Dog helps saving New Zealand parrots


This video says about itself:

This Amazing Dog Helps to Save Endangered Parrots | National Geographic Short Film Showcase

2 October 2017

Ajax is a highly trained border collie who helps locate New Zealand’s endangered kea. This elusive alpine parrot lives in some of the most remote regions of the country’s South Island.

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Australasian bitterns in New Zealand


This video from Western Australia is called Australasian Bitterns.

From BirdLife:

24 Jul 2017

Seeking the elusive “Swamp Boomers” of New Zealand

On a small lake in central Hawke’s Bay, the quest is on to find one of New Zealand’s least understood species before it vanishes forever.

By Lauren Buchholz

The first boom came as a surprise. As I navigated my kayak through the marshy northern reaches of Lake Whatuma, I could hear the whistling of dried raupō plants, the slap of water against the kayak’s hull, the high, eerie calls of black swans. Then, in a pitch so low I could almost feel it, a boom reverberated from the reeds. It was the throaty call of a male Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus.

A few metres from my boat, bittern scientist Dr Emma Williams steered her kayak towards the sound. A sleek black Labrador-cross was in the bow of the boat, tail wagging beneath her fluorescent “Conservation Dogs” coat. “Good girl, Kimi,” says Williams, pushing reeds aside as the pair disappeared into the raupō.

Williams, a wetland bird expert, is at the forefront of Australasian Bittern research in New Zealand. Known as matuku to Māori, these heron-sized birds sport striped plumage that mimics the raupō-filled wetlands in which they live.

Bitterns will “freeze” rather than fly on being discovered, pointing their long, thin beaks skyward and swaying for better camouflage. Spotting a bittern can feel like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack – if the needle were the colour of straw.

The team of volunteers accompanying Williams’ search at Lake Whatuma was prepared for the challenge. We went during the spring mating season, when males of this usually silent species can be heard “booming” from their territories. The sound is created by the bird deeply inhaling and then deflating a bagpipe-like sac near its throat. The resulting booms helped us locate the bitterns’ hideouts.

As well as the bitterns’ calls, we had Kimi. The first conservation dog in Australasia trained to track bitterns, Kimi has a nose for scents raupō couldn’t conceal. She stood at attention and sniffed for birds as Williams pushed their kayak through the reeds. When paddling became impossible, Williams jumped into the thigh-deep water and follow Kimi through the raupō. I paddled out into the lake with one of the other volunteers to keep an eye out for flushed birds. We excitedly called Emma on the radio when a disgruntled male bittern emerged in front of us: “You found one!” we said.

During this trip, Williams was searching male bitterns’ territories to locate females and their nests as part of her doctorate for Massey University. Her goal was to capture and attach a transmitter to a female or chick, which would provide data on these elusive birds and fill in some longstanding research gaps. Unfortunately, while we heard and spotted several male bitterns, we were unsuccessful at finding females this year.

Bitterns are notoriously difficult to study, and data on the species is limited. What is known is that 90% of bitterns’ wetland habitats have been destroyed and that ongoing habitat loss remains their biggest threat. An estimated 900 Australasian Bitterns remain in New Zealand, with about 1000 living in Australia and 50 in New Caledonia. “Bitterns are ranked as a nationally-critical species in New Zealand,” says Williams. “That’s the same threat level as kākāpō. Kiwi and kōkako are more common.”

Unfortunately, Australasian Bitterns – assessed as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List – receive nowhere near the same amount of attention as their famous counterparts. Williams isn’t sure whether this has more to do with their elusive nature or with the fact they thrive in habitats humans tend to marginalise. Even a national stronghold for the species – the Waikato’s renowned Whangamarino wetland – is routinely flooded and drained for agriculture, drowning territories as well as nests. In the face of such massive fluctuations, Emma grimly expects this population to disappear within a couple of years.

“In 2010, it was common to hear 50 or more bittern calls at Whangamarino within a 15-minute period,” says Williams. “Our biggest problem was that there were too many calls and birds for observers to keep track of! Now we’re lucky if we find seven birds in the entire 7100ha wetland.”

New Zealand rainforest penguins


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Unravelling the secret (marine) life of the Fiordland penguin

31 May 2017

Our first video, choker full of info on Fiordland penguins – what we know about them (not a lot) and what the Tawaki Project aims at learning about the species. Consider it a kind of an origin story.

From BirdLife:

4 July 2017

Penguins of the remote rainforest

Grab a kayak, hiking boots and become an expert at crawling through rocks if you want to discover New Zealand‘s hidden Fiordland Penguins, or “tawaki”. But why are they going hungry?

By Shaun Hurrell

There’s a saying that says biting insects exist to protect beautiful places from humans. In Fiordland, which forms the remote and rugged southwest of the South Island, this almost rings true, wherein hides mainland New Zealand’s hidden rainforest penguins. “Most New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise a tawaki as a native species”, says Thomas Mattern, researcher at Otago University, and penguin specialist part of The Tawaki Project.

