Blog

NZ Wildlife – Sacred Kingfisher

So kingfishers, at the moment, hold the title of my favourite species of bird. Back home I was lucky enough to get a photo of a European kingfisher back in February on one of my lunchtime walks at work. I would see them regularly enough, and if anyone in the UK, more specifically near Suffolk – Lackford Lakes is the place to go to see kingfishers.

IMG_4626

The kingfisher you’ll find in New Zealand is larger than its European cousin, and is a hell of a lot easier to spot. There seems to be a lot more of them as well – on my day trip to Cape Regina I saw at least 60 kingfishers on the bus journey. Never in a million years would you see 60 kingfishers in a day back home. I was loving life that day – as I’m sure you can imagine.

IMG_4736

The New Zealand kingfisher is primarily cream and green-blue – with iridescent feathers on its wings and back. It has a broad black strip from its bill to its ears, and has a large bill. Its legs and feet are grey or pink-brown. A way to distinguish between the male and female is that the female is greener and duller. Its green-blue cap and black bill distinguishes the sacred kingfisher from other kingfisher species.

IMG_4759

You can find the sacred kingfisher on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand and are recorded in coastal and inland freshwater habitats. They favour farmland and riverbanks and are less common further inland and in mountainous regions.

IMG_4810

The sacred kingfisher eats a varied diet; terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, crabs, tadpoles, crayfish, cicadas, beetles, lizards and even mice. Of course, the diet is also dependent upon location. With the recent rain, when I last went out on a hunt for kingfishers I saw one after worms. Mostly, sacred kingfishers are seen singly or in pairs. They will use a range of perches, from tree branches to washing lines, fences – and on one occasion I saw one sitting on a volleyball net.

IMG_9917

Kingfishers nest in trees, cliffs and banks – where a nest chamber is excavated through a kingfisher chiselling out the nest with their bill. Incubation of the eggs is usually the role of the female however it is a shared duty. Mating occurs in early September and adults become very aggressive in defensive of their nest. Kingfishers lay between 3 and 7 eggs in a clutch which are incubated for roughly 20 days. The eggs of the kingfisher are a smooth glossy white and are about 2.4 cm in length. Chicks are fed by both parents and begin to fledge at 26 days. Chicks are fed for between 7 to 10 days after leaving the nest before they then start to catch food for themselves.

IMG_0201

Hamilton Zoo

Today I took myself off to Hamilton Zoo because I bloody love the zoo. Covering 25 hectares, the zoo sits in the Rotokauri suburb of Hamilton. It was founded in 1969 as a game farm which mainly raised game birds but was also home to a collection of exotic mammals and birds. The zoo faced closure due to being unprofitable and in 1976 Hamilton City Council stepped in and purchased the site, building and animals. In 1984 the zoo faced closure again however public pressure on the Council enabled the zoo to remain open. Fun fact – Hamilton Zoo is the first in New Zealand to become fully accredited by the Zoo and Aquarium Association.

The zoo features a variety of wildlife – native New Zealand species as well as animals from around the world. A particular favourite of mine is the red panda – they’re just too cute, but I’m starting to love seeing kea and can’t wait to encounter them in the wild. It was also lovely to see so many white rhinos – and a calf, born in 2016. Considering the devastating circumstances for these animals in the wild, it’s good to see conservation efforts being rewarded.

There is a free flight aviary which houses a variety of native New Zealand birds such as tui, bellbirds, white faced heron, New Zealand wood pigeon, kaka to name a few. Although it absolutely chucked it down while I was walking around the aviary, it is truly fantastic to be able to encounter these birds at such a close proximity.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lake Rotoroa and Fun Art

Today the sun was too glorious to not enjoy, so I headed out to Lake Rotoroa to stretch my legs.

