Day 28: Hey, hey! Takahe!

Published: December 27th 2010
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I hadn't been sure, when I went to bed on the night of the 26th, whether I'd do better to spend Dec. 27th by the gas fire in the lounge or whether I should make one more try at seeing the takahe. It was clearly going to be my only chance to see a takahe, and I really wanted to, but it was such a long walk.

But when I woke I found that Plum had come disconnected in the night, and she barely had power enough to see me through breakfast. So that settled the question nicely. I would go out for a walk, at least while she recharged.

I had lost my camera case on Christmas day. This was not, fortunately, a serious loss; it wasn't a fitted case, only a grey quilted snug which provided some padding, but I missed it and wanted to find it. I suspected (and still suspect) that I had dropped it in the ladies' room at the Fiordland Visitors' Centre, at the far end of the lakefront walk. So I decided to go back there to try to find it, and then make up my mind whether or not to attempt the further walk to the Wildlife Centre.

This time I planned to take my time walking and make a full day of it, and that's just about what it took. I stopped by the supermarket's deli to pick up a roast-lamb sandwich for a picnic lunch. Just to cover all bases, I asked Real Journeys whether the case had been found on the Luminosa; it had not.

I ambled along Te Anau's lakefront once again, admiring the winding brick walkway, and this time sitting down at almost every cluster of benches. I got back to Quinton McKinnon's statue, and then to the Visitors' Centre itself.

There they told me no one had turned in a camera case. I went to the restroom and had a look around, and searched all around the outside of the building, everywhere I'd been on Christmas, but I didn't find the case.

I asked for directions once again, and this time I was told to go left of the red building and into the woods. I ate my lunch by the lake and thought about whether or not to try it, and I decided to try.

The path had become gravel rather than brick at the visitors' centre. It widened out for a while to let cars pulling boat trailers reach the public-access ramp by the Centre, and then it narrowed again. At the red building, the walkway proper ended in a parking lot, but a much narrower footpath did indeed go on into the woods.

It was a pleasant path, gravelled in most places, though, curiously, the gravelling varied, being rough at the ends and small and smooth in the middle. It was very well drained, with a deep drainage ditch running along one side of the path for most of its distance.

I really enjoyed walking through New Zealand woods without having a crowd of fellow bus-passengers all around me. There were a remarkable number of ferns. The native forest was full of subtle colors, red and gold and coppery brown as well as many shades of green. If I'd been asked to guess the time of year, I'd have said it was fall. I wonder if it is even more colorful in the fall, or whether it is like this all year round.

I came to a hill and considered turning back, but I had come so far that I thought I would just scramble up it and see if I could see an end to the pathway.
Sure enough, the Wildlife Centre was at the top of the hill.

It was a low-key place, like French Creek Game Reserve back home. No admission was charged. It was mainly a rehabilitation center; the birds on display all needed human care, either because they had been injured or, in a few cases, because they had been illegally taken as pets as fledglings so they had never learned how to fend for themselves.

I was extremely fortunate; although most of the birds were nocturnal or at least dawn-dusk feeders, they were out and about when I arrived at noon. Jim thinks that was because of the cloudiness of the day. I decided to go and see the takahe at once, as it was what I had come for, and, sure enough, there they were. At first only the female was visible, but I sat and watched them for about half an hour and after ten minutes or so the male came out and joined her at the feeding dish.

A family with three annoying young children came by, and I was afraid they would scare the takahe away. The father was worse than any of the children, exclaiming loudly, "Mouldy old takahe, isn't he?" But fortunately they didn't stay long and the takahe came back to the feeding dish afterwards.

In fact, the takahe didn't look bad at all, though it is a remarkably clumsy bird. Watching it move, I felt an immediate sympathy. It can't fly, and it bumbles along the ground with an odd, awkward gait.
Both sexes are brightly colored, in colorblock patches. Their tops and sides are olive green; their wings and underbodies are blue, with a flash of white at the rump. Their legs, and the male's head, are red to red-orange.

Since the only place in which that plumage would be suitable camouflage would be the crayon aisle in F.A.O. Schwartz, it is not surprising that the species was thought to be extinct until 1948, when a few were spotted near Te Anau. In 1980, scientists determined that only 150 breeding pairs were in existence; since then, by thirty years' diligent effort, rangers have increased their population to 250 breeding pairs.


on the lake, not at the Wildlife Center
Wildlife Centre also housed several "antipodean parakeets," a sub-alpine species. I had never known that there was a southern hemisphere counterpart to our own extinct Carolina parakeet. I am glad the temperate-parakeet niche is not, after all, completely empty. Jim says the U.S. ought to import some of them to restore the ecosystems damaged by the loss of our native parakeet; I think he's right.

I finally got to see a kea. Keas are bright, destructive parrots, very common on the South Island. Supposedly, they frequent parking lots, trying to break into cars and steal food and interesting items. They will eat windshield wipers and break off aerials. Several signs at various parking lots had warned us not to feed them, but I hadn't seen any, though one of my tour-mates on the Milford trip had gotten a picture of one on her cell phone.

But here they were, two of them. They are olive-drab all over, but when they fly (for unlike the takahe they can fly, they show the burnt-orange undersides of their wings.

I also saw a kaka, another sort of parrot, and a wood pigeon, a surprisingly large bird the size of a small chicken. I wonder if the passenger pigeons were that large? The takahe, by the way, was easily the size of a wild turkey. The kea was pretty big too. I suppose when birds are the dominant creatures in the ecosystem, as they are here in NZ, they do become large.

There was a fenced pond, and I saw several waterfowl there, including a pair of Canada geese. "You're a long way from Canada!" I told them. They ignored me. In a separate enclosure was, so the sign said, a weka, another waterfowl that prefers the marsh, but it didn't choose to show itself. Since I think I saw a weka on the trip to Doubtful Sound, this was not a great loss.

There was an enclosure for morepork, NZ's only native owl, but none were in residence. I doubt very much I would have been able to see them at noon in any case, however overcast the day.

I spent about an hour at the Wildlife Centre, most of it watching the takahe. Then I retraced my steps. It was much easier walking back, just as it had been in the glowworm caves, for the same reason -- I knew how far it was and what to expect on the road.

At the Visitors' Centre, I stopped, intending to rest by watching their short film on the Fiordland.
Unfortunately, they had just started it when I got there, and I didn't feel like waiting for half an hour for the next performance, so I searched the restroom again, asked a clerk about the case again, and then browsed, looking for something I could buy to help out the Wildlife Centre a bit.

I ended up buying a stuffed-toy takahe, much smaller than life-size. I have named him Tock. (If I'd named him Tak, I'd have forgotten how to pronounce its name.) I am still trying to decide whether to carry him with me or to mail him home. On the one hand, he will be an encouraging reminder that, yes, it is possible to walk four miles in a day if you plan carefully enough; on the other, he seems to have a distressing tendency to lie on his back with his claws in the air, which is depressing. Possibly I should rename him "Woodstock."


16th February 2011

Would love to see a photo of Tock, since the image of the real one makes it difficult to see all his features. I only see blue, which is quite beautiful, but no olive or white per your description; this makes me think it's not a good likeness?
17th February 2011

When I get somewhere that bandwidth's unlimited again, I'll try to remember to send you a picture. Worst case, when I get home.

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