Risque Bathing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Without hesitation she began to bathe, right in front of me!

Submitted: May 28, 2017

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Submitted: May 28, 2017



Risqué Bathing

You’d think she would have at least showed some decorum! There I was plainly in sight, not only in sight but with my radio loudly on talk-back! Not three meters away, she took the time to eye me, check me out, and with only slight hesitation, she began to bathe! Every now and then she would cast an eye in by direction unconcerned at my gaze. Normally I would have lowered my eyes but her beauty was such, I just couldn’t look away!

I couldn’t resist that! I had been working in the nursery all day, while around me the birds went about their everyday rituals. There was the Kereru, our woodpigeon with blazing white breast. In the past a favourite food for Maori, but now like all our indigenous birds, they are protected. The pair fed on the leaves of the tree lucerne, and then flew onto the power lines to digest their fibre-rich lunch. Heads bobbing and cooing to the sound of the radio.

There was the grey warbler, Riroriro, with its plaintive, sweet call. Rarely seen, feeding on insects hiding among the branches and in bark fissures. Likewise the fantail, Piwakawaka, with a fan for a tail, which allows it to turn sharply in the air catching insects on the wing, I could hear its beak snapping shut! Always, good company because they flit about hoping my movement will send insects into the air. The little, green waxeye, Tauhou, a busy little bird in small flocks feast on small insects; aphids and mealybugs. They have good camouflage so you hear them before you see them. They aren’t shy, so joined me for a time.

The Tui, dressed in iridescent black with a tuft of white feathers under its chin, the obvious colonial name was parson bird. Tuis disappeared from around here for a couple of decades but in the eighties they began to rebuild, so now there is a substantial resident population. They have a noisy wingbeat and can be tuneful, mocking my whistles and the sounds of other birds. But when they really get going their song is a level that’s inaudible to me. When there’s nectar they will find it, but they eat insects too as well as berries and seeds. They are territorial tykes, which is why they chase off bellbirds, Korimako, which feed off a similar resource.

Joseph Banks, when he visited New Zealand for the first time with Captain Cook in 1769, wrote this about the bellbird. ‘…awakd by the singing of the birds ashore… their voices certainly the most melodius I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but the most tuneable silver sound imageinable.’  Those glory days are over due largely to introduced predators; cats, stoats, rats and possums. I recall pig hunting during 1965 and 6 when my dogs bailed pigs, amid the evening chorus, I couldn’t hear my dogs barking below me for the vocalisation of the bellbirds! The evening chorus nowadays comprises only a few birds in the same area and is barely audible.

The male bellbird is a deep, glossy olive green colour with shades of purple on his face, sometimes the purple is enhanced by purple pollen of the tree fuchsia, which in season is a good source of nectar. A mate of mine did a thesis on bellbird calls, making recordings all over the country which proved they have localised dialects. The female is less flamboyant, dull olive-brown, with a slight blue sheen on the head and a pale yellow cheek stripe. Bellbirds usually mate for life.

I had been working in my small nursery listening to talk-back on a subject I had found interesting. Finished storing my begonia corms, I sat down in the last of the sun’s late autumn rays to listen to a wise authority of the subject under discussion. Not three metres away I have a half-drum, which is my water supply for the nursey and as I sat there a female bellbird landed on the rim of the drum. She was alert as all birds have to be, watchful of predators or a Tui, which is likely to zoom in on a dive-bombing raid!. Her small red eye focused on me and she changed position with a little hop to directly face me. Either confident I was no threat, or enjoying the talkback, she hopped into the water, while floating she turned to keep an eye on me then ducked under and flapped her wings in there. Hopping back out of the water she shook herself, and with the foot she either washed or expelled water from her ears. She repeated this process half a dozen times, unafraid of me but cautious. Each time before her dive, she quickly scanned of Tuis. It was a fascinating watch.

The last time she shook herself, cleared her ears, she hardly paused before flying off into the greenery to join her fellows in a search for insects.


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