New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

First treat of all was our enthusiastic and almost proprietary guide whose name was the same as the island—Ulva. She told us with no less pride that she was part Maori, part Scotch and even had some USA heritage in her past! She is also so proud of what she and the other participants have been able to achieve on Ulva Island. No wonder she feels such a sense of happy ownership—with its combination of protectiveness and a wish to share the beauties of the place. She reported to us that the constant vigilance practiced by the docents and scientists has kept the island completely pest free. The native birds are rebounding and thriving. She took such delight in every birdsong she heard and interpreted its species for us. And the native birds are not the only living things that are flourishing on Ulva—the orchids, the mosses, ferns, totaro trees (a stout and tall tree almost lost to European ship-building practices in many parts of New Zealand), ratas (seen in much greater profusion by us on Enderby), rimu trees with their flamboyant red blossoms, lancewood (described at Jacob’s Bay), and miro trees with their amazingly patterned bark. Ulva reveled in pointed out every smallest little flower and every enormous tree as if they were her own, as indeed they were in a certain sense. Among the bird species we saw happily making their homes in this haven were weka (rather like a chicken but we don’t know if it also tastes like one), kaka (the gaudy parrot), saddlebacks (at one time reduced to only 30 birds in all New Zealand and here in Ulva alone they have 30 pairs breeding), fantails (another tiny bird almost lost to NZ—it has the most amazing tail feathers which spread like a lady’s fan with stripes of white and black), brown creepers (they are like our sapsuckers and can up & down tree trunks backwards and forwards), tui ( a lovely black bird with vivacious yellow feathers about its face—itself almost extinct on the two mainland islands), and finally the fabled rifleman (NZ’s tiniest bird, so small that its nest cavity is just a narrow slit in a tree truck and whose chicks are no larger than bumblebees). We didn’t see the babies of the pair of rifleman we were lucky enough to observe, but we did see the daredevil approach of the parent birds to the almost invisible slit in the tree where they folded their wings without a pause and disappeared inside! Quite a show!

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