Swallows of the sea

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Tara and tarapirohe Ashley Estuary, Canterbury, New Zealand

“Sometimes they hover
motionless, high in a half-gale torrent of air

unmoved yet sustained by the stream that surrounds them
then,with no effort involved,
sudden and sharply they break
quick as a kite
when the string snaps
plunging down and across the sky” – an excerpt from The Pairing of Terns by Mark O’Connor

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tarapirohe – adults in non breeding plumage and juveniles – take to the sky

Terns – the swallows of the sea. Elegant, swift, precise, bold and beautiful. I never cease to be in awe of them; they draw my eye and the focus of my lens at every opportunity.

My ‘bucket list’ ambition is to see and get good photographs of all of the terns that breed in, or visit, New Zealand. Considering there are some 14 or so species, and of these some are extremely rare visitors, or only occur on distant islands in our far-flung territorial seas, I have my work cut out for me. But it’s a worthy ambition!

Of the species recorded, one is classed as endemic and a few are endemic at the sub-species level. These latter include the rarest of our breeding terns, the fairy tern (Sternula nereis davisae), which has a ‘critically endangered conservation’ status and is, tragically, the most endangered of all of New Zealand’s endemic taxa.*

To date my bucket list of tern species seen and photographed has reached a total of five . . . only nine or so to go!

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Tara – the white-fronted tern – Ashley Estuary

Tara – the white-fronted tern – Sterna striata – native – declining

I often encounter this tern in large numbers at the Ashley Estuary. When it does not have eggs or chicks, this is a very confiding bird allowing close human approach. They will happily carry on preening, feeding, courting, mating and roosting with a photographer within less than five metres. This all changes when they have eggs/chicks; then they are fierce defenders of their space and the photographer must be much more cautious to avoid disturbance.

Tara are the most common tern on the New Zealand coastline, at times occurring in flocks of many hundreds, even thousands of birds. It is mainly a marine species that is seldom found far from the coast.**

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(left): Tara gathered on a jetty railing. Birds in such areas that are frequently visited by people become very tame allowing very close approach.
(right): Courting tara exchanging fish

 

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tara breeding colony – Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

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A juvenile tara showing the striated plumage that gave this bird its species name

Taranui – the Caspian tern – Hydroprogne caspia – native – nationally vulnerable

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I often hear this, the largest of our terns, before I see it. Its harsh croak is a distinctive sound of estuarine areas and around the huge but shallow Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere), which is a breeding stronghold of this species in New Zealand.

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Taranui breeding colony – Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

In spite of its size it is a timid tern, very difficult to approach. But it will often roost with its bolder, smaller, cousins and that seems to give it more courage. And, once in the air fishing, it will pass very close to the photographer indeed, if you can work out its fishing ‘beat’ and position yourself accordingly.

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Taranui – non breeding plumage – Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

The largest of all species of terns (the Maori name taranui translates as ‘big tern’) the Caspian is a large distinctive gull-like tern of shallow coastal waters and, particularly outside of the breeding season, inland lakes and rivers throughout New Zealand.**

bathing terns

Tarapirohe – the black fronted tern – communal bathing

Tarapirohe – the black-fronted tern – Chlidonias albostriatus – endemic – nationally endangered

Of the terns I encounter regularly in my home province of Canterbury on the South Island’s east coast, the tarapirohe is a favourite. In mating plumage the adults are strikingly beautiful, but that is not the only reason I find them particularly appealing.

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An adult tarapirohe in full breeding plumage

I am a passionate advocate for the protection of our unique braided river ecosystems. This is a rare ecosystem globally and New Zealand is the world capital, with Canterbury containing some 60% of the total area of braided rivers in New Zealand.

The tarapirohe only breeds in the eastern South Island’s braided rivers. Indeed, while it overwinters on the estuarine coasts, it is effectively an inland tern. It is often seen hawking over pasture and its nests (a mere scrape) among the alluvial stones can be found in riverbeds at the very foot of our highest mountains.

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a few sticks, a small scrape, a tarapirohe nests among the braided river stones

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Until they move, tarapirohe chicks can be almost invisible among the round river stones 

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A juvenile tarapirohe rises up from the water

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Tarapirohe – non breeding plumage – with prey

The gull-billed tern – Gelochelidon nilotica – native – vagrant

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As with its bigger cousin the Caspian, the first, and only, time I saw this large tern, I heard it first, it’s call so similar to that of the Caspian I thought it was this species until it came closer. I was on the wide mud flats of Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere), which is a site where gull-billed terns have been recorded semi-regularly, albeit in very small numbers. The birds (only four) circled me and were gone, but giving me just enough time to get a couple of shots.

Gull-billed terns are mainly birds of the Australian interior, appearing and breeding on temporary water left by floods. Gull-billed terns and other Australian wetland birds are often forced to find new habitats when the temporary wetlands are consumed by drought. It is during post-flood droughts that gull-billed terns are likely to reach New Zealand.**

The little tern – Sternula albifrons – native – uncommon migrant

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I was photographing gulls and terns on the wide shallows of Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) when I heard a bird call distinctly different from the birds around me. There in the distance was a very small tern hovering over the water, calling constantly.

A fruitless stalk followed, the flickering ghost of a bird kept its distance hiding in the heat shimmer over the lake. So my first, and only, photo of a little tern is a heavy crop out of a much bigger picture, verging on pixilation. But it’s the only photo I have to record this encounter with such a dainty little visitor and it will remain in my collection until the chance to take something better comes along.

Although small numbers of little terns visit New Zealand every year, it took some time before they were recognised as being New Zealand birds. They are very similar to the now rare fairy tern, especially in the nondescript non-breeding and immature plumages most often seen in New Zealand. Careful observations led to the presence of little terns being confirmed on the Miranda coast, Firth of Thames in the 1950s. By this time, the fairy tern had become one of New Zealand’s rarest birds, and the little tern is now known to be the commonest small tern in the country over the summer. **

Angles of light

I often think of terns as angels of light. When you can capture them against the light of the sky or a rising or setting sun, there is a glory about them that no great painter of religious icons can replicate.

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tara – white-fronted tern – an angel of light

*Birds of New Zealand – a photographic guide, Scofield and Stephenson.

** www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

 

 

 

Rakahuri manu

a gull chick's sweeping view of the Ashley Estuary

a gull chick’s sweeping view of the Ashley Estuary

Rakahuri Manu – birds of the Ashley River

As September draws to a close the breeding season of New Zealand’s unique braided river birds is just starting to get into gear.

