Kiwi discovered in outer space

Media release from Mt John Observatory, Lake Tekapo
28 September 2009


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An astrophotographer has discovered a kiwi in outer space from New Zealand’s internationally renowned Mt John Observatory.

It may be 26,000 light years away but a high powered astro-photograph has picked up the distinct image of New Zealand’s national icon in the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The incredible image of the flightless bird was captured by experienced photographer Fraser Gunn. Mr Gunn, who has recently begun astrophotography with Earth and Sky Stargazing Tours at Lake Tekapo’s Mt John Observatory, is delighted with the discovery.

“When looking at the area with the naked eye it’s difficult to locate the kiwi but my camera allows greater light and colour into the image giving it more definition.

“We only started the astrophotography tour six weeks ago to complement our stargazing tours and the response so far has been outstanding. Basically, I provide instruction to anyone with a SLR-type camera so they obtain their own starlight pictures,” he says.

Graeme Murray, director of Earth and Sky Tours, says Fraser has become a leader in New Zealand astrophotography and is fast gaining international acclaim.

Full media realease on Scoop: Kiwi discovered in outer space

Godwits have landed

Photo: Jan van de Kam Griendtsveen

Photo: Jan van de Kam Griendtsveen

About 40 Bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) arrived on the Avon-Heathcote Estuary yesterday afternoon, to be followed today and over the next few weeks by up to 2000 more. These join a flock of about 190 juvenile birds that had stayed on the estuary over winter.

Christchurch City Council ranger Andrew Crossland confirmed 40 godwits at the estuary this morning. “More are likely to arrive today, with ongoing arrivals through the rest of September and into October,” says Crossland. The ChristChurch Cathedral bells will be rung at midday tomorrow (Wednesday 16 September) to welcome the birds to their wintering home.

full media realease on Scoop:

Giant eagle ruled New Zealand skies


A new study shows that New Zealand’s giant – and now extinct – Haast’s eagle ruled the skies until 500 years ago, swooping down on moa.

Scientists have known about the existence of Haast’s eagle since 1871 based on excavated bones, including bones carved by early Maori, but their behaviour was not entirely clear.

Because of their large size – they weighed up to 18kg with wingspans up to 3m – some scientists believed they were scavengers rather than predators.

Earlier research has indicated the eagle had enough strength in its talons to kill a moa weighing 180kg, attacking at up to 80kph, or even to attack a human child.

The latest study throwing new light on this was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Researchers Dr Paul Scofield, curator of vertebrates at the Canterbury Museum, and Professor Ken Ashwell of the University of New South Wales used computerised CT and CAT scans to reconstruct the size of the brain, eyes, ears and spinal cord of the Haast’s eagle.

These details were compared to values from modern predatory and scavenging birds to determine the habits of the extinct eagle.

“This work is a great example of how rapidly evolving medical techniques and equipment can be used to solve ancient mysteries,” said Dr Ashwell.

full story

video of Dr Paul Scofield talking about the birds of Christchurch

Rare kokako to sing in the Waitakere Ranges again

8 September 2009


Rare kokako to sing in the Waitakere Ranges once again

The haunting melody of the endangered kokako is returning to the Waitakere Ranges after an absence of more than 60 years.

Intensive pest control efforts by the Ark in the Park project has resulted in the planned release of up to 30 kokako birds into the ranges over the next two years, beginning with the first transfer of birds on Tuesday 8 September 2009.

These kokako are being transferred to the Waitakere Ranges from the Mangatutu and Waipapa Ecological Areas of the Pureora Forest in the central North Island with the aim of creating a new self-sustaining kokako population at this large new site. 

full press release

Wildlife deaths to be investigated further by DOC

Scoop: Wildlife deaths to be investigated further by DOC

The Department of Conservation is concerned about recent dolphin deaths in the Hauraki Gulf, and has commissioned toxicology tests to try to determine how they died.

Necropsy tests on the dolphins to date indicate that the deaths were not related to the rat poison, brodifacoum, used by DOC in its recent restoration programme on Rangitoto and Motutapu islands.

Massey University holds samples from the dead dolphins and DOC is working with Massey marine biologist Karen Stockin on further testing to try to identify the cause of the dolphin deaths.

Brodifacoum poisoning has already been ruled out by scientists and veterinary surgeons. Brodifacoum is an anticoagulant – signs that could indicate brodifacoum poisoning are bruising, internal bleeding and haemorrhaging. As none of these signs were found in the dolphins, penguins and dogs, brodifacoum poisoning has been ruled out by all the agencies involved – Auckland Regional Public Health Service, MAF Biosecurity NZ, Auckland Regional Council, North Shore City Council, Auckland City Council.

“While we are confident that brodifacoum has been ruled out as a cause of death, we are conscious of the level of public concern surrounding this issue. As a result, we have commissioned further chemical tests on the dolphin, penguin and pilchard samples that will specifically look for brodifacoum poisoning,” said DOC Auckland Area Manager, Brett Butland.

Independent toxicology tests that DOC commissioned on vomit from one of the dogs that died at Narrow Neck beach has already proved negative for brodifacoum.

Tests done by the Cawthron Institute have identified the toxin found in the vomit of a dog that died after visiting Narrow Neck Beach as tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin is a naturally occuring substance, found in tropical puffer fish, and has also been found in sea slugs taken from the beach. Its presence in sea slugs, as found at Narrowneck and Cheltenham beaches where the dog deaths occurred, is unusual and has not been previously described.

Penguin mortalities have been reported in the Far North, Rodney, Auckland, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty regions. Penguin mortalities in winter, particularly following winter storms, are not uncommon for this time of year.

The New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine has post-mortemed six penguins to date, and has found that the birds were in poor body condition and that starvation was the likely cause of death.  Histology on two of these birds has shown no evidence of acute poisoning.

John Potter, who carried out the post-mortem on the penguins that were sent to the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine, says that none of the birds showed “any sign of a haemorrhagic effusion consistent with rodenticide poisoning.”

“Each of the birds was very thin and their stomachs were empty, consistent with starvation being the cause of death.”