little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: birds

Mothers’ day song

20160508_153015_resized_120160508_153003_resized

This year’s Mothers’ Day post comes with a theme tune, lists and links. It was that kind of day.

Previous instalments
Paris
Non-ideal, but better than expected
Much improved

Rough timetable
5.30am: Wake to smoke alarm. No smoke, but alarm has to be dismantled to get it to stop. It’s on the hall ceiling, so the dismantling involves two children waking, a stool on top of a chair, and Ian’s long limbs. Awesome.

After that: Not much sleep.

Later: Rabbit comes in. Ian goes to make breakfast. Rabbit stays in bed to “keep mama warm”.

7.30am: Croissants and coffee in bed. Also, children in the bed. Cards and flowers. Lots of cuddles. Not too many crumbs.

Too much of the morning: Getting organised and doing stuff.

11am: Gorgeous outing to Pūrākaunui to collect cockles on a wide-open mudflat. Birds everywhere, and the water coming in.

20160508_141624_resized1pm: A feast of pasta, homemade tomato sauce and steamed cockles.

Afternoon: Idle parenting by the fire, chores, digesting.

6pm: Probably the last BBQ of the season.

Evening: A deep, hot bath. Bed.

Overall rating: One of the best.

 

 

Avian update

The fly-by bird was a bellbird, and she came back the morning. She’s kind of ungainly as she barrels in towards the feeders, and all the other birds scatter. Not far though, because she’s flighty and doesn’t stay for long.

 

Checking in

In a group I’m part of, we start and end meetings by checking in. We’re chatty, self-reflective types and also good listeners, so this process can take quite some time, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening in your life, and having a good ramble about it can reveal surprising patterns and responses.

I think this check in is going to focus on birds.

We put the birdfeeder up a few weeks ago, and the birds started coming to it last week. I can see the feeder from the kitchen window and from my office; typing or washing dishes while keeping an eye on a green-flecked bunch of birds flickering around the feeder is quite a few steps up from typing or washing the dishes without the birds.

So far, the customers have mostly been waxeyes, with chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes patrolling the ground below. But I think a tui did a fly-by a few minutes ago, so maybe she’ll come back soon.

It’s all very happy, except for the washing line situation. As mentioned in my previous post, the birds like to perch on the washing line while they psych themselves up for feeder negotiations. Then they poo on the washing and I have to re-wash it. This is sort of doubly frustrating because I already have trouble reaching half the washing line, so I’m already pretty grumpy about laundry duties.

Anyway, I guess we’ll move the line because I’m enjoying the birds too much to move them.

In other news, a youth group in the Valley is fundraising for a ski trip and I got them to dig over the vege patch yesterday. It was hilarious and wonderful in all the ways you might expect when you ask a group of teens to dig your vege patch. Two left after ten minutes when they realised the job was going to involve strenuous exercise and coordinated effort. The path is considerably muddier than it was before they started, but the patch is clean and fresh looking. They broke a pane in the glasshouse and left behind three shoes and a bucket. Some of them worked diligently and hard; some did flying leaps off the bank into the garden. The youngest and the skinniest and the biggest were the best workers. No-one stabbed anyone else, but it looked close a few times. A clump of lilies disappeared, but I wasn’t that fond of them. Maybe they’ll bloom in the compost heap. One boy did a beautiful job tidying the glasshouse and washing it down. The trays in it are neatly stacked and the mint has room to breathe.

I kept a quiet eye on the kids from my office as I worked on a copyedit, and I have to say, my feelings about them were almost identical to my feelings about the waxeyes. I loved them, but it was a rueful, charmed kind of love.

Strangely, while I was writing this, a bird flew past the window and I could swear it was a heron. I’ve never seen such a thing in suburban Dunedin, but it had a very heronesque bodyline and  it sure as shit wasn’t a seagull. It circled down towards the Gardens; maybe it’s gone to catch a fish.

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

P1010262.JPGSteve Braunias, How to Watch a Bird
The Cat was a fully-fledged birdo by the time he was one. I don’t know why — I was a brand new and desperately sleep-deprived mother, so who knows what I was thinking, every thought was of shining, crucial importance, shimmering with light and meaning, ungraspable, everything and nothing, over and over and over — but I spent hours sitting on the sofa with him flicking through bird books and telling him the names of the birds. He even had a bird book for meal times, which became so thoroughly encrusted with food that we had to buy a new one. We went on outings to places where we could see birds, we kept lists of birds we had seen, we bought binoculars and guides and found websites and painted pictures and basically it was birds birds birds until he discovered bus routes aged four or so. After that it was maps and bus journeys and bus poems and bus games and visits to the bus station, and then it was briefly dinosaurs and a short stint of car names, and then geography, and now soccer. Each time, his interest has been total, comprehensive, encyclopedic and consuming.

