Going for birds: my top 6 places for bird watching in New Zealand

Posted by Daria Erastova @Kuukso

My big dream was to study New Zealand native birds. To my utter happiness, I finally joined the friendly Ecology Ngātahi labgroup under the supervision of Margaret Stanley to study ecology of urban native birds. However, I have just started my PhD project and I hope to give you some insights on that later. Instead, I will share some of my experiences birdwatching in New Zealand. Birds of a feather flock together – I found this pastime quite popular in New Zealand, so today I share my top six places to find native birds!

No. 6: Dunedin Botanic Garden, Dunedin.

The famous Dunedin Botanic Garden lies within the city’s green belt and is very big. This, along with numerous old and flowering trees growing there makes this place an excellent haven for birds. Many native species scurry here and there: tui, bellbird, silvereye, fantail etc. There is also an aviary with captive kea, kaka and kakariki.



No. 5: Point England Reserve, Auckland.

This spacious reserve connects with other coastal reserves and is maintained, allowing you to spend a whole day there. This amazing place enables you to get  a wildlife experience while staying New Zealand’s largest city. Here you would can find a variety of shore and forest birds. I counted 25 species in a day, including natives like shelduck, kereru and rare little black shag.



No. 4. Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands.

I was not keen to go there. Urupukapuka proved I was wrong as it turned out to be an outstanding place for birdwatching. In fact, I beat my personal record and identified 27 species in 3 hours! My most interesting encounters were banded rail, New Zealand dotterel, tomtit and North Island robin.



No. 3. Otago Peninsula, Dunedin.

Except for the famous Royal Albatross Colony, where you can also spot Stewart Island shag, and the Penguin Place, with grumpy yellow-eyed penguins, there are other places worth visiting. For example, the Hooper Inlet, inhabited by sacred kingfisher, white-faced heron, grey teal and swamp harrier. The other place is Portobello Bay with royal spoonbill, pied oystercatcher and the cutest little shag. Finally, go to Tomahawk Lagoon for pied stilt or spur-winged plover.

little shag

Little shag

No. 2. Tawharanui Regional Park, Auckland.

What is special about this beautiful peninsula is that it is surrounded by a pest-proof fence and has a variety of habitats, including old forests with kaka (you are highly likely to see or hear one), river thickets with spotless crake and seashores with pipits.

No. 1. Tiritiri Matangi, Hauraki Gulf.

This reserve does not need any introduction being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Auckland. After predator eradication and forest replanting the island became the bird paradise. There you all the chances to have a close encounter with species you would never or hardly ever see anywhere else, e.g. little spotted kiwi (one passed 25 cm away from me!), takahe, kokako, brown teal, stitchbird and many more.

I hope this list was useful and enjoyable for all nature lovers. It is based on my limited experience, and there are many other fantastic places, which I am eager to explore. Therefore, if you need a volunteer for your bird fieldwork or a companion on a birdwatching trip, please feel free to contact me.





DariaphotoDaria is a PhD candidate studying the influence of garden sugar feeders on native bird behaviour and health, and whether feeders alter the contribution these birds make to pollinating indigenous plants. She is supervised by Margaret Stanley, Kristal Cain and Josie Galbraith.


Challenges of doing a PhD with a chronic disease

Posted by Carolina Lara @carislaris

 About 15% of the world´s population have some form of disability and this rate has been increasing (due to a multitude of factors), particularly for chronic health problems. Even though chronic conditions are more common than suspected, most people are not aware of what it is like undertaking a PhD while having one. And of course openly talking about it is not easy, because who likes to be seen as vulnerable and weak? So, it is likely that one of your colleagues might be experiencing this struggle but keeping it quiet.



An autoimmune disorder (most of them chronic) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake.

I am now writing about my own Little Beast (as I have named my condition) as a way to raise social awareness about living with a chronic disease and studying for a PhD. I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder called Ulcerative Colitis six years ago; eventually, this diagnosis changed to Crohn´s disease. There are all sort of personal challenges to face, especially because each individual and each chronic condition is different. The only similarities shared among chronic conditions are that despite treatment, they will not go away, and they will change our lives. And knowing that makes us experience anger, anxiety and depression. I am finally under remission thanks to a new medication but I am still battling fatigue caused by anaemia (because, well, medication has side effects). I am aware that this state will not last forever, unfortunately. And it has nothing to do with being pessimistic, it just the nature of chronic diseases.


Fatigue is a common symptom of autoimmune disorders & often becomes a limitation while doing a PhD.

No one warns us about how difficult doing a PhD can be, not only from an academic point of view, but from the personal pressure it conveys. Add this to a variable dose of daily physical discomfort and fatigue and it becomes unbearable at some point. There are good days, bad days and not-so-bad days. Getting up from bed can become such a challenge but also a great achievement. And yet, we will say we feel alright… but do we? Why can´t we just be honest and say “I feel terrible today, but despite that fact I am working”? Maybe because we only want to become, and be seen as, good scientists rather than “good scientists overcoming health struggles”.

Although this journey might seem lonely, support from family, friends, colleagues and supervisors play a big role. Against all odds, me and my Little Beast made it to New Zealand thanks to Margaret, my supervisor, who was happy to work with me even after warning her about my medical condition. I might talk more in detail about the personal and external challenges of living with a chronic disease in another post, but for now I might just take a nap.

Carolina2Carolina Lara M. is a PhD Candidate within the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Her research interests focus on seed dispersal networks within fragmented landscapes. She is supervised by Margaret Stanley, Jason Tylianakis, Karine David, and Anna Santure.