Not every trip I make overseas is to the wild. Sometimes, it is more convenient to experience a taste of wilderness when traveling with family members in a more convenient location. When I was in Roturua, New Zealand, I was recommended a nearby place called “The Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre“. It is a facility that undertake captive breeding and rehabilitation of the threatened New Zealand Falcons. Visitors can visit and see birds of prey up close during interactive flying displays, so we timed our visit for just such an occasion.
The New Zealand Falcon or kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) is New Zealand’s only endemic falcon and the only remaining bird of prey endemic to New Zealand. It is a versatile hunter that has the ability to hunt in both forested and open habitats. Nonetheless, it is a threatened species. Like most native New Zealand bird species, it evolved during a time when the land was free of mammals and human. Consequently it nests on the ground, which now means that they are susceptible to modern introduced predators. This, combined with widespread habitat loss, modification and degradation means that falcons have fewer places to successfully nest.
During the flying displays, both a male and a female were set free to fly about and rewarded with morsels of meat once they successfully perform certain difficult aerial maneuvers. This training permits them to regain natural strength so that they can be successfully re-introduced to the wild one day. The males and the females differ in size and looks, with the males only two-third the weight of the females. Although I was not observant enough to differentiate, apparently the size difference meant their hunting strategies differ, so the training for them differ too.
Muriwai Beach is a coastal area in the North Island of New Zealand about 40 minutes drive from Auckland. It is a popular beach for human activities, and also a dense breeding ground for the Australasian Gannets (Morus serrator).
It is an interesting place for photographers for two rather disparate reasons. It is a beautiful and unique place for landscape photography, as well as an excellent place to photograph flight shots of the gannets due to their huge numbers. For birdwatchers it is also an excellent place to learn about the social life of the birds during their breeding period. I had an opportunity to spend an hour or so to partake in all these.
Landscape photography is not my strength, but the coast is beautiful and the dense colony serve as an excellent subject against the backdrop of high cliffs and clear blue ocean. I am afraid I do not do the place enough justice, but here are some pictures nonetheless. I think the golden hour would accentuate the beauty of the place, but I was happy enough to get sufficient light for handheld photography.
A view from the trail leading down to the inland colony.
A closer view of the colony at the rocks further away from the beach.
Pleased with the nice landscape photo moments, I next turned my focus on bird flight photography. At any one time there are probably close to 100 birds in the air at various location, and getting flight shots was a breeze. It was a matter of getting the right bird, at the right angle and with the right background.
The Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) is an endemic New Zealand bird. It belongs to the honeyeater family. Its name is derived from the Maori language. In earlier times, the English settlers called it the parson bird, because of its dark plumage with white neck feathers.
The Tui photographed here is from a farm stay at Matamata district, in the North Island in December 2013. It is interesting to note that its feathers has a metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black colour that changes hue depending on the angle of light.
It is seen here with it’s favourite plant, the New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax). The curvature of the bird’s bill matches the shape of the flower of the flax plant, enabling easy feeding of the nectar. This is a good example of mutualistic coevolution.
The orange colour around the bird’s bill and forecrown is actually the pollen of the flax plant. So for the price of some sweet nectar, the Tui gladly acts as a pollinator of the plant.
Interestingly, sometimes the nectar ferments and as a result, Tuis can be seen flying drunk. Perhaps that’s why there is a brand of beer called Tui!