Gathan Beaga

a new sound

In the last week or two there’s been a change in the bird chorus, particularly at dusk. I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but I often found myself thinking of this:

…long summer evenings after a thunderstorm, the scent of pine and grass heavy in the cooling air. It’s the crib at Lake Hawea: the rain has driven off the noisy hordes with their jet-bikes and egg-beaters and it’s mostly silent except for the muffled sound of the band at the pub a kilometre away. And the bellbirds. Having spent some time at the Grevillea outside the window they are standing off in the trees announcing their presence with short bursts of liquid notes, clear and loud…

So I only realised tonight that the bird sound I was hearing was probably a bellbird, and not a tui. It’s taken me that long to connect the feelings of vague nostalgia I was getting with the sound from outside. Apparently bellbirds have been missing from Wellington for decades, so that’s why I hadn’t heard them before. They’ve been breeding from some translocated pairs in the Karori Sanctuary and now we are getting the benefit of the spillover.

In Central Otago it’s the bell-birds that are relatively common and the tuis rare. Once, I was picking apples (a classic holiday job), standing on the very top of an old rickety wooden ladder. A bell-bird landed in a branch just a metre away and, fixing me with one malevolent eye, it bugled once. I jumped, only just staying upright after a bit of flailing about, the ladder wobbling under me. I would have been toast if I’d fallen off. The bell-bird just kept looking at me, and once I’d regained my balance, it flew off.

I hope it got a good laugh.