Wildlife Encounters in New Zealand (Part I)

During my 3 week road trip touring both the North & South islands of New Zealand, I chanced upon a large array of wildlife the country had to offer. This was not a pure photography trip and the wildlife photographed were all seen during hikes, along the roadside where convenient to stop and other random places we visited. Definitely a bugger to miss some of the common yet beautiful endemic birds but I was so lucky to even spot species like the Royal Spoonbill on a random wetland I drove past, amongst many others like the rarest penguins in the world. There were of course the really common birds which I did not pay much attention to. I also had a chance to visit the famous Gannet colony where I could observe and document their unique behaviour. This series is split into 3 parts to retain the best resolution and viewing experience.

All wildlife photographs were taken with the Canon EOS 7D mark ii and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. All rights reserved.


One of the highlights of the trip happened when we visited the Katiki Point Lighthouse (10min drive down south from the Moeraki Boulders). Katiki Point is a protected area due to its breeding population of the endangered and rare Yellow-eyed penguins amongst other birdlife in the area. We arrived 30min before closing and tried our luck, following the coastal path and looking down to the beach.

<New Zealand Fur Seals>

The first animals I spotted were the New Zealand Fur Seals , some carefully camouflaged with the rocks and seaweed on the beach (looking like plump sausages). We saw a great deal of these seals throughout the trip in various locations but the best shots were taken at Katiki. It was almost sunset and the tide forced one of the seals to get up from his slumber and move further into the beach. I was lucky to capture that moment when the seal was thrashing up sand with those flippers!

The photos in the slideshow above were taken at the Nugget Point Lighthouse. Just wanting to show you how well these seals camouflage. Can you spot it?

<Yellow-eyed Penguins>

We were told that the Yellow-eyed penguins should be returning home from sea at any time now but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Thankfully, I managed to spot just one individual at the far end of the beach with my lens. Shots were from high above but i’m definitely pleased with these record shots. Came here with no hopes of seeing any but what an experience that was! Other species that we saw were the nesting Red-billed Gulls, Southern Black-backed Gulls and Variable Oystercatchers (Torea).

<Red-billed Gulls>


The famous trek to Roy’s Peak was a fulfilling one, definitely worth it lugging up that heavy gear.

< California Quail>

One of the birds that kept appearing during the trek was the gorgeous California Quail. Check out those beautiful colours and the unique forward-drooping crest it has! The female is the one in brown~

Besides the wonderful endemic species of birds, many introduced bird species (mostly from Europe) also call this place home.

<Common Redpoll>

After many failed attempts, I managed the following shot of the Common Redpoll. Skittish and sparrow-sized! Pretty happy with this one (cause it’s the only usable shot -.-).

As you would have guessed, Sheep are everywhere in NZ. Like everywhere. The juveniles are cute though.

<European Goldfinch>

A heavily cropped image of a Goldfinch. Took a better shot in Europe before, showing those vivid colours but this was all I managed. Juvenile was shot somewhere in the North Island.

<Silvereye>

I read that Silvereyes are common in NZ but this was the only one I saw the whole trip and it appeared for just that split second! Lovely feather details in this one.

<Common Chaffinch>

Chaffinches are common but rather skittish as well. Spotted this individual on a nice and rather open perch down the hill. Heavily cropped.

<Yellow Hammer>

Yellow Hammers are gorgeous balls of gold and pretty hard to photograph as well. This little bugger refused to turn around!

<Song Thrush>

Saw quite a few Song Thrushes throughout the trip and they almost always have food in their mouth. Who says only the early birds catch the worms?

<Dunnock (Hedgesparrow)>

Quiet and unobtrusive, this species is often seen on its own. Spotted only one the whole trip.


Milford Sound is an area with magnificent landscapes and it’s also the place with the highest chances of seeing the World’s only alpine parrot, the Kea!

<Kea>

These endangered parrots are highly intelligent and curious. Unfortunately, they are so used to being fed by people and you’ll often see them waddling about on the roof of cars and near parked vehicles. They have a gorgeous olive green plumage and orange feathers on the underside of their wings which I didn’t manage to capture.

<Fiordland Crested Penguin (Tawaki)>

I took these images on board the Milford Sound Nature Cruise and we were told we were so lucky to see 3 of these endangered penguins as they are hardly ever seen during the day. Similar to the Yellow-eyed Penguins above, this species is also dubbed as one of the World’s rarest penguins with a breeding population of less than 3000 due to a large variety of threats. These shots are heavily cropped.

Near Milford Sound is a place called Glenorchy and I managed to photograph some cool species there too!

<New Zealand Scaup>

<House Sparrow>

<Banded Dotterel (Double-banded Plover)>

Thats all for Part I!

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Wildlife Encounters in New Zealand (Part II)

All wildlife photographs were taken with the Canon EOS 7D mark ii and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. All rights reserved.

