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Down Under 3: Birds

On these travels, in addition to gawking at scenery, I saw a lot of birds that I had never seen previously. Or, for that matter, even imagined.

 

I was surprised to learn that New Zealand and Australia had very, very different evolutionary histories, and that New Zealand grew up with very few predators, so that is avian fauna really had no need to develop wings. Of if they did, the didn’t have to actually use them for flying. Everybody knows the kiwi, rooster-sized bird, gray and fat, with feather that look like stringy hair, and a long beak for digging crawly things out of the ground. They are the iconic symbol of New Zealand, despite being nocturnal and not being particularly friendly. So few are left that they are nearly extinct in the wild. I saw two, in a zoo, in a red-lit room that simulated nighttime conditions. No photos.

 

The birds we did see, like these two, a kea and a weka, are bush birds who have grown tame enough to want to hang around parking lots in hopes of turning up a chip or scrap of hamburger.

 

                 weka                                                        kea


 

The other bird we saw in some profusion was the paradise shelduck, a pair of which meandered around the soccer field by our hotel in Queenstown, impervious to the para-gliders dropping down beside them at dawn and dusk.


                                                                          paradise shelduck

 

All the other birds we saw in New Zealand were imports —house sparrows and starlings and chaffinches: pretty, ubiquitous nuisances.

 

On the other hand, the Australian array seemed infinite and exotic. I saw well over a hundred different species, most of them moving too fast to photography, or against backgrounds that complicated the depth of focus in ways that exceeded my competence. Possibly the oddest were the bowerbirds, the males of whom construct complicated tunnel like nuptial palaces out of straw and sticks, and then decorate them with found bits of shell, glass, paper, plastic, in hope of attracting a female or two. The architects of the barrows we saw seemed to prefer green-colored flotsam at one end of the barrow and red-colored junk at the other.

 

                                                                       barrow bird barrows

We saw lots of kukaburras and were surprised to learn how big they are, and that they are related to kingfishers! They sit high in their gum trees (aka, eucalyptus), and make a loud laugh-like calls when they want to gather their mates. As one of the large predators of big insects and snakes and lizards, they really are king of the bush. They come in a blue-winged variety, too.

 

                                                                                         kokaburra

 

And the others? Well, here are a sample few, just to whet the appetites of birders who might be thinking of going Down Under.


   Australian spotted crake                        Australian wood-ducks            red-kneed dotterel



        masked lapwing                                     red-browed finch                           double-eyed figbird


          crimson rosella                             orange-footed scrubfowl               Australian pelicans



               black swan                             black-necked stork                            royal spoonbills


                               Australian brush-turkey                                                       bush stone-curlews

Just a taste until the next visit Down Under . . . .
                             




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