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.

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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 iconic, often endemic ground-nesting birds like the kakapo, the kiwi or the takahe, three flagship species, and have already driven several bird species to extinction.

However, 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 common to many New Zealand birds. Here, humans are not just tolerated; they are 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 no limit. Many fantails have crossed my path since I arrived in New Zealand—the species has well adapted 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, 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.

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