Despite striking yellow feathers above their eyes, Fiordland Penguins Eudyptes pachyrhynchus are hard to see. Named after a Maori god that walked the earth, Tawaki, they are actually quite a timid species and live in small scattered colonies in the steep and water-weathered forests of New Zealand’s fiords, a place only accessible by water or multi-day treks through clouds of irritating biting sandflies. Whilst thousands of tourists brave bad weather for boat trips into these stunning landscapes, the plight of the tawakiis not well known. On Stewart Island too, they do not want to be found, shrouding themselves in very dense vegetation, rock crevices and even sea caves only accessible underwater. With a range that has retreated since the arrival of humans, you can see why they might be so timid.

“We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”

“To date, little is known about their ecology”, says Thomas. He, together with Robin Long – who works as a ranger for the West Coast Penguin Trust and grew up in this remote environment – are now experts at crawling between jagged rocks and kayaking through rain-splattered fiords to find these 55 cm tall penguins, as part of the Tawaki Project, to learn more of their breeding and foraging success by using camera traps on nests and fitting waterproof GPS tags. Last summer, El Niño hit the penguins hard: data loggers revealed some tawaki heading 100 km out to sea to search for food. “A lot of chicks died of starvation”, says Thomas. “We found some with just sticks and mud in their stomachs.”

Unfortunately, most crested penguin populations have been declining during the last century, and tawaki do not seem to be an exception, listed by BirdLife as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The population is estimated to range between 5,500 and 7,000 birds, and at some sites their numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30% in just ten years. Whilst sandflies help keep some humans away, human-introduced stoats trigger cameras as they prey on penguin eggs and chicks. Also, rising ocean temperatures probably disrupt prey availability, fisheries may compete for resources or result in accidental bycatch, and pollution from oil exploration could also become a major problem for these birds. Funding for more research is key: “We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”, says Robin. “We need to know a lot more to come up with effective ways to protect the species.”

Read more about the penguins of New Zealand.

New Zealand penguins


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Why are penguins black and white?

23 June 2017

So, all penguins are, for the most part, black and white. But why is that? Has it something to do with blending into the environment or is it perhaps something entirely different?

From BirdLife:

3 July 2017

The Little People of Sea Land

Tucked away in rainforests, rocky crevices or under parked cars, these hidden (and not-so-well-hidden) birds are having a rough ride. Welcome to New Zealand, home to one third of the world’s penguins

By Shaun Hurrell

Car tyres rumble on tarmac. Ferries blast their horns. The smell of roasted coffee lingers and small waves carve into concrete harbour walls. Whilst only a stone’s throw from the lush native bush and outdoor adventure that New Zealand is often famed for, Wellington, on North Island’s southern tip, is very much a city, and its busy streets are home to over 400,000 people. Why is it then that a seabird with flippers is sheltering under a car at the water’s edge?

No, it is not an escapee from a zoo, disorientated by passing headlights. This is actually its home too, and as dusk arrives, strange noises can be heard from between rocks as more of these creatures raucously call out for a mate.

Yes, they are penguins. In a capital city. In the same place where people stroll their dogs along the breezy sea wall, penguins come ashore to find a place to nest; a far cry from Antarctica’s icebergs and the crashing southern oceanic waves where you’d expect to find the world’s famously cute black-and-white aquatic birds. Oh, and in Wellington, the penguins happen to be blue too…

New Zealand coastlines and islands harbour no less than six of the world’s 18 penguin species, and 13 species in total have turned up in the New Zealand region (including the Ross Dependency of Antarctica) – more than any other country. New Zealand is, in theory, a global penguin sanctuary. With a bespoke governmental Department of Conservation (DOC) holding 30% of the green and diverse land for protection and recreation, you could be lulled into a false sense of security. But this wasn’t always the case: human arrival on the islands 700 years ago set into motion a downward trend for penguins. And while now DOC does make a big difference with invasive predator control and disturbance management, the agency receives less than half a per cent of the government’s annual budget. Despite the best efforts from those involved, penguins are far from safe, on land or at sea.

Accustomed to close urban encounters with Little “Blue” Penguins, and with one of the rarest penguins adorning their $5 note, you could be forgiven for thinking that New Zealanders are all penguin conservation experts. But there is another side to the story: one of penguins hidden by rainforests and dangers masked by the ocean’s foreboding surface.

What’s black and white and red all over?

Not a penguin with sunburn, but a penguin listed as threatened on the Red List, and it’s not funny. Some penguins might be hard to reach, but the dangers to the second-most threatened seabird group are becoming clear. New Zealand’s sunny shores and seas need much attention if they are to safeguard its two Endangered (Yellow-eyed and Erect-crested), and three Vulnerable species (Fiordland, Southern Rockhopper and Snares).

It all started with the arrival of humans in the thirteenth century. From early exploitation for food by Polynesian settlers, to clearance of breeding habitat and the introduction of mammalian predators, whether deliberately or accidentally, humans quickly meant bad news for penguin populations on New Zealand’s islands. “Waitaha Penguin” (potentially related to Yellow-eyed) was discovered through analysis of subfossil bones in 2008, and is thought to have been extirpated by early Polynesian settlers; while as late as the nineteenth century, the “Chatham Penguin” (potentially another crested species) went extinct on the Chatham Islands, shortly after Europeans arrived there.

This gung-ho entrepreneur’s team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years

One of the earliest ever international conservation campaigns began because of – not thanks to – one New Zealander, Joseph Hatch. In the early 20th Century, this gung-ho entrepreneur and former Mayor of Invercargill began a commercial project which nearly wiped out an entire colony of King Penguins on Macquarie Island (to Australia). His team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years and built big, metal “steam-pressure digesters” with which to reduce these fantastic birds to nothing but oil. Thankfully, international scientists and polar explorers objected and the oiling industry was halted before utter destruction. Today, although not as blatant as the threat of Hatch’s clubs, the threats to New Zealand’s penguins are no less severe and warrant an inspired new global campaign to save them.

Between sea and land, home or graveyard

“Penguins cannot range far from their nesting sites while foraging to feed their chicks, so require abundant food near to the coast”, says Karen Baird, Seabird Advocate for Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand). “Both direct and indirect impacts from fishing are a threat to penguins’ food supply, exacerbated by environmental changes from a warming planet.” Of all New Zealand’s penguins, only Snares seems to have a stable food supply, but that doesn’t mean it is not threatened – there is an ever-ominous danger of a rat invasion, plus potential for oil exploration and fisheries bycatch because there is no official marine protection for the tiny 3.5 km2 subantarctic island group this species is restricted to. “Bycatch” – accidental capture or collision with fishing gear – affects many penguin species (and other seabirds).

“Time is not on our side”, says Karen. “We need to reduce the impacts we know are occurring to penguins now, as climate change impacts are set to make everything that much worse.” The response required is multi-faceted: better management of land-based impacts, and vital protection at sea both to prevent bycatch and to preserve foraging habitat. “We need a coordinated approach to protect penguins”, says Karen. “Establishing a Penguin Recovery Group administered by DOC is also a priority.” But the foundation work needs more support: “We also need to undertake penguin surveys to determine population trends, more ‘Places for Penguins’ management and support for vital research to underpin the management decisions that will make a difference for these special birds.”

“We need to reduce known threats to penguins now, before climate change impacts make everything that much worse”

As well as launching a global campaign to put penguin conservation in the spotlight and raise vital funds, BirdLife is researching penguin bycatch further and calls for more observers on board New Zealand vessels. Meanwhile, Forest & Bird is also heavily advocating for large Marine Protected Areas for the east and southeast coastlines, but more reserves are needed elsewhere. “I want a future where New Zealand is a wild penguin sanctuary”, says Karen.

In Wellington city, a local walker sees a group of Little Penguins emerge from the water’s edge like a cauldron of bubbling blue oil and hurriedly stumble up the harbour rocks, back from a marathon day trip foraging. She smiles, watching them walk like little humans. She puts her dog on its lead and “tweets” a photo of a penguin preening its feathers, but she seems troubled as she gazes out to the dark ocean, imagining the gauntlet of threats this Little Blue faces out there.

Little Blue neighbours. They can be found nesting on people’s doorsteps, or quite literally underneath them. Meet the world’s smallest penguins, unwillingly urban birds who are being given new homes by local volunteers: here.

Work by Forest & Bird on land is helping the Yellow-eyed Penguin, but threats at sea are very worrying: here.

New Zealand giant insect escapes from pigs


This video says about itself:

Tusked Weta Vs Foraging Pig – Wild New Zealand – BBC Earth

22 June 2017

The Tusked Weta is New Zealand’s equivalent of a mouse and a worthy snack for a foraging pig. This weta however is an escape artist and when necessary can take quite extreme action to evade capture.

New Zealand introduced trout eat introduced mice


This video says about itself:

Huge Trout Eats Mice – Wild New Zealand – BBC Earth

19 June 2017

With little competition and few predators, the Brown Trout in New Zealand has been known to grow to epic proportions. These prize fish sometimes reaching a metre in length and weighing up to 5 kilos have developed monstrous appetites and a bloodthirsty penchant for mice.

Remarkable New Zealand insect


This video says about itself:

Insect Returns From The Dead – Wild New Zealand – BBC Earth

15 June 2017

The Mountain Stone Weta boasts perhaps the most extraordinary survival technique of all – the ability to come back from the dead. With the aid of a specialized filming chamber we are able to witness stunning footage of life slowly returning to this frozen insect.