The best of New Zealand's springtime wildlife
As the weather starts to warm up and we start to see bright greens emerge from the cold winter, we are also looking forward to plenty of exciting wildlife heading our way this spring.
If you’re considering a day tour from Auckland in spring, or are simply travelling through New Zealand between September and November, you might get a chance to see some of this fantastic seasonal wildlife!
There’s an old Maori saying that goes “ka tangi te wharauroa, ko ngā kārere ā Mahuru”. Translated, it means ‘if the shining cuckoo cries, it is the messenger of spring’. That’s because the shining cuckoo (one of two land-based species to migrate overseas each year) returns to the country in spring, and their distinctive call is one of nature’s ways of marking the change of seasons.
Wetland birds are also active through spring, where you might see species such as the bittern, fernbird and crakes around swamps and lakes. During this season, wetland birds will be feeding their young and breeding for the next season. Swans, ducks and herons are common and easy to spot around this time.
Starting in spring, you’ll also see plenty of migratory wading birds such as godwits and knots. They visit New Zealand to feast before heading back up north to breed, and there have been as many as 32 species recorded completing this pattern.
As you might expect, there are some incredible springtime sights to see with New Zealand’s mammals. The cute and fluffy lambs are easily the most recognisable, and as there are roughly 30 million sheep in the country, you should have no troubles seeing them during a drive anywhere out of the city centres. Of course, you will also see plenty of calves around the country, and even other farm animals such as alpaca, who give birth to gorgeous baby ‘cria’.
Another common springtime animal is the red deer, New Zealand’s most common deer species. It can be harder to see this animal throughout the year, but easier during spring when they venture out of forest areas and into open grasslands to feast on the new spring growth.
Springtime isn’t just magical on land, either – there are plenty of exciting things going on in New Zealand’s waters, too.
For example, spring are autumn are the best times of year to see sperm, humpback and right whales as they migrate past the country.
One of the most abundant of animals in New Zealand’s waters is actually a tiny crustacean known as ‘neocalanus tonsus’. This crustacean thrives in spring, which is important as it is a main food source for many ocean animals such as sharks and sei whales, so you might see such wildlife on a boat tour as they feed up on the plentiful pickings.
Of course, there are also plenty of wildlife watching opportunities throughout the year in New Zealand, so there really is no bad time to visit!
Dolphins and whales of the Hauraki Gulf
The word ‘Hauraki’ means ‘North wind’ in Maori, and the Hauraki Gulf is a 4,000 square kilometre expanse of water between Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Great Barrier Island.
As well as being a stunning example of New Zealand’s scenery, the gulf is also a haven for wildlife. In fact, there are as many as 22 species of dolphins and whales that call the Hauraki Gulf home.
The most common species
Out of the many species in the area, there are three that you’ll likely see on any tour or excursion in the Hauraki Gulf; Bryde’s whales, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins.
Bryde’s whales are special as they’re the only baleen species to inhabit warm waters closer to the equator throughout the year instead of migrating. For this reason, they’re also known as the ‘tropical whale’. These huge whales can measure up to 15-16 metres in length, and there are an unknown number of them around the world.
Pilot whales, contrary to the name, are actually dolphins, and the second largest dolphin species (after the orca) at that. If you see one, you’ll likely see many as pilot whales tend to travel in schools of 10-20, which makes for an incredible viewing experience.
Bottlenose dolphins are extremely intelligent and playful creatures, known for their curved mouths that makes them look like they’re smiling, and the fact that they can easily be trained to perform tricks. These dolphins are common throughout tropical areas and travel in groups, and are often seen following fishing boats to pick up food scraps and leftovers.
It’s also not uncommon to see Sei and Minke whales throughout the Hauraki Gulf, although they are not as common as Bryde’s and Pilot whales or bottlenose dolphins.
Every year, Humpback whales migrate south for the summer and back north again during winter where they breed in the South Pacific. During these times, it’s possible to see the whales as they stop off in the Hauraki Gulf during this long journey.
Fortunately for wildlife watchers, humpback whales travel near shorelines to feed on plankton, small fish and other sealife, and mothers and their young travel together, which makes for fantastic whale-watching opportunities in the gulf. Plus, these creatures are also known for their spectacular leaps from the ocean, so be sure to have your camera at the ready should you spot one.
Hauraki Gulf whale and dolphin conservation
There is a fine balance between conserving these amazing creatures and their habitats in the Hauraki Gulf, and allowing people the chance to see them up close. That’s why there are a number of rules and regulations in place to ensure both needs are met.
For example, should you join a tour boat to see the whales or dolphins, you won’t be allowed to get closer than 50 metres away, and you will not be permitted to throw food (or rubbish) into the water.
During a day tour from Auckland with Habitat Tours, you might not see any whales and dolphins, but you will see plenty of land-based wildlife such as the morepork, or maybe even a wild kiwi if you’re lucky!
Why are wasps considered pests in New Zealand?
As much as we at Habitat Tours advocate the caring for all animals, insects and creatures great and small, it really is hard to love a wasp. There are few positives to having wasps around, but a multitude of negatives.
Our own native wasps have never been much of an issue, but a number of introduced wasps (including the German wasps) accidentally made it into the country and have been classed as pests ever since.
According to the Department of Conservation, New Zealand has one of the highest densities of common and German wasps in the world – and here is why they’re such pests.
Pests to humans
The most obvious one is that wasps can be a real hazard for humans. Anyone who spends time in the outdoors, such as gardeners and forestry workers or even sight-seers, may come across wasps.
A wasp sting is painful, and some people may even be allergic, making the incident even worse.
Pests to the environment
As much as they’re annoying to humans, wasps are actually far worse for our flora and fauna.
Wasps love to eat honeydew, but the problem is that many of our native insects, birds, bats and lizards also need this food source to survive. There are as many as 10,000 worker wasps per hectare in some beech forests, so that number together devour a significant amount of honeydew – which doesn’t leave much for native species.
On top of this, wasps have also been seen to eat native insects and even bird chicks.
The Department of Conservation aims to control numbers of wasps, and fortunately, this is something anyone can help out with. To find out more, talk to your local DoC office to see what you can do to protect our flora and fauna (and humans) from these pests.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist