Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Birds of a feather abound in Kiwi country and Down Under

NEW ZEALAND, AUSSIE BIRDS, SOME BATTLING EXTINCTION, RANK HIGH ON 'MUST-SEE' LIST

We watched two pair of Australian white ibis -- at two different times -- intrigued by their mating rituals and beauty.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
This friendly gull is waiting for the appetizer, not the wine,
with Sydney Bridge and Harbour behind him and Keller.
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

HAVE YOU ever looked a kakapo in the eye in the middle of the night? Or watched an ibis vie for your fish and chips at an outdoor cafe?
Birds are so much a part of daily life in Australia and New Zealand that residents give scarcely a glance to feathered friends exotic to us.  After widespread bird extinction, the abundance and "come back" seems ironic.
Today's flightless birds include showy ostriches, emus, kiwis and other winged non-flyers. They're called ratites.
At a Sydney cafe, this ibis caught
our eye.  Other diners didn't notice.
THE ODDITY and variety of the Southern Hemisphere birds has helped biologists define a larger group of mostly extinct birds, many of them flightless.  They're called paleognaths, who knew?
The kakapo or night parrot has alluring beauty
 and is making a comeback from near extinction.
We learned that these feathered wonders are key to studying evolution of birds. To our amazement, all living ratites are found in the Southern Hemisphere, or S.H.

A tern on New Zealand's south island near Milford Sound. 
MANY FLIGHTLESS birds were wiped out by European and Polynesian settlement and introduction of rats, cats and predators  -- no surprise. We loved our time with the kakapo, observed at night in a sanctuary. They have a voice like a foghorn, gorgeous greenish-yellow plumage, a pleasant musty smell and intelligent eyes. Thanks to a successful recovery program for this unique parrot, they've gone from near extinction to 126 in number. The kakapo possesses flightless features: small or absent keels on breastbones; smaller, simpler and fewer wing bones; larger leg bones and body; and feathers not inclined to aerodynamics.

ANOTHER OF our favorite S.H. birds can fly, as we witnessed.
The beautiful Australian white ibis is as common Down Under as is our North American pigeon.
We watched them at outdoor cafes -- as people shooed them with newspapers, sometimes smiling at their beauty, sometimes not.
We observed a mating pair for a couple hours, while we munched on fish and chips.  They swooped in on a next-door table's remains with the confidence of seagulls in our San Diego coastal parks.
The Maori hunted birds, eating their meat and using their feathers for capes.
They pay homage to feathered friends in this Okains Bay Maori Museum.
This red billed swan enjoyed a swim
in Melbourne's Yarra River.
Fiordland's colorful
crested penguins
often mate for life.
THE IBIS HAVE an elaborate courtship and nesting ritual -- almost dance like -- involving bowing to show off white plumage and black head and neck. The female plays hard to get, but finally gives in. The male finds twigs and she builds the nest. In flight, flocks of Australian white ibis form distinctive V-shaped flight patterns, much like our Canada geese.

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The Southern Hemisphere is also known for that famous black and white flightless bird -- the penguin. Mainly residing in the Antarctic, penguins migrate to the southern tips of Australia and New Zealand. We loved that the handsome Fiordland crested penguin is monogamous and mates for life!
The Dunedin Train Station is the second most photographed landmark
in the Southern Hemisphere, behind the Sydney Opera House.

 DUNEDIN DELIGHTS: Coming next Wednesday, we visit Dunedin, one of New Zealand's charming cities. Delightful Dunedin, settled by the Scots in 1848, is known for its remarkable train station. Remember to explore, learn and live and tell your friends about www.whereiscookie.com
where you'll find pieces on travel, adventure, hotels and cruising.
For theater, books, film and the arts, check us out at our new blog: www.lilianslastdance.com 

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