Friday, January 28, 2011


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 Maori seem to have had knowledge of these butterflies, the larvae of which are able to survive on the leaves of gourds but need the milkweeds to thrive and multiply.

The yellow and red admirals on the other hand are without question endemic to New Zealand. Although they are not fussy about the nettles they need to sustain their larvae, whether or not they are native or introduced. I have to confess, I have been busy planting nettles under the trees at the back of the garden, not just to encourage the butterflies but also to eat myself.

Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis) vines grow all over Greytown, climbing over shrubs and trees and no doubt mistaken for some obnoxious weed to be rooted out. This little climber the copper butterflies favour but I have yet to see one in Greytown. Some bird though must find it useful as the plants keep coming up in my back yard so that I am now busy training some plants over the fence with the hope that some day some copper butterflies might turn up here.

I seem to remember clouds of small butterflies, blues and whites, arising out of the summer grass but haven't seen it in so many years I wonder if it was the stuff of dreams. The younger generations will never miss what they have never seen, and we will quickly forget.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

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

Thursday, January 13, 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.”