Sunday, 15 February 2015

Birds In The Bush

I wonder how many might have guessed what new bird we spied as we followed the track through the bush on our way back down the river the other day? As I picked my way carefully along the overgrown track a bird zipped across in front of me and landed up on a branch not too far away. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I was sure I saw a white breast with stripes as it flew past. Surely not? Finally I do believe I found myself an elusive and secretive Shining Cuckoo- Pipiwharauroa. A quick zoom in with my camera confirmed that it was indeed a cuckoo with it’s beautiful metallic emerald green feathers.

This small cuckoo is one smart bird, it winters over in the tropical Pacific Islands before heading to New Zealand to breed and spend the summer. It’s arrival is heralded by a loud and distinctive call that will be familiar to many though most wouldn’t know what bird makes it and if they went looking for the source they’d very rarely find it. As is usual with cuckoos, this one lays it’s eggs in another bird’s nest, usually the Grey Warbler- Riroriro, leaving the tiny foster parents to raise a monster chick about four times their size when it’s ready to fledge.

This bird, with it’s back to us, seemed unaware of our presence; this and the fact that it was eating something, dropping little bits and pieces as it munched it’s way through it’s meal. I’m not sure what it was but in the bottom left photo (not a good focus unfortunately) you can see a yellow spotted body in the cuckoo’s bill.

We waited patiently and finally after what seemed an eternity it turned around and there in all it’s shining glory was a gorgeous and beautiful shining cuckoo! It paused for just a second and I managed to click off a couple of quick shots and then it was gone! I was still buzzing a day later.

This next little fellow is a favourite in our temporary backyard, he’s a Whitehead- Popokotea, and is found only in the North Island and then only south of Waikato, in native & exotic forests and scrubland. The Whitehead is from the same species as the Brown Creeper- Pipipi and the Yellowhead- Mohua which are both only found in the South Island.

We are parked in this Whitehead’s territory and two-three times a day right on cue, early morning, occasionally early afternoon and finally early evening he comes calling. Singing his little heart out, preening and hopping and jumping about the scrub looking for insects. He rarely stands still, he is very hyperactive and no matter how often I follow him he gets the jump on me most times. For every good or reasonably good shot I get, there are at least 20 that have been binned.

There is another native cuckoo that we’ve yet to see, the Long-tailed Cuckoo, it’s even more secretive than it’s cousin but it’s calls are again familiar to the ear. It also flies in from the Pacific for the summer months and being slightly larger than the Shining Cuckoo it lays it’s eggs in the Whitehead’s nests. In the South Island they parasitise the Brown Creeper & Yellowheads’ nests. Luckily these host birds have two or three clutches a season and usually only the later clutches will be destroyed by the foster chick.

And finally here is the tiny Grey Warbler- Riroriro, with it’s bright red eye, it’s found throughout New Zealand and it’s song is a distinctive long musical trill that fills suburban gardens as well as the forests. It too is hard to capture as it flits about just out of view hiding behind the dense growth as it moves through the tree branches collecting moths & insects.

There are numerous other birds around camp including tui, bellbirds, fantails and silvereyes along with the usual suspects- introduced passerines & song birds. The nights are full of the monotonous calls of many Morepork- Ruru. One especially likes to sit in the tree directly above the van calling for at least half an hour before moving on. Only to return and take up the call again just as I’m drifting off to sleep.

And when he does finally depart his position is sometimes taken by a very noisy possum who makes a horrendous sound challenging other possums in nearby trees. Early one morning I went outside to listen and counted three possums calling in just the trees around our campsite, I’ve also seen two stoats running through recently vacated camp sites and there have been plenty of mice. I wonder if any pest control is done through the area.

But much to my delight one night early in our stay, I heard a kiwi call.


  1. Excellent blog Shellie, love the links to the sounds, you certainly needed the digital slr to capture those shots.
    Would be interesting to read what sort of settings and tricks you employ for birds (apart from taking lots)
    I have an old mini disc recorder that captures those sort of sounds very well, another thankyou for more inspirations.
    Wonder how it would go imitating bird calls in the bush with the sax?
    Buzz away Buzzer!

    1. Hi Jimu, you'll enjoy the next blog post too- it has some more bird photos and yes I'll have to look at adding some tips for bird photos in future. They are notoriously hard to capture especially in the bush. I move off manual for birds in the bush- I have my setting on shutter priority, anything higher than 1/250 and usually try for 1/400 and sometimes even more if it's a fast bird. I also try auto ISO although I don't like it because the shot is often too noisy. Sometimes it pushes the ISO up round 3200, but hey if I can get a shot of something I don't have I'm not too worried :) And yes I record the birds on my phone quite often, hopefully I'll be able to upload them & post sometime.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Olwen, I've been waiting a long time for my shining cuckoo one- and it could have all gone horribly wrong had I not done my dark bush/fast bird settings before entering the track- although he was hardly fast. I am learning :)

  3. I just stumbled by accident onto this the photos and love your take on some wonderful and amazing places a little off the beaten track , made me a little homesick , keep up the great work , Kiwi living in UAE

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, much appreciated and I'm glad you are enjoying reminiscing.


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