“Good morning everybody,
The sun is shining brightly,
The birds are singing gaily,
And we are feeling sprightly!”
Thanks to Nina, this was our gracious and pleasant wake up call at approximately 8:00 this morning, which is much more pleasing than an annoying buzzing of an alarm clock! After some groggy walking down the hallway to the kitchen, all of us ate breakfast and got ready for the day ahead. We stayed at a new hostel overnight called Hostel International, which became a favorite of the students after comparing it to Ponsonby Backpackers in Auckland. This hostel was nestled in the middle of many tropical looking plants and trees, as well as on the outskirts of a small town. The water front was a short walk away and was dotted with a few small boats. After getting packed up and loaded into our Kiwi Rentals limousine (aka our van), we made our way to the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre. The founder of the center was a man named Robert Webb along his wife Robyn. There was a short paved walkway from the parking lot to the center. Two buildings that resembled mobile classrooms were set up on either side of a grassy area. In the grassy area, a small blue kiddie pool was set up and full of water for the free- range ducks and Pukekos. The Pukekos spent their time bathing while the ducks would stick their beaks in the water and run them back and forth, searching for goodies. We were lead into the building on the left, which seemed as if it was education based. There were mounted birds hanging from the ceiling, along with more mounts in glass cases. Robert had many Kiwi birds, which is New Zealand’s icon, mounted in the cases as well as steel spring traps (which he later explained to be the cause of many Kiwis loosing their legs). The walls of the building were decorated much like a kindergarten classroom would be. Many photographs of birds that had been rehabilitated in the center were posted on one of the walls like an altar. Colored posters and pictures played the part of wallpaper on the remainder of the walls. All of them were “thank- you’s” from students that Robert had visited to do presentations. Following a short informational talk, we made our way around the second building where the cages and aviaries were located. We passed cages with Roselle parrots, Tuis, and New Zealand pigeons, and kingfishers. As Robert was telling us about the foliage inside of the cages, we heard a voice that sounded remarkably like that of a baseball announcer’s from the days of Babe Ruth, making full sentences and phrases. Woof Woof is a full-grown male Tui that had learned to speak from the human interaction he was exposed to. He even speaks with a New Zealand accent! We had to practically be pulled away and teased with the promise of seeing a real life Kiwi before we would leave his cage front.
We were lead to another area where the aviaries for the recovering birds were. Something that struck us to be different was that Robert’s aviaries had no tops to them. We were able to go into the cage that housed two Harrier hawks and watch Robert as he attempted to handle one and bring it closer for us to see, but to no avail. We moved to the next cage, which was the home of a sleeping Kiwi named Sparky. Sparky is an ambassador that Robert takes to the schools to speak about Kiwi conservation. Sparky was caught in a steel spring trap and lost his leg as a result. Since Kiwis are nocturnal birds, Robert had to rouse Sparky for his debut to us. Sparky wasn’t happy with being woken up and made sounds of protest. After a few moments, he silenced and we were able to touch him. His feathers feel more like fur; it is thick and mottled brown. Kiwis have their nostrils situated at the end of their noses and will put it to the ground to “listen” for pulses in the ground which will tell them where prey may be. After figuring out where it is, the Kiwi will jab its nose in the ground and usually come up with food. After his photo shoot, Sparky was put back to bed and we made our way to the second building that we had not had the chance to explore yet. This building was where the injured and orphaned birds were kept before being out into the outside aviaries. There was a room at the entrance that had a cage in the corner, which housed a Harrier hawk that had been admitted to the Recovery Center two days earlier. We were all able to hold the hawk while Robert talked about the center and the bird itself. The next specimen we were able to see was an owl called a Morepork. The particular owl we saw had been orphaned. Moreporks are small owls, but they are almost double the size of our Saw Whet Owls we have at the center at home. The next animal we were able to interact with was New Zealand’s version of the possum. Possums here are considered pests because they are an introduced species and are detrimental to the native bird population. The possums here remind me of Bush babies. They have extremely soft fur compared to our opossum, and their ears and tails are not naked. We took turns handling “Pippy” the possum, and she made her way from person to person. When she reached Krista, she climbed down her back and began to urinate. The good news is Krista was a good sport about it and had extra clothing in the van! The rest of the tour of the second building was comprised of watching Robert medicate a young Kiwi and seeing the “house” that the kiwi lived in. Robert was all too excited to take us to the incubation room after leaving the second building. The Recovery Centre owned four small and two large incubators. One small incubator had two Little Blue penguin eggs and another had a Kiwi egg. While we were talking, Natalie noticed that one of the penguin eggs had a small crack in it and Robert said that it would probably hatch by the end of the day. The center had something to brag about when it came to the Little Blue penguin eggs hatching because no one else in New Zealand had been able to successfully hatch a penguin! Robert was able to share a couple secrets with us concerning egg hatching. One of them was when they are checking for movement within the egg, they will place the egg on a weight scale and lay a piece of uncooked spaghetti on top of the egg. The chick will react to the change in temperature and began to move, which in turn causes the piece of spaghetti to rock and move. Another secret was that if a human makes calls or noises around the egg, the chicks inside the egg would make noises in return. Robert held a special light up to the kiwi egg and we were able to see the size of the yolk as well as the chick inside. The kiwi chick actually is able to live off of the yolk for the first seven days after they hatch. Robert had a skeleton of a kiwi with an egg in still in the body. The egg actually takes up the whole lower region of a mother kiwi’s body. They are able to handle an egg this size because they have no keel bones. Kiwis actually lay the largest egg for their body size! We finished our time at the center talking about the importance of educating the public about the conservation of the kiwis as well as the native birds of New Zealand. We finished the day by going back to Ponsonby backpackers for the night!
Everyone had a good night last night. Most of the group got to experience their first hot natural thermal spring, which was conveniently located at the hostel. We stayed in Rotorua for 1 night. This is a big city, with thermal springs and hot bubbling mud springs. The city however smells of sulfur…yuck! Not far from where we were staying we departed our hostel and arrived at a place called Wingspan. This is the only falcon center in the country. Debbie (program director), Noel (trustee and bird trainer) and Mia (falcon trainer) showed us around their facilities. The building was an old horticulture center. It looks like and old green house. The buildings are made of rippled tin and are shaped like half-cylinders. There are three buildings. One of the buildings is an information center. This is where tea and lemonade were served and we gathered to share and compare information on our different styles of rehabilitation. The second building to the left after the information center was the aviary. This was a well-organized building with about 6 different large houses for the different species of falcons. Some of the cages had one bird, while others had 2 or more. Some of the cages had juvenile birds, others adults, and some were used for breeding. The numbers of falcons are declining because of hunters and babies’ eggs being stolen by predators. Therefore, Wingspan also incubates and hatches the falcons. Phoenix was their newest member hatched right in front of their eyes and seen across the world by cameras over the incubator. Phoenix is a baby New Zealand falcon that we got to go up close and personal with. He even jumped on some our shoulders. He jumped right up on my shoulder and rubbed his head against my cheek. It was amazing to see a falcon so tame. I was thrilled to be up close and personal with a baby falcon, yet startled by his sharp claws. Later to find out that this breed of bird is one of the most deadly in the world. No worries though…it thought of people as his family and Debbie as his mom. The third building was a small museum, more like a one-room area with stuffed animals, the history of falcons, and the tools and culture of the poachers.
In front of the three buildings is a large pasture for the birds to exercised daily. The birds were released by their external doors (similar to horse stalls). The exercising process is usually performed by one specific person for the different animals. Their cage is opened and they are released into an open pasture where the falcon trainer (Mia for the presentation we saw) stands in the middle of the pasture with a leather device that is fringed and a pair of duck wings attached. The bird has to perform 3 different swoops in attempts to catch the device. The device is attached to a string and is swirled in the air to get the affect of the bird catching its own prey in the wild. A peregrine falcon named “Ruby” showed us how the process was done. Once the third and final swoop was performed the catch (device) had a reward attached to the end. This process takes about 30 minutes. And is repeated 3-4 times depending on whether the bird is permanent residence or is about to be released. The people at wingspan were so generous and kind, with such knowledge to be shared with the group. It was a group favorite in terms of wanting to work with the falcons. Everyone left saying, ” I want to work here.” Afterwards we approached our 4 hours car ride to Whagnanui, where we were billeted, (a term used by the rehabilitator there), out to different families. During the duration of the trip an earthquake took place not far from where we were, but far enough away we couldn’t feel it because we were in our cozy van. This was the first time I have ever been in an earthquake and I didn’t even get to feel it, darn. Overall, the day was wonderful and everyone is looking forward to meeting their families they will be staying with for the next 2 nights.
The day started wonderfully as Natalie and I woke up at our host Dr. Thompson’s house. He fixed us a delicious fruit salad as well as copious amounts of cereals, toast, tea, and I even tried poached eggs for the first time ever! We had such a good time talking to him; he is 82 years old and served as a doctor in Nigeria for 22 years. He also introduced us to Italian opera; we watched a version of Cinderella and Odysseus, we found it very interesting. That morning after breakfast, Ian arrived to pick us up in his sweet Alfa Romeo to take us back to the rest of our group. Once we all piled into our van we were off to visit Bushy Park. We expected to do some trail maintenance at this reserve, but instead of doing trail maintenance, their conservation officer, Daniel took us for a little hike around the preserve. Daniel and Chris showed us different birds and plants as we walked through the “bush”. They talked about how the Kiwi that are hatched at the Kiwi Encounter are taken here while they are young and then placed in the bush protected by predator-proof fences until they are old enough to be placed back into the wild where their size makes them less of a target for predators such as stoats and dogs. Chris also showed us a plant species that he was the first to discover. He has been going though the DNA testing process, and soon he hopes to have his name included in the name of the plant. While walking in the bush, we got a chance to see a vine that was a few thousand years old called the Northern Rata that was 31.11 feet around and about 140 feet tall. This type of vine starts to grow at the top of a tree and grows down and gets thick enough to completely envelope that tree. After we left Bushy Park, we went to Dawn’s house. Dawn had set up a picnic for us outside. She told us about her center and about some different birds she has had in the past. Unfortunately we were not pleased with what we saw from her center after taking a look around. The conditions were not what we expected, and we really wished there was more we could do to help her out. She is defiantly in over her head with the animals, but all she wanted us to do was help weed the new Kiwi enclosure. We just hope that she can get some volunteers to give her a hand with keeping up her center. Afterwards, I realized the only positive way to look at the situation is that it was a learning experience. We now know that not every wildlife center has appropriate conditions, and we realize what not to do in the future if we were to have our own centers.
Merry Christmas Ya’ll! It is Christmas here in New Zealand (Christmas eve for all of you). We are now in Nelson, New Zealand located on the north tip of the South Island. We arrived here yesterday a little after 7pm after a three hour ferry ride from the north island. Today has been a bitter-sweet day for a lot of us here today. We started out the morning by having a gift exchange. Several weeks before we left for this trip we all got together and decided that we wanted to create our own tradition for this year. We decided on doing a secret Santa gift exchange. We all drew names and then purchased a gift while we were here in New Zealand for our person we drew. This morning we all gathered together around 10:30 in anticipation of the secret Santa’s and their gifts! The whole trip Nina has been carrying around this green bag that she told us was banned from any students and that we would find out what was in it soon enough! Well this morning we found out! Before we did our secret Santa exchange Robert read a couple of short poems and then Nina broke into the secret bag. She laid in front of each of us a little piece of home. Nina had asked all of our parents to send her our stockings a long with goodies inside to open on Christmas morning. Each person had a different reaction, but all in all it was surprise with a lot of happiness. I think Natalie’s expression was the greatest! Nina laid Natalie’s stocking in front of her and she had this dumbfounded look on her face and then asked Nina how she found a stocking that looked just like the one she had at home and had decorated. After a couple of minutes of pondering she suddenly figured out that it was her stocking indeed! Each stocking was stuffed with goodies from home that each of our families had sent for us. Some had special notes and pictures and others with things that reminded them of home. There seemed to be an immediate lightening of attitudes and a much more cheerful atmosphere. It was very special for everyone to receive a special something from home on Christmas when we are so far away. After we all got finished with our stockings we passed out our secret Santa gifts and we opened those. Nina bought gifts for Whitney, Whitney for Joe, Joe for Robert, Robert for Ashleigh, Ashleigh for Nina, Brittany for Natalie, Natalie for Savannah, Savannah for Charlie, Charlie for Krista, and Krista for Brittany. Everyone seemed to really enjoy receiving the gifts and we had a good time trying to figure out who our Santas were. Once we finish with our gifts everyone dispersed for a couple of hours and then we all got together to have a Christmas lunch/BBQ at our hostel. Once we had finished with lunch we had the rest of the afternoon and night to do as we wanted. All of us along with a guy that we met from the sates headed to the beach to spend the afternoon. Robert decided to go on a hike so he did not join us on the sand. Half of the group went for a walk down the beach while the other half of us stayed in one area, laying on the beach and playing in the water. After a few hours several people wanted to return to the hostel, so Nina took that half back leaving four of us to continue enjoying the sun, salt and sand. She and Robert returned around 7 to pick up the rest of us and head back to the hostel to find showers and dinner. Everyone dispersed and did their own thing for dinner, many spent their time chatting with others who are in the hostel with us. This hostel has roughly 130 people that stayed last night and tonight there has been something going on since the moment we arrived and we have gotten a chance to meet some really interesting people from all over the world! Today has been a great day I think for everyone. Some have missed home more than others but everyone is loving the fact that we have had the chance to spend Christmas in the sun and on the beach!