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Showing posts from 2011

Blackbirds

Walking my dog today, I noticed that a few of the feijoas are flowering. The feijoas made me think of blackbirds, Turdus merula.

Unlike the thrush which sings through the winter, the blackbird remains silent until the spring when it becomes an annual competition among birders to record the first blackbird singing. The song usually ceases in December but has been heard as late as February. The blackbird's song is very much the largest part of the dawn chorus here in town and far out numbers the Tui's. Last summer there was a blackbird which persisted in singing at night on top of the old council building accoss the road, something to do with the street lighting, I suppose.

Ornithologists have noted that birdsong uses the same musical scales as we do. Certainly many composers and poets have taken a great deal from birdsong. Mozart had his pet starling and Beethoven his blackbird, which may be heard in the opening rondo of Beethoven's violin concerto in D, Opus 61. In man…

Dunnock

The dunnock, or house sparrow as some call it, is one of those LBJs as birders call them, “little brown jobs”, drab insigificant birds that are so easily overlooked and mistaken for sparrows. In point of fact, they belong to quite different families, dunnocks are accentors and sparrows are weavers. For the very observant, there are a good many of them in Greytown.
The dunnock is quiet in colour and in manner, unobtrusive rather than shy and will quietly scout about the driveway or under the bushes while I observe it, taking quick peeks at me, just to see what I am about. They have their own special character.

Their bodies are slate grey, streaked with a reddish brown, the deep brown upper mantle streaked black with a slate grey throat and chest and paler lightly striped under parts. They have a fine pointed black bill, unlike the sparrow, for catching insects. They sing in a neat precise manner, as if repeating something learnt by heart.

Their natural breeding range is Europe and wes…

Prions wrecked

More than a week of severe storms blowing up from the Antarctic has left thousands of sea birds wrecked across New Zealand, not just along the coast but well inland. A local landowner brought in a bird for me this morning, wanting me to help indentify it. After much measuring of the dead bird and consulting of the identification guides, we determined quite confidently that it was a broad-billed prion, and not an antarctic prion which were being reported as being wrecked in large numbers in and around Wellington. The local bird rescuer, the reverend Robin List, confirmed that all the birds he had coming in from around the Wairarapa were broad-billed.

A wreck is when very large numbers of seabirds die and become wrecked around the coast. Sometimes it involves mainly one species, or at other times several species. Some wrecks seem to be caused by storms catching young birds a few days after leaving their nests, others by storms combined with a food shortage. Birds found dead or dying …

Spur-winged Plover

Walking along North Street with my dog, always there are spur-winged plovers to be seen in the paddocks. There used to be two or three pairs but this winter I see just the one pair. I hope this is not a trend!


Travelling throughout New Zealand, especially through farmland, the one bird that one is most likely to see is the spur–winged plover, very often being harried by and, in turn, harrying a harrier hawk. However, spur-winged plovers did not used to be so widespread, the first pair recorded breeding at Invercargill airport in 1932. In spite of the heavy predation of their chicks by harrier hawks and our national propensity for using birds for target practice, their numbers have now become so great that there is talk of culling them. Not a good reason, I would think.
There are two well marked races of this bird; the smaller race, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae, originally just bred in the south–east of Australia but then extended its range to Tasmania and New Zealand. The other, nort…

Miromiro, the tomtit

There is a rumour of a tomtit in Greytown. Perhaps a black fantail missing its tail? Difficult to know without a photograph and sightings may be so fleeting that mistakes are made. However, though not likely, it is possible, as there are tomtits close by in the bush in the Waiohine Gorge.
Tomtits are bush birds, not known to frequent towns, but with the storms of late they may have blown into town or just found their way down the Waiohine River. Bellbirds were late in finding a home in our suburbs so it is possible that tomtits could follow their path. There seems to me to be a curious segregation between our endemic birds and the introduced birds we find in our gardens, which by and large shun the bush. Except for the Tui, the bellbird, and Kereru, our endemic birds such as the robin, tomtit, stitchbird, tieke, kakariki, rifleman and Kiwi, shun our presence and stay in the bush. Would that they could find their way into our gardens.
There are five sub-species of Miromiro, the tomtit; N…

Putangitangi, the paradise shelduck

This being the duck shooting season, paradise ducks in the paddocks around Greytown are especially wary and start sounding the alarm even though I am still a great distance away, walking my dog as I am want to do. The male has the deeper voice, dueting with his mate as they fly off.
Putangitangi, the paradise shelduck, is endemic to New Zealand, that is it is found nowhere else in the world. It was discovered first by Captain Cook at Dusky Sound in 1773 during his second voyage. Cook called it the Painted Duck. They were not a common bird before settlement by Europeans but are now the one endemic bird which has prospered with the conversion of native forest to pasture. They have increased greatly in numbers through this century and are now only partially protected.

