This morning when I walked Morgan around the volcano, I heard parrot noises which caught my attention. These squaks were much louder than the common Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius). I quickly turned towards the sound and noticed a bird larger than the Rosella. Could it be a New Zealand Kaka?
I stopped to watch and listen for a bit, heard nothing more, then carried on around the volcano. About 500m further on, I heard loud squaking once again, and looked up to see two large birds circling around the top of One Tree Hill, making quite a racket, then landing at the top of a tall Eucalypt.
A pair of New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis)! My first sighting of kaka in the wild.
Morgan and I stood still for perhaps 15 minutes, watching these majestic birds circle and squak and land once again in the Eucalypt.
This made my day.
I found this praying mantis crawling around on the front porch this afternoon. It seems rather large at roughly 6cm in length. I have seen quite a few of these around the house (both inside and outside) and couldn’t resist taking a picture of such an awesome insect.
New Zealand praying mantis – Orthodera novaezealandiae
Note the distinctive bright blue patches visible on the inside of the raptorial fore legs. Also, though a bit difficult to see in these images, the pronotum is the same width as the head. These characteristics seem to be evident in the native New Zealand praying mantis, Orthodera novaezealandiae.
Appearently, there are only two species of mantis in New Zealand: the native Orthodera novaezealandiae and a recently introduced (ca. 1978) Springbok Mantis or South African mantis, Miomantis caffra. According to Landcare Research, Orthodera novaezealandiae occurs only in New Zealand.
According to Landcare Research, the invasive, introduced South African mantis, Miomantis caffra, which mainly occurs in the North Island, continues to spread across the country as shown here (PDF 899KB). According to An Illustrated Guide to some New Zealand Insect Families, by Elizabeth A. Grant (ISBN 0-478-09326-8), “the pronotum [of the South African mantis, Miomantis caffra] is very slender and therefore narrower than the width of the head.” (pg.30) Also, according to Landcare Reasearch, the South African mantis, Miomantis caffra lacks the distintive bright blue patches on the raptorial fore legs as evident on the New Zealand mantis, Orthodera novaezealandiae.
Furthermore, according to The Penguin Natural World of New Zealand: An Encyclopedia of Our Natural Heritage by Gerard Hutching (ISBN 0 14 301925 2), even though it appears European mantid copulations frequently result in decapitation of the male by the female, this behaviour does not seem to be the habit of the New Zealand mantis, Orthodera novaezealandiae. (pg. 277)
When I walk around the backyard after sunset I usually get the feeling I am not alone. I often hear rustling in the bushes. Being still fairly new to NZ wildlife I was not quite sure what it could be until one night I finally caught a dark glimpse of something walking across the yard. I quickly walked back to the house, grabbed a torch, and headed back outside for further investigation (kind of like the scenes in those scary movies. You know, the ones where someone hears some dreadful noise outside and decides to investigate, alone, at night. I mean, can’t they hear that ominous music playing?). Luckily, the critter was still ambling its way across the yard and my torch illuminated a fairly large and cute hedgehog! Unfortunately, by the time I ran back into the house to grab my camera the hedgehog decided it had had enough and walked back into the bushes.
Ever since that first encounter I have wanted to capture an image of one of the hedgehogs. Well, last night I had another hedgehog encounter and managed to grab my camera in time to capture it digitally.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which explains why I usually start to see them around sunset. They are also insectivorous, so usually eat insects, but also vary their diets with quite a few other things. While hedgehogs have spines, they are unlike the quills of a porcupine in that they remain attached to the animal. The standard defense is to put their head down (the spines are only on the top of their bodies) and remain motionless, and if that doesn’t deter a predator they can also roll themselves up into a tight little ball, exposing only their spines to any would be predator. Hedgehogs are fairly benign to humans and throughout Europe folks commonly attract hedgehogs to live in their gardens to help keep insects under control.
Hedgehogs are not native to New Zealand, but were most likely brought over from Europe by early immigrants who wanted to have the critters to help out their gardens in their new home. There is still a common belief that since hedgehogs are insectivorous, that is all they eat. Unfortunately, that is not the case; in addition to insects, they have an apatite for invertebrates, some plants, and bird eggs, for example. Hedgehogs have no natural predators here in New Zealand, and so have grown to quite a large population. Also, recent evidence has pointed out that hedgehogs run a close third behind possums and stoats as predators of New Zealand birds, sometimes decimating ground nesting bird species.
