Following a period of southerlies the wind has changed to the north and we now have low cloud and warm rain. The days are noticeably drawing out and forest growth is evident. Epiphytic Brachyglottis kirkii is flowering down in the Waiparuparu stream valley and is in bud near the house. On the 17th August, within the estate, we found the first flowering native clematis of the year. In previous years flowering has occurred further down the 309 long before first flowering on the estate, which has been at the end of August or early September. Beside our drive there is a single dark red tubular flower of the shrub Alseuosmia macrophylla.
Again, flowering is earlier than last year. Judi has found a new species of fern for the estate, which on initial examination she thinks is – Polystichum richardii.
The dawn chorus is now composed of both native and exotic songsters with tui, bellbird, tomtit, grey warbler and silvereye being joined by blackbird, song thrush, dunnock and chaffinch. In the years we have lived up here we have never seen the numbers of tui and kereru that are around the estate at the moment. Tuis are singing everywhere and in fine still weather there are almost constant aerial chases through the bush around the house. I am not certain if these are territorial disputes or simply related to competition for food. I have seen flocks of more than twenty birds. As many as seven tuis at a time are apparently feeding on honeydew from sooty mould that covers the upper branches of a mature pukatea beside the drive. Elsewhere tuis are busy feeding on lancewood berries, which are prolific this year. In fine weather several tuis have been making aerial sallies after flying insects.
Numerous kereru have been feeding in the taraires, which is good for forest sustainability, as the big fat purple berries need to pass through the pigeon’s digestive system if they are to germinate. Harriers have been displaying high above the forest. When they fly low over the bush they spook the kereru and this is a good opportunity to estimate numbers. Although we have seen a flock of more than twenty birds and groups of half a dozen are common, these numbers pale in comparison to a flock of nearly 200 birds in the Whenuakite kiwi management area near Tairua.
In other bird news, swallows have returned to hawk around the house and three were present yesterday. This morning I had to release a starling from the fireplace. Starlings are only seen occasionally on the estate so this bird must have been prospecting for nest sites and fell down the chimney. The only other bird that has done this was a swallow. They don’t seem to be any the worse for their experience! A lone kaka has been flying over the estate in the last few days and today two spur-winged plovers were mobbing a harrier over the grass paddock. Previously, I have heard plovers calling at night over the estate (on the acoustic kiwi call recordings) but they are rarely around during daytime. It will be interesting to see if they stay and attempt to breed.
Next month I will begin the fifth year of 5 minute bird counts through the estate. These give a direct comparison of bird numbers year by year. It will be fascinating to see if the high winter counts of native species is reflected in the spring survey.