They are a large duck and are always seen in pairs except during the moulting season. The drake has a black head with a greenish gloss, the body being dark grey barred with black. The undertail and tertials are orange ches…

Goldfinches

There are a lot of goldfinches in and around Greytown. Indeed, I think they could be the most numerous of birds around here, nothwithstanding sparrows have had something of a comeback this summer. Soon the finches will be flocking for the winter and “charms” of over a hundred goldfinches twittering about the district will be quite common. With their bright red faces and gold wing bars they flutter merrily from plant to plant, often hanging upside down to extract seeds.
The natural range of the goldfinch is Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia. Their commonest European name of thistlefinch has been gained because they are particularly fond of the seeds of thistles, particularly the sow thistle.

They were introduced into New Zealand in the 1860s along with other European birds and are probably now more numerous here than in Europe. They were also introduced into Argentina, Bermuda and Australia.
The goldfinch has figured very large in European folklore and the earli…

Letter: Lake Wairarapa is no pristine paradise

OPINION: Contrary to the tone of your article (A Watery Treasure, Jan 29), Lake Wairarapa is a national disgrace. A recent Niwa report has placed the Wairarapa waterway in the top 10 worst lakes in New Zealand with regard to water quality.
Greater Wellington regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde says the council is going to get stock out of water, fence waterways, plant natives, get rid of invasive weeds and improve access, but I fear once again it is all talk. And if there are still godwits on the lake's margins, one would never know as access is well nigh impossible.
Greater Wellington regional council could follow the example of Hawke's Bay Regional Council with the work they have done with Pekapeka swamp and finally do something for the Wairarapa environment - at least, meet their statutory responsibilities.
NARENA OLLIVER
Greytown

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/4611844/Letter-Lake-Wairarapa-is-no-pristine-paradise

Butterflies

Having developed the habit of watching out for birds, then one is also likely to observe those other beautiful creatures on the wing, butterflies.
The Monarch butterflies are hard to miss as they float about our gardens, alighting on some flower or leaf, giving us time to observe and admire. They are just so voluptuous drifting about the garden before being carried off like any baggage by some male to keep sequestered. Our own endemic butterflies, the red and yellow admirals, however, are likely to be missed as they flit very quickly away before one has a chance to observe their beautiful colouring, the patterns of yellow and the red on black.
Gibbs, the grandson of our most illustrious entomologist G.V. Hudson, claims the Monarch is a native, having got here under its own steam, following the plantings of the milkweeds by missionaries across the Pacific Islands. However, with their legendary ability to fly over enormous distances, they may well have arrived in NZ somwhat earlier as…

Biological control of Australian brush-tailed possums

Dear Sir
The Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment has raised the issue
of biological control of possums.  Some 15-20 years ago possums in my
neck of the woods in the eastern Bay of Plenty were virtually wiped
out by a virulent strain of "wobbly possum syndome".  The controversy
surrounding the control of possums and 1080 was raging then as now and
biological control was being actively pursued. A virologist visited my
farm to collect samples. I heard nothing more of his efforts and the
possibility of biological control seemed to just disappear from the
scene. I gathered from other sources that Australian wildlife
officials objected to the development of a bio control agent as they
feared it would jump the Tasman and wipe out their (protected)
possums. I  am curious to know where this issue is now.
Incidently, for those who oppose the use of 1080, watching possums die
of wobbly possum syndrome was very distressing.

Published Dominion Post, January 17, 2011

Elegy for the Weka (Woodhen)

Unbridled your curiosity and with a propensity to annex anything moveable, I salute you Weka, synonym for a thief. Crafty and impudent, what does it take for a flightless bird to survive against the odds, to survive hoons, lazing on verandas in the summer heat, using you for target practice: and Lady Barker, - “They run quickly, availing themselves of the least bit of cover, but when you hear a short, sharp cry, it is a sign that the poor Weka is nearly done and the next thing you see is Fly shaking a bundle of brown feathers vehemently. All the dogs are trained to hunt these birds, as they are a great torment, sucking eggs and killing chickens.”