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Showing posts from November, 2018

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 research is done,…

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 fell to the …

Elegy for an old ewe

Elegy Out of the morning light she appeared, suddenly there On the side of the road, white and clean shorn, she looked Me straight in the eye, and for a chill moment, unhinged me, She scared the living daylights out of me, as I drove by.
Just an old ewe, chewing her cud, yellow eyes bold and glassy, defiant, Head held high, strutting her stuff, there on the side of the road. “Cheeky bitch”, I could hear some farmer, this farmer, say Before setting the dogs on her, and for nothing more, for no good reason Other than for escaping from a paddock bare of grass. “It had been a hard winter!” but it was always a hard winter For an old ewe wanting to make milk to feed her lambs, Twins I knew, tucked carefully away somewhere Behind a bush out of a bitter cold spring wind In that paddock bare of grass, of dead and dying lambs and ewes. “Farming here in this green New Zealand land is just a matter of controlled starvation.”
What can one say about an old ewe, fit for dog tucker. That she had seen it all, worried …

A Murder of Rooks

From Southland to Northland, Regional Councils around the country are once again putting out the call for sightings of rooks, Corvis frugilegus, in their efforts to exterminate them.
The rook is a minor agricultural pest, on a par with the yellowhammer, so how did this bird become a target for extermination rather than control? How did this bird become an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act?
The rook is a black, hoarse–voiced bird about the size of a magpie which was brought to New Zealand from Britain between 1862 and 1874 to help control agricultural pests. Unlike many other European birds introduced at the same time, rooks spread very slowly at first. Even as late as 1970, they were largely confined to parts of the Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, southern Wairarapa and Canterbury.
In the 1971 rooks were declared an agricultural pest in the Hawke’s Bay, largely because of the damage done to emerging crops.  Something like 35,000 thousand were shot, probably about half the population. Co…

Life after death - William Donald (Bill) Hamilton, 1936-2000.

“I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures just as we make our chickens secure; and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape of their children and mine, I will escape death. No worm for me nor sordid fly, I will buzz in the dusk like a huge bumble bee. I will be many, buzz even as a swarm of motorbikes, be borne, body by flying body out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un–fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone.”

In Memory of Bill Hamilton Obituary: William Donald Hamilton (1936-2000) (Nature 404: 828, 2000). Robert Trivers W. D. Hamilton was one of the greatest evolutionary theorists since Darwin. Certainly, where social theory based on natural selection is …

The Dandelion Clock

The children, his grand-children, were playing in the paddock at the back of the house where their ponies were kept. They were picking dandelion seed heads and blowing the beautifully formed parachuted seeds away.  James smiled and drew heavily on his cigar. Sol had undoubtedly taught them, or taught his daughters who had passed it on. It was a game he and Sol had played as children, blowing the seeds all away, each puff counting an hour. A silly inconsequential game, but just the sort of idiosyncratic thing his old friend Sol loved.
James was sitting on the back porch smoking his weekly cigar, waiting for the weekend guests to arrive. Sol was also coming for the weekend, Jane had told him just this morning.  So what, he wondered, had enticed him this time? He was a regular dinner party guest at their New York apartment overlooking the Park, where Jane had developed an enviable reputation as a New York hostess,  but he almost never came to their country retreat, preferring his own cabi…

Greytown is my turangawaewae

Greytown, is my turangawaewae, the place where I stand, the place where I was born. Wellington and the Wairarapa are where my family settled in the nineteenth century, migrating from Christchurch in the South Island, intent upon moving in on land belonging to Maori. My ancestors walked the streets of Wellington, Pahiatua, Masterton and the shores of Paremata and Pahatanui, as I do now.
I could have said that Greytown or Te Hupenui, is about an hour’s drive from Wellington, over the Rimutaka mountain range, that it was first settled by Europeans in 1854 on land bought from local Maori, that it was named after Sir George Grey, but I am more interested in saying something about Greytown's natural history, and what the Wairarapa was like before humans, Maori and Pakeha, arrived here.
Scientists report from the evidence of pollen grains that before humans arrived here, 85-90% of New Zealand, including the Wairarapa, was covered with forest. Grassland or shrubland occurred, as it does now…

They don't know who we are

They Don't Know Who We Are
I was sitting over the kitchen table, drinking tea and smoking. The back door was open but no matter how hard I listened I could never hear him coming until he kicked off his boots at the back door. “Sitting in the dark again,” he said as he came in and turned on the light. We blinked.
I poured him a cup of tea and lit another cigarette, tailor made. He sat down and rolled a cigarette. Those were the days when we all smoked, chain smoked.
“There are a couple of deer up there,” he said after he had lit his cigarette.   “Yeah,” I said. The pause was long and drawn out. “A hind and her fawn I figure.”
We drank our tea and smoked our cigarettes. I let him come to it in his own time.
“I suppose I should shoot them, before someone else does.”
I shrugged and shook my head.  I had seen it all before with hunters. Once we get past the age of 30 the old thrill of the hunt goes, and we get all sentimental, become bird watchers and photographers. The same with fishermen. T…