You can imagine how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to add many new endemic bird species to my “have seen” list and even more exciting to capture them on photos. Being the flying kind the next grouping of birds I will write about have the usual challenges when trying to take a photo – they rarely sit still.
MOREPORK /RURU – I think this is one of my favorite birds for two reasons. One: it is an owl – a species that I have caught only once before in a photo and am obsessed with finding more. They are singularly fascinating birds as their eyes are fixed in their skulls – they cannot shift as ours do so nature has compensated by giving the owl the ability to twist their heads almost 270 degrees.
The second reason is its name – though I cannot figure it out. Supposedly it is supposed to mimic the sound the owl makes – but frankly its woeful hoot sounds more like its Maori name, “ruru:”
Morepork are nocturnal and are excellent hunters for large beetles, weta, moths, spiders as well as small birds, rats and mice.They are stealth fliers making no noise as they swoop down to catch their prey. They are one of New Zealand’s three remaining birds of prey and have adapted well to human civilization and in particular, help with the control of rodents humans inadvertently brought to the islands.
Since they are nocturnal, like the kiwi it is difficult to get a photo of morepork in the wild. This is what they do look like in their natural habitat, courtesy of the Department of Conservation of New Zealand:
Happily for me I did get an opportunity to meet a morepork at the Queenstown Kiwi Birdlife Park and he was beautiful as you can see from the photo at the top of this post as well as these:
MATUKU/BITTERN – They may not be as beautiful as the morepork, but the once plentiful wetlands Matuku are very important to the Maori people, for food as well as feathers for ceremonies many years ago but also as part of their legends. In Maori mythology, Matuku is an ogre who kills Wahieroa, a semi-supernatural being, setting off a story of revenge.
There appears to be a good deal of bird induced violence in Maori lore as you will see below.
In the present day, bitterns are now globally endangered so I was lucky to have seen one in the Birdlife park:
PIWAKAWAKA/FANTAIL – This was one of the most difficult birds to photograph as its movements are very much like the hummingbird – they can change direction quickly with the use of its gorgeous fantail.
Surprisingly in Maori mythology this delicate bird is responsible for the presence of death in the world. Remember the demigod Maui depicted in the movie “Moana”? Maui tries to eliminate death but the fantail laughs to warn the goddess Hine-nui-te-po and the goddess kills Maui.
I prefer the fantail in its present form – flitting about the forest tantalizing me with quick stops so forgive the somewhat less than focused results on some of these photos:
The fantail has been quite successful adapting to an environment damaged by humans, helped no doubt in its ability to produce lots of chicks, although few of the young make it to maturity, due in part to the predators that people brought onto the islands such as cats and stoats. The fantail plays it smart almost never leaving the safety of the trees.
More birds next week.