The New Zealand Diaries: exploring bird-life on Ulva Island (14/01/16)


It seems like only yesterday that I bought my little NZ bird guide near Lake Waikamoreana —-on that first day, all the pages were blank, lacking any notes of sightings of birds with dates from my side; and it seemed like I would never see even half of the rare and wonderful winged creatures depicted in it.

Today, as I updated my notes on what birds I have seen so far, I am struck by how many special and very rare birds I have enjoyed special sightings of just today!! I have seen a male and female rifleman fly in and out of an oval hole in the bark of a tree to feed their young; admired a kingfisher as he sat quietly on a branch of a tree in a small, blissfully secluded bay; seen and watched saddlebacks fly to and fro, never quite sitting still for long; gazed at a little owl called a Moreport/Ruru hidden away in a tree, only occasionlly moving to groom its feathers; and laughed, once again, at the little Stewart Island robin and its curious nature, although the young ones we saw (their bellies more grey whereas the adults have white tummies) were still a little more scared of humans. The kakas making their loud and funny noises were a regular part of our day, too, their feathers coloured in the most beautiful shades of red;  and we watched Wekas on numerous occasions, not least on the beach where we helped one find crabs to nibble at before gazing at the jelly-like anemones on the rock surfaces and laughing at the territorial behaviour of the oyster catchers.  The fantails on Ulva Island were as photo-shy as those I had previously seen but I was able to see more clearly how they use their fan shaped tails for attracting flies and insects. The brown creepers, which we also saw (which cannot be seen on the North Island) were amazing too see, too, but the really special treat were the yellowheads which we spotted; initially just a few isolated ones but right at the end of our afternoon walk, we saw two little fledglings on a branch, with mum and dad flying to and fro bringing them food. Had it not been for the need to ensure that we caught the water taxi back to Stewart Island, I doubt any of us would have torn ourselves away from that special sight. These little yellow birds (about the size of a sparrow) are just so cute and brightly coloured and they are extremely rare.

The lovely beach at the end of the walk were we saw the kingfisher from afar was also home to some cormorants, and on the boat ride back we also saw some nesting on nearby rocks. Why they have to call one type of cormorant “shag” is beyond me……..maybe I am one track-minded? A chap here at the hostel where I am staying said that they reproduce at high speed…….and that that is why one type of cormorant is called that. …might be true?

What was also incredible about this guided Ulva Island walk with Furhana from Ruggedy Range Wilderness Experience (apart from having help in spotting birds which we may otherwise not have sighted high up in the trees) was a wonderful fresh sandwich lunch on the beach (we even had tea and chocolate cake!)  the interesting information she gave us on fauna and flora surrounding us. I am struggling to recall all the details she gave us—so hard to take it all in—but I remember seeing a tiny orchid called a lady slipper orchid  grow out of tree trunks (the inside part does look like a lady’s shoe); hearing the explanations about how the rata flower (red like that of the Pohutukawa flower on the tree I saw at Mount Maunganui) has both male and female seeds in one flower which, to prevent cross- breeding, flower at different times, enabling visiting birds and insects to suck nectar and fertilise the females; and about the fantastic Rimu trees with their tiny, scale-like leaves, previously an important building timber. Rimu trees can be either male or female, which is fascinating in itself. There was another tree (I have forgotten the name) which takes hundreds of years to grow and looks so different at each stages of its lifecycle that the European settlers, for a long time, did not realise it was one and the same tree! It carries out photosynthesis as it grows high enough to see the light high above the rain forest after a few hundred years, and so its approach to photosynthesis varies depending on how old the tree is.

Interestingly enough, part of nearly all of the trees and plant we saw was used by the Maoris for curing different ailments and illnesses—how in tune with nature they were/are.

Furhana told us so much more, but I cannot remember it all–just such a fascinating day, and I have learned so much.

I was going to get an early night but once again it has not happened…….I  had some good chats to people here in the hostel night and shared a potpouri dinner with two German girls and a British vet who worked here for a while and is now chatting. It has been fun having more company today both during the tour and at the hostel, but I do so value my quiet times alone when I can just “be” and ponder, more easily, the immensity of all I am seeing, hearing and experiencing here.