The South Island is filled with amazing wildlife and the following shots were just random places I stopped by to shoot.

<Royal Spoonbill>

Spotted a pair of Royal Spoonbills in breeding plumage on a random wetland we passed by. Super lucky that I was able to stop and make my down to the wetland. These are one of the six species of spoonbills and are the only ones that breed in NZ. Just watching them wade in the shallow water with that constant sweeping motion to hunt for prey just made my day! Only the adults in breeding plumage will have that yellow chest and those distinctive long feathers behind the head. Was so eager to just prone to get better shots but with a 3hr drive ahead, I just could not make that sacrifice. Definitely happy with these record shots! Royal turd in the last photo.

<Variable Oystercatcher>

<Goat>

<Welcome Swallow>


I shot some nice subjects in the North Island too. They’re rather common, but it was where I mostly got improvement shots~ The following shots were taken at Te Waihou Walkway, Blue Spring where 70% of New Zealand’s fresh bottled water comes from.

<Spur-winged Plover>

<Mallard Duck>

<Paradise Shelduck>

The female is the one with the white head and the male has an overall darker plumage.

<Black Shag>

The highlight was definitely documenting this Shag hunting for fresh water shrimp in crystal clear water!

<Purple Swamphen (Pukeko)>

Thats all for Part II!

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Wildlife Encounters in New Zealand (Part III)

All wildlife photographs were taken with the Canon EOS 7D mark ii and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. All rights reserved.

Sometimes, you may find subjects at the most unexpected places and unexpected moments. We visited the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to see the Lady Knox Geyser and to learn about the geothermal activities that was going on in Rotorua. Look at the shot below, find anything?

Let me help you out!

<Pied Stilt>

These little guys were so far away and well camouflaged that I only realised there were chicks when I zoomed in to check my shot. Aren’t they cute! Once again, you have to stay on the boardwalk (to prevent yourself from getting thoroughly steamed) and there was no way to get any lower…

<New Zealand Fantail>

This was hands down the most challenging species I encountered. These fantails move so quick and hardly stay put for more than a second. Couple that with the fact that they were always too far away, darting in and out of bushes in low light. To my knowledge, there are different morphs of Fantails in NZ, mainly the pied and dark morph. But one things for sure, once you see that signature tail, you’ll know you’ve spotted one!


Weather was pretty unpredictable during our trip and there was once we were just relaxing in the campervan at Tauranga Tourist Park before our Glowworm Kayak Tour that same evening. We were parked right next to a wetland and check out what I spotted!

<Sacred Kingfisher>

Two hungry Sacred Kingfishers taking turns to hunt small crabs in the mud. They always returned to the same perch and i’m so glad to have braved the rain to document this hunting behaviour. Flight shots turned out pretty decent as well! Light was terrible though…

My first encounter with the Sacred Kingfisher was at a random pit stop near Milford Sound

<White-faced Heron>

Even further away from the kingfishers, I didn’t have much luck on getting any nicer images than this one.

<Black Swans>

Largest bevy of Black Swans I’ve ever seen. Photographed near Pukeni Holiday Park at a place we stopped to have some fresh oysters.


If you’re a bird lover and visiting the North Island, you MUST visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony, just about an hours drive from Auckland. Thousands of Australasian Gannets breed there from August to March each year and you can get up real close to the colony. During my time there, I decided to document their behaviour in a series of photos.

<Muriwai Gannet Colony>

The main colony area is just a short walk from the carpark and theres another vertical sided island just out at sea that hosts more breeding pairs (2nd image). These large birds (~2m wingspan) nest extremely closely to one another!

First few Australasian Gannets that greeted us during the short walk to the colony. Perfect place to practice some flight shots! Light was really harsh and those shadows really killed many of my shots.

These birds perform elaborate greeting rituals by stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together. The males however, are highly territorial during nesting and mutual bill fencing was often seen. Really love the second shot cause they look so goofy!

Couples usually stick together for a couple of mating seasons!

From the onset of breeding, the male brings nesting material such as brown algae Carpophyllum, which he retrieves from the shallows. Both members of the pair form and maintain the nest mound, particularly when the surrounding ground is soft from rain.

The Gannet then lays a single egg and can only successfully incubate one egg over a period of approximately 45 days. Both sexes share the incubation duty, and later brood the chick on the top of their webbed feet.

Chicks would fledge, leave the colony and cross the Tasman Sea to Australia when they are about 100 days old. They only come back after 3 years to secure a nesting site~

These birds are plunge divers and spectacular fishers. They then feed their young by regurgitation. Didn’t manage to see any of that due to the time constraint but definitely worth the trip there to witness a massive colony of Gannets with my own eyes and through my lens. Only wished that I had more time and better light to work with.

Besides the Gannets, breeding White-fronted Terns share the location as well.

