New Zealand Wildlife 4: Birds

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Nature / New Zealand / Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife


July 1 and 2, 2018, Near Waipara, New Zealand. We were staying in a remote location near the Greystone Winery. Our trip was nearing the end and I was losing hope of getting a good shot of my favorite New Zealand bird: the New Zealand fantail — the Maori names being Pīwakawaka, Tīwakawaka, or Piwaiwaka. The trouble was, being insectivores, they were in constant darting motion playing “you can’t catch me,” which made them very difficult to track in flight, especially with an eight-pound camera-body and lens combination. At last, this one lighted in a tree and scowled at me. Actually, he probably wasn’t scowling, but his coloring made it look that way. I barely had time to focus and shoot before he was gone like a cool breeze.


I was happy, but my wife wanted a picture of a silvereye. Being omnivores, they will occasionally light — except when I’m trying to get a photo and it’s cold and I want to go inside for some hot coffee. But before I realized how challenging it would be, I’d promised not to come back without a good shot. And so I waited, standing perfectly still so as not to spook them, and cold-soaked my body. Finally this guy landed on a nearby fence, adjusted his position for a good pose, and patiently waited for me to get my shots. Portrait made, I went inside. The coffee was good.


The next day we hiked along the side of a canyon, my wife to explore and me to try to get a shot of the large swamp harrier I’d spotted the day before. Unlike her smaller darting distant cousins, this harrier was very accommodating as she slowly swept over the brush, patiently looking for lunch. I got my shot. She got her lunch.

(Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. RAW processing in DxO Pro; Editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes — near and distant — and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.


  1. I noticed quite a few Māori names and words with the structure XYY, like pi-waka-waka. Wikipedia says of this one: “In Maori mythology, the piwakawaka is a messenger, bringing death or news of death from the gods to the people. The bulbous eyes and erratic flying behaviour of the bird is attributed to it being squeezed by Maui for not revealing the whereabouts of his ancestress Mahuika, the fire deity. Tiwakawaka is also the name of one of the first Maori settlers to New Zealand.” I assume this is the same waka that means ‘war canoe.’ Mythology and reality weren’t separate realms.

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    • It’s easy to see how the bulbous eyes and erratic flying behavior could lead to that belief. Also the spread fantail behavior, which I could not capture photographically, would support the same idea.


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