Amanita muscaria at Dunedin Northern Cemetery

Regardless of the season, there is always something interesting to see at Dunedin Northern Cemetery. This remarkable graveyard, one of the city’s oldest, has become a wonderful park in nearly 150 years of existence. Its luxuriant, diverse vegetation, its abandoned graves and, first and foremost, its tranquility have created a rich environment for many New Zealand and introduced birds to thrive. Over twenty bird species can Continue reading

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Feral, not wild

There is nothing but feral horses on the earth. The fascination with the Przewalski horse, the so-called last wild horse, may have well come to an abrupt end. A new horse DNA study by Orlando et al. has revealed that the Mongolian horse is in fact feral, not wild as previously thought. This is a huge surprise and casts a veil on the true origin of the modern horse. It will be interesting to see what future studies unravel.

Przewalski Horses at the Haus zur Wildnis, Germany

Przewalski Horses at the Haus zur Wildnis, Germany. Credit: Yalakom

For more information about this new study, you can read the following article: Ancient DNA upends the horse family tree, published by Sience on February 22.

Naturally, these findings make parts of my story of the Asian Wild Horse obsolete and inaccurate, but I will not blame you if you still wish to have a read! There is no denial that the story of the Przewalski horse remains an interesting one at the very least from a conservation and historic point of view.

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

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 ecosystems and 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