The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, or Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ New Zealand to the CFZ global family.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

OOPA: NZ moose photos revealed

Four photographs of moose taken by a hunter in Fiordland almost 60 years ago have finally been revealed publicly.

Fred Stewardson (78), of Hikurangi, in Northland, took the photographs on a hunting trip to Wet Jacket Arm in 1953.

But his older hunting companion, friend and mentor Eddie Young, swore him to secrecy, fearing the moose would be shot by hunters if the photographs were revealed at the time.

Only a handful of photographs of moose in Fiordland are known to exist, most taken between 1923 and 1952.

Mr Stewardson's photographs, taken from about 70m, include the only known photograph of a group of three moose - a bull, a cow and its calf.

Ken Tustin, of Bull Creek, near Milton, who has spent years searching for the descendants of the North American moose released in Fiordland in 1910, describes the rare photographs as "by far the best and most informative" he has seen.

He also regarded the history of the photographs as "quite an extraordinary moose story".

"Since we've been in touch, Fred has got such a kick out of our moose quest.

"He has rediscovered his own interest in moose and has gifted us the use of his photos.

"He now figures the secrecy agreement has been outlived and ... when he goes, he doesn't want the story and what he knows are very special pictures to go with him."

Mr Tustin said he learnt of the photographs too late for his 2010 book, A (Nearly) Complete History of the Moose in New Zealand.

"The photos would have transformed it."

Mr Stewardson, who was dairy farming at Kakanui in the 1950s, was always a keen hunter and photographer.

In letters to Mr Tustin, he recalled how he came across the moose and how he rushed to take the photographs with his Agfa Super Silette and telephoto lens.

"It's just a pity that I never took more time but it was the excitement of seeing three wonderful animals right there and Ed saying, `Don't shoot.

Photos, photos, photos'.

"I remember shaking trying to look and also set up the camera.

"It all seemed to take so long.

"I'm disappointed that I didn't get a better shot of [the cow] with her calf but I guess I mustn't complain. I'm lucky with what I got."

The hunters tried not to startle the moose, he says.

"They didn't seem in an alarmed situation but by the photo I think [the bull] knew something was wrong. He looks upset and perhaps ready to charge.

"After the photos, we just moved away from the animals and ... left them to it.

"Ed was a terrific guy in not shooting everything he saw and he taught me so much over many years hunting with him."

Mr Stewardson says he was "just the boy tagging along" and he did as instructed by Mr Young, who told him: "Keep your mouth shut. Don't ever tell a soul. If you do, Fiordland will have loads of trigger-happy clowns there for slaughter. Many won't give a damn if moose survive or not.

"When I look back now, he was so correct."

He believes the moose encounter was at the head of Wet Jacket Arm.

"I didn't really like the area - rain, mud and biting bumblebees. Give me the Hollyford any day."

The photographs were originally colour slides but had faded and had water stains.

"I keep looking at these snaps ... they bring back so many great memories. Wish I was young and fit again.

"I wonder now just what happened to them in the end."

Mr Young died in 1980 and Mr Stewardson said many of his old hunting mates were also now in "another world".

"This is why I'm so happy to pass information on.

"Once I croak, a lot of my junk will be burnt and gone forever."

He wished Mr Tustin well in his quest to prove beyond doubt moose are still resident in Fiordland.

"I expect some day to see your lucky moose photos. That day can't be far away. Have faith."

Moose let loose

1900: Four young moose captured for intended release - survivors of 14, after 10 died in a storm at sea - said to be as tame as pet ponies and keen on eating biscuits by the time they arrive by ship in New Zealand.

They have been imported from Canada and shipped to Greymouth from Wellington. Railed to Hokitika, they are temporarily kept in stables before being released near the Hokitika Gorge on February 19, 1900.

Three animals disappear up the gorge. Some accounts suggest at least one of these animals survived until about 1903.

The fourth, a cow, remains near Vine Creek for 14 years and is an occasional visitor to the settlement of Koiterangi, apparently still searching for biscuits.

1910: Ten hand-raised Canadian moose - six females and four males - are shipped to New Zealand, arriving in Wellington via Hobart.

After being quarantined at Somes Island for nearly two months, they are shipped to Bluff, transferred to a government steamer and released at Supper Cove, Dusky Sound, Fiordland, on April 6, 1910.

One female breaks its leg at the shoulder in a fight with another animal upon release. One cow is shot within weeks of liberation.

1923: First photograph of wild moose in New Zealand is taken. Two animals photographed by Charles Evans at Supper Cove.

1925: Two cows seen swimming across the flooded Seaforth River at Supper Cove, photographed by Geoffrey Todd.

1927: Two young bulls seen and photographed in the Seaforth River by Les Murrell; a cow seen the next day.

1929: Eddie Herrick, operating on a prospecting licence with guide Jim Muir, in March shoots a bull moose "well past its prime".

It may have been one of the animals originally released.

1934: Eddie Herrick shoots another bull, this time in the creek that now bears his name.

1950: Young bull shot near Supper Cove by Gordie Cowie.

1951: Jim Mackintosh shoots a cow in Herrick Creek. Robin Francis Smith shoots a cow in the Henry Burn.

1952: Max Curtis photographs a cow near the lake on Herrick Creek. Percy Lyes shoots a bull at Herrick Creek.

This for years is considered to be the last moose shot in New Zealand. Robin Francis Smith later takes 14 photographs of a cow at Herrick Creek.

1953: Fred Stewardson takes photographs of three moose in Wet Jacket Arm.

Source: Ken Tustin.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Moa Beer does its bit for wildlife

It's not quite as rare as its name-sake (pictured above being attached by a giant Haast's Eagle), but Moa Beer is increasing in popularity and destined to enjoy a much wider distribution.

The Kiwi company is already New Zealand's biggest exporter of beer to the US and elsewhere, including Singapore, Denmark, Vietnam, Brazil and Antarctica.

Naturalists might be interested to know every year the company sponsors the Moa Easter Bunny Hunt, held to assist New Zealand farmers plagued by rabbits. The latest event saw nearly 23,000 rabbits killed, plus 979 hares, eight pigs, countless stoats and a goat.

Too late to help out the Moa, but it does make for an impressive beer label.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Rare Moa bone found at Waiheke

It's slightly old news now, but this story demonstrates how sometimes rare and unusual things will literally wash up at your feet!

A beachcombing walk on Onetangi Beach after the first big storm in late January 2011 yielded a rare find for young Waiheke Primary student Chris Anderson.

The seven-year-old discovered what turned out to be the lower leg bone of a small moa among the huge number of horse mussels washed up on the beach.

Chris says that at first he thought it was a dog bone, then after showing it to his dad Scott, they decided it was something much more special.

“I used to work in a butcher’s shop and I’ve done a bit of hunting, so I’m familiar with animal bones,” says Scott, “and I’d never seen a bone with three toes like that before.”

Thinking it could belong to a moa, the family immediately raced back home and Googled ‘moas’ on the internet, where the images they saw confirmed their hopes.

“We saw a picture of a bone that looked exactly like ours,” says Scott. To be doubly sure, they emailed an image of the bone to the Auckland Museum and had the find authenticated by the curator of birds, Brian Gill.

“It’s a lower leg bone [tarsometatarsus] from one of the smaller moas [about a metre and a half tall] possibly the little bush moa or coastal moa. The edges are badly worn which fits in with it being tumbled in the surf,” says Mr Gill.

Mr Gill’s specialist field is naturally found bird bones in sites like swamps and caves as opposed to midden bones, which would have been hunted, eaten and discarded.

He says Auckland doesn’t have a lot of natural situations like caves and crevices where rare bones would be found, making this a very interesting discovery.

“I think we [at the museum] have about 15 from the Manukau Harbour and South Auckland area and about six from the North Shore. I can’t recall ever receiving moa bones from the Hauraki Gulf.”

He estimates that the bone would be at least 500 or 600 years old. “Assuming that Maori have been in New Zealand about 750 years, it is generally thought that moas disappeared quite quickly after their arrival due to hunting and habitat destruction.”

He says that certainly by the time of Captain James Cook and the subsequent sealers and whalers, there is no substantial evidence of moas existing in New Zealand, in spite of some rumours to the contrary over the years.

The Auckland Museum already has a large moa bone collection, curated by the late Sir Gilbert Archie, containing between 800 and 900 different groups of bones.

However it is always keen to obtain more and while at this stage the Andersons are keeping their rare find, Mr Gill says the museum would be keen to add it to their collection in the future.

• Moa facts

There were eleven species of moa, the extinct flightless bird that was native to New Zealand. The two largest species reached about 3.7 metres in height with neck outstretched and weighed about 230kgs.
Moas were the dominant herbivores in the New Zealand forest, shrub land and sub-alpine ecosystems for thousands of years and until the arrival of Maori, were hunted only by the (also now extinct) Haast’s Eagle.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The blue albatross

A couple of years ago a got a call from a friend of mine, with a problem. He is very much interested in birds, especially sea-birds, but unfortunately he is also the kind of person who can get seasick just watching The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. So he asked me if I knew of any place in the world where it was possible to do a decent spot of sea-bird watching from land. I told him in no uncertain terms to buy a ticket to New Zealand, and told him about various good spots.

