Yesterday I heard the call of the shining cuckoo or pipiwharauroa which heralds the beginning of summer at Te Rakau.
These birds are very important in Maori mythology as they played an part in the discovery of Aotearoa. It seems likely that early Maori explorers found their way here not simply by navigating by the stars, but they also watched the direction taken by migratory birds such as the shining cuckoo. Indeed there is a tradition that the captain of one of the first canoes released pet birds as it approached New Zealand to help in locating land.
The name pipiwharauroa can be translated as “little bird of the long journey”.
The grey warblers, who usually host these birds, hopefully have already reared a clutch of their own before having to foster these latest arrivals offspring. We will be listening and watching with interest here at Te Rakau.
After an unusually long winter absence the kereru have finally returned to Te Rakau. We presumed that they have been feasting elsewhere as they are very in very good condition! One flew into our ranch-slider the other day and made a loud thump – it almost felt like an earthquake.
Tui are also in abundance and protecting their patches vigorously. In fact all the birds around us are in mating plumage and behaviour. The first banded dotterel’s nest has been sited on the Spit indicating that a new season has begun.
On a recent walk along the stopbank below Te Rakau we were delighted to spend some time watching a pair of NZ dabchicks. These charming little birds are most entertaining to watch as they dive down to the bottom of a pond or drain searching for food. They can make quite long dives and totally surprise you just how far they can travel underwater. Dougal and I spent nearly an hour watching them on a lovely warm autumn day. Enjoy Dougal’s pictures.
We were phoned on Friday evening by a ranger from Department of Conservation asking us to visit the beach and retrieve a dead penguin from Onoke Spit. Apparently someone fishing earlier in the day had sighted the bird and noted that it was wearing an identification tag. We had no trouble locating the Little Blue Penguin and as requested we wrapped it well and stored it in our freezer to await further instructions. Today I received the message from DoC that the bird was tagged on Matiu/Somes Island in the middle of Wellington harbour and the rangers there are very interested that it had washed up on a beach in the Wairarapa. So much so that they intend to make a film about it! Nice to think that this little creature will be famous even if posthumously.
While at the beach this weekend we noticed large groups of White-fronted Terns or Kahawai Bird as they are sometimes called, because of their habit of following shoals of these fish. In one group just resting on the beach there were about 60 birds and many more sighted further out to sea fishing. Obviously the Kahawai are running well as the sea is so calm at present.
There seems to be an abundance of shining cuckoos or pipiwharauroa this year and they like our house – even the inside! We have had three of them checking out our interior decor this summer.
The first one came in quite late at night and was looking a little dazed so Dougal fed it some water and bedded it down in a cosy ice-cream container for the night and put it beside his bed for extra protection. We thought it might have been a juvenile bird that was having trouble with mastering flight, but we were proved to be very wrong when we discovered in the morning that it had laid an egg! This bird was successfully released in some trees later the following day well away from the house. See in our gallery for the picture – she posed beautifully before flying away.
Another 2 birds have also just flown into the house through open doors or windows and luckily have been unharmed. It must be a characteristic of shining cuckoos that they don’t handle houses too well.
We were also privileged to witness a pair of grey warblers feeding their adopted shining cuckoo chick recently. They were having to work very hard as the chick was more than twice as big as they were and very hungry. Look for a photo of this on our gallery as well.
The strong winds we’ve been having lately have made life for the nesting birds extremely difficult. A couple of days ago we noticed a sparrow’s nest had been blown into one of our birdbaths! We became really concerned when the mother sparrow sat on the edge of the birdbath looking really worried. Dougal braved the storm and rescued the nest which contained a number of live, if a little frightened, small sparrows. He carefully restored it to the nearest tree, not sure if it was exactly back in its original place and we have watched Mum and Dad continue to nurture and feed their young family. We felt good too!
On a visit to the beach on Tuesday morning to check the traps and generally see what’s about Dougal noticed a pair of unfamiliar birds feeding on the edge of Lake Onoke. After checking our trusty field guide he thinks that they were variety of Tattler, but the jury is still out.
Yesterday a pair of NZ Pipits came up our drive and almost in the front door! They were accompanied by a pair of Californian Quail.
We have a number of quail around the garden at present and just a couple of days ago Dougal spotted a family with about 12 chicks in tow. He described then as being like bumble-bees – they are about that small.
Recent Bird Sightings Around Te Rakau
We have sighted a pair of Black Fronted Dotterels on the southern end of the Pounui Lagoons over the last month and although they had their first attempt at nesting thwarted in that they laid a nest in the middle of the very busy Paul’s Bank track they have hopefully found a better sight to nest. They were also chased by a weasel one evening while we were observing them but an appropriately placed trap soon alleviated that problem!
Another amusing incident recently involved the overnight rest and recuperation of a Shining Bronze-cuckoo. Suffice to say we found the bird at home in a dazed state and thinking it was a juvenile bird that had had a clash with window a the house put it in a container overnight only to be welcomed in the morning with a very much alive bird and a small egg as well! Upon release it was very happy to scramble up into the tree tops to be heard later in the day whistling its tune of thanks.