Today, this blog takes you on a visit to Tawharanui Open Sanctuary. Here is the general area. It's a little less than an hour north of Auckland (90 km). The Tawhanui peninsula is in the top third of this map. The Sanctuary is a 588 hectare area behind a predator-proof fence at the end of six kilometres of winding gravel road.
A vast number of native tree and shrub seedings are being grown and planted to reestablish cover on the peninsula.
Here is the old wool shed that is used to host find-raising activities like the annual 'Art in the Woolshed'. This March (10 - 18) it will be a celebration of the ten years since the sanctuary was started.
There are plenty of parrys and pooks (paradise shelduck and pukeko) everywhere we look.
First we pass one of the wetland areas. I can't see any spotless crake, bittern or fernbirds today, but they are known to be here.
Most of the peninsula is open pasture grazed by sheep, with pockets of bush (native forest) and fringed with beaches backed by dunes. As we saw, there's an extensive planting programme underway that is slowly but surely returning this 'inland island' to forest. In the meantime sheep share the pasture with hundreds of pukekos - the ubiquitous blue swamp hen common throughout Asia and other parts of the world.
On the top road the open panorama is a bit drizzly today, but on a clear day, would be breath-taking.
(click to see this image better)
A gull poses in front of a pohutakawa near the beach. Around Christmas these 'NZ Christmas Trees' are a spectacular mass of tiny crimson flowers.
This is Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) in the distance. Its name means 'resting place of the wind'.
In a little ponded area we see two Scaup ducks - Papango. They are the relatively common diving teal duck, but are becoming rarer despite the new environments offered by the hydro dams in the South Island. The photo below is what they look like up close. They have a distinctive pale ring around the eye.
We stop for a walk in the bush out of the light rain. The magnificent iconic tree the kauri is under threat from a fungus-like pathogen. It's thought it came from the tropics to New Zealand and there seems to be no cure. As it's spread by root contact with infected soil, we need to clean our shoes with the scrubbing brush and disinfectant spray that is just inside the gate.
I like the beach, but the bush is my favourite place in New Zealand. It envelops us and reveals its forms slowly as we move along the path. Our host begins to quietly click her tongue and zip her fingers on her jeans. She's calling a little bird that frequents the trees just inside the gate.
About twenty paces in, the local friendly North Island Robin comes to check us out. It seems fearless. Imagine the time before predators were introduced to New Zealand, when all the birds were this tame. TOSSI is working so that Tawharanui can be like this again.
Then, a few steps further on, an even more precious experience, for me, at least. A bellbird begins to chime up in the canopy. The sweet bell-like notes wash over me like honey-flavoured cold spring water. I crane my head for so long trying to catch a glimpse that my companions comment how much easier it is on the neck when looking at their favourite birds - the shore waders. But at this moment I wouldn't wish to be anywhere else, as it's only the second time I've heard a Koromako (Kor-roar-maa-kor). Captain Cook described the bellbird as sounding like '... small bells most exquisitely tuned'.