New Zealand robin, toutouwai (18cm): The robin is a small bush bird found in many lovely places, especially Ulva Island. The Cat saw robins at the Karori Sanctuary.

New Zealand robin, toutouwai (18cm): The robin is a small bush bird found in many lovely places, especially Ulva Island. The Cat saw robins at the Karori Sanctuary.

We eased off on the birds for a while, but the interest is still there in the background, as are the birds ever and always.

Somewhere in all that birding time, I read How to Watch a Bird by Steve Braunias. Before that, I’d read his Listener columns on birds and I’d started to notice birds, to see them in all their strangeness and familiarity. Australia helped, with its pelicans and parrots and fairy wrens and crows and magpies. You’d have to be blind and deaf to not notice the birds in Australia; they’re all colour and noise and foreboding and joy, and they’re right there every time you step out the door.

P1010453.JPG

Kea (46cm): The kea is a mountain parrot found mostly in the South Island high country. It is olive-green, with orange-red on its rump and under its wings. The Cat has never seen a kea in the wild, but he spotted them at Staglands and Wellington Zoo. He does a very good impression.

So I had those two birders, Braunias and my boy, reminding me to look, to be still, to wonder, to observe. But I didn’t think to bring them together until I heard Braunias talk at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. He was funny and cogent and even wise, and I realised that I wanted my son to read his book. I wanted the Cat to have stories and people to go along with the facts and numbers and maps and descriptions, and I got them for him, signed and inscribed by the author himself. It’s a lovely book and if you don’t have it on your Sunday afternoon bookshelf already, then your Sunday afternoons are not everything they could be.

The Cat’s verdict: ‘Pretty good, actually.’ The Cat never sugar-coats, so I’m taking that as high praise. Plus he’s quoting from it, which is the better sign really. A sample, to convince you:

Mandarin duck (51cm): The mandarin duck is a colourful Asian duck, which eats rice. The Cat saw this duck at Melbourne and Adelaide Zoos, and at Staglands.

Mandarin duck (51cm): The mandarin duck is a colourful Asian duck, which eats rice. The Cat saw this duck at the Melbourne and Adelaide zoos, and at Staglands.

Keith was very nearly a classic New Zealand birder — long and loping build, wears a beard, but came from Invercargill. He’s an accomplished artist. He lives in a house right next to the centre. It was a rather desolate spot, a sea breeze stirring the flax, and his only neighbours were birds; and yet, like me, he couldn’t drive. He hosts 12,000 visitors a year. There is a lodge at the centre for overnight accommodation — the day I arrived, a merry group of Lionesses were drying dishes and making lewd jokes.

Keith walked me towards the shore. As a bonus, there was a single white heron, white and absolutely enormous, reaching to the sky on its slender black legs. I could add it to my year twitching list of the black stilt, the terek sandpiper, and a very weird sighting of an albino oystercatcher. Feeding on the tide were 300 wrybills, about 500 red knots, and 1500 to 1800 bar-tailed godwits.

Eastern rosella (33cm): Originally from Australia, the rosella is a noisy, social bird with bright plumage. The Cat saw a flock of six rosellas at Orokonui Sanctuary near Dunedin.

Eastern rosella (33cm): Originally from Australia, the rosella is a noisy, social bird with bright plumage. The Cat saw a flock of six rosellas at Orokonui Sanctuary near Dunedin.

The godwits were slim — they lose drastic amounts of body fat on the long voyage to New Zealand — and small, and slow, and dazed, and greedy. Their sensitive bills probed the sand for movement. They feed on crabs by shaking the legs off one by one, and then scoffing the body whole. For dessert, they eat the legs. They had come all this way — light, precious things that witnessed cataclysmal horror, curdling temperatures, terraqueous distortions, all the rest — and I stood and watched them on a white-shelled shore on a cold afternoon. It was Friday, 15 September.

Superb lyrebird (100cm): The lyrebird is a remarkable songbird found in the bush of south-eastern Australia. The Cat saw a superb lyrebird at Adelaide Zoo. In the 'Life of Birds' DVD, David Attenborough listens to a lyrebird making the sounds of a chainsaw, a kookaburra, a camera, and a car alarm.

Superb lyrebird (100cm): The lyrebird is a remarkable songbird found in the bush of south-eastern Australia. The Cat saw a superb lyrebird at Adelaide Zoo. In the ‘Life of Birds’ DVD, David Attenborough listens to a lyrebird making the sounds of a chainsaw, a kookaburra, a camera and a car alarm.

Braunias writes about birds and birders, and about himself and New Zealand too. It’s like an avian social history ethnologico-geographico-zoological guidebook memoir, but really more like a  rambling walk on the seashore with a kind, wonderful, sharp-tongued friend, and what better for your nine-year-old son as he figures out who he wants to be and what he knows and what he needs to learn.

Bellbird, korimako, makomako (20cm): The bellbird is a songbird, endemic to New Zealand. It drinks nectar, and loves sugar water. There are lots of bellbirds at Granny and Dada's house and at Taieri Mouth. The Cat also heard bellbirds at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Bellbird, korimako, makomako (20cm): The bellbird is a songbird, endemic to New Zealand. It drinks nectar, and loves sugar water. There are lots of bellbirds at Granny and Dada’s house and at Taieri Mouth. The Cat also heard bellbirds at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

After reading the book, we took the Hoopers Inlet road home from a soccer match at Portobello. We dropped over the hill and saw the inlet plunk down in front of us, curved and graceful and quiet and full of birds. Swans, herons, kingfishers, pied stilts, spur-winged plovers, oystercatchers, paradise shelducks, ordinary ducks, pukeko, the lot. The Cat’s antennae lifted, he named each bird he saw, told stories, showed his little brother this feathered, mud-shanked, fish-catching, sand-probing, greens-foraging world. He became a birder again, and his own gentle, clever, funny self. I ruffled his hair, looked at the water, drove home.

* The pictures and captions are from a calendar the Cat made for Christmas 2009, and he would like to point out that he was not yet four at the time.

Blue-crowned parakeet, kakariki (32cm): The Cat made this bird up. It is slightly larger than its cousins, the red-crowned, yellow-crowned and Antipodes Island parakeets.

Blue-crowned parakeet, kakariki (32cm): The Cat made this bird up. It is slightly larger than its cousins, the red-crowned, yellow-crowned and Antipodes Island parakeets.

P1010448.JPG

Royal spoonbill (78cm): The spoonbill is a wading bird, which sifts the water for small crustacea. The Cat saw spoonbills at Manawatu estuary and in the crescent lagoons on the road to Port Chalmers. The first spoonbills of the season are rightly greeted with the cry, ‘Welcome back, spoonbills!’

 

Little shag, kawaupaka (56cm): The little shag is the most common of the fresh-water shags. It feeds on fish, crayfish and eels, diving from the surface of the water. The Cat saw two little shags on wood and water in the Hutt River.

Little shag, kawaupaka (56cm): The little shag is the most common of the fresh-water shags. It feeds on fish, crayfish and eels, diving from the surface of the water. The Cat saw two little shags on wood and water in the Hutt River.

Piwakawaka, fantail (16cm): The fantail is a companionable bush bird, which finds humans useful for stirring up insects. One afternoon, the Cat saw three fantails together at the Nursery.

Piwakawaka, fantail (16cm): The fantail is a companionable bush bird, which finds humans useful for stirring up insects. One afternoon, the Cat saw three fantails together at the Nursery.

Korora, little blue penguin (40cm): Little and blue is a good way to describe this bird. At Moa Point, signs warn cars to slow down so the korora can cross the road to their burrows. The Cat saw korora swimming at Stewart Island.

Korora, little blue penguin (40cm): Little and blue is a good way to describe this bird. At Moa Point, signs warn cars to slow down so the korora can cross the road to their burrows. The Cat saw korora swimming at Stewart Island.

Banded dotterel (20cm): The banded dotterel is an elegant wading bird, which breeds only in New Zealand. In winter, it migrates to the North Island and to Australia. Daddy saw a dotterel at Pencarrow Lakes, where they lay their eggs on the beach. Now the Cat and Mary want to go there.

Banded dotterel (20cm): The banded dotterel is an elegant wading bird, which breeds only in New Zealand. In winter, it migrates to the North Island and to Australia. Daddy saw a dotterel at Pencarrow Lakes, where they lay their eggs on the beach. Now the Cat and Mary want to go there.

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
godwit
kingfisher
pelican
spoonbill
robin
shag
plover
kea
bellbird
crane
heron
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
avocado
pistachios
chocolate
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
oranges
peaches
eggplants
poisson cru
tomatoes
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits
bacon
lasagne

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner
insulation
flowers
light

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
honey
mustard
fennel seeds
yoghurt
parmesan
sea salt
pepper
tomato sauce
mint
coffee
a book
a friend
quiet

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
em-dashes
en-dashes
ellipses
semi-colons
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
accents
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally
spaces

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden
tulips
crocuses
sweetpeas
roses
azaleas
ferns
mint
thyme
sage
peas
beans
lettuces
zucchini
potatoes

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
rain
sun
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
music
writing
banter
a kiss
friends
seeing something through my children’s eyes
lunch
supper

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

%d bloggers like this: