4 things I learned on my Habitat Tours adventure
When I got in the Habitat Tours van next to tour leader Tristan, I admit I didn’t really know exactly what to expect.
I was excited, sure, but what experiences would I cover in the next few hours? What would I learn?
As it turns out, I would learn these four things…
1. It is’ called a tuft, not a bib
Walking up the track in the Tawharanui Regional Park, I could feel the last of the sun as it set against my back, I could hear the melodic clamour of bellbirds on all sides like surround sound, and I could see the fluttering of tuis close enough to clearly catch the white feathers on their chests.
I said I liked the bib bit.
Tristan reminded me that it’s called a tuft. He says he’s not the real bird expert at Habitat Tours, but his knowledge of the trees and birds is encyclopaedic – a fact obvious by how easily he can answer any question our group can throw at him. I think he’s a bonafide twitcher. That’s the word for a serious birdwatcher, you know.
2. Moreporks are posers
As we sit down to our delicious home-cooked, beach-front, sunset-lit picnic, Tristan briefs us on the adventure we’re about to take. He says the main goals of the night are to find a kiwi, spot a morepork (the southern boobook) and potentially track down a weta or two. None of this is guaranteed.
We get started on our walk, hopeful but realistic. Barely a few minutes in, a morepork flies directly at us from the path ahead, landing on a near branch so we could get a look at him.
And look we did. And look, and look, and look.
Five grown adults, standing in perfect darkness and absolute silence, out of cell phone coverage, pointing one red-cellophaned torch directly at a handsome feathered poser mere metres away. We must have stood there for almost five minutes straight before we gave up the staring competition and wandered off first.
3. Wetas are as scary as spiders
Tristan did a great job at checking a tree trunk for spiders for me, even though I didn’t believe him when he told me it was spider-free as I pathetically crouch-ran under it.
A little further down the track, Tristan disappears into the scrub to look for wetas, New Zealand’s endemic giant crickets.
“Come on in”, he says, “there are plenty here”.
I enter the creepy clearing only upon the insistence and outright peer pressure of my fellow tour members, more afraid of potential spiders than the wetas themselves.
In seconds I am out again, running from the wetas and their gangling sprawling legs and unearthly bodies.
4. Walking in silence is really hard
When you’re looking for wild kiwi, being quiet as a ninja is very, very important. It’s also way harder than they make it look in the movies.
Every now and then we stop and stand in silence before switching on the torch to look into the scrub. I crouch down for a better ground view and my knees click.
We keep moving, but trip over our own feet, crunch on gravel and scuffle through leaves. Backpacks jostle, the sound of a sheeny raincoat swishes and I try not to cough.
It makes me wonder how long it actually took people to discover the kiwi. If we know how it’s done, know where they are, know to stay silent, and have the power of a torch, how did anyone actually manage to spot this elusive creature in the first place?
Somehow, in a moment of silence created more from chance than skill, we stop, flick on the torch, and see the rounded tawny backside of the North Island brown kiwi running ungracefully off into the scrub.
He’s the noisiest thing in the forest.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist