Above left: One of the pair of black stilt/kakī that were recently sighted – the left bird is the more common pied stilt. Photo credit DOC
This is pretty exciting and it rather amazes me that these birds have crossed the Southern Alps at presumably their highest point across Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, flying presumably against the predominant westerly winds and at considerable altitude that would average 2500 meters
A pair of New Zealand’s rarest birds the Kakī / black stilt has been sighted on the West Coast and DOC staff are asking the public to report further sightings.
The two kakī were spotted by a farmer on a dairy farm in the Arahura Valley. The farmer suspected they were rare and reported the sighting to the dept of Conservation, who confirmed the birds were black stilt/kakī.
Kakī are critically endangered, with less than 100 adult birds in the wild. Once common throughout New Zealand, kakī are now found on the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin
The photos in the gallery below are extensively captioned, so if you’d like to read more of “their” falcon story, click on any one of them, and please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. All photos by Southern Light..
There are three “forms” of NZ’s endemic native falcon, the kārearea. This is the South Island’s eastern falcon, at altitude on Benmore Peak near Twizel [note the wilding pine in the back ground – yet another invasive species that is destroying habitat in NZ]. There is also the bush falcon that lives in the North Island and the west and north-west of the South Island, and many of the photos here feature same. Lastly the southern falcon lives in coastal Fiordland and the Auckland Islands, and is more reddish.
Live prey is by far their preferred choice, seldom carrion [this in contrast to the common hawk]. They will either fly in continuous grid patterns or watch from a vantage point then make a fast, often gentle angled attack to the prey if they are on the ground, or steeper if aloft, and strike grasping the prey with their feet which are equipped with sharp talons. They kill the catch with a quick powerful bite to the neck.
Falcons will also take large birds such as the white heron/kotuku, wood pigeons/kererū, ducks and pheasants. They catch big insects such as grasshoppers and beetles. Females, at 410-720 g and 45 cm and larger than the male bird, can kill young rabbits or hares weighing up to 3 kilograms. Here this youngster is engaged in learning to hunt mice by listening attentively for sounds of rustling in the dry grass in Mt Aspiring National Park
The bush and southern forms are threatened, the eastern form are at risk, and thought to be recovering. Overall population is guessed to be between 5000 – 8000 birds. Most are found in New Zealand south of Waikato, and some offshore islands including Auckland Islands. Recently, plantation pine forests have been found to be important breeding habitats. Threats include: Predation, habitat loss, disturbance, development impacts, electrocution and by people who shoot it illegally.
This youngster had been unsuccessfully mouse hunting then flew up into this dead tree in Mt Aspiring National Park and squawked and kek kek’d in the vain hope it’s parents would supply lunch!
The falcon’s wings are angled back like an arrow, the more-so as it dives steeply, giving a shrill cry when it seizes its victim. After it catches a bird, it takes it to a branch or post where it then does some dislocation of the neck before some plucking and eating
When early spring courtship begins food plays an important role. The male chases the female and pretends to attack her, and bonding is sealed when the male carries prey to the female, then she chases him and he offers her the food. They then nest often near the ground, where sadly they are not equipped to fight off cats, stoats and other predators that are keen to feed on the 2-4 eggs laid for an incubation period of just over a month. However they are renown for fiercely defending the surrounding area, and may dive-bomb passers-by aiming for the head [wear a soft hat, not a hard one which may hurt them], especially dogs.
In this picture I had the uncanny feeling that the lower bird was a youngster in training, yet how was the adult communicating? When being photographed they totally ignored me as they silently navigated trees, isolated scrubs, and a hut. Or it could have been the other way around with the lower bird being the adult leading the way, with the youngster at a higher and safer altitude
For this young bird on a fence post in Mt Aspiring National Park, any clearance of native vegetation and/or intensification of land-use practices would significantly reduce the amount of habitat suitable for breeding. This in turn then works in favour of predator populations.
This older male is engaged in courtship ritual and is perched on an old tree stump that at ground level has been used as a nest previously. The female a few hundred meters away was very aware of my presence, and at the time of taking this photo both were engaged in a rowdy discussion, probably about myself whom they know quite well, perhaps questioning whether or not I should be “warned off” in relation to nesting soon.
A few days ago I came across a FaceBook post by Radio NZ about the growing numbers of takahē [one of NZ’s rare flightless birds threatened by extinction] and was so intrigued by it I’ve gathered together some information, and included a link to their article below.
Takahē were rediscovered above the bush line amongst the snow tussock and sub alpine plants of Fiordland’s Muchison Mountains in 1948 by Dr. Orbell , who as it turned out was a neighbour of my grandparents.
