If you are a nature and bird enthusiast, Queenstown (Otago region) should rank low on your list of places to visit in New Zealand. Too vibrant for its own good, this transient town offers spectacular vistas, but is oddly crowded and congested. Queenstown boasts of being the “adventure tourism capital of the world”, so visitors come for the adrenaline rush and the party rather than a genuine nature experience. One does not encounter as much wildlife as can be expected in such a remarkable mountainous setting, and if you seek peace and quiet, look away.
It is in Queenstown, however, that I sighted my first Californian Quails (Callipepla californica). Native of the southwestern United-States, these stunning-looking birds were introduced as game birds in several countries including New Zealand in 1862. The birds subsequently conquered an extensive range and are nowadays found throughout most of the South and North Islands.
In Queenstown, they can be observed a short walk away from the city center along some of the gravel roads leading up to the Gondola. The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk, when they come out in the open to forage.
Californian Quails are highly gregarious birds, sometimes forming large groups—called coveys—of more than 70 individuals. They mainly forage on the ground for seeds, leaves, flowers, berries and invertebrates. They can run incredibly fast to the point that you hardly see their little legs moving, and are just as good flying: if spooked, they will escape in great tumult to perch safely above ground.
Unfortunately, there were no chicks around when these photos were taken, but I shall hunt for them next spring. In New Zealand, eggs are typically laid anytime between September and January. Amazingly, hatching is simultaneous due to the chicks calling to each other while still in the egg!
Location: Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand (South Island)