Thursday, October 28, 2010

Estuary Royalty

Here are some images from a session I had with the Kingfishers last week.

I was a bit reluctant to go as the wind was blowing a gale, but the time and tides were in my favour so I threw the gear in the car and drove down to the estuary for a session with the kingfishers. I set up the hide (which was flapping violently in the wind) thinking to myself what a waste of time this would be as the kingfishers were probably smarter than me and would be tucked away comfortably out of the elements. Within about 30 minutes of waiting the first kingfisher turned up and landed on the perch in front of me, I don't know how it hung on to the perch with the wind blowing so strongly, although it seemed to be able to hang on and even devour a small mud crab. The winds died down after a while, and I ended up having a great session watching these estuary Kings feed as the sun went down. The photo series on the right shows the kingfisher smashing the legs off the mud crab and devouring it in the windy conditions (notice the rock star hairstyle due to the winds)

The New Zealand sub-species, vagans are said to be a sub-species of Sacred Kingfisher (Halcyon sancta)  which are found in Australia and New Guinea. The New Zealand kingfisher is distinguished from the Australian sub-species by its larger size and broader bill and generally by the distinctiveness of its green and blue colours.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: Pied Stilt (Poaka)

Pied stilts (Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus) or black-winged stilts as they are also known, are a common native to New Zealand and are also found in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Bismarck Archipelago.

Pied stilts are found throughout the world and the classification of these birds can be controversial as they differ  from place to place. Some believe that there are as many as five separate species while others consider them to be subspecies.  Whatever the case may be the pied stilts found here Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus or poaka as the Maori know these beautiful birds are classified by an all-white head, neck white, black behind, open black chest band and usually a white band across upper back.

Pied stilts are found in a variety of habitats such as sheltered marine harbours, wetlands, estuaries, lagoons, riverbeds, waterlogged pastures and lakesides where they use their extremely long and lanky legs (which give them their name) to wade through the water in search of small insects, marine molluscs, worms and crustaceans which are probed out of the sand or mud. In winter many of the birds that breed on Canterbury's rivers migrate to the warmer North Island harbours to feed.

Breeding and nesting can occur as early as July in the northern part of the country and can continue into summer. Nests are usually built on the edge of wetlands/lagoons or above the high-tide mark on sandy beaches and riverbeds. The stilts are very vocal at this time of year and if an intruder ventures too close to their nest or young they make sharp yapping calls and  often feign a broken wing in order to draw attention away from their exposed nest or young. The female usually lays four eggs which are incubated by both parents. Incubation usually lasts for 25 days. The chicks usually leave the nest the same day after hatching and are covered with a soft down with speckled yellow-brown upper-parts and white under-parts. When danger threatens they drop straight to the the ground and remain motionless becoming extremely difficult to detect. 


Above: A young stilt finds its legs on the estuary mud
Right: A pied stilt incubates it's eggs in waterlogged pasture.

Left: A newly hatched chick sits on its nest, stilt chicks usually leave the nest the same day. 

Below: A newly hatched chick soaks up some rays, a relief after being cramped in the egg for 25 days :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Local wanderings

I'm working on a few photographic projects at the moment and I've been able to spend a fair bit of time down at my local estuary (Avon/Heathcote) here in Christchurch. While some projects are in the making I thought I'd add a few shots that I've taken this week in between photographic ventures. I really enjoy getting to know the ins-and-outs of the estuary and I find that the more time I spend down there the more I learn about the habits and behaviours of my feathered friends :)

Photos from top to bottom. Backlit white-fronted tern. Mallard duckling. NZ kingfisher and crab. Shag Rock a prominent feature of the Avon/Heathcote Estuary (an older photo). 


Friday, October 1, 2010



The white-fronted terns' noisy chattering is a sure sign that spring is underway! From now (October) to January these birds will breed on sand dunes, rocky islets and shingle banks around the country. Males court females by delivering fish held crosswise in their bill. I can't help feeling a little sorry for these small fish which are often still alive and kicking as they are held in the male's beak for a few minutes and then offered as a gift... I wonder what the fish is thinking? 

White-fronted Terns (Sterna striata) are the most common tern in New Zealand. Unfortunately recent counts have shown that their numbers are declining quite rapidly!

The reasons for this are not fully known, although it is thought that disturbances to their breeding habitats such as 4WD vehicles and predation from rats, stoats, hedgehogs, black-backed gulls etc. have all contributed to this decline.

White-fronted terns are also known as 'kahawai birds' as they are often seen feeding with schools of kahawai (Australian Salmon) that push krill and small fish like smelt and pilchards to the surface making it easier for the terns to feed. It is therefore also quite likely that the over-fishing of kahawai may also be contributing to their decline.