Monday, February 27, 2012

New Zealand: A Trip to the Zoo

This is a blog about my natural history experiences, and a visit to a zoo, however well-run, normally wouldn't qualify.  I am making an exception for the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park, which specializes in native fauna, because it gives me a chance to show you some New Zealand birds I did not see in nature.  Eileen and I visited Otorohanga on March 21, 2011, as the first stop on a short spin around some of the more touristy spots on the North Island with our friend Siew Keng and her niece.

The one thing I cannot show you at the Kiwi House are its kiwis - no photography or video is allowed.  I'll make do, therefore, with a photo of a photo - a poster showing their extremely tame and thoroughly imprinted Greater Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx haasti), largest of its family.

Zoo birds, like this White-faced Heron (Ardea novaehollandiae) with an obviously overgrown bill, are often but a pale reflection of their wild counterparts, but Otorohanga did give us the opportunity to see a number of interesting and rare creatures.

This, for example, is the large Otago skink (Oligosoma otagense) of the South Island, practically extinct in the wild.

The New Zealand Falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) is, to my eye, one of the handsomest of its handsome family.

The male of the New Zealand race of the Australasian Shoveler (Anas rhynchotis) is considerably more strikingly coloured than the form from Australia.  To a northerner it looks remarkably like an exaggerated version of a Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors).

Here is a bird I first saw as a forlorn stuffed mount in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, but never expected to see alive.  Now that I have, I can state without fear or favour that it is, without question, the World's Cutest Duck.

It is a Campbell Island Flightless Teal (Anas nesiotis).  Confined a single island in the subantarctic Campbell Islands south of New Zealand, it is one of the world's rarest waterfowl, and was even thought to have become extinct until its rediscovery in 1975 on tiny Dent Island.  All the birds in these photos are females.

Otorohanga has been involved in a captive breeding programme for the species, but I wonder about its success given the extreme imprinting of at least some of the birds (the bird in the first photos above would undoubtedly have leapt into my arms if we hadn't been separated by a sheet of glass).   The programme is being phased out, as predator control on the Campbells themselves seems to be doing the job of bringing the species back more effectively.  Most of the birds have been released into the wild, where the population is now over 100.
The Pied or White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) is the common species in New Zealand; for once I had had better photographic luck in the wild with its far rarer cousin the Black Stilt (H. novaeseelandiae).  Notice the fetching ankle bracelet.

Something you don't see every day: an albino Variable Oystercatcher (Haematopus unicolor).

New Zealand has perhaps the world's most fascinating parrots.  This is a Kea (Nestor notabilis), the highly intelligent and inquisitive alpine parrot that I saw only briefly in the South Island.

This is the Kaka (Nestor meridionalis), its forest-dwelling cousin....

And here is a Yellow-crowned Parakeet or kakariki (Cyanorhamphus auriceps).

The Red-crowned Parakeet (C. novaezelandiae), unlike the Yellow-crowned, is now almost entirely confined to offshore islands, where it seems to do better than the Yellow-crowned.  The difference between the two is surely the result of predation; the Red-crowned, much more than the Yellow-crowned, is a ground nester.

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