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NEW ZEALAND

Thursday 24th October - Wednesday 13th November 2013

Chris Gaskin

New Zealand Pigeon (Tehzoon Karmalawala)

New Zealand Pigeon (Tehzoon Karmalawala)

New Zealand’s Pacific Ring of Fire geology underpins a diverse array of landscapes: rugged snow and ice-capped mountains, glaciers, steaming volcanoes, the great sweep of braided rivers across outwash plains, high rainfall areas with dry zones a short Kea’s flight away. We traced the change in forests from the kauri and nikau palm sub-tropical north through southern beech (Nothofagus) to remote uninhabited and wild places of the far south where podocarps and southern rata are shaped by subantarctic winds. Birding hotspots are linked by parkland-like farmland and ever-changing, stunning scenery. The country is a long archipelago, islands set in the Great Southern Ocean. There is high endemism amongst its terrestrial fauna and flora, as well as the greatest diversity of seabirds anywhere in the world. The changes wrought during periods of settlement (New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by humans) have created a highly modified environment, and a legacy of some of the world’s rarest and most threatened bird species.

Our New Zealand tour captured its landscapes and birds in the full flush of spring. There was just a hint of a lingering winter as we moved through the country: plenty of snow on the mountains in the south and usually dry grasslands emerald green from recent stormy weather and heavy rain. We connected with the return of migratory summer species, winter breeding species, and throughout our tour had stunning views of New Zealand’s ‘mainland’ endemics. The tour also offered a chance to reflect on the extinctions (approx. 45% of New Zealand’s avifauna was lost following the arrival of humans), some as recently as the 1970s. On a much more positive note we could experience the achievements of conservation action in the last 50 years. New Zealand is a world leader through the many invasive species eradication programmes, species recovery work and numerous restoration projects. Wild flowers aplenty from the native endemic Giant Buttercup in alpine herbfields, the blaze of introduced colour in Central Otago, and in the north traces of a hot summer in the offing with red pohutukawa and rata (Metrosideros species), massed cabbage tree flowers and nectar rich flax flowers starting to open. The food was excellent throughout, often savoured with hand-rubbing glee by tour members.

Kaka (Tehzoon Karmalawala)

Kaka (Tehzoon Karmalawala)