This is the memoir of a Wildlife Photographer who was allowed into the life and love(s) of an adult male New Zealand Falcon (Kārearea) - 'Hatupatu'.
I received the email at 10:04 am on Monday 24th May 2021 with the subject "A bit sad" from Debbie Stewart, the founder of Wingspan. I hurriedly opened the email and I immediately froze as soon as I read the first sentence - "Hatupatu has passed, hit by a car". I just sat there for a moment staring at my laptop screen not knowing how to respond to this news and felt this immediate sense of sorrow and loss descend over me.
A few days have now passed and it is slowly sinking in that I will no longer see my good friend and buddy anymore.
Over the past few days my mind has repeatedly gone back to the very beginning - to when it all started: December 2013 when Hatupatu, a wee helpless and vulnerable male kārearea chick was transported to Rotorua Museum to be placed in a "hackbox" on one of the turrets in preparation for release into the big wide world as part of the "On The Wing" project - a project that made conservation history for releasing a threatened species into an urban setting for the very first time in New Zealand. Hatupatu (double white bands*) was one of three chicks released that year - the other two were a male (Tama)(single green band*) and a female (Maureen)(single orange band*). No one at the time could ever have fathomed how popular Hatupatu or any of the other falcons released under the program would become over the next 8 years.
* the colour bands were placed on one of their legs to easily identify them and the other leg had a metal band with a unique number for database and conservation purposes.
The "hackbox" used for releasing the falcons from Rotorua Museum.
Hatupatu (2013) being held delicately by Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick
Throughout 2014, thousands of volunteer man hours were spent keeping an eye on and monitoring the three juvenile falcons as they playfully entertained hosts of visitors and locals alike in the Government Gardens and at Rotorua Museum.
They were in the National Press and news of them spread internationally thanks to social media. Folk travelled to Rotorua, both nationally and internationally, specifically to see "the falcons at the Government Gardens". Right from the very beginning we all knew that Hatupatu would grow up to be a handsome dude and would be a bit of a Casanova. He immediately took a liking to Maureen and would always be seen not far from her and they were practically inseparable. Unfortunately this match would not last long as Maureen had to be caught up a few months later and euthanised as she received a debilitating and incurable injury to one of her legs as a result of coming in contact with a drone that was flown at the Government Gardens at the time.
Hatupatu (2014) photographed here with Rotorua Museum in the background
Hatupatu and Maureen seen here together
When the falcons were initially released, it was assumed that they would hang around in the area and nest in the hackbox because that was "home" but Hatupatu had other ideas. He started stretching his wings and went exploring further afield and finally started calling a patch of pine forest, approximately 13 kilometers away, "Home" and this would be his territory from then on. Guess it was hard wired into his DNA to seek out the wild and a more natural habitat than a man-made hackbox in an urban setting.
At the end of 2014, two female juvenile kārearea were released from the museum. One of them was called Maia (single orange band). We knew we were tempting fate when we put an orange band on Maia, the same colour band as that of Maureen - Hatupatu's first love. While Hatupatu spent a lot of time out in the forest, he would keep coming back to the Museum at least twice a day to partake in the supplementary food that the volunteers would put out for him (and now for the two newly released falcons). It was only a matter of time before Hatupatu set his eyes on Maia and eventually he lured her away from the Museum to his little slice of paradise in the forest - a bond that would last for the next four years.
Hatupatu (2015) looking resplendent in his adult plumage and colouring
Maia showing Hatupatu who is the 'actual boss' in the relationship
Hatupatu and Maia in the forest
Towards the end of 2015, Hatupatu fathered his very first chick with Maia - a male kārearea by the name of Te Tuatahi (the First Born). This would be the first of 13 chicks that he fathers over his lifetime.
Hatupatu and Maia
Te Tuatahi - Hatupatu's very first offspring
Life carried on pretty much as per normal for both Hatupatu and Maia till sometime during 2018 when Maia went missing and it can only be assumed that she died. Hatupatu then paired up with a wild female (a bird that is assumed to be his daughter) and they stayed together till his dying day.
Hatupatu and the wild female that took Maia's place
Chick No.13 arrived sometime in December 2020 and was named "Ruud" after the patron of Wingspan, Dr. Ruud Kleinpaste.
Chick No. 13 - 'Ruud' - a male kārearea. Hatupatu's first and last chicks were both male.
It has been an absolute privilege to have been allowed by Hatupatu to be a part of and document every step of his life over the past 8 years.
He will always hold a special place in my heart as I am sure he will in many hearts far and wide.
𝗙𝗹𝘆 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗮𝗳𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗹𝗶𝗳𝗲, 𝗛𝗮𝘁𝘂 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗳𝗹𝘆 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗱 𝗰𝗮𝘂𝘀𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗻 𝗮𝘄𝗲𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗯𝗶𝗿𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗻 𝗮𝘄𝗲𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗮𝗺𝗯𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗮𝗱𝗼𝗿 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝗶𝗲𝘀.
The very last image I have of Hatupatu - taken on the 1st of January 2021.