Sunday, March 27, 2011

Searching for kiwi


We heard a lot about kiwis on our trip, but they're very hard to spot. Ellen went on a kiwi hunt on Ulva Island before joining us and managed to see some AND get great photos. But we merely heard about them everywhere we went: how they are nocturnal, how they are endangered, how people remove chicks from the fathers (who apparently don't notice their disappearance) and raise them in hatcheries, then return them to the wild once they are old enough to withstand the rampaging stoats, weasels, rats, cats and dogs.

So when our Rotorua guide told us we could see kiwis as well as other rare creatures at Rainbow Springs, we decided to stop there on the way out of town. It's really a sort of zoo, with aviaries where you can see all kinds of birds that might be hard to spot in the wild. We had already seen New Zealand pigeons and keas but were glad to see them again. The morepork and the millenia-old tuatara were treats, although each was tricky to spot and I have no decent pictures.

The introduced brown trout made beautiful patterns under the water.

Here's an iconic fern unfolding.

EAP got to stand next to an extinct moa.

Paradise duck

A very friendly, not to say manic, young shag

New Zealand pigeon high up in the aviary

At last it was time to visit the kiwi hatchery. No, the sign is not to scale...

Of course, you can't take pictures inside, so you'll have to take my word for it that this was fascinating. The chicks are brought here (from Okarito among other places), checked in and weighed, fed regularly, and handled as little as possible. We watched through big windows as the kiwi technicians picked them up out of their little bassinets and put them on the scales. They fed them a special kiwi mixture until they were old enough to pick it up themselves. Yes, the chicks were darling and fluffy, but it's also clear that they are not social birds (unlike the kea) and don't really give much back, unless it's a kick with their powerful legs.

Beyond the hatchery they've provided a habitat complete with low lighting (they're nocturnal) so that we could watch them in something closer to their native conditions. A great treat to see them so close - next time, let's go to Ulva Island!

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