By Jo Halley
Kaikomako Pennantia corymbosa
Kaikomako means “food of the bellbird”, referring to this tree’s small black berries that ripen in autumn, which are much relished by bellbirds, tui and kereru.
This is one of my favourite small native trees. It starts out with a distinctive divaricating juvenile form, with an abundance of small, three-lobed leaves on a bouncy, hummocky twiggy bush. After a few years, new growth with larger, toothed leathery leaves appears out of the top, and gradually the tree assumes its rounded adult shape, up to 12m tall.
In late spring the kaikomako bear clusters of small, white, sweetly scented flowers that can almost cover the whole tree. Male and female flowers appear on separate trees.
Kaikomako are common on the West Coast, liking open situations, and bush fringes, as far up as 600m.
Maori used the hard kaikomako wood as part of their fire-lighting kit. A well-dried, sharp pointed stick was rubbed along a groove in a piece of softer mahoe or pate wood, until the dusty residue that formed caught alight.
This is a great tree to grow for attracting birds to your garden, easy to grow and not too large. Plant a few to be sure of getting a fruiting female tree.
By Jo Halley
Ruru “Morepork” Ninox novaeseelandiae
Ruru is our only remaining native owl. Its call is an iconic sound in the New Zealand night-time, “more-pork, more-pork”. Luckily the ruru has adapted reasonably well to human impact on our landscape, and can be found in gardens in suburbia, as well as in forests.
Moreporks are a small owl, only 30cm long, and with a 70cm wingspan. They are a pretty tawny brown, some are quite dark, others lighter; with flecks and bars on their feathers, and bright yellow eyes. In the daytime they roost in thick forest or scrub, and I sometimes disturb them as I make my way amongst the Paparoa forests.
Nesting takes place in hollow trees or burrows in October and November. The female incubates the 2 or 3 eggs on her own, but is fed by her mate at this time. The pair keep a territory year round, and families stay together some weeks after the chicks have fledged.
Ruru feed mostly on insects, especially weta, and also small animals and birds, which they spot in the dark with their huge eyes, and swoop on with silent wings.
Other common ruru calls are a shrill, loud “cree cree cree” and a “warm-up” low-pitched “graw graw graw graw graw”. They are commonly heard at night in the Croesus Hut area, and are regulars at the kiwi crèche, where in the absence of predators, there are plenty of insects and mice.
Grey Warbler “Riroriro” Gerygone igata
By Jo Halley
Riroriro are among few native forest-dwelling birds to have adapted and thrived, since New Zealand was settled by humans and their suite of introduced mammalian predators. They live in a wide range of habitats throughout the country, predominantly in bush or scrub.
These tiny birds weigh less than a $1 coin!! They are dark grey above, whitish underneath, and have a startling red eye. Male riroriro have the loveliest wandering, warbling song, very often heard just before rain. They are kept very busy singing on the Coast!
Because of their small size and drab colouring, grey warblers are hard to see. They don’t often get close-up, like fantails or robins. I have sometimes seen them under my veranda, collecting spiders, caterpillars and beetles from the rafters. In winter they often join flocks of brown creepers, along with silver-eyes and fantails, moving together through the forest canopy.
Grey warbler nests are very beautifully made. They hang down from twiggy branches like a small, mossy rugby ball, and have a small entrance in the side, usually covered with a built-in porch. They start breeding in August, with a second clutch in November. Sometimes a shining cuckoo will lay an egg in the nest of the second clutch, leaving the riroriro to repair the damage, and incubate and raise the hungry cuckoo chick. It is surprising that grey warblers continue to be common; I think the cuckoo lucked out on picking this species to raise its young, thus ensuring its own species’ survival.
Riroriro may be heard singing at any time of year along the Croesus Track. See if the rain comes after!
By Jo Halley
Kamahi Weinmannia racemosa
Kamahi is one of our commonest native trees. It’s very predominant in West Coast forests, associating with podocarps, rata, beech and quintinia. It is very obvious at the moment, as it is in full flower.
Growing up to 25m, kamahi is a mid-sized tree. Often multi-trunked, with smooth, light-coloured bark, it is found from sea-level up to about 800m in the Paparoas.
The flowers can be white or pinkish. They are very prolific, upright racemes, sitting like candles on the outer foliage. They produce copious nectar and provide a large reliable honey source for bees. I haven’t ever seen tui or bellbirds feeding on them, so I don’t know who this nectar was intended for, before honey bees came to NZ.
Seed capsules ripen the following autumn and are soon open, with seed germinating quickly. Kamahi is a great tree for erosion control, and will rapidly colonise slips and damaged forest areas.
Kamahi is very common on the Croesus Track, as far up as the bushline.
Jo Halley is our kiwi ranger. Below is her account of catching Jessie – a ONE released kiwi that lives in the ranges behind Blackball.
“Fran (one of our volunteers) came with me to check on Jessie’s harness, in the hope Stamper would be with her. Stamper lost his transmitter last autumn after I couldn’t catch him. Sure enough there was someone else with Jessie but whoever it was, sneaked out as we approached and gave us the slip…very Stamper – like behaviour! Fran said it was a very big kiwi, so it may have been an adult female instead. Jessie is still very small but her bill is too long now for her to be a male. She is living in nice regenerating forest between Roa and Kinsella Peak, and we know Rata and Stamper live nearby. She stayed put in her small roost and was very quiet while I changed her band. Maybe next visit in 6 months, we’ll get lucky with Stamper….”