When she first arrived in New Zealand from Holland in 1981, qualified vet nurse Annemieke Kregting was not particularly keen on birds.
Using the Yellow Pages to look for work, she found a role in the Auckland suburb of Lynfield, working for a veterinarian who had Dutch immigrant parents.
"Unbeknown to me, he was an avian specialist – for pets, as well as wild birds," Kregting says.
"I was slowly introduced to avian wildlife, as well as birds as pets. Initially I wasn't interested in birds at all. All those feathers, claws and beaks – no thanks."
But she grew increasingly involved in caring for birds through avian surgery work, x-rays and diagnostics. Linking with a bird rehabilitation facility in Green Bay, she learned more about the rehabilitation side of working with wild birds from a staff member she struck up a friendship with.
Fast-forward 30-odd years, and her interest in and knowledge of birds has grown significantly, as she deals with saving and rehabilitating birds through her work at Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust (KBRT), on the central east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.
Her facility, a registered wildlife care operation, is the only bird rehabilitation site on the peninsula, and has dealt with an estimated 2300 birds over the last 20 years. This couldn't have happened without the help of her husband Ben, and the Kuaotunu community, she says.
Ironically, when she moved to Coromandel in the early 2000s, she had no intentions of setting up as a bird rescuer, and was focused on raising her family.
"But people just kept bringing birds to me," she says.
"I think the first bird to arrive here was a little duckling, and someone found it, and didn't know what to do. And then a penguin arrived, and then another penguin … and soon enough my laundry was filling up!"
The breadth of species she's dealt with is remarkable – from common birds to rare and iconic species like kiwi, kereru and albatross, and recently, a giant petrel who required "lots of work, and had lots of stink".
"You name a bird, and it's probably been here. We get everything.
"It grows on you," she says of a passion for working with birds. "You're working with very delicate bodies, and very different species with a lot of different needs."
Her work is enjoying growing support both locally – from community volunteers – but also online, where she shares stories of avian success through her Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Annemieke and her supporters have numerous locations around the upper Coromandel where rehabilitated birds can be released back into the wild.
"There are a lot of good moments, and I try to get the local Department of Conservation rangers involved in those releases, so we can all enjoy seeing a job well done."
Sadly, not all birds can be fully rehabilitated and some are euthanised to avoid further suffering – a situation which is never easy: "There are some cases that do hit you, and you think 'what could we have done different?' – and often that's birds that have been here a long time."
DoC's Coromandel District operations manager Nick Kelly says KBRT is a key ally for his team.
"Annemieke is a fantastic resource and supporter for DoC in the Coromandel District," he says.
"She's become a real fountain of knowledge for us, and the wider conservation community in our district. The rangers who deal with Annemieke get a huge amount of satisfaction from working with her and seeing the birds nursed back to health.
"We have a great relationship with Annemieke and she is fully deserving of the support and kudos she enjoys."