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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve‏

March 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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When I asked the driver and tour guide of my trip to the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a week ago about attractions on the South Island that he thought I might like as much, he told me about two places that were new to me. One of those places, the White Heron Sanctuary, was certainly one of the high points of my visit to New Zealand so far. The other one, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which I visited Tuesday, was another.

I went to the wildlife reserve after walking into Sumner from Graeme’s home on the cliff overlooking the village. I needed a better map of the Christchurch area and I wanted lunch and to connect to the Internet. I got a detailed map at a bookstore, enjoyed both tarihiki and gurnard, two fish that were new to me, at Sumner Seafoods, and connected at a coffee shop.

While the map was necessary for me to find my way across Christchurch, it wasn’t sufficient. I got lost more times than I can count on what should have been a 40 minute journey, according to the most helpful manager of the bookstore, who detailed the route to me. In the event, I took about two and one-half hours to get to Willowbank.

At the time, I didn’t realize that my delayed arrival at about 4:30 p.m. was one of the best things that happened to me. Here’s why.

The big thing about Willowbank, according to the tour guide who told me about it, is that this is the most successful place where kiwis breed. He was talking about New Zealand’s iconic bird, not the people of this country, who of course breed everywhere.

For a century New Zealander’s have been calling themselves Kiwis. Soldiers in the New Zealand military were the first to become known as Kiwis, and now this nickname has become an important part of this nation’s identity. So this rare little bird is even more of a symbol to the people of this country than the bald eagle is to Americans.

Unlike the Kiwi people, the kiwi bird sleeps during the day and is active at night. Also unlike the Kiwi people, this bird is endemic to New Zealand, having lived here for around 30 million years, and is found only here.

The kiwi is one of the few flightless birds. It belongs to the family that includes the ostrich, the emu, and the extinct moa. But this bird is the only one in the world whose nostrils are at the tip of a very long bill.

The kiwi starts to get active at dusk. This was my good fortune. By arriving at the wildlife reserve so late and by spending even more hours at its other sections first, I eventually got to a large room where the kiwis were waking up and starting to dig for food.

But I faced a further problem when I got there — almost no light. Even the fastest camera couldn’t capture a image of one of these birds without flash. However, I didn’t see any sign saying I couldn’t use flash, and for the hour that I spent it the kiwi shed I was totally alone with the birds.

Shooting in the general direction of where I heard a kiwi scampering around, I eventually got some adequate shots of this unique bird.

A Kiwi, the Bird that is the Symbol of New Zealand

A Kiwi, the Bird that is the Symbol of New Zealand

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While seeing my first kiwi was what attracted me most to Willowbank, it turned out that this is far from all that this wonderful place has to offer a lover of nature. Much more natural than a typical zoo, this reserve exudes an aura of peace and calm. Unlike zoos, which are crowded with people separated from the animals, Willowbank fells like a home to them where I was but a visitor wandering among fellow creatures. In fact, I saw only three or four people in the hours I spent at its three sections.

The trail took me first to the section where I could see introduced species. One of the first of these I came across were wallabies, which come from Australia.

A Wallaby at Dinner

A Wallaby at Dinner

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A Lemur from Madagascar

A Lemur from Madagascar

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An Indian Ring Neck Parrot

An Indian Ring Neck Parrot

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As I left the section of introduced species I came across the most colorful bird I have ever seen:

An Eastern Rosella

An Eastern Rosella

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The section section that the trail wanders through takes visitors like me to where we can see the country’s old livestock breeds. This Auckland Island pig captured my attention, because its pure genetic line free from introduced viruses makes it the best natural source in the world for pancreas transplants. In fact, several years ago I wrote about this pig from a New Zealand island halfway between here and Antarctica in my article for Diabetes Wellness News on “A Pig for Every Pancreas.”

An Auckland Island Pig

An Auckland Island Pig

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The third Willowbank section is where I experienced native New Zealand wildlife.

I Need Help Identifying this Beautiful Bird

A Bronze Winged Pigeon

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The next bird I saw has the strangest name I ever heard. When I first read about the morepork, I had to smile at the name. But this owl seems to speak a couple words of English, more and pork, with the second one normally pitched somewhat lower than the first.

A Morepork Owl

A Morepork Owl

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Like the morepork, the kiwi bird takes its name from its cry. It is a shrill ascending to descending whistle that sounds like “ki-wi.” While this bird may seem like a strange symbol for the people of these islands, the choice of us Americans of the bald eagle is just as strange. After all, who wants to be bald.

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Posted in: New Zealand

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gretchen // Mar 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Maybe the morepork bird is hungry.

    Gorgeous photos.

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