Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Zealand: Encounter with a Black Stilt

This freshwater marsh lying beneath the magnificent Mount Cook is more than a part of a splendid scene.  It is habitat for one of the rarest birds in the world.

I had long wanted to see a Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae), but I had assumed that accomplishing this would be a very difficult (and given this Critically Endangered bird's rarity, perhaps not very acceptable, except by appointment at a visitor's hide) task.  As of August 2011 (after my visit in March) there were only 170 adult birds (a lot better than the 23 to which the bird was reduced by 1981), the result of a careful conservation and captive breeding program.  Most of the places they survive in (or have been reintroduced to) are not easy to reach - and besides, most are around Twizel, a city we had already passed on our way to Mount Cook.

Judge of my surprise, at checking in to our accommodation below Mount Cook, to be told that the birds were waiting for me only about 100 yards down the road....

The result, I believe, of a recent reintroduction. Sure enough, once we walked down to the edge of the marsh a Black Stilt appeared almost immediately -- on the far side, of course.

I thought that was good enough, but I had reckoned without the bird.  It was obviously as interested in us as we were in it, and to our astonishment it took off and flew across the water almost directly to our feet.  I suspect that it was a captive-bred bird habituated to humans, and maybe hadn't seen one of us in a while.

Anyway, even in the fading dusk there could hardly have been a more ideal way to see such a rare creature:

Here is a bit of video:

And, to set the whole experience in context, here are a couple of views of Mount Cook in the setting sun.

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