A wild goose chase?

SES, 31 July 2020


This month’s birdwalk proves anything but…

Chris and Justin joined me for the July Birdwalk. Starting out I expressed my anxiety that one of these months we might see nothing new. I might be taking them on a wild goose chase. I needn’t have worried!

First up was our lone Little Pied Shag, still perched on the same branch as last month. He was keeping vigil on his tree above the water by the Colombo St Bridge, where new road markings indicate the ‘road narrows ahead’. Grey light washed through the bare deciduous trees silhouetting many empty nests as we crossed the narrows. We skirted the triangle of evergreen pocket native forest at the north end of Victoria Park and followed the river upstream.

Exactly twenty Canada Geese were milling about the bank opposite the Town Hall Faux Fountain, presumably staging a protest at its continued lack of function. I made a note to take it up with the council on their behalf.

We strode on briskly, the further to get before we had to turn back, passing the Hamish Hay Bridge. This was built in 1864 but renamed after our long-serving mayor in 1989. We came across possibly the same two Paradise Ducks we had seen last month, this time camped at the river’s edge. They were on the horse-watering ramp, which was built in 1865 after a horse drowned in a deep hole nearby. Further along two more ducks suddenly grumbled a wintry discontent before taking flight downriver on an unknown errand, ramping up their honking to the evocative high country sound we love.

As we passed the coalescing Conference Centre, in a sightline through the Square, we spotted the Distinction Hotel. It had been in the news that morning as the latest Covid-19 managed isolation facility. It was here Chris used to work in the 1980s, when it was called the Housing Corp Building. She started in the typing pool and also worked on the phones making connections using a plug/cord switchboard. Times have changed.

As we neared Kate Sheppard’s Memorial I pointed across the river to the graffitied, long-vacant Harley Building. The second floor used to house Jim Hay’s practice. 1989 must have been a big year for Jim. It was the year they named the nearby bridge after his cousin, Hamish. And it was the year I took over his practice, where I would work for ten years until joining Southern Eye.

And then exactly ten Canada Geese materialised from under the Worcester St Bridge, gliding guilelessly downstream in formation, each slipstreaming the one in front. Where were they heading so synchronously?

“With half-time up we tried to retrace our steps but three sentries guarded the ramparts of the bridge.”

Beyond the Worcester Street Bridge we encountered several beauties almost at once. A Korimako was singing in another pocket native forest, first in a beech tree and later in a kowhai just starting to burst into flower, like the bird’s bellsong. This was a first for the Birdwalk. And a pair of Black Swans sailed in to the Punt Landing, touting for custom. They were so forward that we got an excellent view of their striking bills, seemingly painted in Swiss flag colour: a white bar near the white tip on a red base.

With half-time up we tried to retrace our steps but three sentries guarded the ramparts of the bridge. Two of our endemic and summer-favourite Black-billed Gulls were working as henchmen to a noticeably larger and bossy Red-billed Gull, the former with black legs to match their bills, the latter with bright orange. Fortunately, Chris had the foresight to take photos and they soon let us through.

We marched quickly back downstream stopping only when we saw where the ten geese had got to. Was it a joint decision or had a leader decided? They were back on the grassy bank, grazing beside Anthony Gormley’s ‘Stay’ sculpture. Yes, they may have been staying for a little while. But we had to get back to clinic.

Allan Simpson