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kahu harrier

kahu/harrierWalking toward Te Horo beach yesterday I saw kahu, the harrier, coming in from the sea. It kept trying to find some lift in the air, but instead kept sinking down out of sight, plummeting toward the dunes, only to appear again, flapping its way upward.

Kahu was the one reason we could not call the settlement realm, introduced. Because they introduced themselves!

I wanted the big birds – the giant hunters – to be numero uno in each realm. Karearea (the NZ falcon) for forest; toroa (the royal albatross) for sea; hokioi (the giant eagle) for extinct: and kahu (the harrier) for settlement.

Of course 3 of these birds turn up in the predator realm as well. The fourth – toroa – hunts too, but far away from land.

Once, they ruled. Maintaining the balance in their realm. As only good hunters can do.

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wings across the water

stout legged moaI’ve always thought that the same change could happen in separate corners of the world. We’re all on the same planet – after all.

I’ve never needed one pair – like Noah’s ark – to go out & multiply across the world. Either walking on land bridges until they crossed the globe. Or left alone to change after being marooned as continents spread far apart.

This week I found science catching up with my point of view!!

Apparently a 20-million-year-old kiwi fossil found in Central Otago had researchers suggesting that the kiwi flew here from Australia long after Gondwana broke apart.

It seems that kiwi & moa flew around the continents and then became flightless after arriving here. Just like their cousins the ostrich in Africa, the rhea South America, the emu in Australia, & the cassowary in PNG.

To go from flight to non-flight can be super-common if you’re a ratite or a rail. Or even if you’re a stout legged moa.

A world-wide change that is very weird, and very possible.

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mutton-birding

sooty shearwaterMutton-birding (titi/sooty shearwater) season started April 1 and finishes end of May.

Rakiura (Stewart Island) Maori, from our deep south, have rights to gather muttonbirds on 36 islands – the Titi Islands – around Rakiura.

Last year a lack of small fish such as krill, for the birds to feed on, meant many chicks died in their holes.

But good follows bad and this years season is looking better. The birds now being caught are a good size and the majority are healthy.

In Cloak of Protection titi are hunted by Norway rat (when it gets onto their islands) and, of course, the human hunter.

On another note, got the best feedback about Cloak of Protection yesterday. One of my friends is teaching years 5&6 in Manurewa, Auckland. She said ‘we tried & we tried to study NZ’s wildlife & we got nowhere. Then we played the game & the kids knew everything – birds, predators, the lot!’

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kiwi on Raikura

KiwiThere’s some Cloak of Protection games featuring in a competition in the latest i-site, News in Education, magazine.

Some of the pages in this edition ‘Our Amazing Environment’ are about Rakiura National Park (85% of Rakiura/Stewart Island), our newest national park & the southernmost park in the world.

Down there, some people go kiwi-spotting as there are around 25,000 birds. Kiwi often come out in family groups during daylight & even walk on the beaches!

There are no stoats, ferrets or weasels on the island.

But there are still possums, feral cats & rats – so traps have been set. There are plans in the near future to make the whole island pest-free.

Go Rakiura! That’s a massive island about to become predator free!

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autumn on Waikanae Beach

toroaWalking down onto Waikanae Beach last evening, was looking skyward for the flock of black dots of titi (sooty shearwater) that have been around. . .

. . .when my attention was caught by a massive seagull. Well, that was my first thought until it unfurled long wings & folded them in again.

No seagull then!

I began tracking giant bird foot-prints toward the water’s edge. Webbed & as big as the palm of my hand. Dwarfing the dog-prints.

Closer – but, not too close – I found three birds distanced along water’s edge. They weren’t so keen on meeting me! One shuffled (on short-legs) into the water & landing a safe distance away, folded those giant wings into its body again.

So – here’s what I could see from my (short-sighted) distance. Pale curved petrel beak, white body, black back. Giant body on short legs.

Here’s a pic to toroa, who range throughout the NZ coast all year. Might have been???

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sparrow

house sparrowComing back from an early morning stroll on the beach – there I meet the mysterious dropper-off-of-bread for the sparrows.

