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High summer and everything is intent upon breeding and increasing their numbers. Bugs everywhere! The "summer" flies are intent upon taking the food before it reaches my mouth.  The Mason wasps, mud daubers, are loudly building their nests, not only under chairs but also in the folds of the drapes, while spiders threaten to totally envelop the cottage with their webs. In the evening, if I dare to leave the windows open, I am bombarded by moths and click beetles and bugged by Huhu beetles.  Raucous cicadas rudely awaken me in the morning while white butterfly caterpillars chomp their way through the cabbages. But then there are the gorgeous and the exotic creatures which stop me in my tracks and dissipate any hostility towards the pestiferous.  They send me off to the books to try and make an identification. Gorgeous steely blue lady birds which I can always find in the lime tree. A tiny native bee in the hay paddocks which I have yet to identify and a strange creature I alway
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The Turnstone

There is this bird, beautifully patterned, black and white, and brown, a small bird, smaller than a thrush or blackbird that breeds on the Arctic tundra and then  flies here to New Zealand every spring.    and here am I, just turning over stones.

The Precipitous Decline of the Birds of the New Zealand Countryside

With all the hullabaloo about the impact of intensive farming on waterways, the impact on birds bas been overlooked.  Millions of birds have been lost from New Zealand countryside over the past thirty odd years. Most of them were introduced birds so have not been missed but surely someone should have recognised that their loss indicated something had gone very wrong with farmland ecosystems.   We have a survey on New Zealand’s backyard birds, initiated by Landcare Research, but no up to date information on the birds of the countryside. The only comprehensive data we have is from the Ornithological Society of New Zealand’s  Atlas of Bird Distribution in New Zealand 1999-2004 which was published 2007. It was noted at its launch that  the Waikato region had become  a "bird desert" probably because of the dominance of dairy farming in the region.  Birds have not, it seems, fared quite so badly on the less intensive meat and wool farms,  but very little, if any,

Tunnel-web spiders and golden hunting wasps

My wildlife experiences these days are pretty much confined to my backyard and a daily ramble around the village of Greytown, New Zealand.  During my daily walks, it is the birds which attract my attention:  skylarks, (“Hail to thee, blithe spirit”), goldfinches, (“gaillard he was as a goldfynch in the shawe”),  black birds, (“shouting all day at nothing in leafy dells alone”), the song thrush, greenfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, california quail, house sparrow, eastern rosella, Australian magpie, starling, yellowhammer –foreigners all. Most of them were introduced in the nineteenth century as bio-agents to control plagues of insects brought about by the wholesale destruction of the bush and the consequential severe disruption of the eco-system. I welcome them all, knowing that in the not too distant future we may be lucky to see any bird at all.  I do see the odd native bird; kotare, the kingfisher, pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo and its dupe riro, the greywarbl

Of Aphis and Ants, the end of the anthropocene

Marta had been awoken as usual by their antennae softly stroking her on the inner wrist. They seemed to wait until they were sure she was awake before crawling up her arm. They stroked her arm again just inside the elbow. She suspected they were administering a local anaesthetic.  She waited with the usual sense of dread for the tiny pin pricks as they probed. There were always just three of them.  Were they the same three ants every day? She couldn't tell. They were on the large size for ants, but ants they were, although their proboscides was more mosquito like than  that of any ant.  It was over in a few minutes. They waddled off with the bags inside their legs full of her blood. They disappeared under the door.  There was no keeping them out. They could fire off acid to dissolve any lock, any door, and leave humans a pulpy heap if they resisted or tried to fight back. They always made Marta think of the ants on the rose bushes she observed as a child, herding and milking

Eastern Rosella

I usually see eastern rosellas,  Platycercus eximius,  on the outskirts of town, in rapid flight so that one does not easily catch sight of their georgous yellow, blue, green, and red plumage. The call of the eastern rosella, a sharp piercing three syllable whistle on an ascending scale, I find quite disconcerting. Somehow, that a parakeet should whistle seems incongruous to me. They also exhibit metallic and piping notes at rest and soft chattering or babbling while feeding. The eastern rosella, according to the ornithologist WRB Oliver, was imported to New Zealand in 1910 when a small shipment that had been refused entry by the Customs Department was released off Otago Heads from the ship that brought them. Other populations became established around Auckland in the 1920s and Wellington in the 1960s and are now the most common and widespread parakeet throughout the North Island. These flocks are also assumed to have originated from escaped caged birds but until some rese

Turkeys and the domestic contract between animals and farmers

I suppose one should be forgiven for thinking about turkeys at Thanksgiving or Christmas but I wonder how many realise how much the wild turkey is part of our rural landscape, so much so that Americans now come out here to the Bay of Plenty to hunt them. When I first came to the Bay of Plenty, I was much taken by the mobs of wild turkeys wandering about the district. I was especially interested in those wandering about my neighbours’ farms but soon learned that the turkeys were not so wild that my neighbour’s did not have a propriety interest in them. Turkeys were introduced to New Zealand around the 1890s. In those days, until around the 1950s, most farms raised a few pigs and had a mob of turkeys along with “chooks” and ducks to give a greater self-sufficiency than is apparent on most farms today. The turkeys were half domesticated and half wild in that the mobs were allowed to roam free but were occasionally fed maize. The chore of rounding up the mob to feed them usually fe