Feathers and scales of Tiritiri

In my last two articles about Tiritiri Matangi, I showed you the island and many of its inhabitants, but some are still missing. Let’s have a look, OK?

North Island saddleback (Philesturnus rufusater)

This bird, emblem of the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, went very close to extinction. The introduction of rats and stoats brought a dramatic decline, and the only remaining birds were confined to Hen Island in the beginning of the last century. Like many other endemic species, they were then translocated to other locations, including Tiri in 1984.

North Island saddleback (Philesturnus rufusater)

The Maori lore has an interesting explanation for its brown “saddle”: “the tīeke (saddleback) is said to have received its chestnut saddle from Maui, who asked the bird to fetch him some water to quench his thirst as he fought the sun. The tīeke pretended not to hear and in his anger Maui gripped the bird in his hot hand, burning its back.” (source)

They are noisy, restless birds that favour trees and their shadow. Therefore, they are a difficult target for photography, but I’m happy to present you a few images anyway. It pays to stay several days at the same location 😉

North Island saddleback

New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

Another endemic, but not a threatened one! You may see it follow you when you walk in the grass, but don’t be fooled: it’s not that it likes you, it’s only interested in the insects you dislodge.

New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

A fantail offered me fantastic views one morning, by consistently using a distinctive perch. I was able to try different angles and different compositions, which is not something you can take for granted in bird photography.

New Zealand fantail

New Zealand fantail

New Zealand fantail

New Zealand fernbird (Poodytes punctatus)

This guy is a skulker, it looms in grass areas and lower branches… a bit like a Eurasian wren (Troglodyte troglodytes), but even more elusive! Kate, one of the other photographers, was after it. I was very lucky to manage a few sharp shots of an individual that explored New Zealand flax near the wharf.

New Zealand fernbird (Poodytes punctatus)

Brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

When quails where sighted on Tiri, hopes were that they belonged to the New Zealand quail species (Coturnix novazelandiaea). Unfortunately, DNA analysis proved they came from Australia, and that the native New Zealand quail was really extinct, as thought.

Brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla)

Another restless and vocal bird, quite common on Tiri. They won’t fly over open grounds, so they are highly vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Before translocation efforts, Whiteheads remained only on Little Barrier and Kapiti islands.

Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla)

Little pied cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)

A small cormorant with a variable and elegant plumage: the back is black, but the lower parts, from the throat to the undertail, can either be all white, mostly black with only a white throat… or somewhere in between! On Monday morning, all three phases roosted on the wharf, but only two remained long enough for a photoshoot.

Little pied cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)

Little pied cormorant

There are a few other species of cormorant down here, I hope to show them to you in other articles!

North Island robin (Petroica longipes)

Not related to the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) but looking similar, and equally familiar. On Tiri, if you rumage through the forest ground with a stick or the tip of your shoe, a robin may appear to look at what prey you have disturbed. Perching on a branch, they will have a very serious look, and watch down intently, completely ignoring the human who created this opportunity.

North Island robin (Petroica longipes)

North Island robin

Red-crowned parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiaea)

Another endemic, and another translocated species. Their loud, high-pitched calls echo through the forest, but they will rarely let you come close. They are often seen on the road, in pairs or small groups, or in trees, eating whole flowers.

Red-crowned parakeet (Cyanoramphus novazelandiaea)

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

This reptile, endemic to New Zealand, has very unique features, and though it resembles lizards, it belongs to another order, the Rhyncocephalia.
Carol knew of a burrow, and when we went there, its inhabitant was enjoying the night just at the entrance. Even though tuataras are nocturnal animals, Carol told me they can be seen during the day as well. I went back the day after, and there it was again!

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

Tuataras are long lived animals that grow and mature slowly; unlike other reptiles, they are adapted to low temperatures (they remain active until at least 5°C), and can hibernate during winter.

Previously in the Tiritiri Matangi series:

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