This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.
In November 1948 New Zealand got its own Lost World story, when a population of takahē — a large flightless rail, long thought extinct — was found in a remote part of Fiordland. The rediscovery of ‘notornis’ (a cousin of the pūkeko), by Southland doctor Geoffrey Orbell, generated international interest. This episode of the NFU’s Weekly Review newsreel series treks from Lake Te Anau high into the Murchison Mountains, where the team (including naturalist Robert Falla) find sea shell fossils, evidence of moa-hunter campsites, and the dodo-like takahē itself.
When the takahē was rediscovered in the Murchison mountains in 1948, it made world headlines as a back from extinction story. This documentary checks in on the big flightless birds three decades later, with their future under threat (by deer, stoats and breeding failure). Doctor Geoffrey Orbell recalls the 1948 expedition. Project Takahē was the first Wild South documentary made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). The images of takahē – blue, green and red, plodding in the snowy tussock – marked the first time most New Zealanders had seen the bird in the wild.
This Land of Birds edition sees Kiwi naturalist Sir Robert Falla train his binoculars on the black-backed gull, or karoro. Familiar to most New Zealanders from stealing their hot chips, it's one of the few natives to have boomed in numbers since humans arrived in NZ, after adapting to feeding in “the effluent of human affluence”. The film follows the large bird's life cycle and examines its relationship with people, from airports (birdstrike risk) to farms (where they help control insects but also scavenge lambs). Falla died soon after the film was completed.
Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.
Land of Birds was a series of 10 films looking at Aotearoa’s manu or native birds. Produced by the National Film Unit, the series was written, directed and largely photographed by Grant Foster. It was New Zealand’s first natural history film series, showing on NZ TV and internationally. The first instalment — Bird of a Single Flight (presented by Dr Robert Falla, on the kōtuku colony at Ōkārito) — won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme. Other topics included Royal Albatross (toroa), and The Honeyeaters (tui, bellbird/korimako, stichbird/hihi).