Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Magpie Marauder?

The morning of New Year’s Day was marked for us by the appearance of a magpie in the back garden, the first time we’ve seen one there. While we ate breakfast on the patio the magpie lingered, watching us. All the smaller birds flew busily back and forth and warned each other that there was an intruder. Inside Ziggy slept on, oblivious.

Magpie in the back garden

I snapped a photo with my camera, but when I moved closer the magpie flew away. I remembered a rhyme that I thought said One for luck, two for joy, but when I looked it up I found that the traditional nursery rhyme about magpies actually says:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for Gold,
Seven for a secret
never to be told

The fear that a lone magpie will bring bad luck is common throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Victorians were so afraid of magpies that they hunted them nearly to extinction.

However, before the spread of Christianity the magpie was an important symbolic bird often associated with good luck or fortune. The Romans believed that the magpie was highly intelligent with excellent reasoning abilities, and in ancient Greece magpies were sacred to Bacchus the god of wine. According to Wikipedia the magpie is one of the most intelligent birds, and the only one known to pass the mirror test where an animal is proved to perceive the reflected image as an image of itself.

Some tribes of Native Americans believed that wearing a magpie feather was a sign of fearlessness, while others considered the magpie to be a sacred messenger of the creator, or even a guardian with shamanic properties.

Magpies are known for their inquisitive and mischievous nature which meant they earned a reputation as thieves with a particular liking for jewellery and other shiny objects. If a precious ring went missing it was easy to blame it on a magpie.

Rossini wrote a tragicomic opera entitled La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) about a French girl accused of theft who is tried, convicted, and executed. Later the true culprit is revealed to be a magpie and in remorse the town organises an annual Mass Of The Magpies to pray for the girl’s soul.

Over time, the notion that magpies were bad birds morphed into the idea that magpies will bring bad luck, however, as the nursery rhyme shows it is generally only seeing a lone magpie that is supposed to bring bad luck.

I personally prefer the pre-Christian idea that the magpie is associated with good fortune, especially now that a lone one has visited our garden.

I shall remain quite undeterred
by defamation of this bird

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There were new things to see on this morning’s trip to Turanga.

New mural

A new mural on the fence beside the Cathedral seems almost to invoke Julian of Norwich.

In Armagh Street the endangered black-billed gulls are nesting again.

Gulls on nests

The site owners weren’t quick enough to deter them so they’ll have to be left alone until breeding is finished.  I feel sorry for the people in quarantine in the Crowne Plaza opposite who can’t quite see the nests, unless some guests on the upper floors have strong binoculars.

A fine waka is moored on the river near the Manchester Street bridge.


Commercial waka rides are due to start soon, and will be an unusual experience.  I’ve been on the Otākaro in a canoe and in a punt, but a waka will be a novel experience.

A mural, birds, and waka too
each day we can see something new

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A few minutes ago I was looking out our bedroom window, and was absolutely delighted to see a mother duck with a family of ducklings – the first mallard babies I’ve seen this year.  I was not so delighted that they were right beside busy Barbadoes Street.  After I took their photo I encouraged them to retreat further on to the field, shooing them towards Oxford Terrace, in the hope that they will head for the river.  I counted ten ducklings, but fear there may not be as many tomorrow.  My neighbour suggested I pick them up and take them home, but I don’t think Ziggy would approve.

These ducklings with their mother duck
to grow up strong will need good luck.

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A pair of plovers is often seen on the field opposite our cottage, but they don’t usually make much noise.  This morning I heard a raucous calling which at first I thought was seagulls.  When I looked across I saw four plovers, where previously there have been only two.

Four plovers

Are these offspring from a previous breeding season, I wonder?  I’ve always understood these birds to be plovers, but have had difficulty identifying the type of plover.  Does anyone know?  They are grey with white face and front, black on top of their head and round their neck.  I would have liked to get a closer photo, but when I moved nearer they flew away.  Once I was back inside the gate they lined up beautifully with their white fronts on display.  Oh for a telephoto lens!

My bird book does not seem to cover
this specific type of plover



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Our snacks at South City’s Robert Harris Cafe were eyed hungrily by the resident sparrows.  We noticed how they sing very different notes to the blackbirds in our garden.  Stephen couldn’t resist their cheeky chirps and generously left flakes of pastry for their delectation.  Some were fluffy young ones.  Don’t their parents feed them?