Lake Rotoroa (or Hamilton Lake, according to Google Maps) is a man made lake and is part of the Hamilton Lake Domain which has a history as one of Hamilton’s premiere parks. The location is popular for a variety of water activities such as canoeing, wind surfing, model boats and more. Innes Common sits next to the lake, catering for your more land based activities such as cricket, hockey and picnics. There is a playground – which was absolutely teeming with families today, and next door is the Verandah Café if you fancy something to eat. There is a 3.8 kilometre path around the lake which makes it popular for joggers and there is a summer running event every year as well.

There is a lot of wildlife as well – namely mallards, coots and Pukeko. The Pukeko in particular were quite fun to watch – and some even had chicks in tow. Given the playground was so busy there was a lot of children around wanting to feed the ducks, which made for a good show, as always.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a good wander around the lake and enjoying the sunshine, I headed back to the city centre to get some lunch as my tummy was starting to grumble. Something I really love about New Zealand is the amount of public art – or street art, depending on the quality of said art. I’m not talking graffiti – which is all I seem to see back home. Bored kids with a can of spray paint does not constitute as art in my opinion. Some of what I have seen around Auckland in particular is incredible, and today I stumbled across a corner which had some truly stunning artwork. It might not be to everyone’s taste (and I myself am not a fan of every piece I encounter) but it all adds to the character of a place – and it so much nicer to see than dumb tags or rude words hastily sprayed at a bus stop. Rant over.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I treated myself to a scrumptious frozen yogurt smoothie from New Zealand Natural and on my receipt there are details to enter into a competition to win a P&O cruise. What the hell, I thought as I submitted my entry – it can be backup for if my photography competition doesn’t pan out. Even if I don’t win a cruise (which would be fantastic to win, by the way) just by entering the competition I got a voucher for a free ice cream. Hell yes!

Waikato Museum

So my adventuring has taken a bit of a back seat of late, given inclement weather, a brief bug, and laziness. I have almost finished my novel though – which I’m rather pleased about, and I’ve made a few trips to the cinema as well. Still, I decided to get motivated and I headed into the city centre to pay a visit to Waikato Museum.

Waikato Museum of Art and History opened in 1987 after a culmination of years of planning and debate centred around the need for a regional museum. The name of the museum was changed to Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato as a reflection of the increased focus on Maori heritage and culture. The museum also manages ArtsPost, located next door, which is a facility for the promotion of the visual arts.

The museum offers a wide range of exhibitions with much of the focus on art, social history, science and tangata whenua. There were two main art exhibitions on at the museum – the National Contemporary Art Award and Bob Jahnke: ATA – a third reflection. I much preferred the second exhibition because I’m all about the neon. Ata in te reo Maori means reflection, form, light and shadow, and also refers to an act of deliberation. Bob Jahnke’s installations explores Maori creation narratives and prophetic imagery through light and reflection. The art is made from wood, one way glass, electricity, paint, neon and mirrors. Using text and symbols, the repetition of the reflections create patterns that appears infinite. I thought it was really cool (again, bloody love me some neon).

The most impressive exhibition at the Waikato Museum is Te Whare o Te Winika which features Te Winika – an incredible 200 year old carved waka taua. Built by Ngaati Tipa of Tuakau, Ngaati Maru of Hauraki and Ngaati Mahanga of the western coastline of the Waikato. It is a truly impressive sight and became a symbol of the Kiingitanga and the waka renaissance led by the Kaahui Ariki in the 1930s.

IMG_5118.JPG

IMG_5120.JPG

For Us They Fell is an exhibition which tells the narrative of the First World War alongside stories of people from the Waikato region. It was very humbling to read about the experiences of men and women. A lot of the exposure I have experienced regarded the First World War, through education and films, is very much a Eurocentric experience. Yes, a lot of the fighting took place in Europe, but it’s easy to forget that is was a World War with global consequences and casualties. The exhibition explains life in the Waikato region before the war, experiences of those who lived and died during the conflict as well as life for those who did not go off to fight.

