On the way down here the other day we stopped to do the very short Blue Pools walk. There are many short bush walks off State Highway Six, and we thought the girls might enjoy the sight of the trout in the Makarora River.
However the water was (as advertised) the milky blue of glacial runoff, and we didn’t see a thing in there (though the water was very pretty). But I had gotten completely diverted by another sight: something I don’t think I have ever seen before: lots and lots of Riflemen.
(In fact, up until that point I don’t think I’d ever seen a Rifleman at all. They are New Zealand’s smallest bird; the adults are a lovely bright green and are presumably named after the famous British greenjacket rifle regiments of the Peninsular War.)
Usually this particular area is short of birdlife apart from the introduced blackbirds and the occasional tomtit (has DoC been poisoning the rats and possums? I hope so). But as we were walking down to the river I kept hearing little whistling calls, lots of them.
When I stopped and let the girls go on ahead, I could see what was causing the calls: little swarms of tiny grey birds skittering up the trunks of mossy trees, then from woodfall to woodfall, then across the leaf litter. They’d cross each other and turn and bicker, then split and hop: always active and fast.
They appeared to be shepherded by green birds about the same size, and it was at this point I realised that what I was probably seeing was families of riflemen, with their mother or father.
We passed at least three groups of birds on the short walk; each of at least four to seven in number. And on the way back, R. and I managed to get B₂ to slow down and see what was in front of her (both girls had been a bit put out by the lack of excitement in our little enforced sidetrip, and sadly R₂ was not at all receptive to sights of seemingly drab little birds) and we were well rewarded with a couple of the chicks working their way closer and closer to us across the leaflitter until they were within about 2 meters of our feet.
Just at that moment though there was a flash of green and a flurry of wings and whistle between us and the chicks; and they fluttered quickly back to a safer distance. One of their parents had spotted them getting too close to us, and had chased them away, telling their incautious children off in no uncertain terms.
It was a beautiful moment.