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Living and birding in New Zealand: Notes from Gary & Robyn Wilson

Gary & Robyn Wilson | Guest Contributor

In July 2021, after 30 years living in the tropics of Queensland, we moved to New Zealand (NZ). In this note we describe aspects of living ‘across the ditch’ in Aotearoa and coming to grips with the flora and fauna here.

We arrived in a two-week window when travel was possible prior to the national shutdown in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. That shut down, which kept the number of COVID-related deaths in NZ low, affected the next 12 months, and our settling into New Zealand. We were largely restricted to our property; social activities were non-existent; our vehicle was held in quarantine in Auckland Port for six months; and our personal belongings went AWOL. However, it gave us time to explore our new property at Parua Bay, near Whangārei in Northland, and review, curate, and archive masses of data and images accrued in previous years.

We live on a hill slope 100 m above sea level and a kilometre from the Bay, with spectacular views down the Whangārei Harbour, and to the towering volcanic remnants, including Mount Manaia, of Whangārei Heads. Most of our property is forested and drops steeply down to its northern boundary along the Kohinui Stream. We are on the western margin of the Whangārei Heads conservation area, where intensive pest trapping and noxious plant control is being undertaken, as endangered and range-restricted native bird species are reintroduced and spread onto the mainland from introductions on adjacent pest-free islands.

The welfare and status of the North Island Brown Kiwi is being given particular attention, and as a result the population has increased 10-fold in recent years. Many of the Kiwi are radio-collared and we have this species on our property. The Kohinui Stream is well vegetated and is a corridor for the expansion of native species – the Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) is one example, and we see it each day. Having Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), New Zealand Pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), and Tomtit (Patricia macrocephala) resident on our property is nice.

Having Tui resident on our Northland property is nice. Photo: GW&RF Wilson.

Noticeable aspects in moving to New Zealand are the distinct flora, and number and impact of exotic species; the low number of native bird species and the number of exotic species; and the total lack of native terrestrial mammal species and huge numbers and impact of exotic species. There is a nation-wide program to be Predator Free by 2050 and substantial effort is being directed to that end. Much of the work is being done by volunteers, conservation groups, and citizen scientists.

We are involved with the Kohinui Landcare Group and maintain trap lines for pest species including Stoat, Brush-tail Possum, Rats, and Hedgehog. We also have a busy work program trying to control weed species, particularly Tree Privet (Ligustrum lucidum), Wild Tobacco (Solanum mauritanum), Climbing Asparagus (Asparagus scandens) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus).

We have joined BirdsNZ and enjoy the monthly meeting and associated activities. BirdsNZ is currently halfway through a third Bird Atlas and we are contributing to that via their eBird portal. We have been regularly surveying six sites, and have thus far completed 250 surveys and reported 110 species, as at February 2023. It is an interesting exercise as we grapple with the different names used here for species we are familiar with elsewhere, e.g. Pukeko for Australasian Swamphen; come up to speed with the widespread use of Māori names for many species; and the plethora of duck species hybrids.

We are also intrigued by aspects of local ecology, e.g. the absence of some expected and otherwise wide-spread species: Peregrine Falcon and Osprey; the low abundance of others, e.g. Cattle Egret, common further south but uncommon here in Northland; the presence of only one species of kingfisher, the Sacred, across a wide range of habitats (but Laughing Kookaburra has arrived and is spreading); and the extraordinary lack of diversity of species despite the high numbers of a few, e.g. Bar-tailed Godwit and Variable Oystercatchers, on the local tidal flats.

There have been many high points in our natural history activities and observations in our time here. They include observations of thousands of endemic Wrybill (Anarhynchus frontalis) (VU) at the wonderful Pūkoroko Miranda Shorebird Centre on the Firth of Thames; photographing the endemic Red-breasted Dotterel (Charadrius obscurus) (CE) on our local beaches; and wonderful pelagic trips out from Tutukaka to the Petrel Patch in the Hauraki Gulf to see a suite of seabird species. We expect to be kept busy and intrigued for the foreseeable future.

Photographing the endemic Red-breasted Dotterel on our local beaches is one of many high points in our natural history activities and observations in our time here. Photo: GW&RF Wilson.
Mixed pelagic species at a fish upwelling about The Pinnacles: during one of our wonderful pelagic trips. Photo: GW&RF Wilson.
White-capped Albatross. Photo: GW&RF Wilson.
Fairy Prion. Photo: GW&RF Wilson.


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