Early arrivals have been on the river since about mid-August, but most of the time since has been about finding a mate (or re-establishing an existing pair bond), finding a suitable nesting territory and defending it.

Karuhiruhi (pied shag - Phalacrocorax varius) are early breeders in willows by the estuary

Karuhiruhi (pied shag – Phalacrocorax varius) are early breeders in willows by the estuary

By now, however, these preliminaries are nearly over for the early breeders such as the ngutuparore (wrybill- Anarhynchus frontalis) and tuturiwhatu (banded dotterel – Charadrius bicinctus) and the serious business of laying and brooding is getting underway. For some of our other braided river specialists however, such as the tarapiroe (black-fronted tern – Chlidonias albostriatus) and tarapuka (black-billed gillLarus bulleri) the finicky process of finding just the right shingle bank or river-stone island to nest on has only just begun.

Tuturiwhatu (Banded dotterel - Chadrius bicinctus) are already on eggs

Tuturiwhatu (Banded dotterel – Chadrius bicinctus) are already on eggs

But, whether already nesting or still scouting around for a likely spot, from the hills to the sea the Ashley-Rakahuri River is now busy with birdlife as both the permanent avian residents and the seasonal visitors embark on the crucially important business of reproduction.

Tarapiroe are still busy courting or scouting out potential nest sites

Tarapiroe are still busy courting or scouting out potential nest sites

Tara (white-fronted tern - Sterna striata) are also courting each other with gifts of fish

Tara (white-fronted tern – Sterna striata) are also courting each other with gifts of fish

Recently I presented a photographic exhibition featuring a birds of the river on a journey from the inland braided channels to the estuarine coast. The following is an edited reproduction of that presentation.

poaka (pied stilt - Himantopus himantopus) are flying into the river and setting up territory

poaka (pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus) are flying into the river and setting up territory

After feeding up at the estuary the ngutuparore (wrybill - Anarhynchus frontalis) are moving upstream and establishing territory

After feeding up at the estuary the ngutuparore (wrybill – Anarhynchus frontalis) are moving upstream and establishing territory

Torea (South Island Pied Oystercatcher - Haematopus finschi) are also establishing territory and defend it fiercely against all comers

Torea (South Island Pied Oystercatcher – Haematopus finschi) are also establishing territory and defend it fiercely against all comers

Back in the willows the kawau-paka (little shag - Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) are still in the courting stage

Back in the willows the kawau-paka (little shag – Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) are still in the courting stage

The tarapuka (black-billed gull - Larus bulleri) is fussy when it comes to establishing a nesting colony and often tries several spots before finally coming to some sort of mass agreement and the whole colony settles down to make nests, mate, lay and brood eggs.

The tarapuka (black-billed gull – Larus bulleri) is fussy when it comes to establishing a nesting colony and often tries several spots before finally coming to some sort of mass agreement and the whole colony settles down to make nests, mate, lay and brood eggs.

The ubiquitous pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus) is not a braided river breeder but its communal nests shared by several birds at once can be found in the reed marshes bordering the estuary

The ubiquitous pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus) is not a braided river breeder but its communal nests, shared by several birds at once, can be found in the reed marshes bordering the estuary

Putangitangi (Paradise shelduck - Tadorna variegata) are more cosmopolitan breeders, their nests found on the borders of the estuary and also well upriver among the braided river channels. usually on a more permanent island where there is some plant cover

Putangitangi (Paradise shelduck – Tadorna variegata) are more cosmopolitan breeders, their nests found on the borders of the estuary and also well upriver among the braided river channels, usually on a more permanent island where there is some plant cover.

With all the young chicks soon to be hatching the kahu (swamp harrier - Circus approximans) times its own breeding to coincide with the increase in food supply. Almost every other species, no matter their size, will dive bomb or mob this fierce predator at every opportunity to protect their chicks

With all the young chicks soon to be hatching the kahu (swamp harrier – Circus approximans) times its own breeding to coincide with the increase in food supply. Almost every other species, no matter their size, will dive bomb or mob this fierce predator at every opportunity to protect their chicks

A season on the river

black billed gull colony waimak

It’s hot.

The notorious Canterbury nor’ wester burns across the landscape sucking oxygen and moisture out of the air with equal ferocity. The stones of the Waimakariri riverbed warp and shiver in the reflected heat; mirages dance ephemerally in the air.

A rhythmic, breathy sound comes to me across the stones, as if some great beast lies nearby, gasping in the heat of the day. But this is not one beast . . . it is hundreds. Some 300 tarapuka in their riverbed colony, each black-billed gull standing over its nest, all panting in unison, holding steadfast in the sun to give their chicks a slim patch of shade.  It is late November, the middle of the river season.

gasping in the summer heat, with a chick to shade

gasping in the summer heat, with a chick to shade

It was cooler when, on the Ashley-Rakahuri estuary, the arrival of the ngutuparore toward the end of August signalled the beginning of the river season. At first in twos and threes and then in dozens the wrybills turned up at the estuary after their long flight from over-wintering grounds far to the north. Hungry, and with breeding to build condition for, they fed in the tidal mud with the voraciousness of shrews. By October, all had moved inland to braided rivers where they could find the clean, weed-free, banks of river stones among which they build their shallow nests. A few pair simply head upstream on the Ashley-Rakahuri but others go further afield to Canterbury’s bigger braided rivers: the Waimakariri, Rangitata, Rakaia, and beyond.

wrybill feeding as voraciously as shrews!

wrybill feeding as voraciously as shrews!

Pohowera numbers also swell in August. Many of these hardy dotterels spend their whole lives on the coast, but those that breed inland on the braided rivers tend to migrate west to Australia. Splendid in their fresh breeding colours of red and black bands, they return in early spring to join the over-wintering locals to feed up, find mates and establish nesting territories. For much of the year, banded dotterels can be cautious birds, wary of too close an approach, but with spring comes hormone-fuelled courage. The males hotly contest for territory and established pairs are remarkably bold, especially once they have a nest to defend and will tolerate a patient photographer within two metres.

A bold banded dotterel male threat display

A bold banded dotterel male threat display

a female dotterel sits tight on her nest

a female dotterel sits tight on her nest

On the Ashley-Rakahuri estuary, flocks of tarapiroe (black fronted tern) have wintered over, along with their cousins the tara (white-fronted tern), taranui (Caspian tern) and the black-billed gulls. But as spring progresses these strikingly beautiful terns – capped in black velvet with road-code orange bills and legs – also head inland to share the clean river shingle with the wrybills, dotterels, black-billed gulls and the other braided river nesters. Some of their white-fronted cousins also choose to move inland, choosing higher shingle banks in the river, often near the added security of other bird colonies.