“Please don’t wipe your feet/
Upon my back. Be more discrete./
For I am dressed to the nines/
With my coat of bristling spines.”
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, located on the outskirts of Christchurch, is not simply another reserve, but strives to link the local animals and the Maoris who first inhabited this land. There are many endemic and introduced animals on display.
This curly feathered goose is apparently one of the most threatened species of endemic goose. I thought it was cool. I have never seen a goose with curly feathers!
The pukeko (Porphyrio porphyrio) is a native swamphen the locals refer to as the New Zealand chicken – not to be confused with the chook, which is Kiwi for chicken. These birds have beautiful iridescent bluish black feathers and bright red beaks and are often seen walking dangerously close to roadsides and in pastures on the outskirts of town. Even though these are beautiful birds, they are allowed to be hunted. There are some folks who worry these birds may be endangered by the prolific hunting. Recent articles report these birds are often shot and just left there 😦
Mother ducks with their broods have been a common sight this spring. The ducks seem to inhabit the most “citified” places and can often be found waddling along residential streets. Unfortunately, even though the mother duck can fly, their ducklings cannot, so when the duck wants to cross a street with her ducklings she walks with them across the road. We have watched mother ducks with a long line of ducklings cross even in front of buses – the bus drivers waits patiently for the ducks to cross before proceeding. However, we have seen many ducks that were hit on the road.
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve serves as a way station for animals which have been injured. They nurture them back to health and even release them back into the wild if possible. One neat exhibit is mostly devoted to keas. They have about 10 kea or so (again, mostly those birds which they have nursed back to health and are in the recovery stage. These parrots are big and beautiful.
One female kea was particularly friendly and liked to fly over and land on people’s shoulders. Later in the evening we took a guided tour of the native section of the reserve and we were in for a treat as the guide opened a cup of honey and spooned the honey out to give to the keas!
My favorite area was the kiwi house. The reserve cares for many injured kiwis as well as rearing young chicks from the wild until they are of sufficient size to defend themselves against predators. This is by far the best kiwi house I have seen yet. The pens do not have glass or wire mesh surrounding them as most other kiwi house do. Visitors can get a great view of the kiwis in their “native” environment, waddling around poking their long beaks into the ground and through leaves looking for worms and insects – very cool. We saw perhaps 6 kiwis inside the enclosure. They also have outdoor enclosure which would be great to visit at or after dusk.
Within the native portion of the reserve they have built a replica Maori village, or pa. As part of our tour we encountered a group of Maori in native attire and were greeted the traditional way – with a very aggressive show of warrior strength and language as well as the swinging of their great stone clubs and spears! Luckily our appointed “leader” chose not to intimidate these folks and we were allowed to enter their village to learn how the Maori pa was laid out – very interesting.
After our tour of the native animals and the pa we were led to a small amphitheatre and treated to a group of Maori who related a bit of their culture through dancing and singing. Because it was the off season and there were only a handful of visitors there, we were then all forced into a bit of dancing ourselves. The women perform a dance called the poi utilizing a small ball tied to the end of a string which is swirled around in different positions throughout the dance. The folks there indicated the poi – a ball tied onto string – may have either been used to “tuffen up” the women who repeatedly strike their forearms with the ball while they dance or they may have been used as weapons. I am not sure which is correct.
The men perform a dance called the haka, and yes, I did indeed have to dance the haka with the rest of the guys in our group – ugh! Probably the most famous haka in the world is performed by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. If you have ever seen their intimidating dance before a rugby team you have seen a haka.
After our humbling dance experience we were led to a nice dining room and were treated to a buffet including carved pork, beef, and lamb, as well as all the necessary scrumptious vege dishes! I even had my first opportunity to try a standard Kiwi dessert, pavlova. Pavlova is essentially a pie made of sweetened meringue – a bit too sweet for my taste.
The reserve is open until late in the evening during the summer and it would be worth it to check it out in the evening sometime.
“We watched the Maori dance with glee/
But the haka is not for me.”
The water table has recently risen in the vicinity due to a higher than average rainfall. The higher water table has led to flooding of some areas, such as the ring tailed lemur paddock. Fortunately, a boat has been provided for them.
