To Jemicy’s M Group, in the middle of your annual migratory bird study: I’m with you in spirit! What have you seen so far?
Twenty or so years ago, my family gave me a pair of binoculars for Mother’s Day – and a whole new world to explore. It was perfect timing, coinciding with the North American spring bird migration. Even though there is no comparable seasonal inland bird migration in New Zealand, I celebrated this weekend once again with my binoculars. Now that I have learned many of New Zealand’s common forest-dwelling birds by sight and song, I’m enjoying using the binoculars less as a tool for identification, and more to simply enjoy observing bird behavior. Such as:
Takahe graze by tipping their heads sideways, so that their heavy bills can better grab short grass stems.
Kakariki (red-crowned parakeet) feed themselves millet with their feet, but pluck flower buds off of shrubs with their beaks.
NZ robins are incredibly agile foragers, flipping and holding leaves and bark with their toes.
Kereru (NZ wood pigeons) delicately pluck the small fruit of the cabbage tree, now that their favorite tawa fruit are out of season.
The pied cormorant chicks are growing feathers, trying their wings, and still begging for food.
Tui use their brush-tipped tongues to get nectar – and also make very strange sounds.
Fantails – well, fantails are almost too fast for binoculars!
Along one of the densest tracks in Zealandia, I heard the sound of a small bird shuffling through leaf litter. Assuming it was a robin, I paused and ruffled some dead leaves by the path to attract it. But this bird – which showed itself but wasn’t fooled by my ruse – wasn’t a robin.
The bill was not the right shape for a sparrow, though it had brown and gray plumage.This bird was not shaped like a thrush either. It was too big to be a warbler, and in the wrong place, and behaving differently. I ran through my mental NZ bird directory several times, took as many photos as I could for later verification, and made a mental record of the bird through my binoculars until it finally moved out of sight.
Once back home, I went to another favorite tool – NZ birds online – to help me find my bird. Mystery solved! It turned out to be a bird that is fairly common, but still unfamiliar to me – a dunnock (Prunella modularis). It was introduced to New Zealand from Europe in the late 1800’s and has become naturalized everywhere but in the far north of the country. Most likely I have seen it before, but dismissed it as something else. The binoculars, though, enabled me to absorb richer, more distinct qualities of form, motion, and color than I could have perceived with just my eyes. With the dunnock now secure in my mental catalogue, I’ll be on the lookout for it.
Now I just need some night vision goggles for the last birds topping my list: morepork (an owl) and kiwi…