I considered myself very lucky as I arrived at the museum on the second to last day of the Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs exhibition. This exhibition focuses on the inhabitants of the earth 290 million years ago during the Permian period. Featuring models, animatronics, fossils and artwork imagining the different creatures and locations, the exhibition was very informative. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact I love dinosaurs, and the Permian Monsters were just as fascinating. I particularly liked the model of the Helicoprion, an ancestor of sharks, with a spiral of tooth whorls.

Hamilton Halo Photo Competition

Having been keen on photography for a while now, I decided it was high time to put some of my photos to good use. Today I entered four submissions to the 2017 Hamilton Halo Photo Competition. They were asking for bird shots – how ideal – and having spent hours in the garden where I’m staying in Hamilton chasing after the local tui birds, I thought why not give it a go.

The Hamilton Halo project aims to bring native birds back into Hamilton – an area where once birds such as tui and bellbirds thrived. Since the introduction of pests such as rats and possums, loss of habitat and food sources – and sadly this problem isn’t localised to Hamilton – many bird populations have drastically fallen. The Halo project takes it’s name from the ring drawn around Hamilton which takes in key sites where tui breed.

Images entered into the photography competition will be used by Hamilton Halo to promote the project, biodiversity in the Waikato region and to promote other work by Waikato Regional Council. Judging will take place on Monday 7th August when the winning photo will be chosen and up to seven photos will be selected to go through to the People’s Choice competition. The competition is for an excellent cause, regardless of winning (fingers crossed though!)

Below are probably my top best tui photos (so far) – four of which I entered into the competition;

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hamilton Gardens

Today I headed down to Hamilton Gardens. The Gardens are in the south of the city on the banks of the Waikato River. The Gardens encompass a lake, nursery, a variety of enclosed gardens and café.

The Gardens were established in 1960 when four acres were developed by Hamilton City Council for public gardens. This garden was designed in the Gardenesque (yes, that’s a real word) tradition featuring  specimen trees, flower beds and flat lawns. Hamilton Gardens hosted the first World Rose Convention in 1971. The rose garden was limited in size so a new garden established and named after Dr Denis Rogers who had been mayor of the city from 1959 to 1968. In the late 1970s, Hamilton Gardens was developed further – departing from the traditional botanic garden model with the focus on garden design over botanical science. The design for the Gardens was developed in three stages over the next three decades to form five garden collections.

The first of these gardens to open was the Paradise Garden collection which represents differing methods of how gardeners have tried to create paradise on earth. There are six gardens in the collection – the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, the Japanese Garden of Contemplation, the English Flower Garden, the Modernist Garden, the Italian Renaissance Garden and the Indian Char Bagh Garden. A seventh garden has been proposed – an Ancient Egyptian Garden which would recreate the 2000BC Egyptian gardens, the first decorative gardens ever created.

It was a gorgeous day after the recently rainy weather. After walking through the Paradise Gardens, I moved on to the Productive Collection. These gardens are all about the ways in which people use productive plants. The first of these is the Te Parapara Maori Garden which demonstrates how local Mario grew food along the banks of the Waikato River before Europeans arrived in New Zealand. There is also The Sustainable Backyard, The Herb Garden and The Kitchen Garden which grow a variety of plants which are used for food, cosmetics, perfumes and medicine.

There is also the Fantasy Garden Collection which illustrates how fantasy and imagination have influenced garden design. There are nine gardens in this collection; The Chinoiserie Garden, The Tropical Garden, The Surrealist Garden (currently under development), The Tudor Garden, and five proposed gardens – The Concept Garden, The Picturesque Garden, The Mansfield Garden, The Medieval Garden and The Rococco Theatre Garden. I studied Katherine Mansfield during my first year at university with the promise of the tutor that hers were the best short stories we would ever read. I believe wholeheartedly he was right, and her stories no doubt added to my desire to travel to New Zealand. The Mansfield Garden would be a recreation of the early 20th century New Zealand lawn party, featured in Mansfield’s The Garden Party (an excellent read). The garden will hopefully feature a tent on the tennis court, a karaka hedge, lily pond and frontage of a 19th century villa. The proposed gardens should be constructed within the next four years so I’ll have to make a return trip to visit the Mansfield Garden for myself.

