Posts written by Colin Miskelly

Cuckoos and their toxic prey – ‘urticated’ inside and out

  • Shining cuckoo. Photograph by Nathan Hill, New Zealand Birds Online
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  • Red admiral butterfly caterpillar (pale morph). Photograph by Norm Twigge
  • Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla). Photograph by Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

Cuckoos can stomach toxic caterpillars, but it appears they are also impervious to being stung externally, as bird expert Colin Miskelly discovers. A previous blog on this topic referred to shining cuckoos seeking out and eating prey that are toxic to other birds – including caterpillars with urticating hairs. ‘Urticating’ refers to hollow spines that… Read more »

A new bird for New Zealand – laughing gull

  • New Zealand’s first laughing gull, Opotiki wharf, January 2017. Image: Thomas Musson, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Non-breeding Franklin’s gull, Papakura, October 2009. Image: Peter Frost, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Ray McNamara feeding gulls in his backyard, Opotiki, January 2017. The laughing gull is perched on a fence post at top left. Image: Bob Rigter
  • Laughing gull in breeding plumage, Mexico, March 2015. Image: Nigel Voaden, New Zealand Birds Online

Christmas arrived two days early for Waikato bird-watchers Annette Taylor and David Riddell when they spotted New Zealand’s first laughing gull. They were heading to Gisborne, and had stopped for a picnic at Te Ahiaua Reserve, 7 km west of Opotiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Te Ahiaua Reserve is on the shore of… Read more »

11,000 images on New Zealand Birds Online – and the Brooks family’s Big Year

  • The 11,000th image – a plumed whistling duck at Anderson Park, Taradale, December 2016. Image: Scott Brooks, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Jay Brooks searching for a marsh sandpiper, Miranda, October 2016. Image: Scott Brooks
  • Laughing kookaburra, Campbells Beach, Tawharanui, August 2016. Image: Scott Brooks, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Ollie, Zef and Jay Brooks match their wingspans with that of an albatross, Taiaroa Head Albatross Centre, September 2016. Image: Scott Brooks

The 11,000th image loaded on New Zealand Birds Online was of a rare vagrant Australian duck, and it comes with an inspirational back-story of family-based discovery and adventure. The image of a plumed whistling duck near Napier was one of more than 70 images that Northland-based photographer Scott Brooks loaded on the website following an… Read more »

Plague skinks invade the Coromandel

  • Marlborough green gecko (Naultinus manukanus). Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Plague skink (aka rainbow skink). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Copper skink (Oligosoma aeneum). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Shore skink (Oligosoma smithi). Papa Aroha, January 2017. Image: Colin Miskelly

In my previous blog I listed four Australian bird species that have colonised the Coromandel Peninsula in the last four decades. But it is not only birds that are contributing to the Aussification of northern New Zealand. Australian plague skinks are now dominating the local lizard fauna. New Zealand lizards New Zealand has an astonishingly… Read more »

Sunshine, fishing – and changes in Coromandel birdlife over 45 years

  • Papa Aroha beach. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Brown teal, Papa Aroha, December 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Part of the Motukawao island group. Gannets nest on Motukaramarama (Bush) Island on the left. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Spotted shags, Firth of Thames. Image: Jenny Atkins, NZ Birds Online

From welcome swallows to Australian magpies, bird expert Colin Miskelly looks at the variety of birdlife who’ve come to call Coromandel home over the past half-century. Spending the summer at the beach is part of the great New Zealand holiday tradition. For many families, attachment to a particular location results in them returning to the… Read more »

The petrels of Dusky Sound

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  • Broad-billed prion chick, Seal Islands, Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly
  • Mottled petrel in spotlight beam, Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Jean-Claude Stahl
  • Mottled petrel, Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

Have you ever wondered which New Zealand bird was the first to be given a published scientific name? The unlikely answer is the broad-billed prion, named as ‘Procellaria vittata’ by a 22-year-old Georg Forster in 1777. The second species was the little penguin (as ‘Aptenodytes minor’) named by Georg’s father, Reinhold Forster, four years later…. Read more »

Dusky Sound – rich in history and wildlife

  • Mottled petrel, Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Jean-Claude Stahl, Te Papa
  • Flax weevil (Anagotus fairburni), Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Jean-Claude Stahl, Te Papa
  • Adult tawaki / Fiordland crested penguin, Dusky Sound, November 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Kakapo on Anchor Island, November 2016. Image: Jean-Claude Stahl, Te Papa

A team of Te Papa scientists recently visited Dusky Sound as the first stage in an investigation of changes in biodiversity since Cook’s visit in 1773. Cook named the area ‘Dusky Bay’ when he sailed past on his first voyage in March 1770, and explored the sound and its wildlife more thoroughly during a 6-week… Read more »

Cuckoos, toxic caterpillars, citizen science, and cinerarias

  • Shining cuckoo in gum-tree. Image: Rob Lynch, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Juvenile shining cuckoo with monarch caterpillar, Upper Moutere. Image: Anna Barnett, New Zealand Birds Online
  • Magpie moth caterpillar (Nyctemera annulata). Image: Gonzalo Avila, Plant & Food Research
  • Cinerarias. Image: Colin Miskelly, New Zealand Birds Online

Cuckoos are well-known for eating spiky and poisonous foods, but did you know they can eat toxic monarch caterpillars? Shining cuckoo The pure, whistling call of the shining cuckoo is New Zealand’s harbinger of spring. This small cuckoo is one of our few migratory landbirds, spending the winter on tropical islands east of Papua New Guinea,… Read more »

Critters of Taumaka (Open Bay Islands)

  • Taumaka skink (Oligosoma taumakae) on Taumaka, September 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla) on Taumaka, September 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla) on Taumaka, September 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa
  • Taumaka gecko (Mokopirirakau undescribed species) on Taumaka, September 2016. Image: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

Taumaka is a 20 ha Māori-owned island lying about 4 km off the South Westland coast. Our visit to the island last month was to track foraging trips of breeding tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins, and was undertaken with the permission and support of the Taumaka me Popotai Trust. The island has a large New… Read more »