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

Fifth instar Monarch larvae

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are famous for the epic annual fall migration they undertake to Mexico and Southern California. What is little known is that their range extends beyond North America to the Pacific, as far south as New Zealand. North American and New Zealand monarchs are the same species, so biologists believe that Continue reading

Queenstown Quails

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand, viewed from the Gondola lookout. Credit: Yalakom

If you are a nature and bird enthusiast, do not expect too much of Queenstown (Otago, South Island). 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 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 remarkable 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.

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Stevensons Island: A small, intimate bird heaven on lake wanaka

Stevensons Island is a hidden gem of Lake Wanaka. Peace and quiet rule this wild island situated just a short boat ride away from Wanaka township (Otago, South Island). The dense native bush vegetation that covers most of the island attracts many bird species endemic and native to New Zealand. And the easy terrain, short trees and small size of the island makes it a perfect birding ground.

Roys Peak overlooking Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

View of Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak (1578m). Stevensons Island lies behind the far right mountain. Credit: Steven Sandner (see his Facebook page for more photographs)

With a surface of 192 km² and depth of 311 m, Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand (behind Lake Taupo, Lake Te Anau and Lake Wakatipu). It is fed by the Matukituki and Makarora Rivers and drains into the Clutha River, the second longest and highest volume river in New Zealand. Lake Wanaka lies 300 m above sea level in a U-shaped valley that was carved out through glacial erosion during the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. There, land and water magnificently Continue reading

Week of the mouse

Mice are tiny, incredibly fast and often live in concealed areas, which makes them quite hard to sight. This week, I have been lucky to spot two of them: a wood mouse (above photo) and a common shrew—which technically is neither a mouse nor a rodent as it belongs to the mole family.

I found the shrew unwell in the middle of the sidewalk and nearly stepped on it. I fetched it, placed it in a warm box and gave it some Continue reading