Quite regularly there’s several packets worth of bread sitting on a steep grass verge. Great flocks chattering & chirping over it!

The bread seems to just appear regularly of it’s own accord(?)

Then the other morning there was the guy out of his bread truck, shaking out the left-over bags. He said he likes the sparrows to get the bread first, before the seagulls arrive.

Tiu (the house sparrow) were released here with high hopes, 1866 – 1871. Brought in from Europe (mainly England), they were to control insects on newly-planted crops.

That’s not what happened. Instead they ate up the farmer’s seeds. Gobbling up wheat, barley & maize!

You would have thought they’d be unpopular after that. But there we are – opening up packets of wheat, barley & corn bread, just for them.

No wonder that bird likes living around humans!

In Cloak of Protection tiu, the house sparrow, is hunted by cat & stoat.

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Orokonui ecosanctuary

saddlebackWending my way up the South Island, & staying in Dunedin, with my friend Gretchen, we drove out to beautiful Waitati. Then on the way home we popped into Orokonui ecosanctuary.

Gretchen & her mum had paid for a couple of posts in the predator-proof fence around the 307-hectare native forest. So helping create this mainland island. Here is the only Cloud Forest in New Zealand without threat from introduced pests.

Being a mainland island presents new difficulties. Tieke, the saddleback, were released there in 2009 and the end of 2012.

But a lot of the saddlebacks and their offspring left the sanctuary, leaving only a few behind to breed.

‘We didn’t expect that, as they are not great fliers, but saddlebacks need a large territory and there’s nothing to stop them flying over the fence.’ So Conservation manager Elton Smith said in the Otago Daily Times, 16/1/14.

‘But all remaining pairs are expected to produce a second clutch and some might even have three. . .we’re hoping for well over 30 fledglings for the season, which will be a fantastic result.’

Saddlebacks don’t occur anywhere on the mainland without predator control so the ecosanctuary is the only place to find them, other than offshore islands.

In Cloak of Protection tieke, the saddleback, is hunted by kiore, ship rat, cat & stoat. Needs an extremely good fence to keep that lot out!!

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at the Invercargill Museum (& Art Gallery)

aptornisQuite often I get asked about the adzebill. Did this bird really REALLY exist?

Oh yes – I say – I’ve seen the bones of one in the Invercargill Museum.

So, this January I went for a hunt in their Natural History section. As you can see in the photo, it isn’t all the bones, but enough to put together a model.

The label Aptornis, refers to its Latin name. I’ve added Morgan’s illustration below for a fleshed-out comparison.
adzebill

Adzebill were as large as a small moa, flightless, with a massive down-curved bill.

In Cloak of Protection they are both extinct and predator. They were hunted by: kiore; dog; & the human hunter.

In turn they hunted: tara-iti (fairy tern); tara (white-fronted tern); hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin); tutikiwi (snipe); kiwi; & whio (blue duck).

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looking for a retail store?

tuturiwhatu/NZ dotterel SEA bird
tuturiwhatu/NZ dotterel
SEA bird
If you’re looking for a retail store to purchase Cloak of Protection these summer hols – we’ve finally added a list. At the bottom of the BUY page.

Here’s Morgan’s illustration of tuuturiwhatu, the NZ dotterel. Found (when not breeding) on the beaches of the northern North Island, on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, & above the bushline of Stewart Island.

All good places to be this summer!

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matuku-moana/reef heron

matuku-moana/reef heronMatuku moana, the reef heron, live, alone or in pairs, along our sheltered rocky shores, in mangrove-filled estuaries, and around our tidal streams.

Dark-slate grey all-over, they have a heavier bill & shorter legs than the (now) more often-seen white-faced heron.

Crouching low they stalk for food. Walking smoothly, sometimes running, hunting from one end of the pool to the other.

Necks drawn in. Waiting. Jabbing. Lunging. Spearing small fish, crabs, molluscs…

With a slow flapping of wings, flying just above water, they go to their nests. In caves, crevices, rock shelves, flax bushes, & pohutuakwa roots.

Matuku moana is a warm waterbird, living from Eastern Asia to Australia to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Here is their southern-most limit, and here they are preyed upon by stoat, ferret, and cat.