenile kakī (Photo Rachel Hufton)

Source: World’s Rarest Wading Bird Gets New Lease on Life