Spring in the step

SES, 14 October 2020

The team go off piste in this month’s birdwalk



September 1st was Birdwalk Tuesday and the first day of Spring. But Winter had its last fling with a cold snap that rained on the river and snowed on our mountains that morning, 36 cm of powder that I would go on to ski the next day. Thankfully, the rain had stopped by 1pm when Chris, Justin and I set off, across the bridge and upstream again. It turned out that much of this walk’s interest would be ‘off-piste’ rather than on the trail.

The main event was four and twenty blackbirds pecking at the lawn behind Queen Victoria’s back. The glossy black birds are males, the brown females.

“The early bird gets the worm”, quipped Chris. These ones were certainly making the most of the worms enticed to the surface. The appearance of worms during rain is not because they would drown in their burrows. Instead, according to Scientific American, it is possibly because they take the opportunity to migrate over greater distances when the soil surface is wet rather than dry, as they need moisture to survive.

I shared with Chris and Justin that our South Island Robin has a shrewd behaviour of tapping the ground with their foot to make worms think it is raining. I’ve seen this up close in beech forest in the Maruia Valley.

Captain Cook’s statue sits on an axis running from the Hamish Hay bridge through to Queen Victoria’s statue. As we passed by I thought of how our understanding of this place has changed with time.

Three days earlier I’d tracked down an obscure limestone overhang in inland South Canterbury on which were remnants of Maori rock drawings. These possibly date back to before the first European arrival in New Zealand, before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between Maori and Queen Victoria. One figure in particular seems to be of a sea-going waka, with shelters on top, a ‘whaletail’ stern, and a Taniwha lurking below.

“…they recognise our shared cultural history and highlight that there is much more to the story of Victoria Square than a couple of colonial statues.”

In 1971 I remember seeing the floral clock just across the Hamish Hay Bridge – marking time in full bloom. The static clock hands are still there but no longer telling today’s time. In 2013 I photographed the ‘bookend’ uprights towering over Victoria Square, the remnants of a demolished hotel.

Now we have a new installation to reinvigorate the Otakaro River precinct: Mana Motuhake – two upended wakas carved by Fayne Robinson to mark the Treaty of Waitangi. Quite appropriately they recognise our shared cultural history and highlight that there is much more to the story of Victoria Square than a couple of colonial statues.

At the Town Hall landing were the usual Canada Geese, seven this time, waiting for the Ferrier Fountain to play again. This event was planned for three days later, on the Tenth Anniversary of the first Christchurch earthquake.

Further along at the horse-watering ramp were another seven geese and, a little further still, were Paradise Ducks, as always a pair. On the slate roof of the Law Courts several Rock Pigeons were camouflaged.

Passing Robert Falcon Scott, at home on his pedestal in the wintry weather, we got as far as the island opposite The Strip. Chris remarked that rats have been seen here in the past, swimming to midnight repasts at the restaurants. None dared show themselves this lunch time.

We then retraced our steps to the clinic, observing on the way the concrete pour into the Pier One pile of the (Non-Art) Bridge works, displacing water up and over into their water-trap, for flocculation of the silt before it was released back into our river. The concrete plug will be driven 20 meters down into the substrate to support the 200 tonne bridge superstructure through daily use and any future earthquakes.

Dr Allan Simpson


P.S. As if to underline the ‘off-piste’ nature of this Birdwalk’s observations we read in the Press a day later that the Black-billed Gulls had returned to Apocalypse Park to set up for the summer. Nobody had told them that the city council, DOC and the property owners had all decided that they should find accommodation elsewhere. We must have been lulled into bureaucratic complacency however as we didn’t even look for them on the first day of Spring!