The last area of Hamilton Gardens I visited was the Cultivar Garden Collection. This Collection is the closest to a botanical garden Hamilton Gardens gets and features plants which have been selected and bred for gardens at different times throughout history by collectors and breeders. Sadly the Rogers Rose Garden wasn’t looking its best given that its winter here in New Zealand, however there was colour to be found in the Rhododendron Lawn and The Hammond Camellia Garden where there tui galore. The Victorian Flower Garden displays its plants in beds and glass houses. The two proposed gardens to be added to this collection will be The New Zealand Cultivar Garden featuring native plants which were selected and bred for the colour of the foliage and The Dutch Renaissance Garden representing a 17th century garden from the golden age of plant imports and speculation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NZ Wildlife – Tui

New Zealand has an abundant range of bird species across the country. While the kiwi is probably the most synonymous, birds come in all shapes and sizes, and many of which are as equally unique.

IMG_1507

Tui belong to the honeyeater family, feeding primarily on nectar however they also eat fruit and insects. One of the more popular plants they feed on is the New Zealand flax. Being a honeyeater, tui also pollinate plants such as flax, kowhai and kaka beak. The name tui is from the Māori name tūī. Early European colonists called them the parson bird however this is becoming a much less common name.

Found across both North and South Islands, and Stewart Island, tui are widespread. They can be found in native forest and scrub as well as in parks and gardens. Populations declined after the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand due to the predatory species introduced and habitat loss. Conservation efforts have helped to recover the tui population, however the main threat to the tui is predation – particularly from brushtail possums. Possums, whilst typically vegetarian, are known to eat eggs and chicks (of many bird species, not only the tui).

IMG_1367

They are one of the most common birds found in Wellington, the capital city, and are often seen individually, in pairs or in small family groups. Sometimes, they will gather in larger groups if there is particularly good food source. They can often be seen in the company of silvereyes, bellbirds and kereru – the New Zealand wood pigeon. As there are three species of honeyeater birds in New Zealand, the tui must compete with bellbirds and stitchbirds. Being the largest of these three species, the tui is at the top of this hierarchy and will chase off other birds in defence of their dinner.

IMG_0663.JPG

Tui have short yet powerful wings which allow them the manoeuvre through dense forest. They are slightly larger than a blackbird, with the male of the species being larger than the female. Tui have a relatively long beak which is curved, ideal for them reaching into flowerheads to drink nectar. Males in particular can be quite aggressive, as they have been known to mob harriers and magpies which are considerably bigger birds. They often ruff up their feathers to appear larger, and can flap their wings loudly as means of chasing other birds away.

They look black from a distance, but tui are quite beautiful and have a distinct plumage. They are easily identified by the white tufts at the throat, formed by two curled feathers. They have filamentous white feathers around the neck, and white shoulder patches on the upperwing which are only seen when the bird is in flight. The wings and tail of the tui are iridescent, blue and green in the right light.

IMG_1898

A very intelligent bird, the tui is believed to be on par with parrots. Also similar to parrots, they can imitate human speech. Historically, tui have been trained by Māori people to replicate speech. They have a very distinctive song and tui, like most songbirds, have two syrinxes (voice boxes) which afford them the ability to perform a vivid range of sounds. Interestingly enough, tui sing at night – especially around the period of a full moon.

They breed throughout spring and into early summer, laying a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs. Tui make cup-shaped nests from sticks and twigs which they line with grasses. They typically have two broods in a season, with the female acting as the sole incubator for the eggs. The eggs themselves are white or pink, with reddish-brown spots.

IMG_0557