Just before dusk, the birds all break into an noisy uproar of chatter, roosting, sharing stories of their day; it gets loud. The lovely cacophony stacks in distinct layers, it’s especially loud from the tree tops. The doves with their confiding tones fill in the middle range of sound. The tui are always the joyful weirdos of percussion, all day and into the night. ( find sound clips of tui and doves in the previous post) As dusk arrives, crickets join the chorus with their cheery metallic sound.
When true dark arrives, we hear the possums nearly nightly now, when the white sapote fruit falls in abundance. The possums startle us with their hissing, engine trying-to-engage cackle, scrapping around in the bush. The Brits here say it’s a dirty old man sound. Our cottages are in the shadow of a fine big, spreading Casimiroa tree that drops its big sapote fruit when ripe, kachunk on our tin roofs, where the posssums clunk around in the night, heavy footed, eating, hissing, cackling loudly. From Newshub, June, 2019, among the eighteen documented distinct sounds include “grunting, growling, hissing, screeching, clicking and teeth-chattering calls, many of which would not be out of place on a horror movie soundtrack.”
Possums are one of many mammals brought to these islands to solve a problem that in fact created a much larger problem. At home in Australia, possums occupy a cozy niche, here they do not play well with others. Brought to build a fur trade in 1837, and with the island’s abundant edible flora and no predators, possums are now a menace to local fauna, kiwi birds and Kiwi farmers.
The ground, too, between our cottages is covered with fallen, smashed fruit, half eaten by possums. The fruit brings an infinity of fruit flies and bugs and then grubs that are part of the insect life cycle. The grubs bring me to the best part of my story (perhaps a unique sentence). Grubs are a favored kiwi food, which they dig up with their long beaks, with nostrils near the ground end, oddly. Three full days of April rain apparently generated a perfect kiwi habitat between our cottages, softening the earth beneath, full of grubs and worms and fruit, all kiwi’s favorite nibbles. Three days of rain gave us four nights in a row of compelling kiwi calls outside our window. The kiwi calls are reminiscent of the whippoorwill call, very breathy, keening and melodic.
We view our kiwi experience as a sub category of our exceptional luck to weather a pandemic in the safety of New Zealand, to hear kiwi, and be in their presence. Our human hosts in the forest remark how unusual and special it is to witness the beloved and rare kiwi bird.