Tarapiroe - black-fronted tern - splendid in their breeding colours

black-fronted tern – splendid in their breeding colours

A black-fronted tern on its riverbed nest

Black-fronted tern on its riverbed nest

Some of the black-fronted tern nest in sizeable colonies alongside the black-billed gulls, which is a great strategy because the gulls are alert and ferocious sentries. But others scatter themselves along the Ashley-Rakahuri in small groupings of nests, wherever the shingle banks provide the right conditions.

There they are joined by the poaka (pied stilt), spur-winged plover, torea (South Island Pied Oystercatcher), and the karoro (Southern black-backed gull).

By mid November there are many voices on the river as the river nesters begin to hatch their young and attend to the task of feeding and raising their chicks.

Each has a different style.

The black-fronted tern do little more than scrape a hollow in the stones, perhaps adding a few rudimentary twigs or scraps of weed, but essentially their eggs lie directly on the stones. The stilts and oystercatchers use a similar tactic, with little if any covering over the stones to cushion the eggs.

Wrybills seem to be just as perfunctory in the nesting department, but a closer look reveals something remarkable – the tiny bowl they have made among the stones has been lined with very small pebbles . . . an exercise in remarkable patience and care!

male wrybill on the nest

male wrybill on the nest

a wrybill nest, meticulously lined with tiny stones

a wrybill nest, meticulously lined with tiny stones

a substantial black-backed gull nest

a substantial black-backed gull nest

black-billed gull on the nest

black-billed gull on the nest

The gulls, on the other hand, build actual nests. The black-billed nest is fairly basic but provides a platform of twigs and river detritus to give their eggs some cushioning. Their large cousins, the black-backed gulls, build substantial piles of tangled sticks and river weeds that seem unnecessarily large for the modest eggs cupped within, but this commodious affair is revealed as practical when the fast-growing chicks soon fill it to its borders.

The waders all have chicks that pretty much feed themselves from the moment of hatching, relying on their parents for protection and the lessons of life, but quickly learning to find for themselves the bugs and grubs in the river shallows. The terns and gulls are more solicitous, bringing food to the nests to feed the demanding chicks. Even when fully fledged, young tarapiroe will sit on the ground begging food from their parents. In tern colonies an overhead adult carrying a fish sets off a chorus of excited calling as each chick hopes it is their parent that has returned.

even fully fledged, tarapiroe chicks sit on the ground and call to their parents for food

even fully fledged, tarapiroe chicks sit on the ground and call to their parents for food

The gull chicks grow quickly and frequently form crèches in between their parents’ visits with food; bundles of down moving together around the colony and down to the river’s edge to bathe, swim and exercise their wings.

Wrybill, stilt, dotterel and plover chicks stick close to their parents, freezing to invisibility among the stones when a parent bird calls a sharp alarm. In the mixed colonies the alarm call of a stilt will have the same impact on the chicks of other species as it does on its own youngster, with all of the chicks hunkering down. This is an excellent tactic for aerial predators such as the kahu (Australasian swamp harrier) or the karoro glide on by, but is of little use against the introduced mammalian predators such as stoats and feral cats, which can hunt by smell as well as sight.

banded dotterel chicks are up and feeding themselves from day one but need their parents' protection

banded dotterel chicks are up and feeding themselves from day one but need their parents’ protection

black-fronted tern chicks need extensive care

black-fronted tern chicks need extensive care

white-fronted tern chicks are equally vulnerable

white-fronted tern chicks are equally vulnerable

Late summer finds chicks fledging all over the place and testing their hunting skills. Tarapiroe glide up and down the river, imitating their parents with quick dives from a near hovering flight to seize fish. At first they are clumsy and miss more often than not, but patience and repeated tries are finally rewarded.

a returning white-fronted tern with fish for its young

a returning white-fronted tern with fish for its young

By early autumn all of the birds that have managed to keep their young alive throughout the season, surviving unexpected floods and predatory attacks from natural and introduced predators alike – let alone disturbance by careless humans and their recreational vehicles – begin to depart; some in the company of their newly fledged teenagers, but others leave the ‘kids’ behind to fend for themselves before they, too, driven by instinct, gather together to flock to their wintering-over grounds on the coast, further north or across the Tasman sea.

aggressive defence behaviour from this pied oystercatcher has kept its chicks safe to fledging

aggressive defence behaviour from this pied oystercatcher has kept its chicks safe to fledging

The estuary becomes busy again now as the river breeders return to fatten up. Many, such as the black-fronted terns and the black-billed gulls, will stay, utilising the riches of the coastal waters to see them through the winter ahead. The wrybill all fly up north where they flock in their thousands along the coast of the Firth of Thames and in other northern estuarine areas. Some banded dotterel stay in their home territories on the coast, but those that have bred inland will return to the coast and many travel to Tasmania and southeast mainland Australia in an unusual east-west migration.

the tarapuka leave the river and return to the coast

the tarapuka leave the river and return to the coast

Stilts and plovers, too, have a mixed response to the approach of winter. Some stay put, others move to the coast, and still others make long flights to preferred over-wintering territories elsewhere in the country.

in winter the very rare kaki (black stilt) leaves back country braided rivers for coastal estuaries

in winter the very rare kaki (black stilt) leaves back country braided rivers for coastal estuaries

many poaka (pied stilt) stay on the river year-round

many poaka (pied stilt) stay on the river year-round

The river is not entirely abandoned though. Many stilts, dotterels and plovers remain, as do some of the gulls, and winter visitors also move in, including the kotuku that have left their breeding colony on the West Coast to scatter throughout the country in lakes, rivers and estuaries.

It's breeding plumage still evident, a kotuku returns to the Ashley estuary for the winter

It’s breeding plumage still evident, a kotuku returns to the Ashley estuary for the winter

Soon, the perils of winter floods and frosts will pass, and spring will come around again. And then, just as the whitebait begin to come in from the sea, the river breeding specialists will return to trust their eggs to the stones and gamble again with the fickle floods of spring.

the magnificent kahu (Australasian swamp harrier) will have to wait until spring to brave the defences of the gull and tern colonies for another season of nest raiding

the magnificent kahu (Australasian swamp harrier) will have to wait until spring to brave the defences of the gull and tern colonies for another season of nest raiding

(All photos in this blog copyright Steve Attwood/Auldwood Photography. Permission must be sought for use, reproduction or copying in any form)

Wild in the city IV – the Ashley-Rakahuri

The criteria for my Wild in the City series is that the focus of each episode in the series be a wild place within or close to Christchurch City and readily accessible. The Ashley-Rakahuri River meets these criteria and more.