They dived in like a pair of arrows
no holding back for these two sparrows

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Old friends are precious and there are fewer of them these days.  Some have died, others have moved overseas.  It takes time to establish relationships, and it’s always a particular pleasure when an old dear friend comes to visit.  Christi was on holiday from Melbourne, and I was glad to be able to share some of the sights of her old home town with her.

We spent the morning walking around Travis Wetland.  I’d expected we’d see baby birds there, and the highlight was this swan family:

Swans & Cygnets


Christi on the Travis Viewing Tower

After lunch at home we went to see the Fantastic Feasts exhibition at the Teece Museum in the Arts Centre.  I love this Museum, and visitors often appreciate it.  Our next stop was the Riverside Market, where there are lots more stalls since my first visit.

The Butcher’s Mistress


Coffee stall

We sat and delighted in the atmosphere, while sipping a hot drink.  In one of the nearby laneways we discovered the Beehive Collective, an enticing shop with many local items suitable for taking/sending overseas.

A visit to the Kate Sheppard Memorial led to the discovery of a paradise duck family on the riverbank.

Paradise ducklings

On our way home we admired the hundreds of endangered black-billed gulls nesting in Armagh Street.  It was so good to catch up on each other’s lives, and to share some new experiences.

I can most highly recommend
the joy of time spent with a friend

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The black-billed gull, found only in Aotearoa, is the most critically endangered gull on the planet.  They usually breed on inland riverbeds, but a colony of 300 has become established in central city’s Armagh Street, on the old PWC site, and they are building nests there.  It’s wonderful to be able to peer through the fence and see them.

This site has recently been bought by the Catholic Church who plan to build a new cathedral there.  I hope their planning process includes consideration of these rare gulls.  The Council wants to attract more residents to the inner city, but I don’t think they were expecting avian residents.  I look forward to seeing the babies.

This site’s appearance once was dull
until discovered by the gull



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Broken Bird

This blackbird has been hanging around our garden for a couple of weeks now.

Despite having only one leg she has no difficulty flying up onto the fence, and she enjoys a bath at the top of our waterfall.  This morning she kept me company while I was weeding the patio.  She may have assumed I was kindly dislodging small grubs for her delectation.

It’s just as well Ziggy is too lazy to be interested in chasing birds.

She likes to see what can be found
as I pull weeds up from the ground

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We were very fond of the chooks we had in Auckland.  Starting with Brown Shavers liberated from a fowl factory, we moved on to Chinese Silkies (both black and gold), and even an English game bird.

Brown Shavers

All the hens were confined to an area of the back garden, from which they occasionally made daring escapes.  They kept us supplied with eggs, and provided pleasant companionship.  One hen would happily ride around on Stephen’s shoulder.

By the time we were preparing to leave Auckland we had just one chook left, and I sent a message out among our friends to see if someone would offer this geriatric chook a retirement home.  Marion from Coromandel generously offered sanctuary on her small farm and we duly drove down to install Henny Penny in her new abode.

As we sat and sipped tea and chatted I admired the flock of quail which wandered across the driveway, and was taken aback to be told they were considered an annoying pest.  Marion said she often shot them, and indeed had a freezer full of the little corpses if we’d like some.  We hastily declined this offer, preferring to enjoy the sight of live quail.

After we’d settled in Christchurch we received a postcard from Henny Penny to say that she was happy in retirement and had even been enjoying some attention from the resident rooster.  She made no mention of any quail companions.

I’m fond of birds of any feather
and wish them harmony together

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Never was a bird

Using wert in an online Wordscraper game reminded me of the saying Bird thou never wert, probably the only memory I have of that word.  I’d forgotten what came before and had to look it up to be reminded of Shelley’s To a Skylark which begins Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!  Bird thou never wert.  The latter line has become a peculiar way of saying You never wereWert is itself a peculiar word these days, and does not appear in my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary except as an archaic form of the present subjunctive of be.  It’s amazing how many of these ancient words linger in the subconscious until they’re needed for a word game.  I’m lucky it was considered acceptable in Wordscraper.

All this got me thinking about birds.  Jonathan Franzen says they’re amazing.

Did you know that the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was originally started to fight against the trade in feathers to adorn Victorian women’s hats?  In the late 19th century thousands of birds were killed and marketed for their feathers, a practice decried as Murderous Millinery.  In 1921, the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act was passed, forbidding plumage from being imported to Britain.

As I sit under the walnut tree on a warm summer day a blackbird chirps incessantly above me, but I can’t see her.  Maybe she never wert.

‘What is the singing that I heard?
Perhaps it never wert a bird.’

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