After a busy and unusual year, and with the December issue safely printed and distributed in late November, it was time for John and I to head off on our big OE - "Overseas Experience". So, we hitched up our caravan and headed south to cross the Cook Strait.
A highlight and bucket list destination was Stewart Island - not at all what I expected, with mild temperatures, gorgeous golden beaches, crystal clear water, and prolific bird life.
Experiencing bird life up close and personal was magical. Within minutes of landing at Stewart Island we encountered a kereru sleeping on a head-height branch not 2 metres from us, unphased by our presence. And tui apparently showing off to us, always just out of arms reach. We frequently heard bellbird (korimako) song – as my cell-phone ringtone is a bellbird it was quite disconcerting, especially since it’s rare to hear one in Auckland!
At a visit to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head we observed thousands of red-billed gulls who have made the area their breeding ground. The car park is literally covered in guano – which surprisingly is pink! Apparently, that’s how it should be because these birds’ natural diet is krill, not ‘fish and chips’.
To experience birds, both exotic and native in their natural habitat has been a real pleasure. It’s made me think about the common and kindly-meant practice of ‘feeding the birds’ – usually cheap bread or leftovers from lunch. In years gone by it was a favourite pastime for our family to go and feed the ducks and I guess we felt that we’d ‘helped’ them. It certainly hadn’t occurred to us then that we were doing quite the opposite; the only thing we were helping was to artificially bolster the population.
A visit to NZ Bird Rescue in Green Bay this week was an enlightening experience. I saw first-hand some of the ducks currently in care recovering from avian botulism - a widespread problem, particularly at this time of the year. On a single day in January the centre admitted 16 ducks suffering from this horrible illness. The toxin produced from botulism causes paralysis, often resulting in the bird drowning.
One of the things that contribute to this is bread rotting in ponds.
I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘bird-lover’, but perhaps I am. I don’t love that there are swarms of pigeons and ducks defecating around our house, but I really enjoy the tuis feeding off our flax and bottlebrush, and to hear the moreporks (ruru) in the bush at night.
Perhaps what I really love is nature in balance.