Had an interesting little adventure last night.
We’ve been in about four days of uncomfortably cold, high winds, accompanied from time to time by rain. Down in the South Island (and probably on the Central North Island Plateau too) there is snow on the mountains, a friend from Karamea tells me. I’m not surprised.
Last night I went up to get the sheep in at about 5.15pm, I guess. They were up in the gorse and tea-tree on the hill, and though we called back and forth, they were not inclined to come – heads down, eating, from what I could see through the scrub. Alright, so I left them. They will come – it’s a cold night with dark, lowering cloud.
They didn’t come.
I went up again, about 20 minutes later – with the pot of nuts this time, rattling and calling. They were still on the slope and not about to come down. Finally Alphie the ram detached himself from the girls and came to the sound of food. I led him down to the shed and fed him, hoping they would follow.
Still they didn’t come.
I went back up a third time, leaving Alphie behind a loosely shut gate. Two-thirds of the way up the hill, he overtook me, heading back to his women. I decided to leave it a bit longer.
Back at the shed I did a few things – keeping out of a rain shower. Thank goodness I’d already fed the pigs and put them to bed down below, I thought. I almost felt like leaving the sheep to their own devices, but the good shepherd inside sent me up for a fourth time. It was getting darker.
Just above a little grassy plateau, I stood looking up at the ewes in the scrub, and suddenly realized I couldn’t see the lambs. “Where are the babies?” I asked the sheep. Then I spoke in the high-pitched voice I use to talk to the lambs, and immediately App, the younger ewe, turned and moved towards a little hollow in the hillside. Then I saw the little heads – they were sitting in a bunch. It was a very nice camping spot with a bit of overhanging tree trunk, but if it rained they were going to get wet, no doubt about that. And the wind was coming straight across from the north.
So grumbling and grumping, and feeling thankful that I’d brought a staff, I threaded my way up the steep slope through the tea-tree and gorse bushes, over fallen branches and clumps of long grass – which being wet were quite slippery.
When I approached the lambs they jumped up, then the whole party moved off westwards along the ridge, near the fence line at the top. That would do just fine – they were headed for a corner in the fence that would send them down off the hill and along towards the shed. I have an arrangement down there with two 10 foot gates that can be opened and hooked together to form a race leading into the place they have been sleeping in at nights. Fortunately, I’d left it set up ready, because I was still a little way behind them.
They all had feed – Alphie for a second time – and I finally got in home at about 6.30pm: nearly dark.
It’s always a good feeling at the end of the day to know that everyone is fed and in shelter. Especially when the weather’s bad. It HAS rained, several times, since darkness fell.
Acrylic on illustration board. – 10″ x 14″.
For prints, products and more details, click on the images.
My first thought, judging by the dark blue-green of the wings, was that this must be a young kingfisher. It also had copper around the wingtips and lower rump. Then when I turned it over, I saw the white breast barred with black and immediately realized it was a Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus).
Some books identify this as of ‘sparrow size’ and I can state absolutely that the shining cuckoo is definitely bigger than a sparrow (16cm + I’d say). This bird had a long split down the front of its chest, so I don’t think it was killed by my cat (now 20 yrs of age) – more likely blown into my cottage.
Shining cuckoos migrate down to New Zealand from the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands in the summer to breed, using nests of the Grey Warbler (Gerygone igata) to lay their eggs – one per nest – and they leave the tiny warblers to raise their kids. Fortunately, by the time the shining cuckoos are ready to lay, the warblers have already raised one litter, so all is not lost (isn’t nature wonderful?). But the young shining cuckoo definitely puts paid to the warblers’ second litter.
I had never seen a shining cuckoo ‘in real life’ before, and didn’t know I had them here, though I’ve always known we had grey warblers, because I heard them. I used a pair of shining cuckoos as part of the wildlife interest in one of the 36 paintings I did for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’, which I illustrated in 2011. Here’s the painting:
‘Fallen Giants’ – click on the image for more details.
I’ve now heard the shining cuckoo’s call on New Zealand Birds Online, and identified it as a call I’d been hearing lately. Was listening to the call outside this morning when I saw a fast flash of green wings across the grass to the trees where the sound was coming from, so I feel happy to know that the mate of the bird that lost its life (which was a female, I think) is not alone.
They are very fast fliers and spend much of their time hidden in the trees. So often one just doesn’t see these birds !