The secret life of birds

This trip is already starting to feel like a precursor to Little Huia, where I shall become one with the bird empire! While doing long drives I alternate between three audio narratives: music, Japanese language lessons and audio books, and with regards to the latter so far I have been thoroughly enjoying an audio book called Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead, which discusses the behaviour of birds based on their senses… I was initially most interested in the chapter on hearing, but the explanations of all sorts of behaviour provides invaluable insight into why & how birds do what they do… Its a great book and it is especially interesting when you are actually interacting with birds!

Today I drove an hour north of Westport, to the end of the road as far north as you can go on the West Coast, past Karamea to the southern end of the Heaphy Track. It was a recce for recording BIG SURF (once this incoming swell actually arrives) and my memory of a great beach location was accurate – I just need that swell to arrive to re-record in much higher resolution the old file (16bit 44.1k MKh416x2) in my library labelled WAVE EXPLOSION…

Anyway while I was wandering around I noticed a fantail flitting about the flax bush beside where I parked. It was mostly chasing insects but I also noticed if another fantail strayed into its area it saw it off in a manner reminiscent of my childhood memories of Tye fighters in Star Wars… So when I went back to grab my camera I also grabbed the bird caller I had stashed in my camera bag – if there is one bird those bird callers can actually imitate it is the chirps of fantails, so I was intrigued to see its reaction….

bird caller

As soon as I started chirping louder than it was, I was scoped out, straffed & fake frontal assualted, all while I tried to follow it & focus long enough to grab an image… As per that audiobook, it was definitely relying more on hearing than image to assess the threat – I don’t much look like a fantail, but it was totally aggressive in sizing me up! And all I could do was smile at its ridiculously adorable silver eyebrows!

bird caller

bird caller

bird caller

Next I headed inland, into Kahurangi National Park & I literally had to slam on the brakes any number of times & jump out to take photos! If there is anywhere in New Zealand that I wouldn’t be surprised if a TRex or a Moa was discovered, it would be in this area – miles and miles of primordial bush!

Kahurangi National Park

Stopped at a carpark by a bush walk, chirped with my bird caller for ten seconds & this super friendly Weka came wandering straight over… I realised/presumed it was hungry so gave it the only food I had with me – 3 ginger nut cookies (anti nausea for the ferry crossing!) – mostly it ate all the fragments I threw it but one chunk was too big for it to swallow, so I sat & watched as it demonstrated how it dealt with that scenario: it dropped it on the ground & then gracefully pecked it with its beak, reminding me of another of the chapters from that book….

bird caller

I kept an eye out for other humans – I’m not sure you are supposed to feed wild birds, it only encourages that sort of behaviour etc… There was only one other car in the area, but I soon realised that the whole time we were being observed, but not by a human – by this tiny silent Robin

bird caller

I’d blame Aardman Animation except I know its not their fault – but it is impossible not to anthropomorphise birds – their image & behaviour inevitably gets interpreted as character traits… And why not? They probably do the same for me!

BTW I’ve heard them twice, recorded them once many years ago, but Wekas make the most amazing sounds at night! Will definitely have to try and do a late night recording session during this trip – magic sounds!!

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