Tiritiri Matangi was the first patch of nature I visited after I arrived in New Zealand. Remember? I sailed out of Auckland and spent 4 nights on the island, a reforested sanctuary where rare endemic species have been reintroduced.
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That was in August 2018. Fast-forward almost a year, I’m staying in Auckland for the last few weeks of my stay, spending most of my free time exploring the shoreline near my apartment. One day, I received an email from a coordinator at the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi: hey, do you want to come for a week of volunteering on the island?
Why, of course I want!!
So I packed my camera, my sleeping bag and food for a week, and took the ferry to the island. There, I met Ching-yee, my fellow volunteer for the week, and Emma, the ranger who would be our supervisor.
We had a few different tasks on the island. Every day, the water troughs, where the birds drink along the Wattle track, had to be refilled. Twice during the week, they had to be disinfected as well, to avoid contamination. This was a one-man (or one-woman) job. At the same time, every day, the other volunteer assisted Emma in the Hihi run, to refill the sugar feeders used by New Zealand bellbirds (Anthornis melanura) and New Zealand stitchbirds (Notiomystis cincta) – the latter being called Hihi, in Maori, and very rare. It was quite a job to prepare the sugar-water mixture and then put it in place in the feeder, but usually we managed not to spill too much of it!
We also help maintaining the tracks that criss-cross the island. We trimmed the bushes, cleared the fallen leaves and put some plastic netting on a wooden bridge to prevent visitors from falling and hurting themselves. One day, we also cleaned the visitor center: floor, windows, tables, it SHONE when we were done! We also washed the solar panels, the main source of energy nowadays on Tiritiri.
Now, those latter tasks might not sound very exciting, but we had a mission, a purpose: Tiritiri’s educative role is important, for it makes people more aware of their threatened natural heritage, and thus more willing to protect it through their own actions. The quality of its infrastructure is an important factor of its success.
Fortunately, it was not only about working, so we had a lot of free time to explore the island. Unsurprisingly, I really wanted to focus on bird photography; my main target was the North Island kokako (Callaeas wilsoni), a strange and shy wattlebird that spends most of its time munching on flowers and leaves in the canopy. Fortunately, the island’s forest is young, so the canopy is low; therefore, it’s one of the best places to see that species.
On my first stay, I saw them only once, and it lasted only a second as they crossed a path. This time, I’m happy to report that we saw them very regularly, almost every day.
The Nikau palm trees had berries, and we kept hearing reports of visitors seeing them there… but even though we spent a few afternoons there, around 4pm, never we saw them there. Sure, we had other encounters, but the Nikau grove would have brought the birds at eye-level, instead of high up in the foliage. We realized that all sightings had been reported around midday, so on the last day we went there around that time, and BIM! They came 🙂
In the time spent waiting for the kokako, we were never alone. New Zealand pigeons (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) loved the Nikau fruits, and some stitchbirds also showed up to drink nectar from the pink flowers. A female spent quite some time with us, but it was really difficult to photograph her in that dark forest, as she kept moving around.
Another restless one was the Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla): numerous, but always on the move!
One afternoon was really quiet, until a loud racket erupted not far from us. I immediately thought about the Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), for it’s a well known fact that smaller birds can harass owls when they find one in the forest during the day (it’s a different story at night, obviously!). And sure enough, there was one sitting on a tree nearby, looking very pissed off 😀 We shot it for a while, trying to find a nice angle without too many twigs and leaves in the way, before it flew deeper into the bush.
Our night adventures rewarded us with 2 Little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) sightings, and a few weta (flightless insects endemic to New Zealand).
Of course, the usual suspects were around as well, like the Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) and the New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa).
I’m very happy I had the opportunity to visit Tiritiri again. They say volunteering is good for your soul… I can only agree. I even got a diploma, which is nice 😀
Want to know where I went? Check out the map!
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