That's nice, I hear you cry, but where does the cryptozoological bits come in???

He took off in november 2008, and soon I was experiencing a deluge of postcards, mails and phone calls from him, ranting and raving about petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses. All very nice, but nothing out of the ordinary, apart from one very interesting sighting. On December 6th 2008 he was birdwatching close to Kaikoura. The weather was filthy, rainy and windy, but a lot of the good stuff was coming in close to shore, among them several albatrosses - two phantastic royals and a wandering, and several smaller individuals of other species - and one of those was pale blue. Now he knew, and I knew, that we have several grey albatross species, and these could maybe look blue under certain circumstances. Except for the fact, that he saw the bird with several others, among those a couple of grey birds, and he insists, that this rather special looking thing was blue.

A blue albatros?? A marking experiment perhaps? No, my friend said, it was uniformly pale blue all over.

A genetic abberation? Perhaps - or perhaps even a new species.

I have no idea - my friend did not have a camera, so no pictures. But since then I have collected two other sightings of blue albatrosses in New Zealand waters, one from the outer end of Milford Sound in 2007, and another one from the Cook Strait in 2010. It could be three different birds - it might even be the same one. I don't know - but please keep an eye out for a blue albatross, and if you get af picture - send me a copy!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

LARS THOMAS: The bird that shouldn't bee

I have been a birdwatcher for more than 35 years, and like any other similarly inclined, I dream of seeing something rare, perhaps a species never before seen on my local patch, perhaps even a new species for my country (Denmark, in case you wondered) – I actually did once, but the Danish rarities committee wouldn’t accept it – or maybe even (dare I say it?), a species new to science, or one considered extinct. Although I am a qualified zoologist, I can’t claim any new species to my name, but when it comes to rediscovering, well… read on.

I have a lot of books in my apartment, most of which I am very fond of, and would hate to loose, but I suppose I could live without should the need arise. But by far the most precious ones are the lot sitting on the two top shelves of the bookshelf just to the left of my desk. These are all my old notebooks, chronicling my sightings of birds, insects, snakes, plants and sundry other organisms since I was about 14 years old. In case of fire they would be the first I would save after wife and kids.

Every now and then I take down one of them, flip through it and reminisce. I usually pick one at random, but every now and then I hit on number 17, the one that chronicles my first trip to New Zealand in 1991. I have been back several times since then, but this book contains the details of a sighting, that have bothered me for far too many years by now.

It was a beautiful spring day in New Zealand, and I was visiting Pureora Forest, a national park a bit south of Auckland. I had been in New Zealand a couple of weeks at the time, and had managed to see a fair selection of New Zealand birds. I had met a ranger who directed me to a very big observation tower in the forest, and told me I would have a good chance of seeing some good stuff, but just how good he probably hadn’t imagined. The observation tower was quite a magnificent structure and tall enough for people to be able to see over the top of most of the trees.

There wasn’t a soul about, as it was on a weekday, and not in the holiday season, so my girlfriend and I had it all to our selves. I was quite eager to see what was going on, so I sort of sprinted up the stairs onto the observation platform. Just as I hot up there, and stepped up to the edge to take a look, a bird took of from a tree about 20 meters from the tower. It flew straight off, with its back to me, continued for about 100 meter, and dived back into the trees. I never was able to find it again, and did not think much about it at the time, but I did make a drawing of it in my notebook. It was about the size of a European jackdaw, with what to me looked like slightly longer and narrower wings, and a longer tail. The colour was deep black with a greenish metallic shine, except for a broad white band across the tip of the tail-feathers. I couldn’t see the head of the bird, but it did call a single time. It sounded like the last part of the song of the European common rosefinch, something along the lines of “hyuuuuu”. And that was it – after making my little drawing, with the idea of trying to identify the animal at some later date – I forgot all about it. That is until I finally had time to sit down with an identification guide, which unfortunately was 7 weeks later back home in Denmark.

On the surface this sounds like any other poor sighting of a bird, and I would gladly put it to rest except for the fact that the only bird species in New Zealand with a tail like that supposedly became extinct sometime in the 1920’s. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause for: The Huia. A very strange bird – mainly because the male and female had different shaped beaks.

So, did I see a living huia that fateful day so many years ago? I’d like to think so, and I still regret the fact, that I did not try to identify the thing at once – then perhaps some other birdwatcher could have gone in and taken a closer look.