ASK AN EXPERT: Why does this tui have unusually fluffy collar feathers?

Mike Creed asks: Two Tui have been visiting our feeder over the past couple of days. They are very noticeable because of their unusually fluffy collar feathers. Are these old birds? Do the collar feathers normally develop like that? They seem to be a couple. Any info would be appreciated!

Tui A (Photo by MIke Creed)


Tui B has a bad leg and can’t stand on it very well (Photo by Mike Creed).

Colin Miskelly from Te Papa says:

These do not look like normal tui, and are both probably partially leucisticBoth of them are young birds (as evident from the dull body plumage, lack of iridescence, plus small throat tufts, and absence of fine white filoplumes around the neck and nape). As they both have similar, aberrant plumage, it is likely that they have the same parents. This could mean that there is an unusually coloured adult tui around, or it could be that both parents are normally coloured but both carry the same recessive gene.

Colin is the Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa at Te Papa.

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Saving the Whales

Sixty of the 198 pilot whales that beached themselves in Golden Bay over the weekend have made it to safe water. Over 300 volunteers came from around the country to help stabilize the whales and keep them alive until high tide when they were re-floated.

One of those volunteers was Forest & Bird’s fundraiser, Adria Lopez Mackay. I asked her about the experience, what motivated her to train as a Marine Mammal Medic and the rewards of contributing to conservation as a volunteer.

When did you first hear about the stranding?

I saw it on Facebook on the Friday, but it wasn’t until 9pm that night when I got a text message from Project Jonah. They were putting out a call for trained Marine Mammal Medics to get down to Farewell Spit if they could.

What is a Marine Mammal Medic?

Project Jonah run a one day training course where they go through everything you might need to help whales or dolphins survive during a stranding. They go through the anatomy of marine mammals, the ones you will see in New Zealand, and what happens to them during a stranding. They talk about the reasons they may happen and how we can support them when it does. Part of it’s in the classroom, but then you go out to the beach and practice first aid on a blow up whale.

Was this your first time working on a stranding?

Yes – I did my training in November in 2013 and they told us that Farewell Spit was the most likely place we would be called to. This is the first time I received a call out text and I guess that’s because of the size of the stranding – there were so many whales. Usually, they might get all the help they need from Nelson and Blenheim medics.

How did you react?

Well, it was good timing! It was Friday night and I knew I had nothing on during the weekend, so it was just a matter of getting things together and finding transport. The InterIsland provides free transport for Project Jonah Marine Mammal Medics and you generally connect with other volunteers on Facebook to get rides from there. We went down and caught the 2.30am ferry then shared a van with a couple who had a few extra seats.

What was your first impression upon arrival?

Pouring water on whales

Volunteers work to keep the whales cool and calm (Photo: Adria Lopez Mackay)

It was pretty heart breaking and I felt a bit helpless at first, but then the adrenaline kicked in and it was all go. We were straight into it. A lot of people had been there all morning – since the whales first re-stranded at 5am.

It was the first time I had seen whales not doing what they’re supposed to do – being helpless, and not healthy. Some of them had some pretty horrific wounds.

The entire pod had originally stranded on the Friday. They were re-floated, but it was quite hot on Friday and there weren’t enough people to help them. They were badly blistered and some of them had open wounds. But luckily, on the Saturday that they re-stranded, the weather was overcast and so the wounds didn’t get any worse.

 What was the general feeling among the group? Was there hope?

Yeah – everyone was supportive and working together really well to make sure these whales got the best care. Everyone was just so focused on ensuring they were cool and calm. And looking forward to the possibility of re-floating them, which started at high tide about 4.30pm.

What was the process of re-floating like?

Well, we move everything around them away and take off the sheets they’ve spend the day covered in. We continued to keep them cool and calm and waited for the water to come in. I was working on quite a young whale and ours was one of the first to start to swim – just because it was so small. But for some of the bigger whales, high tide didn’t mean much, and they literally had to be pushed through the sand into deeper water.

Once you let go of a whale you join hands and create a chain along the shoreline to prevent the whales trying to come back in and re-stranding.

What was the biggest challenge of the weekend?

For me, it was just the emotional aspect of it. There’s no certainty that they would survive until the next morning when we could be sure they hadn’t re-stranded.

Did you form a bond with the whales you were working on?

For most of it, I was working on a juvenile whale. When I arrived, there were two young girls who had been looking after “her” for hours and they had named her – Lily. So I had to let them know I was going to do everything I could to get this whale swimming again.

It’s hard not to form a bond with them – part of keeping them calm is just speaking to them and counting their breaths to make sure they’re not stressed out. They don’t really open their eyes, but if you speak to them they’ll sometimes open one and look at you. It was really powerful.

In the end, I was exhausted. But waking up on the Sunday to hear that they hadn’t been seen again was a great feeling.

