Where am I?

Hate Among the Kiwis

May 11, 2006 at 07:02 PM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

Why am I in Otorohanga? Aside from its proximity to the Waitomo caves, it's more or less nowhere. Except... it's the site of the Otorohanga Kiwi House (and native bird park). These friendly folks maintain kiwis in an indoor environment, which swaps day for night so that the (nocturnal) kiwis are awake at the same time we are.

I'd like to see a kiwi, but staying up late for a nature walk sounds like a lot of work, and there's no guarantee that you'll actually see any kiwis. Given my track record of seeing bears in Yosemite, the Kiwi House sounded like my best shot.

I'm doing my best to hang onto my jet lag, but it's slowly slipping away. By now, getting up at 06:30 is a little harder, but still feels like getting up around 10:00. This gives me plenty of time to pack up and get out of the motel by 09:00, when the kiwi house opens.

In fact, I get there at 08:30. The rain is pouring down, so I read the Lonely Planet guide in the car, trying to decide if I want to spend tonight in Taupo, or push on to Napier (the Art Deco City). I have to pass through Taupo either way, so I decide to stop there for lunch, and decide then.

The rain doesn't stop, but the kiwi house opens on time, and I wander in. The first room is the kiwi room: it's dark, but after a while my eyes adjust and it looks more like a moonlit night. There's a large glassed-off enclosure for the kiwis, and an L-shaped corridor around it. The kiwi area is separated in half by a fence with netting, and I start to see kiwis.

There are two in the room: Atu, a great spotted kiwi, and Rod Stewart, a northern brown kiwi.

atu sign rod stewart sign

Kiwis are pretty big - about the size and weight of a small house-cat. So you'd think they'd be easy enough to photograph. I knew the darkness would be a problem, and naturally the Kiwi House doesn't allow flash photography. But they are fast - on foot or standing still. In the second picture below, you can see Atu's beak in three different places at once. The camera's EXIF data shows that happening within a 0.320-second exposure, if I'm reading it correctly. atu profile atu triple-beak

I quickly find out why the netting is in place: it seems kiwis are territorial, and when Atu and Rod get close to the fence at the same time, Atu attacks. Kiwi fight!

kiwi fight 1 kiwi fight 2 kiwi fight 3 Rod is supposed to be blind, and didn't seem to know that Atu was there, or what was happening to him. But he didn't really stay away from the fence, either. There's no real blood: Atu just pokes Rod with her beak, whenever he's in range.

The kiwi fight is fun, but after a while I move on to look at the geckos. These are also nocturnal. Here's a leopard gecko, and another gecko whose name I didn't catch.

leopard gecko another gecko

The Kiwi House also takes in injured birds, and keeps them or returns them to the wild, if possible. The rain was still coming down, so most of the birds had enough sense to stay dry. I saw some falcons, and a harrier, but they wouldn't come out for pictures. Here's an owl with OCD, though. OCD owl

They also labelled all the native plants in the preserve. Here's how big a kauri tree gets in about 34 years.

young kauri

The only animals you can really rely on, in the rain, are the ducks.

satanic duck more ducks

There are some oystercatchers, a spur-winged plover, and lots of birds that I don't see the names of. Sorry.

oystercatchers unknown bird spur-winged plover In the walk-in aviary, I hear some tuis or bellbirds, but all I see are some red-crowned parakeets. Maybe the green one is the female? parakeets orange fungus

The rain is still coming down as I finish with the Kiwi House. As I start the drive north-west, I follow a sign pointing to Cambridge, which allows me to avoid Hamilton. From Cambridge I drive south-east again, and start to see more signs of autumn. autumn

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