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

A discrete life by the stream

Wildlife sometimes lives where you least suspect it. You visit a place for months and see nothing until one day something pops up, seemingly out of nowhere. This little water vole inhabits a stream that I have passed many times without ever noticing it, probably because it moves around quickly Continue reading

One shelter for two squirrels

The red squirrel that recently visited my balcony decided to build himself a shelter on the ledge of a nearby window.

Made of moss, hay and pillow filling material laid on a bed of dead Boston-ivy leaves, the round-shaped construction looks cozy but too tight to fit more than one. It was put together in just a few hours—sometimes between the moment I sighted the critter, around lunch time, and the next morning.

What is the exact purpose and nature of this hastily erected retreat: winter shelter, den, nest, drey? I was unable to match it with anything I found online. It would be too small to welcome a brood and the location is definitely hazardous―the store from the neighbor’s window could be fatal if shut down and it is not well protected against the wind.

Since he “moved in”, the rodent has made regular appearances. He goes out during the day to forage in the area around my block and returns “home” before sunset. He is sometimes absent so I suspect he may have another shelter. He often rests inside his retreat with his little nose out to keep careful watch on his surroundings.

To my surprise, another squirrel came to my balcony this morning. Continue reading

Inquisitive red squirrel

Click here for a fresh update of this blog with more images & a second squirrel!


This handsome European red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) was investigating my balcony this morning in search of food and water.

The fluffy critter had climbed up to the second floor clinging to the thin branches of Boston-ivy that cover the wall of my appartment building.

As I approached, he started crawling away but soon came back up. Indecisive but not shy, he rested on the ledge of a nearby window and we stared at each other for a few minutes before he left the improvised shelter and moved on to the next balcony.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany

Foraging Voles

A couple of bank voles (Myodes glareolus) were conspicuously foraging along a country path this morning. The little rodents were so overly confident that I could kneel just a few inches from them for several minutes. Despite poor light conditions cast by a dull weather, I had a go with my small compact camera. I shall return under sunny skies but for now here are the best shots.

Voles are monogamous for the duration of their short existence which rarely exceeds 6 months, although most die during their first month. In my town, they often get hit or run over by bicycles, a rather violent death.

To compensate this high mortality rate, mother nature made these rodents particularly prolific. A single couple can engender up to a 100 descents per year causing recurrent episodes of overpopulation. The mice are considered a pest by farmers as they burrow into the ground where they forage on roots thereby ravaging crops and fruit trees.

Any encounter with these minuscule, adorable looking beings remains nonetheless greatly enjoyable.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany