Some people get a “bee in their bonnet”;
I have a bird on the brain.
It’s a bird I first heard while up in the hill farmland over Hawkes Bay, long before I saw it. It has a distinctive call. ‘Yarp, yarp, yarp, yarp…’ I asked one of the local farmers about it. He named it the ‘Mother-In-Law’ bird – really, the Spur-Wing Plover.
The farming community did not approve of it, as it is a ground nesting bird, making its scrape in the centre of an open space. It is also extremely protective of its scrape, at which one partner of the other is always in attendance, if not covering the clutch of eggs.
If any person or farm beast approaches too closely, they will rise and swoop ferociously at the intruder, screaming, and trying to rake their spurs – complete with poison glands – across any part they can swipe over.
I saw a couple in Palmerston North, in the front grounds of the Research complex. For weeks they strutted around their scrape. Staff there mentioned how the groundkeeper never mowed their real estate, leaving them a wide berth. One Monday morning, there was only one. I learned from a scientist there that they mate for life, and if one is killed, the other will stay around their site for years before giving up. I would see the lone mate on the peak of the roof, and hear it calling to its spouse. I fell in love with the bird, right then.
The next time I saw them was in Masterton, in a new housing area on what had been a football club’s ground. I left the car to move closer to the scrape, over which the pair were already wheeling. And, yes, they swept over towards me. They didn’t rake me – I’d lowered my head, and turned back to the car.
Now in Rotorua, I’ve heard a pair flying over our house during the evening, just around sun down, every autumn.
‘Yarp, yarp, yarp, yarp…’ I love their call. It’s as if one is calling to the other ‘Come on, I’m taking you home’, while the spouse calls back ‘I’m coming, I’m coming’.
I know where they go. I’ve seen their scrape one year, in an open green space between a clothing outlet and a large hotel. The space is so wide, truckers have, in summer, parked their rigs there for the public to see them up close, and rides are given to special children.
Last year, I didn’t see the Plovers – only their abandoned scrape, after a week-end’s ‘paddock bashing’ by hoons spinning across their nesting site that autumn. I only saw the mess of their scrape – two shattered shells, abandoned.
The marks of their tyres are still there now, along with the marks of a go-cart, being ridden by a child under Dad’s supervision, during summer when the plovers would have been back in farmland.
Today I caught some pictures of the couple.
They seem to have chosen a nesting site a little
closer to the hotel, but still with a
clear space for lookout duty all around them.
They may start their family.
They may get through the autumn and winter
without being disturbed, or killed. I hope so.
For better images than mine, visit the New Zealand Birds Online site… http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/spur-winged-plover and learn more about this raucous couple.