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

 

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