Land of the Long White Cloud

In Maori, New Zealand is known as Aotearoa—the land of the long white cloud, an apt name, considering the drizzle and fog hovering overhead for the last few days. But in a redemptive turn, it is at least a long white cloud from which emerge many birds.

The two anchorages we’ve visited, Roberton Island and Orokawa Bay, are lined with rocky, crushed shell beaches, impossibly green grasslands, and magnificent trees that house land and shorebirds of the region.

The tui is the most abundant. Recognized by its sing-song call and feathers—a white tuft below the throat, an entire body of metallic black that shine green, blue, and purple in the sunshine—tuis spend their days searching for nectar and honey, heads buried between flax petals and dusted with pollen, or inflating their profiles and battling with their cousins for ownership of the most vibrant flora.

Slightly more endearing are the New Zealand dotterel and oystercatchers.

A dotterel parent with chick:

And a hunting oystercatcher:

Both nest on the beach, and both are endangered by invasive pests like rats, stoats, and summer merrymakers. They’ve developed convergent behaviors to defend themselves, clucking, dive bombing, or even faking a wing injury to distract those who might wander too close to their nest.  Strong conservation efforts are underway, by humans who cordon off areas around their nests, and by the birds themselves—there are stories of dotterels tending to the eggs of oystercatchers while oystercatchers are out feeding.

And if that anecdote illustrating the power of love between species isn’t enough to keep us warm beneath the shadow of the long white cloud, I can’t imagine any amount of sunshine will.