I was commissioned by some bird-loving friends of mine to photograph every bird I came across in New Zealand. There were two challenges to this quest. The first being that I have a deeply latent fear of birds. I have been attacked by six different species. They do not like me, for some reason. Someone once told me it was because I have a lot of red in my hair when I’m in the sun, which might explain why certain birds have ripped tufts of hair from my head when I was outside…but it doesn’t really explain why I have been attacked inside, or from ground-dwelling feathered terrors. These friends have, over the last few years, helped me to appreciate the beauty of these creatures, if only from an artistic perspective. While I did my research to locate some bird parks to do some photographing on their behalf, I became nervous at the last minute. This was addressed by a simple, “Buy a hat and do it.” Which I did…only to realize the second challenge to my quest: It is DANG hard to photograph birds.
The little stinkers do NOT want to hold still. A split second simply isn’t long enough for me to adjust the settings or even the autofocus on my camera for a decent picture. Additionally, since I was traveling on a coach (bus) tour, the driver was not going to stop every time I saw a bird I wanted a picture of. So, in effort to spare you pictures of tiny blurs and names of birds without matching pictures, I am supplementing this page with pictures from online. It will be painfully clear which pictures I took and which I did not; but for clarity’s sake I thought it would be better this way.
The first bird I spotted seemed to be everywhere, but I had never seen anything like it. While I took a picture of it (that came out as a black and white blob against a grainy brown background, so the below is from the internet), I was able to identify it: an Australian Magpie. It is quite common in New Zealand, but as it was new to me I decided to include it. Now I have a mental reference for nursery rhymes and world literature.
Another Australian bird that I saw quite frequently in New Zealand is the Black Swan. Several lakes and shorelines we drove past were lined with these regal-necked creatures, and the fact that I could identify it without a reference guide made me happy.
I also saw several New Zealand Falcons on our journey. They were really quite unmistakable, and some liked to race our bus…flying beside us just long enough to evoke oohs and aahs from the travelers but not long enough for any of us to get cameras in place to capture it on film. I did, however, see one later at the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, so this picture is one I took there.
I also came across several Sheldrake or Paradise ducks in the wild. They are unmistakable because the male has a black head and the female has a white one. They mate for life (can I get an awwwww?). I managed to snap a male and female and their nearby ducklings.
The birds that got the most attention from tourists were the Kea (a forest parrot). This is a protected bird, which is why you can see a band on the bird’s leg even though I took the picture at a rest stop at Arthur’s Pass. I had just finished telling a fellow traveler of my issues with birds (and their fondness for coming after me) when this bird turned to me and started running full out at me. My friend yelled, “Run for it!” I did, but I did manage to snap this pic before I ran for the bus.
The Tui was another bird that I saw in the wild from time to time. It is also called the Parson’s bird due to it’s little white puff at it’s throat. I included both pics I took, even though the second is blurry; but I wanted you to see the white puff.
The New Zealand pigeon, or Wood Pigeon, was also easily seen in the wild. This bird may look a lot like our pigeons in the States, but they are HUGE. Their head is the same size, but the body is easily three times that of our standard pigeons.
I saw a lot of wild parakeets (red crowned, yellow crowned, Antipodes Island) out and about, but only the ones at the park would hold still long enough to snap a pic. I even had to walk into their habitat to do it (anyone clapping? You should be!)
The final bird I saw in the wild that I have a photo of is the Takahe. It was really quite a unique bird. I snapped this picture at a bird sanctuary the day before I saw one in the wild (which was great because then I actually knew what I was looking at). I was told it is extremely rare to see these in the wild.
I also saw a NZ Fantail in the wild, but as they were not at the birdpark I could only pull this picture up on line. They are distinctive as when they land their tails flip up behind them and fan out.
I was able to see four Kiwi’s in the birdpark. They are nocturnal, and pictures were not allowed as if your flash goes off, the birds freak out and ram themselves into the glass, killing themselves. They were a lot bigger than I thought (the females are about the size of a small turkey). And we were told they are the closest thing NZ has to an endemic mammal, since their feathers are much more like fur, they have marrow in their bones, they dig burrows, and have whiskers. They also lay an egg that is about 1/3 the size of their body (poor things).
And this is one of the species of penguins on New Zealand, the Little Blue. Unfortunately we did not stop in a place where the penguins were accessible to me due to time or weather issues; so I visited the International Antarctic Centre to get this.
And for the pièce de résistance: you won’t believe this (well, if you know me, you won’t, but I have witnesses that what I’m about to tell you is true). You see this little, colorful guy here? I let him land on me twice. The lady asked for a volunteer and no one was going to do it. I suddenly felt like I was meant to do it…to move forward…taking a step away from my negative bird experiences and start making a positive one. I held a dollar bill at the end of my as-far-as-possible-away-from-my-head outstretched arm, and this little guy landed on my hand, took the dollar bill and flew away. I was relieved. I did it. It was done! Until the lady explained that it would be stealing not to return the bill. I reluctantly, but more calmly, held out my hand again. The bird returned, landed, dropped the bill, and flew back to the lady. No, it does not mean I will not still tense up when I see a wild bird that seems to be eyeing me; but it’s progress, don’t you think?