The Kowhai tree on the reserve next to our property is in full flower. My intention has been to gather some very close up photos of the Tui feeding. So far I have been thwarted. The light has been wrong, the birds too wary of me, too many loud noises in the neighbourhood, a busy road, the speed of the birds as they harvest the nectar and tangled branches that obscure that perfect image.
I persisted today and have a few photos I am relatively happy with. Here is one:
However later in the day one of the Tui decided that the three Tom Thumb Bottle Brush bushes that are very close to the kitchen window had plenty of pickings to feed on. Repeated visits happened all afternoon.
Here is a selection of images that I am thrilled with.
Some of our learned scientists are wondering if New Zealand is experiencing a “masting” season after a warm winter which has seen plenty of rain fall.
A “masting” season is when the native trees produce an exceptionally heavy crop of seeds thus providing abundant food for many of our native birds and ensuring the regeneration of native trees once the birds have eaten the seeds.
There is a downside to a “masting” season as numbers of rodents and ground dwelling predators have an abundant food supply too which means young birds are at greater risk.
Before seeds come flowers and a “masting” season could account for the bounty of Griselinia flowers in my garden and the abundance of kowhai flowers on every Kowhai tree at the moment.
The air is full of Tuis here at the moment.
As I posted here they are enjoying a bath in our spouting before or after feasting on the kowhai nectar.
They like to preen and dry their feathers in the Griselinia trees in our garden before flying away.
These are the flowers of the Griselinia and are another favourite food for Tuis. I’m guessing these dainty delicacies are dessert after the main course of kowhai nectar. The tree is covered in these tiny flowers.
A few weeks ago I purchased this feeder for our garden.
The bottle contains sugar water which supplements food for the nectar feeding birds. It is my hope that the Tuis will visit the feeder during the months when their natural foods are scarcer.
We also lost our largest Kowhai tree in the June storm. It was a “maybe it can be saved” to a definite “no it cannot be saved” decision.
So the sugar water feeder was another offering to the Tuis in lieu of the tree they have enjoyed in the past few seasons.
My plans have gone somewhat awry with spring bursting into fullness here weeks early. The Tuis are currently spoilt for choice as every local kowhai tree is laden with the golden nectar-bearing flowers they adore eating.
We do, however, provide another facility for the Tuis and many other birds, in a rather more unintentional way.
When the spouting or guttering that channels rainwater off the house roof was installed, mistakes were made. The length was slightly short and the fall to the down-pipe was too shallow. This results in rainwater pooling at the higher end of the spouting. This provides the best bird bath in the world if daily numbers of birds using it is anything to go by. The Tuis being the largest of the bathing birds make a huge din and splash the water vigorously on to the concrete and parked car two storeys below.
I’ve been paying particular attention to the most mature Kowhai tree I have in the garden. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a tree for all seasons.
Let’s start with late spring/summer last year when these seed pods formed, dried off but which still contain the yellow seeds for future trees.
Just before this tree bursts into these beautiful flowers it loses many of its leaves.
The flowers appear from bare branches. However you will note that there are still some of last year’s leaves high up on the branches where no flowers have bloomed this season.
The Tuis have feasted on the flowers leaving a bedraggled look:
But from the tatters these brand new seed pods form:
And if that is not enough new leaves are uncurling like fern koru on the bare branches.
My Sophora Microphylla offers much to wonder about. Here is some more information about this remarkable native plant. I hope you enjoy the Maori legend and its magic and miracle borne of love.
“Kowhai is another of New Zealand ’s deciduous trees, actually termed hemideciduous. It loses its leaves just prior to flowering. In August and September the flowers arise from branches naked of leaf.
All New Zealanders who live close to nature welcome the kowhai flowers, as they signal the arrival of spring.
The flower of the kowhai is the national flower of New Zealand.
Like all legumes Kowhai have bacterial nodules on their roots that transfer gaseous nitrogen into soil soluble nitrates, an excellent fertiliser. Note the similarity of the seed pod to the other legumes peas and beans.
The seed is adapted for dispersal by floating which accounts for its abundance on stream sides, where floods carry the seeds throughout the catchments system. Native birds such as pigeon feed on the seed pods using the tough seeds as gizzard stones to masticate their food. Pigeons have been observed eating the leaf as well.
The seeds of kowhai have a dormancy mechanism, that being, their tough seed coat (testa) that is impervious to water unless nicked with a sharp knife or scalpel. Soak overnight and sow in a warm, sunny spot. Germination should proceed within 20 days. A plant 30-40 cm high can be attained one year after germination.
A Maori legend about the kowhai flowering
It is said that the Kowhai sprung from the shreds of the cloak of tohunga Ngatoro-I-rangi of the Te Arawa waka on its arrival to Aotearoa. The legend says that a young tohunga asks a girl to marry him while they sit under the bare branches of a Kowhai tree in the month of August. She replies that she will only marry him if he can perform some brilliant act. “I will show you what I can do. I will cause this tree to spring instantly into flower before your eyes.” He uses all his powers and the tree bursts into bloom, his final touch causing a ring of yellow blossoms to appear around the dark hair of the girl. Ever since, say Te Arawa, the Kowhai has flowered on bare and leafless branches.”
On Wednesday I posted a photo of the beautiful kowhai tree flowers in my garden. They were just waiting for the feasting to begin and suddenly it did. Tuis have visited the tree regularly all week, supping on the nectar. The Tuis are delirious with joy over this; their very favourite food.
Tuis are larger and heavier than blackbirds but swing through and around the slender branches on Kowhai trees with acrobatic ease as they harvest the bounty using their nicely curved beaks.
Today the majority of flowers look like this and the grass is gradually becoming littered with spent pieces of flower.
I am fortunate that across a fence on the reserve there is another Kowhai tree which is now providing another sumptuous feast for the happy, well fed Tuis.
As well as the air whirring at times as the Tuis swoop in or across the garden to feed, they also fill the air with their wonderful unique songs. It is a special time of the year right now.
I took my camera outside this morning to capture some spring photos.
The flowering cherry tree is in our garden.
Just over the fence in the neighbouring reserve is the kowhai tree that is being visited constantly by Tuis at the moment…..can you spot one feeding on the nectar?
And this afternoon, way off in the distance, amid road noise, other bird song, and the voices of children I heard the Shining Cuckoo. My guess is the Cuckoo is up at the end of our street in a larger, more secluded, wooded reserve. It has been a few weeks since I heard the first Shining Cuckoo of the season but the one today near my home is right on schedule!!!