The Ashley-Rakahuri River - a braided gem

A braided gem – Photo courtesy of Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group

A little treasure – the Ashley-Rakahuri

There are far mightier braided rivers in Canterbury, but the modestly sized Ashley-Rakahuri is an ecological gem, a taonga* of a value disproportionate to its size.

For the most part the Ashley-Rakahuri weaves through highly modified rural farmland where indigenous natural New Zealand has almost been scrubbed from existence. But the braided river channels of the river itself are a largely unmodified natural environment that has been a unique feature of the Canterbury plains for eons.

Braided rivers are rare in the rest of the world, with New Zealand considered a hot spot, and Canterbury the centre of that, with 59% of the country’s braided river surface area. They are the home of highly adapted braided river specialists, chief among them being the birds.

bath time - tarapiroe - black-fronted tern - braided river specialists

bath time – tarapiroe – black-fronted tern – braided river specialists

The Ashley-Rakahuri is a smaller braided river and is rain fed, originating in the Canterbury foothills, rather than glacier-fed and originating from the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps as the dominant braided rivers of Canterbury such as the Waimakariri, Rakaia and Rangitata do. But what the Ashley-Rakahuri lacks in size it more than makes up for in variety. Among its labyrinthine waterways, dynamic shingle islands and stony banks breed some of the most rare and endangered birds in the world. In a relatively short span of riverbed quite close to the township of Rangiora nest three of the principle and most threatened braided river specialists: The black-billed gull (the most endangered gull in the world), the unique wrybill (under threat and the only bird in the world with a bill that bends sideways), and the beautiful black-fronted tern (also an endangered species).

The world's most endangered gull - the black-billed gull - nesting on the Ashley-Rakahuri

The world’s most endangered gull – the black-billed gull – nesting on the Ashley-Rakahuri

Ngutuparore - the wrybill - the iconic braided river bird

Ngutuparore – the wrybill – the iconic braided river bird

Tarapiroe - the black-fronted tern - in flight above the Ashley-Rakahuri waters

Tarapiroe – the black-fronted tern – in flight above the Ashley-Rakahuri waters

Where the Ashley-Rakahuri reaches the sea, just 25km north of Christchurch, it spreads out into a large, generally unmodified estuary that is ranked as an internationally important wetland with a host of resident and seasonally visiting birds. It is a vital stopover site for birds migrating up and down the coast, and beyond; including the iconic kuaka (bar-tailed godwit) and other Arctic migrants that live out their winter in our summer.

Karoro - black-backed gull chick with a penthouse view - Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

Karoro – black-backed gull chick with a penthouse view – Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

Unfortunately, the ecological values of these braided river systems are increasingly threatened; most have been invaded by introduced weeds and introduced mammalian predators, and are further degraded by a wide variety of human activities. From its gorge, a popular swimming picnicking and fishing spot, to its mouth, the Ashley-Rakahuri, being so accessible and so close to Christchurch, is particularly vulnerable to these pressures. The numbers of birds along the river have declined and its ecological rating downgraded accordingly, from ‘outstanding’ to ‘nationally important.’

Safe among the stones? Like the other river breeding specialists, the banded dotterel is a threatened species under risk from human-caused environmental degradation

Safe among the stones? Like the other river breeding specialists, the banded dotterel is a threatened species at risk from human-caused environmental degradation

male banded dotterel with its chick  among the river stones

male banded dotterel with its chick among the river stones

young warou - welcome swallow - beg to be fed

young warou – welcome swallow – beg to be fed

But, being so small in comparison to the bigger braided rivers, The Ashley-Rakahuri also offers a unique opportunity for effective intervention; initiatives to protect the river in places where the most threatened of birds are known to feed and breed – predator trapping, weed clearance, public education, vehicle discouragement and monitoring – are showing signs of at least stopping the decline of the endangered species, perhaps even reversing it.

Trapping of introduced mammalian predators helps protect these vulnerable tarapiroe chicks hidden among the stones

Trapping of introduced mammalian predators helps protect these vulnerable tarapiroe chicks hidden among the stones

While the protection efforts at the Ashley-Rakahuri focus on the wrybill, black-billed gull and black-fronted tern, many other bird species benefit. The braided river is home to such other key native species as the tuturiwhatu (banded dotterel – Charadrius bicinctus), the poaka (pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus) and the torea (pied oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus). The very rare kaki (black stilt – Himantopus novaezelandiae) has bred occasionally on the river in recent years (mated with a pied stilt) and over-wintering kaki are regularly seen in small numbers on the estuary.

tern fish exchange

courting tara – white-fronted tern – share space on the Ashley-Rakahuri with their more rare black-fronted cousins

juvenile kaki - black stilt - benefit from the protection efforts on the Ashley-Rakahuri

juvenile kaki – black stilt – benefit from the protection efforts on the Ashley-Rakahuri

white-faced heron are found throughout the river, but gather in big numbers at the estuary

white-faced heron are found throughout the river, but gather in big numbers at the estuary

Migratory wading birds are the spring through to autumn stars of the estuarine environment. Here I have seen godwit, knots, whimbrel and turnstone.

A  turnstone, turning stones!

A turnstone, turning stones!

The whimbrel usually hangs out with godwit on the Ashley Estuary

The whimbrel usually hangs out with godwit on the Ashley Estuary

godwit and knots share space on the Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

godwit and knots share space on the Ashley-Rakahuri Estuary

The number of resident species at the estuary is also substantial. Along with the mudflats, dunes, sand and shingle banks are freshwater ponds and creeks, reed and raupo beds, scrublands and grassy flats, providing a multitude of environments for birds to live, breed and feed in.

karuhiruhi - pied shag - nest above ponds on the edge of the estuary and hunt in the estuary itself

karuhiruhi – pied shag – nest above ponds on the edge of the estuary and hunt in the estuary itself

Caught in an estuarine sandstorm - Toreapango - variable oystercatcher

Caught in an estuarine sandstorm – Toreapango – variable oystercatcher

An adult red-billed gull scolds a juvenile. Confusingly, juvenile red-billed gulls have black bills

An adult red-billed gull scolds a juvenile. Confusingly, juvenile red-billed gulls have black bills

The native birds I have seen along the Ashley-Rakahuri include: the shags (pied, little, spotted and black); the large waders (Australasian bittern, royal spoonbill, white heron and white-faced heron); the intermediate-sized waders (spur-winged plover, South Island pied oystercatcher and variable oystercatcher and oystercatcher hybrids); the waterfowl (black swan, grey teal, New Zealand shoveler, paradise shelduck, New Zealand scaup and Australian coot); the terns (black-fronted, white-fronted and Caspian); the gulls (red-billed, black-billed and southern black-backed); and the birds of the forest, air and riverbank (harrier, welcome swallow, kingfisher, grey warbler, silvereye, and fantail).

white heron spearing

The kotuku is a regular winter visitor to the Ashley-Rakahuri estuary

Another large white wader that inhabits the estuary - the amazing royal spoonbill

Another large white wader that inhabits the estuary – the amazing royal spoonbill

A kurwuwhengi (NZ shoveler drake) with a kuaka (godwit) in the background - Ashley Estuary

A kurwuwhengi (NZ shoveler drake) with a kuaka (godwit) in the background – Ashley Estuary

Parekareka - spotted shag - can be seen at the Askley-Rakahuri estuary all-year round

The beautiful Parekareka – spotted shag – can be seen at the Askley-Rakahuri estuary all-year round

The estuary is also home to large number of introduced game birds such as mallard and Canada geese; and introduced field birds such as skylark, chaffinch, yellowhammer, redpoll, sparrow and goldfinch.

The glorious song of the introduced skylark is heard in spring throughout the Ashley-Rakahuri river

The glorious song of the introduced skylark is heard in spring throughout the Ashley-Rakahuri river

The above lists are by no means exhaustive as they are only my observations; other species are recorded as regular, occasional or rare visitors.

* treasure

A torea - South Island Pied Oystercatcher. The Ashley is known for being a place where SIPO and Variable Oystercatcheres hybridise.

A torea – South Island Pied Oystercatcher. The Ashley is known for being a place where SIPO and Variable Oystercatcheres hybridise.

Kotare -  the sacred kingfisher - favours the estuary but can also be seen upriver perched above the deeper pools

Kotare – the sacred kingfisher – favours the estuary but can also be seen upriver perched above the deeper pools

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Kawaupaka – little shags – also nest on the edges of the estuary and hunt its waters – they are regularly seen upstream as well hunting within the deeper pools

Wild in the City III – Harts Creek

Christchurch New Zealand is blessed with a variety of places where pockets of wildlife, especially our birds, continue to thrive. I’ve decided to feature these places in a series titled ‘Wild in the City’

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Harts Creek – small but perfectly formed

I’ve gone big, yet small, for this third article in the series and stretched the rules a tad.

Big yet small? The broad location of this nature’s gem is Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, New Zealand’s fifth largest lake – some 20,000ha with approximately 75 kilometres of shoreline; but I want to focus on the ‘small but perfectly formed’ Harts Creek, a tiny but special piece of this giant wetland jigsaw of natural and modified land forms.

Te Waihora is a shallow, brackish lake on the Canterbury coast. At its north end it does, indeed, come within the boundaries of Christchurch city. So the lake itself meets my “Wild in the City” criteria. The most important wetland habitat of its type in New Zealand, Te Waihora and its surrounds provide a home and/or feeding ground for a large range of bird, reptile, plant and invertebrate species.

The low–lying lands between the Selwyn Delta and the Halswell River are important for large populations of waders; the Kaituna Lagoon/Birdlings Flat area is important for waterfowl. Some 160 bird species have been reported on the lake and up to 98,000 wetland birds use the lake at any one time; at least 37 species of which breed there. Forty-three species of fish have been recorded from Te Waihora and its tributaries. Species on the Kaitorete Spit, which separates the lake from the sea, include endemic plants, reptiles and insects found nowhere else.

The vast Te Waihora wetland is the most important wetland habitat of its type in New Zealand

The vast Te Waihora wetland is the most important wetland habitat of its type in New Zealand

On the western edge of this vast wetland (outside of the boundaries of Christchurch city but close enough to fit my ‘rules’ for this blog) Harts Creek flows through developed farmland and empties into the lake at the Harts Creek Wildlife Management Reserve. This small wildlife refuge and the creek are an excellent example of the cooperation for conservation that can occur between landowners and authorities. The creek runs through private land, but the owners have done more than allow access; they have supported the re-planting of the riparian boundaries with native vegetation, and fenced off the banks from stock. There is a boardwalk to provide secure footing through the swamp that culminates in a bird hide built by the Ellesmere Lions Club, giving views across the secluded lagoon–like bay that comprises much of the reserve.

The entire route, from road–end to hide, is a bird watcher’s paradise, with the observable species changing with the seasons.

The entire length of Harts Creek is a bird watcher's paradise

The entire length of Harts Creek is a bird watcher’s paradise

I list the species I have observed on the Harts Creek route below but let me mention some highlights.

Unusual as it is for me to focus on introduced species, the Ellesmere population of mute swans is one of the few places in New Zealand to see these birds in a truly wild state (as opposed to semi-domesticated birds in city parks). These graceful and striking swans frequent Harts Creek, their white plumage a stark contrast to the shaded gloom of the closely wooded sections of the waterway.

Mute swan light up the gloom of the the willow-shaded deeper reaches of Harts Creek

Mute swan light up the gloom of the the willow-shaded deeper reaches of Harts Creek

Another favourite is the ever-cheerful riroriro for which Harts Creek is a population stronghold. Our second smallest native bird, this little warbler has a voice that belies its size; its high–pitched trill a happy herald of spring. The sound is uplifting and penetrating, but finding its tiny owner is a real challenge as these grey denizens of the forest are difficult to see, they flit so quickly among the branches.

A riroriro checks out a spiderweb for an easy meal

A riroriro checks out a spiderweb for an easy meal

Another forest inhabitant is the ubiquitous piwakawaka, as at home in urban gardens as in native forest. Because humans disturb insects into flight this little fan-tailed predator seems to seek out our company. It flies about our heads to snatch up the prey we stir up. Prolific breeders, piwakawaka can suddenly burst into large numbers in the spring and their merry chirping sounds like a thousand kisses being stitched into the air.

the perky piwakawaka is happy to use fence wire as a spotting perch

the perky piwakawaka is happy to use fence wire as a spotting perch

Black birds comprise only about 5% of the South Island sub-species of piwakawaka

Black-coloured birds comprise only about 5% of the South Island sub-species of piwakawaka

In the open areas – above water or paddock – the warou compete with kotare for iridescent beauty. These swift hunters catch insects on the wing and are indeed, as their English name suggests, a welcome sight. Forgot not the kotare however, as still–sitting as the swallow is fast moving, it spies down from branches above the creek and then darts like a rainbow-shafted arrow to seize its prey.

the stunning iridescent coat of the Welcome Swallow - the warou

the stunning iridescent coat of the Welcome Swallow – the warou

Hart kingfisher

The equally iridescent kotare

Harts creek has its mysteries too, none more so than two of its more secretive residents, the impressive matuku and the diminutive koitareke. The bittern is rarely seen unless one is prepared to visit just on dusk and sit very still indeed. But in spring and early summer the sonorous booming of the males echoes around the hide even during the day. It shares this habitat with the tiny marsh crake, another twilight zone bird. But sometimes the visitor will hear it in daylight hours, it’s ‘click click click’ calls quite distinctive. Though shy, it is curious and a successful imitation of its call can sometimes tempt it from the lakeside reeds for a quick peek before it darts away again, its cryptic plumage making you wonder if you have really seen it at all.

my only photo of the elusive koitareke is very poor quality, the bird was in deep shade, a long way away and moving fast, but I was so proud of it, some photographers will never see these shy birds let alone get any sort of photo!

my only photo of the elusive koitareke is very poor quality, the bird was in deep shade, a long way away and moving fast, but I was so proud of it, some photographers will never see these shy birds let alone get any sort of photo!

The elusive matuku is also difficult to get good quality photos of.  My ambition this spring is to get to Harts Creek and do better by exercising more patience and perhaps a little cunning

The elusive matuku is also difficult to get good quality photos of. My ambition this spring is to get to Harts Creek and do better by exercising more patience and perhaps a little cunning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More regularly seen than the shy bittern are its fellow waders, the splendid kotuku-ngutupapa and the rare kotuku – royal spoonbill and white heron. Both large white waders, these birds ply the shallows of the reserve often close to the hide. The royal spoonbill wade in synchronised groups, sweeping their bills side to side in balletic choreography. They have recently begun breeding on Te Waihora often, ironically, on top of duck–hunter mai-mais. Numbers peak over spring and summer. I once counted more than 200 in a flock at Harts Creek Reserve. The white heron, by contrast, is a solitary stalk-and-strike hunter, more likely to be seen on the lake in the autumn and winter. From spring through summer these birds gather at their only breeding grounds in New Zealand, hundreds of kilometers away on the South Island’s West Coast.

the royal spoonbill soars over the Harts Creek reserve

the royal spoonbill soars over the Harts Creek reserve

The majestic kotuku is an autumn/winter visitor

The majestic kotuku is an autumn/winter visitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the lake itself, observable from the hide, are many water birds but, for me, none have the appeal of the puteketeke, the Australasian crested grebe. Near the limit of its natural range in New Zealand, the puteketeke has suffered, like so many native birds, from the introduction of mammalian predators and habitat destruction. They survive mainly in the eastern lakes of the South Island high country but a few migrate to more coastal waters for the winter. Some have stopped returning to the high country and now breed at Ellesmere and nearby Lake Forsythe. At Harts Creek several pairs build their floating nests among the raupo bordering the lagoon; if one stays very still, they adjust to the presence of humans and will come well within observable and photographic reach. With their splendid crests and elaborate mating displays they are a delight to watch; their zebra–plumed youngsters even more so.

Puteketeke with their black-and-white chick

Puteketeke with their black-and-white chick

There are many other birds to delight the eye and heart along the Harts Creek walk. It’s easy grade and family friendly. Take the kids, persuade them to be quiet by giving them a task to see how many species they can see, and enjoy!

beauty is found in the plant forms also - raupo seeding in front of the hide

beauty is found in the plant forms also – raupo seeding in front of the hide

The kahu is the dominant aerial predator on Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere and builds its nest in the dense raupo near Harts Creek

The kahu is the dominant aerial predator on Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere and builds its nest in the dense raupo near Harts Creek

Native birds I have observed at Harts Creek

(Note, these are species I have seen and photographed, there are others. Also, the species range on Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere as a whole is much wider. For example, Harts Creek does not have the extensive mudflats that attract many of the migrant waders elsewhere on the lake).

 

 

 

Black-billed gull – Larus bulleri

kawaupaka nest in sizeable colonies in willows opposite the Harts Creek Hide

kawaupaka nest in sizeable colonies in willows opposite the Harts Creek Hide

Kahu – Australasian harrier – Circus approximans

Kakianau – black swan – Cygnus atrattus
Karoro – southern black-backed gull – Larus dominicanus
Karuhiruhi – pied shag – Phalacrocorax varius
Kawau – black shag – Phalacrocorax carbo
Kawaupaka – little shag – Phalacrocorax melanoleucos
Kereru – New Zealand pigeon – Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae
Koitareke – marsh crake – Porzana pusilla
Korimako – bellbird – Anthornis melanura
Kotare – sacred kingfisher – Todiramphus sanctus
Kotuku – white heron – Ardea modesta
Kotuku-ngutupapa – royal spoonbill – Platalea regia
Kuruwhengi – Australasian shoveler – Anas rhynchotis
Matuku – Australasian bittern – Botaurus poiciloptilus
Papango – New Zealand scaup – Aythya novaeseelandiae
Piwakawaka – fantail – Rhipidura fulginosa
Poaka – pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus
Pukeko – Porphyrio melanotus
Putangitangi – paradise shelduck – Tadorna variegata
Puteketeke – Australasian crested grebe – Podiceps cristatus
Riroriro – grey warbler – Gerygone igata
Spur-winged plover – Vanellus miles
Taranui – Caspian tern – Hydroprogne caspia
Tarapunga – red-billed gull – Larus novaehollandiae
Tauhou – silvereye – Zosterops lateralis
Tete – grey teal – Anas gracilus
Warou – welcome swallow – Hirundo neoxena
White-faced heron – Egretta novaehollandiae

a juvenile black swan is not yet fully black

a juvenile black swan is not yet fully black

Introduced birds

Blackbird – Turdus merula
Canada Goose – Branta canadensis
Dunnock – Prunella modularis
Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
Redpoll – Carduelis flammea
Sparrow – Passer domesticus
Thrush – Turdus philomelos
Yellowhammer – Emberiza citrinella
Mallard duck – Anas platyrhynchos
Mute swan – Cygnus olor

three mute swan on Harts Creek

three mute swan on Harts Creek

 

 

 

Wild in the City part II – The Groynes

groynes strip
Christchurch New Zealand is blessed with a variety of places within the city boundaries where pockets of wildlife, especially our birds, continue to thrive. I’ve decided to feature these places in a series. This is the second.

