Gathan Beaga

rūpahu

This has turned into a bit of a twitchery bird-nerd posting.

I love the sound of bellbirds. They remind me of two places that I don’t get to as often as I’d like these days: the family farm, where three or four bellbirds pass by many times each day on their circuits of the area; and around Lake Hawea, where outside of the Christmas and Easter holiday periods they’re just about the noisiest things in the whole sleepy township.

Bellbird in a beech tree, Central Otago, April 2011

For me bellbird song has come to represent holidays and relaxation. Every time I hear one my mood lightens and I just feel that little bit cheerier.

Each bird has a different call pattern. When staying on the farm I eventually learned to recognise each individual there when they called; and in one case, I captured some audio on my phone:

This is the sound of the male in the photo above; and a very handsome beast he was too (here’s some more pictures of him from April 2011).

So you can imagine how happy I am to hear any in the neighbourhood here in Wellington. They’ve come and gone in the last few years - they are not overly common but as Zealandia’s breeding programme continues, and the Council keeps trapping rats and possums, they are increasing in numbers a bit.

There’s been one around for much of the last month… or so I thought. My happy reveries were interrupted when I noticed that what I thought was a bellbird singing was, once I spotted the singer, actually a gangly juvenile tui, much like this one:

Juvenile Tui at flax, Wellington, December 2008

I was a bit unreasonably annoyed. Now, every time I heard the “bellbird”, I’d feel a little flash of dissonance. Was it a real bellbird? Or a fake? So I named the tui Rūpahu.

Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. Tui are great imitators, and juveniles in particular will pick some environmental sound, copy it and repeat it every minute or two for all the daylight hours (and more) - sometimes even car alarms and other, odder noises. Which meant that Rūpahu had to have learnt the song from somewhere.

And so it turned out. The other morning I thought I heard two bellbirds. I crept outside to have a look… and there they were. Rūpahu in the cherry tree; a bellbird in the kowhai tree about eight metres away from its copyist. Both making the self-same song, note-complete with the same whirrs and buzzes too, and often at the exact same instant as if in stereo. It was slightly surreal.

I managed to record them, though sadly the phone’s mic is mono so the full effect is lost:

But if you listen carefully you can just about detect that one of the calls is a slightly different pitch. I couldn’t distinguish between them at the time.

Since then I’ve seen the pair of them around a few more times. I suspect that young Rūpahu is a bit confused hanging about the bellbird like that… but I’m happy that it has had such a good singing teacher, and happier still that we have a bellbird around.

Long may they both remain in the neighbourhood.

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