With "Lily" at high tide.

With “Lily” at high tide.


Otago Fish Floundering

This article was originally featured in November edition of the Forest & Bird Magazine. If you would like to receive a copy of your own, please consider joining us.

Otago’s native fish are in crisis. The latest Department of  Conservation-appointed review has found the region has the highest number of threatened native freshwater fish in the country. Of the 12 freshwater fish species under threat in the region, four are in the highest possible threat category.

Another six have been classified as nationally endangered and two are nationally vulnerable. Worse yet, three of these species are only found in Otago.

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

The news is not surprising given the barrage of threats: habitat loss, land use changes, water abstraction, degraded water quality and migration barriers. But according to DOC Otago freshwater ranger Pete Ravenscroft, it is the increased movement of trout into new sites that is having the most devastating impact.

“Trout habitat is still naturally expanding into new waterways, without human assistance … to the detriment of our native fish,” he says.

Unlike their whitebait counterparts, these galaxiids don’t migrate, which makes safeguarding their few habitats even more critical. Pete says it is even more imperative for the longer-living species, which can live up to 20 years. “They have big eggs and low fecundity. It doesn’t take much to impact on the species,” he says.

Otago has lost 20 per cent of its rare fish in the past 13 years. The Clutha flathead galaxias has been hit especially hard. Threats have reduced the population of this unique species by 60 per cent, and the survivors are limited to waterways across just 12 hectares of land.

Pete says if the current rate of loss continues, the Clutha flathead and the Central Otago roundhead galaxias could become extinct within the next 20 years. “Something has to be done now to prevent future losses,” he says.

One immediate solution for Otago’s endangered fish is to remove trout from galaxiids’ habitat and set up fish barriers to keep them out. Pete stresses this does not interfere with recreational angling. “We’re not talking about the wholesale removal of trout. Galaxiids are confined to the odd population in discrete locations. Most of these rivers are a metre wide … and have no value to recreational fishing.”

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Fish and Game is working with DOC to create these trout free habitats. In fact, Fish and Game Otago region chief executive Niall Watson says the organisation has gone a step further and put forward its own proposals to DOC to reduce the possibility of reinvasion.

In addition, most of these streams pass through private land, which means rescue efforts cannot come from DOC alone.

Thankfully, word is getting around about Otago’s unique native freshwater fish and the increasing need to protect them. Community groups such as Otago Regional Council, water user groups, landowners and iwi are heeding the call to act.

Pete says without community support even more of our native freshwater fish would have disappeared, but insists a lot more needs to be done to counter the “biodiversity crisis going on in our rivers”.

DOC has proposed other measures such as protecting habitat, enhancing water quality and improving fish passage. The department has also undertaken a review of its three freshwater fish recovery plans and groups to pinpoint what is working, what is not and what can be done in the future.

Lan Pham, director of education and conservation charity Working Waters Trust, is keen to get more people talking about galaxiids. “These fish have their own unique stories and are found nowhere else in the world. The tragedy is we are losing these incredible species before we even get to know them,” she says.

Windthrow is a natural part of NZ’s forest dynamics

Windthrow is a natural part of NZ’s forest dynamics of catastrophe-regeneration. Thousands of hectares are levelled every year in our public conservation land forests and have done so for millenia. It is a part of the natural forest cycle in this windy country. Yet we do not intervene to sell the fallen timber in protected forests, any more than harvest kiwi, as it is as natural as the wind and rain. We allow indigenous nature to run wild and free. That is what conservation land is all about.


A dead tree is as valuable as a live one to the functioning of a forest, with up to half the wood being dead or rotting in a typical healthy forest ecosystem. This is what a forest is.

Thousands of species rely on the continual cascade of dying wood for their survival, and on the fertility and energy that is recycled back into the system. Such wood may come from the gradual decline of trees, limb breakage, or more catastophic destruction from windthrow, landslides or disease. This is all part of natural forest dynamics. An area of windthrow is still forest in the long term functioning of such an ecosystem. If the dead wood is not protected, then nor is the forest in the most fundamental sense.

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Snapper’s grassy beginnings

Snapper are one of New Zealand’s most popular fishes, and are highly sought after – both recreationally and commercially. They are found around the shallow waters of the North Island, making them an ideal fishing target.

Snapper, photo by Kirstie Knowles

The Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, is one of the largest harbours in the world. It is a large estuary, and supports fish, oysters, mussels and scallops. Seagrasses play an important role in these estuarine ecosystems.

They provide a nursery habitat for fish, help to stabilise the sediment by trapping sand and mud around their roots, and transfer nutrients between the seabed and the ocean above it, as the grasses grow.

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Here’s to saving the Mackenzie

The Mackenzie Country is for many of us one of the reasons why we love this country so much.

The Mackenzie's green stain. Photo: Peter Scott.

The Mackenzie’s green stain. Photo: Peter Scott.

But those of us who have been there recently will know that it’s also a part of New Zealand that’s disappearing fast. The Mackenzie is being turned from a hundred shades of brown – which looks so much better than it sounds – to a dystopian green, like a landscape from a Dr Seuss book. Across large areas of the Basin, irrigators are transforming tussock to pasture, a process that can never be reversed.

Because the Mackenzie’s landscape is such a part of our shared by so sense of who we are, it appears regularly as a popular culture icon. For instance lots of 0000 and 1111s were shed in a computer-simulated battle that Peter Jackson staged there for one of his Lord of the Rings films. And the beauty of the Mackenzie inspires the central character in Laurence Fearnley’s The Hut Builder to tackle his grief. The Mackenzie’s vistas also earn the region – and the country – plenty, as they help attract tourists here

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Our amazing flat-faced patiki

In lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout New Zealand, groups of aquatic flying carpets are mobilising and moving downstream towards the sea.  Late autumn marks the time when a special species of New Zealand flatfish – the freshwater black flounder or patiki – embarks upon a spawning migration to the sea, with juveniles re-entering freshwater and migrating back upstream a few months later.

Despite their cute appearance, black flounder are ferocious predators of small fish. Photo: Alton Perrie

The black flounder (Rhombosolea retiaria) is a truly fascinating native freshwater fish species.  They are found mostly in freshwater, in lakes and streams close to the coast, although they have been known to travel as far as 250km inland!

They also complete migration-like movements in marine environments, some of which can be astonishingly large – one flounder that was tagged during a research study in the Wairarapa turned up in Taranaki a number of months later!

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Pest-free Stewart Island comes one step closer to becoming reality

New Zealand leads the world in clearing pests, however until now DOC has talked gingerly about the obvious next hurdle:  clearing pests from inhabited islands. Until now….

For fifteen years people have talked about getting pests off Stewart island (popn = 380), and five years ago a feasibility study was done to determine whether this is possible.

Oban – Stewart island’s only township will be surrounded by a predator proof fence first to cordon off the most sensitive area, and get locals accustomed to the bio-security measures that will be put in place. After that, the rest of the island (170,000 ha) will be cleared of pests. Click to enlarge

It wasn’t until businessman and philanthropist Gareth Morgan took the reins one year ago that this whole project has been swung into fifth gear. Since he took on this uber project, he has conducted an anonymous poll to determine firstly whether Stewart islanders wanted to rid the island of their rats, feral cats and possums.

The poll came back emphatically in favour of the idea: 84% of the respondents said ‘yes’. Re-envisioning this island (NZ’s third largest) as a bird-filled paradise with kiwi walking down Oban’s main street and kakapo sitting in the trees appealed not just to conservationists, but also tourism operators in an island where there are few economic opportunities.

Indeed, an appetite for biodiversity restoration already exists in some parts of the community – after all, the community ‘demanded’ that the invading rat population on Ulva Island was re-eradicated in 2011.

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Duncan come home!

**Newsflash** Duncan was caught and happily returned to his home yesterday afternoon (May 15th). To go to the TV One news report – see here – 

In 2011, Duncan – our endangered kokako – disappeared from our pest controlled sanctuary in the Waitakeres and two years later he has turned up in suburban Glendowie. Yes, that’s thirty one kilometres from his home.

Duncan come home!

As you’ll know kokako aren’t great fliers, so great mystery surrounds why he decided to take this flight of fancy across motorways and highways, and why Glendowie seems to be his resting spot.

Fortunately for Duncan, he seems to be surrounded by friends. He was discovered by a birder in the region who spotted this endangered bird (only 750 pairs to its name) and called DOC to establish his origins.

Many of the people in the neighbourhood are keen birders and Tiritiri Matangi supporters, so they’ve done a mail drop and they’re keeping a close eye on his whereabouts, and their cats.

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The secret life of our bluegill bully

Beneath the water’s surface, in a stream or river near you, a tiny native fish is searching for a rock. It has to be the right size and shape, in the right location in the stream and the right orientation to the current. It also has to be defended from all the other little fish currently on the hunt for the perfect rock!

The magnificent bluegill bully. Photo: Alton Perrie.

The bluegill bully (Gobiomorphus hubbsi), one of New Zealand’s lesser known native fish is preparing for autumn spawning. Bluegill bullies are a stocky, tubular fish, sandy to dark brown/black in colour with blotchy markings and distinctive dark spots on their cheeks. They get their name from the brilliant, iridescent blue band that is visible on their gills. Bluegill bullies are the smallest of New Zealand’s seven bully species, with most adults growing only to around 50-60 mm in length.

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