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  Field Notes From
Hotspot: New Zealand



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On Assignment
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From Author

Kennedy Warne



On Assignment

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From Photographer

Frans Lanting



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Frans Lanting (top), and Chris Eckstrom
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Hotspot: New Zealand

Field Notes From Author
Kennedy Warne
Best Worst Quirkiest

One night in the mountains behind the seaside town of Kaikoura I sat in the midst of one of the last colonies of Hutton’s shearwaters still nesting on mainland New Zealand. Before humans arrived, these seabirds would have nested all around the coastline, but predators have stopped that from happening in all but a handful of places. To sit under the stars and watch the birds flutter and swoop across the sky, then crash down to earth to find their burrows, was to savor something rare and primal. It was like traveling back in time.



While exploring the terrain around Kaikoura’s seabird colony, my friend, and wildlife filmmaker, Rod Morris noticed something moving on the far side of a gully. Looking through binoculars we were astonished to see a family of introduced chamois grazing among some plants with bright yellow flowers. When we looked carefully at the flowers we saw they were a common introduced weed, the dandelion. Rod made the comment: “Man has never walked those bluffs, yet our introduced species are already there.” During my travels around the country, I was constantly confronted with the sad reality that the tide of introduced pests and weeds is still rising.



Over the past few years a shearwater colony has been established on a peninsula at Maud Island on the northern tip of South Island. To encourage the birds to nest, scientists have installed large loudspeakers pointing out to sea. Each night during the breeding season they broadcast shearwater calls to fool passing birds into thinking, “Aha! There is a thriving colony here. I must join it.” The calls start playing automatically when the sun goes down, and the recording continues through the night. The ruse is working. A dozen or more pairs have nested, making use of man-made nest boxes that have been dug into the soil to provide safe, dry burrows for the birds. I helped the Maud Island ranger check the nest boxes, and he told me that the birds favor the ones that are closest to the loudspeakers—analagous, I suppose, to pitching a tent in the mosh pit at a rock concert.





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