Saturday, 25 April 2009

An afternoon spent in the presence of rare birds

I'm hiking up Turbine Track looking for hihi and bell birds. I'd picked out a little stitch call amongst the noisy Tui chattering. Stepping off the track, I followed one of the transect lines that stripe the entire park, allowing rough access and creating a sort of physical grid. I spotted the male first, bright and proud with his yellow flash along the shoulders, singing out a territorial call here and there. Then I saw the subdued browns of a female keeping company with him. I stood there a long time trying to get a clear view of her bands as she darted from branch to branch. I deduced they were some of the transplants from Mount Bruce; they use three coloured leg bands, while Karori Sanctuary uses four. I was just watching them, wondering how long it had been since they'd been seen last, if this spot up a little-used trail was their territory. My primary goal was to spot juveniles that had fledged this season, but these two might be a valuable find as well.

It was then I noticed an owl sleeping in a tree branch not four paces from me. It was startling to notice it sitting so near and in plain view. I knew it's mottled brown colouring had hid it from my eyes. As if sensing my gaze upon it, the owl opened it's eyes just them and fixed its attention on my with a piercing stare. I edged closer, but that spooked it and it flew a few meters away, finding itself another perch.

As I made my way back via Fantail Track, I passed through one area with a disconcertingly large concentration of Tui. I heard them more than saw them. One or a few tui make a lovely exotic music. They have an amazing range, easily outdoing any mockingbird as they ramble through a repertoire so varied that they sound like at least three birds singing at once. What I learned this day was that encountering a large gang of these birds can be a disorienting experience. They are largish, mostly black birds and they like to perch very high in the branches. So as I walked my path down into this particular valley I could hear an overwhelming chorus of birdsong, could hear the rustling of tree branches everywhere, but when I looked around I could barely catch a glimpse of any of them. I may have known intellectually that I was safe, but a part of me still found it spooky to be surrounded by so many creatures and not be able to see any of them.

Wandering through the woods, on the look out for birds, there's a pleasant kind of alertness one must tune into. There's something very fundamental about it, being absorbed in what is currently going on in the present moment. It's part of what keeps me coming back every week.

In case you're curious about the birds I've mentioned today:
Hihi (aka stitch birds)
Morepork (aka Ruru) the owl I saw
Tui song

On that last link, hover over the birds to see a photo, and click to download a short bird song clip. The korimako (aka bell bird), tieke (aka saddleback), Pipiwharauroa (aka fantail), and kaka are also commonly seen in the Sanctuary.

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