Orana Wildlife Park does house some native New Zealand species, such as the kiwi. The kiwi is a nocturnal animal, so it sleeps during the day and forages during the night. This arrangement would normally make for a boring display – the birds would all be asleep during normal business hours. To add more interest to the display, kiwi are usually housed in what is known as a “kiwi house.” The birds are placed inside a light tight building, and the lights are slowly shifted twelve hours off. In other words, inside the building the birds are fooled into thinking it’s dark outside, when they are more active. This was perhaps the first kiwi house I have visited in which the kiwis were active! It was great to see these big funny looking birds waddle around the enclosure. Flash photography was not allowed inside the kiwi house, so you will have to settle for this lifesize replica of a kiwi – the bird, not the person 🙂
There was a nice display of some native and endemic bird species, such as the kea, tui, and pukeko. They have a small aviary which contains a variety of New Zealand birds. The exhibit was lush and the air filled with interesting bird calls.
A picturesque clumb of stalks in the moat which formed the front perimeter of the Rhino paddock. I felt quite safe knowing this clump of twisted sticks and twiggs formed the heart of the perimeter enclosure and would stop a potential charge from the 4000 pounds of malice roaming beyond the moat.
I had to try out the flying fox located in the Adventure Playground. In New Zealand a flying fox is a system where a cable is suspended between two points with a basket or seat attached to the cable with a pulley. These systems were originally developed as a means of transporting goods or people across a river or gorge. The flying fox has since been transormed into an exhilerating use of a zip line!
I am fascinated with big cats. I grew up with house cats and have always thought it interesting that our pet cats share many of the same behaviours with their distant wild cousins. I enjoy watching the big cats on display, especially when I see the same behaviours my house cats have shown. I like to imagine that my house cat is a wild cat, hunting for prey in the wild. From afar, I can even imagine one of these as a house cat – from afar! From close up, you can see these cats are not quite the same as your house cat.
The Lion Encounter Ride: It seems Orana Wildlife Park offers a special visitor engagement whereupon a park visitor may encounter the feeding of lions from a most advantageous point of view. It was just after 2:00pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet; at least this would provide me with the opportunity to watch other critters eat. Upon paying the necessary $12.00/person fee I was handed two tickets – printed on red paper no less. The intrigue rose when I read the tickets. Printed on the tickets was a list of rules:
Lion Encounter Ride Ticket
Rule #1. I will follow the instructions of the animal keeper at all times.
Rule #2. I will keep my whole body (including arms & legs) behind the central barrier.
Rule #3. I will not attempt to touch the lions under any circumstances
Rule # 4. I am taller than 1.4 metres.
After reading this list of rules, a few thoughts came to mind: Rule#1 is sensible enough. I wonder what happend that caused the phrase “including arms & legs” to be added to Rule #2 ? Isn’t Rule#3 a bit redundant? I mean, this is supposed to be an encounter with feeding lions. And apearently, according to Rule#4, whatever size the appetizer, it appears the lions have a minimum size for a main…
According to the animal keeper, in captivity these lions usually eat around 8 pounds of meat at a sitting. We were then informed that if the lions are fed that much every day they become lazy. So, to maintain healthy activity in the animals, they are not fed every day, but have “fast days,” which provides the big cats ample opportunity to digest the bone and sinew they eat along with the more choice bits. Needless to say, these lions had an appetite.
These were BIG CATS. They had BIG CLAWS and BIG TEETH. I guess our animal keeper has not read Rule #2.
Oddly enough, their breath smelled faintly of liver and kidney slices in gravy…
Our lion encounter vehicle stopped in front of the large viewing stand positioned safely outside the paddock (do they know something we don’t?). At this point a couple of the more “active” cats decided to jump up on top of the cage. Above our heads. The big cats walked back and forth across the top of the cage. The lion was hungry. It was drooling on us. Occasionally the animal keeper would reach into a bucket, pull out another chunk of meaty bits and push it through the heavy metal cage for the big cat to gulp down. The big cat jumped off the top of our cage as easily as it jumped up – what a site!
Yes, you can feed the giraffes. If you can hold onto the stalk hard enough the giraffe will wrap its toungue around the branch and strip it clean of leaves.