Life in a bag

Have you ever heard of bag moths? They are not literally moths in a bag, rather caterpillars in a bag. Or a case. Until I stumbled on a specimen at Dunedin Botanic Garden the other morning, I had never heard of them, let alone seen one. What looked like a twig was rustling on a shrub beside me. As I looked closely, the head of a caterpillar popped up from it.

The larva was hanging on to a leaf and simultaneously hooked onto its twig-like bag from the inside with its tiny prolegs— Continue reading

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A cosy cradle of concrete

The birds fly down to the underground parking through this large opening, which is also used as the way out by the fledglings.

For a couple days, an adult male and a female black redstart have been flying down to my building’s underground parking with food in their beak. I investigated and found out they are nesting there. I am sure that these two birds are the parents of Apache, Spot and Ring, the friendly chicks that visited my feeding station for three weeks. Now that the parents are raising a new clutch, the fledglings from the first clutch are moving away from their birth site to make Continue reading

A playground for black redstart chicks

Earlier this month, I came across a blog by the RSPB titled “Help wildlife feed the family this summer“, which encourages people to feed birds during the warm season and stresses the importance to help breeding pairs raise their chicks. On the other hand, another article highlighted the problems associated with feeding birds year round and particularly throughout the breeding season. I could not help wonder which is right as I recently, quite accidentally at first, started feeding birds at my window.

One evening, I threw leftover cereals over the small tiled roof that borders my attic window thinking birds would eat them. The next morning a group of grumpy-looking black redstarts stopped by for a snack.

Continue reading

A quest for the New Zealand mantis

New Zealand is a bitter example of the havoc men can bring upon nature. By purposely or accidentally introducing a legion of alien species to this far-off land, men unleashed destruction and forever altered New Zealand’s unique indigenous wildlife. Rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, feral cats and brushtail possums are the most notorious culprits because they predate on native and endemic ground-nesting birds like the iconic kakapo, kiwi and takahe, and many other less known species like the fairy prion and sooty shearwater, two burrowing seabirds. Introduced predators have driven several bird species to extinction in the past and continue to severely impact bird populations today.

The problem is not limited to the bird realm. The insect world is also in trouble as introduced bugs deplete native populations by killing or out-competing them for food. Non-native wasps are a notorious example: every year, they destroy large numbers of native bugs including bees, spiders, flies and caterpillars like those of monarch butterflies. Wasps are so numerous they threaten birds as well—here is an insightful documentary about the wasp plague in New Zealand.

More insidious, but no less detrimental, is the case of praying mantis.

A single praying mantis species, the endemic Orthodera novaezealandiae, was originally present in New Zealand. Another, Miomantis caffra or “springbok mantis”, was Continue reading

The cheeky fantails of Lake Rotoroa

Audacity is a trait shared by many New Zealand birds. Here, humans are not just tolerated, but often chased, scrutinized and sometimes hassled—a specialty of red-billed gulls who snatch food off people’s plates at restaurants. Species as different as keas, wekas and fantails (Rhipidura fuliginosa) all share this temerity and insatiable curiosity. Birds introduced from Europe are shy in comparison, save around campsites and touristy areas where they behave like natives.

Rotoroa Lake, Nelson Lakes National Park

Lake Rotoroa in the Tasman region (click on map to enlarge)

Coming from Europe, this remarkable confidence never ceases to amaze me, and my recent interaction with fantails in Nelson Lakes National Park taught me it has virtually no limit. Many fantails have crossed my path since I arrived in New Zealand—the species has well adapted Continue reading