5.5.06


Among the many wonderful things seen, heard and done at Bluff / Rakiura, there are some that keep recurring in my mind's eye. Monday was a day off, we were in Oban and our time was our own. I decided to walk over to Maori Beach, a little to the north of Half Moon Bay, where I had been on my only previous visit to the island. It was a longer walk than I remembered, a good four hours there and back, the first part of it down sealed or metal roads where houses were and people lived. Then you went into bush, climbing through a link in a massive sculpture of an anchor chain coming out of the sea below. This because in Aotearoan mythology the North Island is a Te Ika a Maui, the fish pulled up from the ocean by Maui, the South Island is the waka or canoe he was sailing in and Rakiura, or Stewart Island, the anchor stone of that canoe. There were small birds waiting at the gate to welcome or to guide: a miromiro or tomtit:


and another I could not identify. The track undulated along the shore line, running down to small wild sandy beaches then climbing to the saddles of intervening headlands. On one of these saddles I was summoned by the sound of a tui:


singing close by and stopped to listen. The bird, a male, was sitting on a branch only a couple of metres away and, silhouetted as it was against the pale green underside of the leaves of forest trees, with glimpses of blue sea beyond, I could see it clearly both in the round and in profile. The tui is a mimic and I could hear in its song the calls of various other birds but the most extraordinary thing was that I could also see its tongue. It's a honey-eater, so its tongue is adapted for insertion into the cups of flowers with a brush like tip for gathering the nectar ... but from this vantage it was black and lithe and changeable, thinning and elongating beyond the tip of the beak to a dark rapier-like point then retracting and thickening to make the more guttural, throaty sounds, the clicks and clucks and churks. The bird was calling to another across the valley, so that after each aria it would pause and cock its head, waiting for the reply; and then reprise; and so on. I don't know how long I watched and listened, a long time, until it finished and flew away, with a flash of superb blue-green, in the direction of its rival or fellow. Later, at Maori Beach itself, wandering in soft muddy sand up the river bed at its further end, I saw a flurry in the shallows and scooped out of the water a baby flounder, hardly bigger than a fifty cent piece, which lay quite still in the palm of my hand until I re-immersed it in the inch deep water and it slid away and before my very eyes, as they say, turned itself into a piece of ribbed sea sand, almost imperceptible even though I'd watched it perform its act of camouflage; had I not, I'm certain I would not have been able to see it at all. There's a swing bridge over that river, leading on into the wilderness but, as it was last time, I didn't have time to go any further ...

2 comments:

chiefbiscuit said...

Ah yes ... What beautiful photos you took of the tui and such. What a wondrous island with its very own atmosphere ... I must go back some day - soon. :)

Martin Edmond said...

yes, a wondrous place - but not my photos, I found them on the web. whoops. Sorry about that, chief.