The Groynes

The dictionary defines a groyne as a wall or jetty built out from a riverbank or seashore to control erosion, and it is just such a prosaic structure that has given its name to one of Christchurch city’s wild treasures, The Groynes Park.

The area now occupied by Christchurch was once part of a vast wetland of rivers and streams, artesian springs, swamps, small lakes, grasslands and native forest that abounded with life, especially birds.

papango ducklings are among the many species of birds at The Groynes

papango ducklings are among the many species of birds at The Groynes

With the arrival of European colonists came drainage for farming and settlement and the ‘taming’ of rivers within stop banks. As a result, nearly all that wetland has gone save for a few precious small and isolated remnants. The Groynes, though highly modified with exotic planting and groomed parklands, are one such remnant.

a mix of native and exotic vegetation

a mix of native and exotic vegetation

The groynes themselves were made from concrete-filled woolsacks. The sacking has long since rotted away leaving these squat, odd-shaped ‘bales’ around which surge the clear waters of the spring-fed Otukaikino Creek.

Along the borders of this creek has been created The Groynes Park. Weirs and excavations have created a series of long pools and small lakes and low falls that spill through a large area of exotic plantings, mostly poplars and willows, mixed with remnants of native forest. In spite of the large groomed lawns for picnickers and sport, and the manicured banks of the artificial lakes, much of the Groynes has a wild feel to it. Trees grow thick and un-pruned, the water is dark in their shadow and blackberries, bracken fern and ivy run rampant through the undergrowth, making progress all but impossible except on the designated paths.

black swan cygnets can be seen at The Groynes at almost any time of year

black swan cygnets can be seen at The Groynes at almost any time of year

Now, the landscapers have gone full circle. Their predecessors removed the forest and drained the wetlands, replacing kahikatea, matai, toetoe and harakeke with pines, eucalypts, alders, hawthorn, rowan and cotoneaster. Today’s gardeners are re-planting the native species and restoring marshy wetland; their long term vision to see the return of some semblance of the rich Canterbury plains wetlands with their tall swamp forest trees and associated wetland species (plants, birds, fishes, reptiles and insects).

raupo

native wetland plants like this raupo are returning

What is wonderful is that this eclectic mix of exotic and native plants sited in a blend of natural and human-created landscapes, is home to a remarkable array of animals, especially birds. In this world, too, exotic rubs shoulders with endemic. The European song thrush and blackbird root through the forest floor while a metre or so above their heads piwakawaka flit around, picking up the insects the larger birds have disturbed into flight.

fantail groynes

the piwakawaka hunts for insects among exotic and native foliage

The tiny silver-voiced riroriro cares not whether it hangs its nest from the flimsy limbs of a juvenile kowhai, or among the protecting spines of the hawthorn. Kuruwhengi glide across the ponds alongside introduced mallards, though the native bird distains the offerings of bread from visiting children that the mallards greedily devour. With re-vegetation of native species continuing, this mix of native and endemic species is continuing to develop.

the riroriro is at home in this mixed exotic/native landscape

the riroriro is at home in this mixed exotic/native landscape

On any given day the park rings with the joy of recreating humans barbecuing, playing ball, kayaking on the lakes, walking their dogs and fishing from the ponds. And, right beside them, the bird photographer can delight in a list of species that is impressive for a green island on the edge of a large urban environment.

On the water the native species include kuruwhengi (Australasian shoveler), tete (grey teal), papango (New Zealand scaup), black swan, coot, kawau (black shag) and kawaupaka (little shag).

the kawau is a regular fisher in The Groynes lakes and deep streams

the kawau is a regular fisher in The Groynes lakes and deep streams

Flitting over the ponds’ surface warou (welcome swallow) can be seen and kahu (Australasian harrier hawk) patrol the skies.

Pukeko wade the edges of the streams, kotare (sacred kingfisher) spy down from overhanging branches, and kereru (New Zealand pigeon) pluck the tender shoots of kowhai and willow alike. A lone koitareke (marsh crake) – ultra secretive birds – has also been reported.

pukeko will as readilly take the ducklings of exotic mallard as graze on the native pond weeds and shore grasses

pukeko will as readilly take the ducklings of exotic mallard as graze on the native pond weeds and shore grasses

The native forest birds include riroriro (grey warbler), piwakawaka (fantail), tauhou (silver eye), korimako (bellbird) and, in the spring, pipiwharauroa (shining cuckoo).

coot chick

coot chicks add a splash of natural colour to the pallate of wetland greens

Rare native bird visitors include karearea (New Zealand falcon), matuku (Australasian bittern) and kotuku (white heron).

Three species of gull also visit The Groynes, including the black-billed gull, which is endemic to New Zealand and the most endangered gull species in the world.

the black-billed gull rests at The Groynes and feeds in nearby fields where it takes insects and grubs from pasture

the black-billed gull rests and bathes at The Groynes and feeds in nearby fields where it takes insects and grubs from pasture

Their exotic companions include mallard, domestic geese and ducks, Canada geese, redpoll, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, dunnock, blackbird, thrush, Australian magpie, feral pigeons, starling, yellowhammer, cirl bunting (an uncommon and visitor) and skylark.

an introduced yellowhammer sings from a native ngaio tree

an introduced yellowhammer sings from a native ngaio tree

The objective for future plantings is to contribute to and maintain the park’s historical features, maintain wide open spaces and create new variable sized spaces, enhance the ecology of the riparian edges, and provide native habitat and ecological interest. This will improve ecological values and recreation for future generations.

flax

 

Wild city part 1

 

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Wild City (part 1)

Christchurch is blessed with a variety of places within the city boundaries where pockets of wildlife, especially our birds, continue to thrive. I’ve decided to feature these places in a series. This is the first.

One of the real taonga (treasures) of wild Christchurch is, perhaps, unexpected, given that it is in the heart of the city and is a totally human created landscape.   Well over one million people a year visit this place, yet it is possible to find unique New Zealand fauna thriving there.

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New Zealand fauna thrive there such as this korimako

Those who know Christchurch will, by now, have guessed that I am referring to Hagley Park and, within that park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

At 164.637 hectares, Hagley Park is the largest urban open space in Christchurch. It was created in 1855 by the Provincial Government, which decreed that it be “reserved forever as a public park, and shall be open for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.”

