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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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 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

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

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.

Continue reading

Aramoana: Dunedin’s pathway into the ocean

Aramoana map

Aramoana, Dunedin (click on map to enlarge)

One of the many perks of living in Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand, is its proximity to nature. The city sprawls over more than 3,000 sq km of eroded volcanic remnants from an extinct shield volcano that last erupted 10-million years ago. This hilly landscape is organized around a large tidal inlet dominated by Mount Cargill (700 m) to the north and the beautifully indented Otago Peninsula to the south. Thanks to this fabulous setting, it only takes a short drive to surround yourself with breathtaking natural scenery and a very unique wildlife.

Situated 25 km north of Dunedin, Aramoana is one of these places where one can escape the urban life for an afternoon. This small settlement of 264 dwellers is the mouth of the Otago Harbor Continue reading