These terns are built for speed and superior manoeuvrability. Small fish have no chance against this dive-bomber.

After fishing, they fly back to their nests to feed their young. The terns were situated much further than the Gannet colony and all the photos are heavily cropped.

Size comparison between the two species.


Lastly, a gorgeous endemic bird that I have a love-hate relationship with, the famous Tui (honeyeater)

These honeyeaters are found in both the North and South islands and look absolutely exceptional. They have nice glossy feathers and that unique tuft of white feathers on their chest. I only saw 3 of them in total and the conditions were never right for a good shot. The second image was shot at the Auckland Zoo and even then, the harsh light was unforgiving.

So that mostly sums it all up, 3 weeks touring the North and South Islands. We saw many other species along the long drives but I’m happy with whatever I managed to see and capture. Didn’t have much expectations to get many shots but it seems like I had a really productive trip!

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The Curious Case of the Albino King

The last week of June was a pretty interesting one for the birding community when a member from the local Otterwatch group spotted an unusual white Kingfisher in a canal at East Coast Park.

Through the initial photographs, the bird was quickly identified as our resident Collared Kingfisher species which can be seen and definitely heard almost anywhere in Singapore. Does this species look familiar to you?

Naturally, many got excited about the sighting and flocked down to get their winning shot of Singapore’s first Albino Kingfisher. Pictures flooded online and kick-started a discussion to determine whether the bird is a victim of leucism or albinism.

Albinism vs Leucism

Both conditions may look similar but are vastly different. Melanin, a group of pigments present in most organisms, is responsible for giving colour to feathers, eyes, skin as well as hair. It is absent in vertebrates with albinism. These vertebrates would have pale eyes that are usually red or pink, and their bodies would be totally white. In contrast, leucism is the partial loss of pigmentation, resulting in the vertebrate being ‘patchy-coloured’ (but sometimes are completely white). The eyes however, are not affected by the condition. By looking at the eyes of this kingfisher, it is more probable that it is albino than leucistic.

We headed down on Saturday with hopes to see this unique bird (named ‘Fluffy’ by the birding community) and it was one of those rare occasions that we did not have to wait for him to show up! Photographers were already firing away as Fluffy perched on a low lying branch just across the canal. Unfortunately, due to the overcast sky, lighting conditions weren’t ideal and we ended up shooting in a light drizzle.

It was clear that Fluffy could not take flight and was struggling just to balance on the branch. The feathers on Fluffy’s tail are not fully developed which resulted in the inability to stabilise himself. The slideshow below shows Fluffy showing off those truly angel-like wings while preening! Simply gorgeous!

Upon hearing the calls of his parents nearby, and with great difficulty, Fluffy tumbled around and made his way to a fallen tree on the railings. Birders then got into position to capture the feeding. One of his parents came by with a freshly caught Cicada, one of the loudest insects on Earth.

Soon after, Fluffy coughed out pellet. In ornithology, pellets are formed by the undigested food of the bird’s diet and can include the exoskeletons of insects, plant matter, fish bones and fur. It was a pretty large one too!

Within the next 15-20 min, keen eyes spotted one of Fluffy’s parents hunt down a large Praying Mantis. The kingfisher then swung the prey repeatedly into the branch to disorient and keep the mantis from escaping. This was done to facilitate a smooth feeding and is a common practice with most parent birds feeding their young. Check out the feeding sequence below!

With more photos of Fluffy flooding online, we know he has been fed an array of vertebrates ranging from butterflies, mantids, beetles, bees, crickets, katydids, cicadas, small crabs, lizards and the list goes on and on!

It was apparent that Fluffy has an issue with his eyesight and difficulty flying. After we left the location, we heard that Fluffy had flew onto the cycling tracks a couple times and almost drowned in the water from the canal after falling in! Birders, Acres and other park-goers had to constantly watch over Fluffy to prevent him from getting rolled over by cyclist and to reduce the stress on the poor bird. Acres had also brought him to Jurong Bird Park for the vets to nurse him back to health. Further updates from avid birders were that Fluffy has since been reunited with his parents, feeding well and is looking healthy!

Impact of Albinism

The effects of albinism can be really severe in the animal kingdom. The lack of melanin results in the constant breaking and deterioration of the birds feathers and offers little camouflage against predators. Without the ability to retain heat, albino birds can sometimes freeze in lower temperatures as well. More often than not, albino birds also suffer from poor eyesight like in Fluffy’s case. They rarely survive past fledging but with the help from the community, Fluffy seems to be doing pretty well for now!

We can only hope for the best for this unique Kingfisher! Fluffy has also been featured on the StraitsTimes! check out the coverage here:

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/albino-kingfisher-chick-draws-birding-community-to-east-coast-park

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#birding #wildlifephotography #collaredkingfisher #albinokingfisher #kingfisher #feeding #hunting