Human created but thriving with wildlife

Human created but thriving with wildlife

Of course, with a provincial Government bent on recreating ‘Mother England’ (Christchurch is famed for being the most English city outside of England) Hagley Park is showcase of introduced trees, mown grass fields dotted with feature trees, sports grounds and a manmade lake where youths (and the young at heart) would sport with their model sailing boats. The banks of the Avon River winding through it have been shaped to please the landscaper’s eye.

Where boys and men would sport with model boats

Where boys and men would sport with model boats

In a loop of the Avon River, bordered on three sides by the green expanse of Hagley Park, are the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Some 1.1 million visitors come to the gardens each year, making them one of the city’s most popular attractions. They are regarded as one of the finest collections of exotic plantings in New Zealand. Such is their age that those early trees planted by the English pioneers (beginning with a single oak) are now venerable giants casting their shade wide across the manicured lawns or leaning imperiously over the river as if they had always been there.

But not all of these gardens are an exotic salute to the gardener’s art. Natives have been encouraged back along the river banks; indeed following the recent earthquakes we have seen new shallow wetland bays created and filled with indigenous plants along the inside of some of the Avon’s bends, where water birds might once again build their nests.

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Native and exotics mix along the river banks

And near the river’s edge of the Botanic Gardens a large section of New Zealand natives has been planted and enhanced over the years and now represents a significant native collection in its own right. On the scale of things it is a comparatively small area, but it is wonderfully varied and enjoys the presence of many mature tall trees with their associated under-storey plantings; a ‘small but perfectly formed’ example of the indigenous vegetation that once covered thousands of hectares in the vast wetland that was Otautahi long before it ever came into the sight of European town planners’ eyes and received it’s religious moniker.

Mating monarchs unnoticed by passers by

Mating monarchs unnoticed by passers by

This is a perfect place to wander. It is an isle of peace in spite of it attracting so many people within its boundaries every day and being surrounded by wide avenues humming with traffic.

A summer stroller might be lulled by the gentle ripple of the languid river, the solid thwack of a cricket bat on ball and the clear laugher of children in the playground pool. A spring visitor will pause to admire the daffodils, breathe deep of the smell of the season’s first cut grass and hear the whiz of cyclists freed from scarves, gloves and balaclavas. Autumn revelers will dash through piles of rustling leaves and thrill to the long low light glowing softly through the yellow orange brown red leaves. In winter a crackling frost greets hardly golfers on the wide greens and ice may tinkle under the drooping riverside sedges.

Autumn revellers include bathing birds among cast aside leaves and fallen berries

Autumn revellers include bathing birds among cast aside leaves and fallen berries

But in any season gardens and park will chime, chirrup, cheep, chirp, coo and quack, for – perhaps because of its wide variety of landscapes, ecosystems and plants – they are a haven for birds; exotic, native and endemic. Fantails flicker as happily among the silver birches and oaks as they do among the kahikatea, ti kouka and manuka. Bellbirds drip their silver notes from deep yellow kowhai or from atop the tallest northern hemisphere pines. Kereru swoop from tall kahikatea to gorge on the spring tips of willows. A rare karearea swoops at speeds up to 200 kph onto feral pigeons.

where fantails flicker

where fantails flicker

In many ways this mixed landscape of native and exotic is the new, New Zealand ecosystem. The introduced has been here long enough to become established and the locals have adapted. European starlings feed on the nectar of harakeke and perform exactly the same pollination role as tui or korimako; pukeko tear down the heads of introduced cocksfoot to strip the seeds between their razor-edged bills; kotare are as happy to take goldfish as inanga.

Kotare are as happy to take pond goldfish as river inanga

Kotare are as happy to take pond goldfish as river inanga

Of course, the birds do not live on thin air. The park and gardens provide an abundance of insects, seeds, fruits, nectar, worms and other invertebrates.

insects thrive too and become food for birds

insects thrive too and become food for birds

Water plays a special role in both park and gardens. The Avon river winds through both and borders the gardens in a wide loop overhung with harakeke and willow, ti kouka and oak, kowhai and birch. The ubiquitous mallard is a feature here but also three beautiful New Zealand ducks, the wide-billed kuruwhengi, the sensationally-coloured putangitangi and the real life rubber ducky, the papango.

a kuruwhengi (New Zealand shoveler) duck preens her mate in the background

a kuruwhengi (New Zealand shoveler) duck preens her mate in the background

the striking female putangitangi (Paradise shelduck_

the striking female putangitangi (Paradise shelduck_

NZ's real life 'rubber ducky' the bouncy, perky papango (NZ scaup)

NZ’s real life ‘rubber ducky’ the bouncy, perky papango (NZ scaup)

You might also have to say that warou (welcome swallow) could be classified as among the park’s water birds too, for they are never far from it and are often seen skimming at speed just above the surface of ornamental ponds and Avon River alike.

in flight food delivery

in flight food delivery

I cannot ignore the introduced passerines. Finches, sparrows and dunnock, blackbirds and thrush, yellowhammer and cirl bunting (to name a few). Their songs add to the aural beauty of this inner city ecosystem.

Greenfinch bathing

Greenfinch bathing

Yellowhammer with breakfast

Yellowhammer with breakfast

This is the beauty of Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens; this comingling of native and exotic. It is a delightful paradox. At once tamed and groomed, entirely the creation of human gardeners; and yet it is, truly, also a wild place . . . wild in the city.

Native birds I have observed in Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic gardens (there might be others):

Kahu – Australasian Harrier – Circus Approximans

Karearea – New Zealand falcon – Falco novaeseelandiae

Karoro – Black-backed gull – Larus domincanus

Kawau – black shag – Phalacrocorax carbo

Kawaupaka- little shag – Phalacrocorax melanoleucos

Korimako – bellbird – Anthornis melanura

Kotare – Sacred kingfisher – Todiramphus sanctus

Kuruwhengi – New Zealand shoveler – Anas rhynchotis

Kereru – New Zealand pigeon – Hempihaga novaeseelandiae

Papango – New Zealand scaup –  Aythya novaeseelandiae    

Pipiwharauroa – shining cuckoo – Chrysococcyx lucidus

Piwakawaka – South Island fantail – Rhipidura fulginosa

Putangitangi – Paradise shelduck – Tadorna variegata

Riroriro – Grey warbler – Gerygone igata

Spur-winged plover – Vanellus miles

Tarapunga – Red-billed gull – Larus novaehollandiae

Tauhou – silvereye – Zosterops lateralis

Torea – South Island pied oystercatcher Haematopus finschi

Wharou – welcome swallow – Hirundo neoxena

all shook up - a kawaupaka (little shag)

all shook up – a kawaupaka (little shag)