Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Sir David's footsteps

These photos were taken, and kindly sent to me this morning, by Hannah Adams, an English girl currently working in Canterbury and along on the same kiwi-spotting tour as me on Stewart Island a couple of weeks ago. I'm still kicking myself about not taking my camera - I KNOW!!! - on the walk, as it was raining a bit, I was doubtful of getting anything useful by torchlight, and nervous about the flash - strictly forbidden - going off by accident. So I left it on the boat, and spent the whole time while we watched the three kiwi we found, surrounded by people busy with their cameras and even their phones, seething with frustration and annoyance with myself. I tried to tag along again the next night, but the operator said no. Pft.

All that aside, it was well worth going on the tour, for the thrill of being so close to real wild kiwi behaving normally, in this case probing with their long beaks deep into the sand to catch the sand-hoppers that burrow down there under the rotting seaweed. I was amazed that they went in the full length of their beaks (the longest in the world, in relation to body size) and stupidly was thinking they were in danger of filling their nostrils with sand. But of course they were anyway, totally, because I'd forgotten that the kiwi's nostrils are at the tip of the beak, not the base (which actually makes their beak one of the shortest in the world, if you're pedantic about these things).

With the whoosh of the waves breaking behind us, and the constant clatter of shutters (each one a stab to my heart), I didn't actually notice a sound the kiwi were making that the sainted David Attenborough referred to last night in the first episode of his fascinating TV series 60 years in the Wild. Introducing a clip of himself lying on that very beach in the dark watching a kiwi doing exactly what I'd seen, he mimicked the sneezing that he'd observed as the bird snorted the sand out of its nostrils.

For somewhere that most of the population thinks is so far away (forgetting that the rest of the world thinks that our entire country is impossibly far away) Southland has hosted a steady stream of famous naturalists. My Venture Southland host, Hannah, told me she was lucky enough to have dinner quite recently with Mark Carwardine, whose first trip there a few years ago, with Stephen Fry, involved an encounter with Sirocco the kakapo that the whole world has enjoyed.

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