Flapping birds

This evening I was walking home over the Tinakori Hill — part of the town belt between my workplace and home. It’s interesting to see how the various tracks change. Some tracks are officially recognised and always well maintained, but others come and go. Last year, my most direct route was almost straight up a gully on what was a fairly wide four wheel drive track, even though I never saw a vehicle. It’s never been a very accessible road because it’s so steep, but for a long time the only other route was comparably indirect.

About 6 months ago, the local city council built a new well graded track (it even has a handrail) that switches up the end of the spur at one end of the valley. It switches so much that it takes longer, but it’s less steep. The original route, which I still try to use because of its directness, gradually becomes overgrown as time goes on. It will probably be inaccessible within a year or two if it’s not properly cleared, but meanwhile I’m continuing to use it. Earlier tonight, I must have disturbed about 50 small birds as I walked up, which never happened in the past, and it occurred that the high grass and scrub growth is becoming a haven for them as the bush takes over once again.

I enjoy seeing birds in the nearby bush, because it’s a sign that the efforts to revive their habitats are succeeding, even in the presence of population expansion. Despite living in a well populated suburb bordered by more well populated suburbs, Wellington City Council maintains large sections of native bush both up the hill and down the hill. We often hear Moreporks overnight from inside the house. Moreporks are nocturnal birds, but just a few days ago I was walking through the bush of the Tinakori Hill, and had my attention diverted by the noisy flapping of a Morepork landing on a branch a metre above me. I don’t know why it was awake and flying around during the mid-afternoon, but it was just happy to be curious about me and it studied me constantly with its giant nocturnal eyes. We had a staring contest for about 5 minutes before I got bored and left. The Morepork won.

Kereru, also known as New Zealand Pigeons, are another popular bird that flaps around here. They’re big, very noisy fliers, and often sit on branches that look far too small and thin to support them. All the lurching and swaying of their branch as they land doesn’t seem to phase them, though. They can apparently judge exactly which branches can support their weight, without bending 90 degrees towards the ground, well before they land. Kereru typically sit on tree branches, and I most easily notice them when I get to close and there’s a sudden noisy flapping as they leap to another branch further from whatever track I happen to be on. As I walked to work this morning, I saw a kereru perched on a power line out in the open above the road, for the first time ever. Power lines probably are about the same thickness as the branches that Kereru like to grip.

Kaka, one of my favourite New Zealand native birds, made it into this morning’s Dominion Post on the superficial premise that a few Wellington suburbanites people are annoyed about the new inhabitants damaging their trees. The fact that this has become an issue shows what a triumph the breeding programme of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, now branded Zealandia, which is a predator-fenced sanctuary operated by a trust very near central Wellington. The sanctuary as a whole, however, is only the most intensively protected part of the entire native bush design of the surrounding region and Wellington’s town belt, which is very accessible to a substantial population and scattered all over with public walkways, and people who use them. Even then, they’re starting to venture even further. Yesterday morning I saw a Kaka flap past my 6th floor window in Wellington’s central business district.

The Karori Sanctuary Kaka are easily identifiable from a distance, at least at the moment. Kaka usually have a screechey call, but the Karori Sanctuary have a rather unique call which sounds very much like a wolf whistle. The story is that early on in the life of the sanctuary, one of the staff decided it’d be fun to teach a Kaka to wolf-whistle. It caught on, other learned it, they young ones pick it up, and so it’s been that for several evenings last year I walked home through the streets of the Northland suburb of Wellington with gangs of four or five Kaka circling above, seemingly making sure that everyone knew it was their territory by calling some very loud wolf whistles at nearby pedestrians. Perhaps one day, as generations of these Kaka spread throughout the forests of the North Island, the wolf whistle call that marks the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary will also spread.

I try to get out and do a lot of tramping, but I also really enjoy how I don’t have to get out to enjoy such experiences. I also like that people don’t always have to get out into the wilderness to enjoy some of it. None of these places I’ve mentioned are in any way remote, but they’re thriving with native wildlife.

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