7:00pm Saturday, October 3 on TV One
Jeremy Wells tackles unfamiliar territory in the new TV ONE series that has him celebrating (and sometimes salivating over) New Zealand’s exceptional bird-life. Not your typical wildlife show, Birdland takes viewers on an unconventional, yet informative journey that soaks up some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery, most glorious birds, and some wonderfully eccentric characters of the birding world (tonight at 7pm on TV ONE).
“New Zealand may not have the Taj Mahal, the Sistine Chapel or any half decent theme parks but we do have some of the most unique birdlife in the world,” says Wells.
He freely admits that he’s no expert when it comes to birds and his reasons for undertaking the project are typically atypical: “Sadly, every other subject for a television show had been taken. Marcus Lush took trains, Hamish Keith stole art and Te Radar mucked about on a farm. As far as I’m aware, birds were the last subject of national importance left to milk,” says Wells.
Among other things, Wells visits the Moa graveyard of Karamea (found after an eight hour underground caving expedition), meets the talking Tui of Whangarei (his name is Woof Woof), and explores the arcane world of poultry and pigeon breeders at their annual competition.
Wells also experienced what pre-colonial New Zealand might have looked and sounded like on Tiritiri Matangi, the offshore wildlife reserve in the Hauraki Gulf. There he spent a night camped out counting Kiwi calls and measuring Takahe excrement.
Viewers will meet Joe the 40-year-old virgin Kea, who lives in a pub in Takaka, as well as some amazing human characters, such as Hans Hartog of Lower Hutt, who has been feeding dozens of sparrows every day at 11.30am for 22 years, but recently came into conflict with the council.
From paddling with penguins, to observing one of New Zealand’s smallest and most endangered birds (The New Zealand Dotterel), nesting amongst the jet aircraft in the country’s busiest airport; Wells was captivated by the world of birds and those who watch them.
“After six years scratching around insulting minor celebrities on late night television, it’s been a revelation to get outdoors and rub shoulders with people passionate about something other than themselves,” Wells says.
Writers and self confessed birders Steve Braunias and Graeme Hill contributed their knowledge and pedantry to the series.
Episode one sees Wells uncover some extraordinary conservation stories on his journey to Tiritiri Matangi, and experiences what bird-life would have been like before pakeha arrived in New Zealand. Plus, the remarkable story of Christchurch business woman Lady Diana Isaac, with her unique marriage of construction and conservation as quarries are transformed into refuges for rare birds like the Black Stilt and the Blue Duck.