Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 2: Birds of New Zealand, Pt. 1

As described last time, I (and hiking buddy Taylor) took what shaped up to be one of my favorite trips of the year to Tiritiri Matangi, an island and bird sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf.

While there, I got enough photos of birds to tide my ornithological passions for quite some time. Enough, in fact, that this entire post is dedicated just to bird photos! It’s like a dream come true!

In fact, there are so many birds photos that this post itself became two posts! This is part 1 of part 2.

This guide was hanging in the bunkhouse, and while it’s slightly faded and not definitive, it was definitely a help in field identification.

If you want some easy bird photos, these stations are where you want to camp out. On Tiritiri, the nectar feeders are bellbirds, stitchbirds (called hihi by the Maori and by me throughout the rest of this post) and tui. Tui are too large to actually enter and drink from these feeders (they have their own feeders up near the bunkhouse), but they hang around anyway just to assert their dominance. The feeders are mostly for the benefit of the hihi, who are the lowest on the totem pole and might otherwise starve during the Winter months.

Here is about a minute-long video I took on my cell phone of all the avian activity you can see around the feeder. As the video shows, there’s plenty of birds to photograph there.

Hihi

The hihi are very sexually dimorphic, which is a fancy way of saying that males and females look different. This colorful guy with a black head is a male.

And this would be a female. The drab coloration of the female means it takes a bit more effort to distinguish them from all the other brownish-gray birds flitting about, though if you’re at a hihi feeder you can have pretty high confidence that you’re seeing a hihi.

Hihi are cute little birds native to New Zealand. They have an upward-pointing tail like the fantail and a high-pitched call. They’re sadly quite rare on the mainland, and are considered vulnerable.

I’m glad that the folks at Tiritiri are working to preserve the hihi, which can be found in reasonable abundance on the island.

Bellbird

Called the korimako by the Maori, the bellbird is another native New Zealand nectar feeder. These birds are a bit more aggressive than the hihi and correspondingly are not currently threatened. Introduced predators are still affecting their numbers, though, so their presence on Tiritiri provides a good surety that they will remain unthreatened.

This particular shot of a male bellbird is one of my better bird photos. He does not look particularly happy to be photographed.

Their song is extremely variable but is all clear, high notes (hence the name). These birds are loud and enthusiastic contributors to the dawn chorus.

The female bellbird is apparently much shyer, since all I have are rubbish photos. Here’s the best of the bunch.

To make up for it, here’s a photo of a hilariously fat bellbird we saw lumbering about the trees. More like ballbird, amirite?

I am right.

Tui

The iconic tui can be seen throughout New Zealand and are, thankfully, not threatened.

At first glance, they appear mostly black. But upon further examination, the greenish-blue coloration starts to stand out.

Tui calls are not particularly tuneful; their grunts and blats put me in mind of an old-timey dot matrix printer warming up.

The tui use their size to their advantage and communicate both while perched and in flight. They can even be seen harassing larger birds en masse.

Boring birds

I feel bad classifying any bird as boring, but let’s be honest: some are less interesting than others.

The contradictorily-named brown teal is a species of duck native to New Zealand. It was once threatened but is now recovering, which is Good News. Unfortunately, when I look at these ducks, all I see is “normal duck”, so they bear no especial attraction to me.

The New Zealand wood pigeon, or keruru, is definitely a pigeon. If you’re hiking and you hear a bird taking off with all the grace and silence of a military transport helicopter, it’s probably a wood pigeon. These guys are not threatened, but are given some special treatment just on account of being native.

When we were hiking the Cascade Trail, Taylor and I heard about fifty of these guys. Good on them for not dying out, I suppose, but at the end of the day…they’re pigeons.

Moving on from the boring birds, we come to:

Takahe

At first glance, you might be tempted to identify this as a fat pukeko, a bird so boring it didn’t even make the boring birds section (sorry, pukeko. I still love you). But this is actually a takahe, something…much more special.

We first encountered the takahe in Te Anau, you may recall, where I told the story of their rediscovery last century. These fat and lazy birds are not only flightless, they can’t even be bothered to die off properly. Fortunately for us (and for them, I suppose), as they are now being bred in sanctuaries such as Tiritiri Matangi (and, apparently, Tawharanui, though I didn’t see any while I was there).

This one even kindly posed in front of a rainbow.

This was Taylor’s first time seeing takahe, and he was quite taken with them. I can understand why, since these birds are really quite cool.

Fantail

Yeah, these guys probably belong in the boring birds section, but they’re just so cute and cheerful I can’t help but give them their own little space here.

I haven’t heard anyone call them by their Maori name, piwakawaka, but I like saying it because it sounds cool. They make a cute “cheep, cheep” sound that matches their appearance perfectly.

Saddleback

It’s not hard to figure out how the North Island saddleback, or tieke, got its name. These birds are recovering after having been seriously threatened earlier, being found on just one island in the gulf. Wildlife experts did a great job translocating and saving the species. They’re now in recovery; I got a few poor photos of a couple of them at Tawharanui as well.

They’re not common yet, but I have hopes that their piercing, repetitive call and vibrant roan back features will become a feature of North Island forests once more.

To be continued

Come back next time for even more birds, including some really rare, cool ones. Cooler than the takahe? You’ll just have to wait and find out!

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