Habitat Tours’ votes for Bird of the Year
The competition for New Zealand’s prestigious Bird of the Year award is heating up!
Each year, this debate sparks interest from people all over the world – including a recent mention on Twitter from Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords fame!
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">For people who ask what New Zealand is like: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BirdOfTheYear?src=hash">#BirdOfTheYear</a> is trending at number one right now. <a href="https://t.co/modnG0gL75">https://t.co/modnG0gL75</a></p>— Jemaine Clement (@AJemaineClement) <a href="https://twitter.com/AJemaineClement/status/787848502143389696">October 17, 2016</a></blockquote>
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The fantail, Kea, and Kokako are currently the frontrunners, but all that can change by the time the competition ends.
Here are our picks, and why we’re voting for them this year.
Tristan – Owner, tour guide
Tristan’s vote this year is for the Takahe for its awesome personality and lovely colours. It’s such a New Zealand icon, he says, and has made an incredible comeback after being so close to extinction.
“It’s one of my favourite birds for spotting when on tour at Tawharanui,” explains Tristan.
Pamela – Chef, admin, Pam of all trades
Pam has also chosen to vote for the gorgeous Takahe. This species was once thought extinct, but are now back from the brink. Pam enjoys being part of the monitoring program to keep an eye on their progress with 14 of these beautiful birds at Tawharanui.
“It’s always a thrill to see these birds when we visit Tawharanui, not only are they endangered but very stunning looking birds, too,” she says.
Harry – Guide, avid birder
Harry has recently reached a massive milestone of spotting 2,000 birds. It should come as no surprise then, that the Blue Duck – his 2,000th species – is his pick this year. Harry failed to see one even when he visited the Queenstown Zoo, so it was a very special occasion when he finally added it to his list.
“It’s such an unusual yet stunning bird, and one I won’t ever forget,” he says.
Hayley – Content wizard
Bird of the Year: Kea
Hayley’s pick is one of the fan favourites – the Kea. This cheeky bird is the only Alpine parrot in the world, and are both extremely intelligent and absolutely stunning.
“These birds are always a highlight on any ski trip. I love watching their antics at the end of a long day and will always end up giggling as they try every trick in the book to get their claws on food scraps and treasures,” she explains.
Be sure to get your vote in before the competition closes at 5pm on October 30!
Sharks of the Hauraki Gulf
New Zealand has the wonderful reputation as a place where none of the wildlife could possibly hurt you! In the ocean we do have other interesting creatures that include sharks - shark attacks in New Zealand are rarely heard of!
For the most part, the sharks are simply another fantastic addition to our diverse array of wildlife.
Here are a few of the sharks you might spot out in the Hauraki Gulf.
Thresher sharks may look menacing with their 4.6-metre lengths and extraordinarily long tail fins, but these sea creatures prefer the taste of fish and seabirds. They cleverly use these long tails to ‘herd’ school of fish together for a meal.
The fearsome Great White shark is a regular visitor to the Hauraki Gulf, and is known more than any other to attack humans. These huge sharks can grow up to 7 metres in length, and are common throughout New Zealand, but are most often seen around the Otago region.
Blue sharks can be found all over the world, and they’re known for their fast speeds and graceful bodies. They like cooler waters and usually feast on squid or fish. It’s rare for them to be anything other than peaceful around people, but there are instances of Blue shark attacks, so be sure to keep your distance just in case.
With their distinct head shape, it’s easy to identify a hammerhead shark! These sharks are found all over the world, and tend to show up in New Zealand waters through the warmer months, and it’s even believed that they might give birth around our country.
The mako shark is the fastest in the world, and are a point of pride for fishermen who manage to snag one of these tough and speedy creatures. They prefer tropical waters, and can live anywhere from the open sea right up close to land in coastal areas.
Probably the most common of sharks to be found in Auckland waters, as it prefers tropical and temperate waters worldwide. They can grow to 3 meters long.
New Zealand's 4 turtle species
When you think of turtles, you might think of the warm, tropical waters of Fiji or Rarotonga. However, you don’t need to fly several hours away to see these wonderful creatures, as there are in fact four different turtle species that have been spotted in waters around New Zealand!
