For our third and final installment of New Zealand gulls, we have this pair of lovers from the Picton waterfront: the Black-Billed Gull. Seems I was saving the best (or at least most intriguing) for last. This is New Zealand's one endemic gull, found nowhere else in the world. It strongly resembles the much more ubiquitous Red-Billed Gull; the most noticeable difference is in the bill, which is longer, thinner, and, of course, black. This species is more common on the South Island, where it breeds along river courses.
What's going on here is something of a...post-coitus conversation. These two were circling each other amongst a throng of other gulls resting on the pier, squawking in low voices. At a certain point, the male mounted the female, fluttering about and making a ruckus. Then he dismounted. Generally at this point in bird mating, the male sort of wanders off while the female fluffs up her feathers and pulls herself together. Surprisingly this didn't happen here. Instead the squawking that had been going on between them became much more agitated. The male raised himself to a nice tall height while the female lowered her whole body and stretched her neck out. He started walking around very tall and proud, and she followed him around, with her head just beneath his, trying to keep her bill touching his. Her squawking became very frantic as his voice changed to a deep throaty rumble. Occasionally they would open their bills wide for some kind of bizarre open mouth kiss, which was apparently very exciting for both of them. This went on for some time, until suddenly they stopped and went back to casually preening themselves, though still standing right beside one another. And it wasn't just them--I watched it happen with two other pairs. It was such an interesting process to watch, and gratifying from a human perspective to see that their relationship is about more than just sex.
I left Picton today, though just barely. I was waiting at the bus stop across from my hostel at the designated time, when my bus drove up...and right on past me without even slowing down. Confused and mildly alarmed, and walked back across the street to my hostel to see what the heck had just happened. The hostel owner phoned up the bus company, who radioed the driver, who relayed that he didn't realize that I was waiting for his bus. Though by that time the bus was already a further 15 km down the road, the company told him to turn around and come back to retrieve me! Only in a place like New Zealand would the bus come back and get you. Apparently, however, the company was much happier to turn the bus around than the driver himself, who, when he arrived, was very obviously cross with me for having been passed up by him. I couldn't bring myself to feel anything but joyful relief, for it was the last bus running south that day and I would've been in deep water if he hadn't in fact turned around.
So I made it to Kaikoura, which is astoundingly beautiful. I imagine I'll have that to say about much of the South Island, but it's true. As we were approaching along the coast, I started noticing giant New Zealand fur seals on the rocks and in the water. The coast of the town itself is lined with c-shaped beaches, the water is a brilliant turquoise, and the massive snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges tower over the whole scene. It's incredible. It's likely I'll stay at least two weeks, if not more.