In November last year Li-Li and I travelled to New Zealand for a month. We rented a small camper van, and explored as much of the country as we could in the limited time available – from the windswept dunes of Stewart Island in the far South to the huge Kauri trees of the Waipoua Forest in Northland. New Zealand is a beautiful country, and although the plight of much of the native wildlife (under attack by introduced species such as rats, stoats and possums) is severe, it’s still possible to see many of the surviving species in the wild without going too far off the beaten track.
As the holiday was primarily a sightseeing trip, and mindful of the restrictions of airline baggage, I wanted a lightweight recording setup which would still allow me to capture some of the unique sounds of this once-in-a-lifetime journey at a decent quality. A couple of months before we left I upgraded my Olympus LS-10 to a Sony PCM-D50, which I paired with my trusty MiniPIP microphones, mounted in a compact boundary array. This gave me the option of travelling light and just using the built-in mics on the PCM-D50, or taking along the array if I was more serious about recording.
The day after we arrived at Christchurch airport we picked up our camper van and, after stocking up on some food supplies, headed to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in the northern suburbs of Christchurch. Although we planned to see as many of the native bird species in the wild as possible, Willowbank has several of the most famous ones in captivity and we though it would be a good insurance policy to catch up with them there.
Among the species present at Willowbank are a pair of Takahe. A giant flightless relative of the Moorhen, these birds were believed to be extinct until 1948, when a small population was found in the remote mountain valleys to the west of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. There are now around 250 birds, split between the Fiordland population; some of the predator free offshore islands and a number of breeding centres. The pair at Willowbank are older birds which have been retired from the breeding program at Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre (although at the time we were there the staff at Willowbank had noticed they were displaying signs of nesting behaviour) and live in a large enclosure with a pond and plenty of long grass to provide cover. When we came to the enclosure one of the birds was sitting next to the fence and preening, while occasionally producing a deep “doop” call which carried quite a distance. The small microphones on the PCM-D50 weren’t ideal for catching the low-frequency resonance of the call, but it’s still an impressive sound.