It’s no secret that our native flora and fauna are under threat of extinction. From the kauri to the dotterel the extent of loss to Aotearoa of living taonga is heart breaking.
A report produced in 2017 by the Ministry for the Environment documents the profound effects on the bird life of Aotearoa and in doing so offers up a challenge to reverse this potential devastation.
‘About 50 native bird species have become extinct since humans arrived in New Zealand. The first mammalian predator was the kiore – the Polynesian rat – which arrived in the ancestral waka of Māori. To the kiore, New Zealand was a food paradise, and the vulnerability of some birds would have made them easy pickings. At least four species of flightless birds succumbed to kiore. Māori also brought kurī (dogs) with them, using them for companionship, for food, and for hunting birds. All nine species of moa had been hunted to extinction by the 16th century.
The moa were nine species of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The two largest species, Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae, reached about 3.6 m in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230kg
With the loss of its main food source, the Haast’s eagle also disappeared. Large areas of rich lowland forest – the home for many birds – were burned following the arrival of Māori. Fire was used for various purposes, including clearing land for easier travel. It is likely that larger areas of forest were cleared than intended when fires got out of control. When Europeans arrived, they brought a whole host of predatory mammals. Some were stowaways, like rats and mice. Kiore were almost completely displaced by mice, Norway rats, and the particularly destructive ship rats. Possums were brought over from Australia to establish a fur trade. Hedgehogs were brought in by acclimatisation societies to make New Zealand more like England. When rabbit populations boomed following their introduction for food and sport, mustelids – weasels, stoats, and ferrets – were brought in to control them. Between 1880 and 1920, 15 bird species were lost. The last few birds of seven species were killed by cats that had been put on islands to suppress rabbits. Other animals changed the nature of the forest. Goats and pigs arrived with the first European explorers. Game animals – deer, chamois, and thar – were carefully imported and released for hunting. These animals browsed selectively on the more palatable plants, altering the composition and density of the forest, thus reducing food available for birds. European settlers felled large areas of forest. After the first refrigerated ship sailed for England in 1882 laden with thousands of frozen lamb carcasses, the value of pasture for grazing sheep soared, and the rate of forest clearance accelerated. In the last decade of the 19th century alone, over a quarter of the remaining native forest was felled or burned. Wetlands were also drained to create new farmland, greatly reducing the habitat of bitterns, fernbirds, and teal. Few Europeans were concerned by the decline of birdlife in New Zealand. The dominant view of 19th century scientists was that indigenous species would inevitably die out in the face of introduced species – displacement theory. The duty of the scientists was to record the past by killing and stuffing these ‘doomed’ birds for display in museums.’
DAVE RHODES’ NATIVE BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
An antidote to this decimation is an increasing awareness and appreciation of what we have and what it is we are likely to lose without continued vigilance and action. Our native birds are both taonga and tupuna, bringing their centuries of habitation of Aotearoa into the present and reminding us of the wealth and distinctiveness of our natural and cultural environment.
The art of the photographer can play an essential part in our awareness of the natural environment and of the pressing need to protect our endangered bird species.
As well as an acute ear Depot Sound Manager Dave Rhodes has an astute eye for the birdlife of Aotearoa. Through the camera lens he allows us to enter into and have greater appreciation for their precious lives.
Dave stumbled on photography when he decided to take up tramping to add balance to his studio-focussed time as Manager of Depot Sound; the recording studio can be isolating and the external environment is by necessity excluded.
While as a consummate techie Dave enjoys mastering and updating his sophisticated camera equipment, the birdlife of Aotearoa has fascinated him and tugged at his heart strings.
“The NZ Dotterel is the most endangered bird I have photographed. One of these photos is from Shakeaspear Park and the other is from the zoo. There are only about 1700 of these little birds left.”
This is the first time he has discovered a passion outside the world of music which he has been absorbed in since childhood. “I went to a recording session when I was about 10 with my dad (Hamilton County Bluegrass Band founding member, Alan Rhodes) and fell in love with the environment. I learned how to use a cassette 4 track machine when I was a kid and then worked my way up to multitrack digital recording over the years.”
Dave has also been a drummer since age 13 and he has only recently abandoned his drum sticks for the bush and birdlife. The photos, which tell us the greater story of our rich environment and its inhabitants, are all taken by Dave on his excursions in Auckland’s parks and reserves.
Aotearoa is a truly miraculous country which each of us has a responsibility to ensure we and future generations can enjoy.