And so from a very early age some years after his significant achievement I was aware of his fame, but too young to recall meeting him apart from some hazy memories of him waving from a top-floor window.
Once thought to be extinct their re-discovery was followed by decades of conservation effort, yet even today they remain on the ever growing “critically endangered” list. Amazingly they have clung to existence despite the pressures from hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators.
The phrase “clinging to existence” belies an enormous amount of patient work over six decades on the bird’s behalf and also their habitat.
Why so long, you may ask? Well, the situation in this country where so many bird species evolved in an environment devoid of mammals [excepting bats] meant there were no defences when predators arrived.
We have had to implement the defences, and no one in the world has ever dealt with this scenario so unique. Which really means there has been a lot of experimentation underscored by the odd mistake. Fortunately we’ve been able to react lightly and move on to reach this amazing goal of 300 birds up from several!
Takahē come from times when many large flightless birds were spread throughout the country. They do have wings, but are flightless and only occasionally use them for display during courtship, or as a show of aggression.
Takahe numbers have reached 300, for the first time in more than 50 years. It’s a milestone for the endangered bird, which has been the subject of a marathon conservation effort following its dramatic rediscovery in 1948.
Some thoughts on the New Zealand whitebait, sea gulls and the health of our rivers – their habitat…
Last week en-route to visiting family in South Canterbury I stopped off at a few east coast beaches, and in one instance walked to the mouth of the Waitaki River to look at what was present in regards photography, and found [as hoped] some white baiters:
Then on my return home and getting into writing here I asked myself: “What are whitebait?”
Turns out it’s not a single species, but five species of the fish family Galaxiidae. All around 4–5 centimetres long and delicious to eat in more countries than just good ‘ole New Zealand.
In spring, often after a flood clears they swim upstream usually near the edges of rivers big and small, on a rising tide and during daylight hours
So what’s environmental photography got to do with little fish?
I’ve known for some time that what I thought of in my magical childhood as the common seagull being more a pest than anything [at age 5 poos from one landed on my ice cream!], I now realise the black billed gull is in the sad state of being the most threatened gull species in the world!
So too are white bait declining in numbers!
Is there a link?
Probably! Gulls feed in rivers [see below], and even more so since open “rubbish dumps” have turned into sanitised “transfer stations” thus denying gulls scavenging rights, and easy food during breeding times.
All over New Zealand the water quality of rivers has declined due to run-off from intensifying agriculture, and other reasons less obvious. And as it does so, “runs” of whitebait decline, no doubt due to spawning grounds being compromised.
The largest whitebait runs still occur in South Westland though. And guess what? There is very little or no intensive farming going on upstream – no coincidences here!
But lets get back to the Waitaki River on the east coast and ponder the health of the river bed between the river mouth as above and the Waitaki Dam upstream near Kurow – a distance of about 60 Km.
The Waitaki hydro scheme is a series of interconnected lakes and canals used to generate electricity. It’s made up of eight hydro stations on the Waitaki River the oldest and one closest to the sea being the Waitaki Dam.
A promise was made before the flow of the river was managed by Meridian Energy that river flows would be maintained in such a way as to ensure the river bed stayed in it’s natural state pre dam building. This has sadly never been honoured by any of the managing bodies.
New Zealand’s three native species of päua are distinctive because of their amazing multi-coloured shells. Päua are very important for Mäori. I’m not sure why there were so many piles of them as above scattered all over the stones.
Lastly writing this has made me aware that there are many laws to be honoured by fisher people in regard to paua and other delectable water and river based life forms that can be caught, cooked and eaten.
If the laws are broken and the perpetrator is caught they’ll be up for a heavy fine and even jail, yet big businesses such as the dam owners are not held accountable for operating procedures that do worse by destroying the habitat!
Run the above images as a galley slide-show, click any thumbnail below:
It can be wild and rough living in Ross, South Westland!
Near the headwaters of the Cook River in South Westland – no room here for agriculture
Typical “steep” South Westland River – exiting the mountains near Franz Josef Glacier. The light grey colour is caused by “rock flour” which is the fines from rock ground up by glacier ice
top: View of the Upper Clutha Valley from the Grandview Mountains
Very happy to hear this news. A group of us volunteers trap an extensive steep rocky area in the Grandview Mountains between the Lindis, Tarras and Wanaka to protect the same species. Recently about 80 were captured and translocated to other areas in Otago.
The eradication of a “suite” of predators has quadrupled the Otago skink population within pest-proof fences at Macraes Flat. Department of Conservation ranger John Keene said it was difficult to estimate the total number of Otago and grand skinks in the area. However, five pest-proof fences around […]