The Loggerhead turtle
Loggerhead turtles are pretty common all over the world, basing themselves around coastal regions not too far from the equator. This is because they can live in relatively cool waters (down to as low as a chilly 10 degrees C!), and due to their widespread nature, researchers aren’t currently able to estimate worldwide population numbers.
These are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles, and adult males can grow to almost a metre in size and up to roughly 110 kilos! They prefer food such as crabs and jellyfish, but will occasionally snack on seaweed.
In New Zealand, you’d only really see one around the top of the North Island, but it’s not impossible for them to be seen in the far south, either.
It’s easy to assume that the Green turtle is named for its shell colour, but the name actually comes from the green hues of its fat and cartilage! They’re also special because they are the only herbivorous turtles, and they’re one of the largest in the sea.
This species prefers subtropical and tropical waters, and as they migrate throughout the seasons, they can often be seen around New Zealand’s far north such as by the Poor Knights Islands and in Rangaunu Harbour.
The Olive Ridley turtle
Named for their olive shells, these turtles are the smallest out of all the sea turtles, as they only grow up to roughly 65 centimetres and weigh up to 45 kilos.
They prefer warm waters, and usually only travel alone, coming together just once each year when the females return to their hatching places to nest.
Due to New Zealand’s colder waters, the Olive Ridley turtles are extraordinarily rare here. There have only been five recorded sightings in history, and it’s believed that those turtles may have been lost or sick.
The Hawksbill turtle
This critically endangered species are named for their pointed beaks, and stand out with distinctive patterned shells that can unfortunately end up being sold in markets as ‘tortoiseshells’.
They’re a relatively rare sighting in New Zealand, and would usually only be seen in the warmer waters around the upper North Island. These beautiful turtles help maintain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds as they mainly feed off reef sponges, so are an important part of marine ecosystems around the world.
If you’re ever lucky enough to spot one of these turtles when in New Zealand, be sure to let the Department of Conservation know so they can track their progress.
How to become a birder
If you love birds, you already have every reason you need to become a birder. This hobby is a fantastic one that will introduce you to new people, take you all over the world, and will keep you fit while you’re at it.
So how can you take the next step and become a birder?
Step one: Do your research
The first thing you will need is a field guide. There are plenty of books available on birds you might find in your country or region, and you’ll need to get your hands on one and start getting acquainted.
These books will provide a detailed list of birds, including photos or images of what they look like, where you might find them, when you are best to spot one, and other useful information such as rarity and eating habits.
Spend time reading through this book, and continuing further research online and through television shows such as David Attenborough’s ‘Life of Birds’, which is a fascinating and comprehensive guide to these creatures all over the world.
Step two: Get the right gear
You’ll need everything you would expect you would if you were to take up hiking as a serious hobby. You’ll need sturdy walking shoes, a backpack, comfortable exercise gear, a sunhat or two, and a full set of waterproof clothing for rainy days. Of course, you will also need a good set of binoculars, and if you’re keen to capture your adventures in film, a quality camera, too.
Part of this step is to also ensure you have the fitness to spend hours walking. It may be a good idea to start including a few walks a week to build up your strength and endurance.
Step three: Make a plan
At this stage, you already have everything you need to walk out your front door and start spotting birds. However, there will only be so much you can achieve by taking random walks on occasion.
Use your field guide to map out routes you want to achieve, birds you want to see, and trips you want to take over the coming months. Giving yourself achievable goals like this will help make the monumental task of spotting the thousands of birds out there a much more manageable one.
You plan might start with local birds in your local area, then include weekends away to nearby destinations, before finally working up to international trips – such as a visit to New Zealand for a birding tour in Auckland with us!
Step four: Find a support group
Birding is often so much more enjoyable when you can share your successes (and frustrations) with fellow birders and enthusiasts. Do some research into any local communities, as well as the many that are online, and find a group of similarly passionate people.
You may also want to sign up for digital or print magazines. For example, the National Audubon Society in the US is one of the world’s largest and most respected birding groups that also offers a magazine subscription, as well as online news and articles.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist