Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 10 March 2014

NZ Creatures Great and Small

We're getting to know the New Zealand wildlife on our travels; some species all too well, it must be said. There seems to be a fairly concerted battle going on against imported animals which have now become recognised as pests: rabbits and possums, once farmed for meat and pelts are causing havoc as they breed almost out of control whilst ferrets and stoats, once carried aboard ships to control the on-board rat populations, are killing indigenous birds. Alongside walking tracks the sight of rodent traps is a common one and we see a lot of possums on the roads, resting.

All these foreign pests are a huge threat to Kiwis, penguins and Wekas. We think we've heard the call of the Kiwi at night but these nocturnal birds are notoriously shy. Shy is not a description ever levelled at the similarly-sized Weka however; these flightless birds appear at lots of our camp sites, cadging food. At the last site we were delighted to have a pair of Weka with three very fluffy chicks in tow - the adults turned over the undergrowth with their sharp beaks and the chick would then dash in to snap up any grubs or worms they unearthed.

The highlight of our bird-spotting so far hasn't been in the wild at all. During our brief stop in Christchurch we visited the excellent Antarctic Centre where there is a colony of twenty little Blue Penguins - all rescued from the wild with injuries that mean they can't be returned to the wild. They are cared for by the wonderful keeper, Dianne Lim, and we were lucky to get a 'back-stage' tour with her before feeding time. The average Blue Penguin will live for about 6 years in the wild but at the centre they enjoy a very happy life and live for up to 22 years!

Penguin love

"This is my ball"

Two Diannes with 14 year old Oblex after a routine vet check. Dianne handles the birds as little as possible - they bite!

Another bird we didn't know before we came here is the Kea. A mountain parrot unique to South Island, there are only around 5000 remaining (they were hunted almost to extinction as they were said to kill young lambs until they became a protected species). Up in the mountains at Arthur's Pass we met a couple of these very clever birds; in spite of lots of notices asking people not to feed the Keas, it's obvious that they do. As we stopped in a car park two Keas sidled towards us wanting food.

When we refused to give him food, this Kea tried to destroy the spare wheel cover in revenge!
Of course, domesticated farm animals are to be found pretty much anywhere where there's a level field.

DAiry farming has become big business here, with China demanding ever increasing volumes of  milk powder to meet the increasingly westernised diet. Huge irrigation systems have been installed and there's some concern about the excess use of nitrates to keep the ground fertile

Sheep are no longer the mainstay of NZ but we met a few Merino flocks on the move

"Move along there now". The police lend a hand
At the smaller end of the size range, there are plenty of spiders, beetles, wasps, bees and flies around but, unlike  Australia, there are no nasty spiders or snakes to threaten us. The main predators are the sand flies, little black buggers that give a painful bite which remains itchy as hell and, when we first arrived, would cause an uncomfortable swelling. There really is no excuse for them; they are New Zealand's answer to the Scottish midge. Various sprays and potions are available but we haven't found a perfect antidote as yet. Dianne's using something rather optimistically called 'Goodbye Sandfly', Graham's trying an alternative that claims great things and we also have an aerosol of 30% Deet spray which we don't like using, having seen it remove the print from a plastic bag in seconds! Apparently the west coasters mix their own potent solution, a 50:50 mix of baby oil and Dettol, which presumably deters other people as well.

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