I leave the hostel after dusk, and it’s already dark. Others have gone earlier, telling me they get out before dark in this period because nights are so short, but it took me longer to have dinner. I see people coming back from the Church Hill but I do not dare to ask if they have seen one. I keep walking.
I’m in their territory now. It’s a residential area, but there’s no one around. I walk, alert, my head lamp scanning the roadsides, my ears trying to pick up any unusual noise. It’s not raining, there’s very little wind… it should be a good night. I turn the corner. Suddenly, on the left, some rattle in the understorey. Could it be one?
There’s definitely something there, but I cannot see any movement yet. Hope starts rising. My lamp is not very strong, and I keep it pointed toward the edge of the bushes. I’m at the head of an alleyway leading to a house, a car is parked 5 meters away. My breathing intensifies. It’s coming closer, isn’t it?
A long beak. An eye. A kiwi! That’s a kiwi coming out of the bushes, right into my light, foraging as if I weren’t there. The thrill! It crosses the alleyway, then back again. Then out again, before disappearing on the other side. I manage to spoil the moment by trying to take pictures. In such low light, I fumble with the focus, and before I can take a single decent shot, the bird is gone. I feel so stupid. I should have left my camera at home. Now I really want to see it again. I hear it walk and forage on the forest soil, but I can’t see anything anymore. Stupid.
Frustrated but optimistic, I walk a bit further, hoping to find another one. But nothing, nowhere.
I go back to the house where the first encounter took place. On the road, I see two people with a strong red torch pointed on the roadside. I stop. There’s a kiwi walking in the light, at its pace, clearly not fazed by the attention.
I stop in the middle of the road, and watch this curious flightless animal walk. At my level, it stops, then starts crossing the road in my direction. I freeze at it closes the gap and starts inspecting my feet… “toc”, it pecks at my boot, “toc” and again! Then it’s my trousers that gains its attention, as I do not dare to move, too afraid to scare it away. Lesson learnt, I don’t try to make a picture. I live the moment, breathtaken.
The kiwi is still in the red light when it moves away, leaving me stunned in the middle of the road. I think I’m grinning 😀
Days have passed, and I’m about to leave Stewart Island. Yesterday, I had another close encounter with a kiwi, the third one in four nights of searching. This time I didn’t have the bird for myself, and was pissed off by the selfish nature of humans when a girl stepped in front of me as I tried to take a picture of the bird. Just another reason to stay away from the crowds. As if I needed one.
I met some lovely people in Oban, though. Ryan, the hostel manager, was a welcoming host, and Amy and Emilie, two crazy birders from Scotland, were the perfect adventure partners for a day on Ulva Island or a kiwi search in the dark. Take care, good people, of yourself and of others, and of our planet who needs it so badly.
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