Today, as I was putting my son down for his afternoon nap, I caught the melodic, undulating song of what might have been a tui, but when I looked out of my son’s window the bush on the bank outside, it was the distinctive olive shape of a smaller sized bird that I saw. It was a bellbird – the first that I have ever spotted either around my home, or indeed, in Paraparaumu [click here to view map], the coastal town in which I live.
We live on what used to be peat-bog swamp forest, interspersed by ancient sand-dunes formed millennia ago when sea levels were much higher, and the coast was further inland than coastline today. Most of the forest was destroyed here, initially for farms (the subdivision on which I live was a working farm less than a decade ago), and there is almost no bush remaining on the plains in or around the town.
So it was astonishing to see a bellbird some distance from the nearest forest remnant [the closest being the Paraparaumu Scenic Reserve] – and ironic perhaps that it was the Australian Banksia (rather like the New Zealand pohutakawa, but with yellow flowers), that had drawn it to our garden with its nectar.
Apart from the Banksia – which being Australian, are pretty tolerant of dry conditions – we have endeavoured to use mainly indigenous (and especially coastal) species to plant our fairly sizable garden. The soils here are dry and sandy, and unlike our neighbours, who continue to struggle to maintain lawns (at great cost both in time and money), we have long since given in to nature, and instead planted our “front lawn” out in indigenous plants, interspersed with a bit of cosmos for colour. Not only does this attract more birds than our neighbours’ lawns, it has the added bonus of not needing mowing!
We certainly hope that an additional benefit of our labour-saving approach to landscaping will be more visits from the bellbird – next time long enough, I hope, for me to photograph it.
Click here to hear the song of the bellbird/korimako. On hearing the bellbird on his expeditions to New Zealand, Captain Cook described the bird’s song as sounding “like small bells exquisitely tuned”.
Photo top left: male bellbird (Photo: Tim Lovegrove); Above right: The yellow flowers of the Banksia on the old dune beside our house. Bottom: our “front lawn” – very easy on the lawn-mower (Photos: C. Knight). Please obtain photographers’ permission before reproducing photos.