Meanwhile, the sun’s just 20 minutes above the horizon. Corridors of light slip through gaps in the terrace-edge vegetation to slide across the evening paddock; shadows creep out from under the mahoe, the lacebark, the dense tangle of native passionflower1, the kennels. The blackbird’s still working hard out there, foraging for worms, pursued by his fully fledged brood. They should be quite capable of finding their own tucker, but instead they’re just a few hops behind him: “Feed me!! Feed me!!” The poor old guy’s looking utterly frazzled, scrawny-necked and almost bald; looks as if he’s on chemo but he’s still going hard out. It’s that irresistible imperative: reproduce!—even if it kills you.
Through binoculars I watch a kereru2 drink from the stock trough then rise with powerful wing strokes, sweep around and alight next to a slightly smaller, slimmer bird. He—I assume he’s a him, and I’m probably right—shuffles along the branch until he’s almost touching the other bird. He dips his beak to his chest, pulls his head back, and fluffs every feather on his body and shivers. It looks as if those berries he ate have exploded inside him, but I suspect what’s on his mind is something quite different from indigestion.
She edges away and drops to a lower branch, out of sight. The sun’s about to drop out of sight too; it’s left the paddock, but while there’s a little light left the blackbird family still fossicks among the wiry, seeding grasses. The breeze is cold, so I go inside, thinking about birds and families; imperatives and responsibilities. I’m glad I’m not like that harrassed blackbird. I’m not yet ready to be bald.
1 Passiflora tetrandra; kohia.
Photo 1: This is NZ's endemic tui, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae. The background tree is the introduced black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia.
Photo 2: Kohia flower (see footnote 1). It's just over 1 cm diameter.
Photo 3: We had another thunderstorm a couple of days ago. The rain obscured most details, creating a beautiful aerial perspective on the far side of the valley. [Disclosure for the pixel pedants and grain gurus—I've added the noise].
Photos and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor