Unforeseen Birding in New Zealand. Birds Do It!

Birds do it: quails do it, fantails in the apple tree do it, diving duck in Mirror Lakes do it, raptors in the open fields do it, even thieving cheeky keas in the cold rain do it…. Let all of us fall in love with birding!

I had no plan of birdwatching in Te Waipounamu. At all. My birding in New Zealand was unforeseen (meanwhile my birding in Sumba was foreseen). An easy birdwatching it was. Birds just came out, showing off themselves to me. How could I not stop and admire them? It would have been lovelier if I had brought binoculars with me, but fortunately, birds were all in the seeable distance.

I read that NZ has around 100 species of birds (for a comparison, Indonesia has 380 endemic birds) and I have seen most of them, including the super rarest South Island kokako (!) as taxidermied birds in the collection of Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. Of course, I am always happier whenever I see living birds.

(Read also: Birding Is the New Diving, plus 8 Birding Tips for Everyone)

Noticed that birds, big and small, were abundant and free in Aotearoa. Perhaps New Zealanders do not have a culture of keeping birds as pets in cages. Or they keep birds indoor as I traveled there in late autumn and early winter? I just don’t know. People in Java and Bali have a culture of keeping birds in cages, something that contributes to the decline of the numbers of birds in the wild. 

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As we drove on the road trip, I many times spotted raptors, flying low. They seemed to prefer open fields. Sparrows were abundant too, flying in flocks. I also saw a number of New Zealand scaups or black teals in Mirror Lakes, my first time seeing diving ducks. Waterbirds, like swans, cormorants, and mallards were also abundant, for example in Lake Wakatipu, Lake Wanaka, and Lake Tekapo. 

And while hiking up to Roys Peak, a flock of Californian quails was there to check on me, just like what keas in Milford Sound did. Oh, I love keas. They are cheeky, annoying, and have bright orange wing plumage. They approached me and seemed like trying to engage me in a conversation! Really. “What are you talking about?” I asked them. They just laughed. 

The most notable encounter was with a piwakawaka (New Zealand fantail) in Cardrona. The bird approached like it was trying to say something. It hopped on an apple tree branches above me and then flew to the window of the old town hall. It seemed it wanted to come into the building because it kept flying around the window. Seeing there was no hole around, I finally said, “Beautiful bird, I am sorry I can not help you!”

Yea, so many times it was the birds that showed up to check me. What easy birding. But then, maybe I am wrong, the birds just love “human watching”!