On and Off the Water

Recently we have had very little rain, so I welcomed last Wednesday’s rainy day (or was that Tuesday?) Time has this crazy habit of melding. Melting. Shifting. It’s a tricky thing, that old man time. (Take it away Louis and Jimmy)

While on my walk today, what a surprise to see black swans on the inlet.

Black swans – Andersons bay inlet

Info from Te Ara encyclopaedia: About 100 black swans were brought to the South Island from Australia in the 1860s, and the species has traditionally been regarded as introduced. However, numbers increased faster than expected, suggesting more birds arrived independently – in which case it should be considered a self-introduced native.

To add to the intrigue, in Aotearoa /New Zealand, the extinct native swan, previously named Cygnus sumnerensis, is now thought to have been the same species as the black swan.

More from Te Ara: Black swans are partially protected, and are hunted in season according to regional limits. About 5,000 are shot each year.

Some other interesting Swan Facts (not pertaining to black swans, however) found on-line: (In the UK) Outside the royal household, only one group of people can legally hunt and eat unmarked mute swans, and that’s the fellows of St John’s, Cambridge. While the origins of this scholarly privilege are unclear, the college has swan traps built into the walls of the college along the river. Fortunately for the swans, these are no longer used and, according to St John’s, there is no record of swans being eaten at the college since 1896.

And here I am in Cambridge, with my friends Chrissie and Phil, in October 2016, swanning down the River Cam past the very same St John’s mentioned above – although don’t ask me to identify the actual building, as I’ve long forgotten

In fact, the British monarch owns all unmarked mute swans in open water in the UK, but the Queen only exercises ownership on certain stretches and tributaries of the River Thames around Windsor.

In Australia this bird is a regional symbol of both Western Australia, where it is native, and the English town of Dawlish, where it is an introduced species.


Recently on my walks, I’ve been seeing the spoonbills feeding, their iconoclastic, ebony bills sweeping the bottom of the inlet for food. Although if it’s high tide, they’re more likely to be sleeping on the Bird Roost, bills tucked away under snowy feathers as they wait for low tide.

Facts from NZ Birds Online HERE: In 1977 the New Zealand population was estimated at 52 birds. The most recent estimate (in 2012) was 2360 birds. A colony and nest count during the 2013-14 breeding season found 19 colonies with at least 614 nests.

In the three photos above, taken by me in November last year, characteristics of spoonbills’ breeding plumage can be clearly seen – as outlined in this description from the same NZ Birds Online: During the breeding season, adults grow distinctive long white crest feathers on the back of the head or nape, up to 20 cm long in males. The crest is raised during mating and displays revealing pink skin beneath. Breeding birds have a creamy-yellow breast, a yellow patch above each eye, and a red patch in the middle of the forehead in front of the crest feathers.


Toetoe grass acting as an elegant frame for the inlet
Autumn-coloured blade on one of the harakeke / flax bushes growing in our garden


Recently we have had very little rain, so I welcomed last Wednesday’s rainy day (or was that Tuesday?) Time has this crazy habit of melding. Melting. Shifting. It’s a tricky thing, that old man time.


I’ve noticed the ducks starting to settle by calmer waters, maybe in readiness for winter, or possibly escaping from duck hunting season in about six weeks from now. They know.
A blaze of flowers. The last of the summer wine in this hemisphere


Today an annoying mechanical / electrical device from somewhere on our street, has been growling like some wild, suburban-jungle animal and disturbing what would otherwise be a calm autumn afternoon with no wind. My Japanese daughter in law couldn’t get over how noisy New Zealand suburbs are. Once alerted to that fact, now I also notice the noise. It seems there’s always someone hammering, sawing, noisily mowing lawns or otherwise disturbing the peace. How is a person expected to take a nana nap?

A more welcome disturbance is the sound of kids getting out of school. I hear the clatter and clamour as they joggle and scramble down a sloping footpath to their pick up point. With their backpack-schoolbags they look like a swarm of brightly coloured, revved-up turtles.

From our house, the school is on the opposite side of a small valley, or dip, which acts a little like an amphitheatre. Even though they are about 150 metres away, sometimes on a still day it’s possible to hear the mothers talking from where they stand and wait. As I look over at them, it’s like I’m not only looking from the other side of this little sound shell, but also from the other side of the thirty-odd years that span the time between now and when I was a young mother. They look so young.

They say time is relative. Unless you take off into space for ten years and arrive back younger than your twin sibling …. Or wear a watch on your ankle … But now is not the time to get into all that relativity stuff. If I need proof of how mysterious time is, all I need to do is look out my window at three o’clock every school day and watch the kids making their way to where their mothers stand waiting for them to arrive.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

2 thoughts on “On and Off the Water

  1. Thank you for this fascinating and informative post. Great to see those spoonbills. When we were in NZ we only managed distant, fleeting views.

    I was a student at Cambridge University in the mid-70s and had a friend at St John’s College. I’m sure I remember him saying that, at ceremonial college feasts, a stuffed swan (one prepared by a taxidermist, not a chef!) was displayed on the top table, presumably to remind those present of the special privilege that college members were graciously foregoing in the interests of avian conservation.

    Your first Cambridge photo is of the Trinity College Bridge, dating from 1764. The second is the wooden Mathematical Bridge which crosses the River Cam to link two sections of Queens College. Originally designed in 1748 (but rebuilt twice) it’s one of Cambridge’s most recognisable and photographed structures. However, the story that it was designed by Sir Isaac Newton is a myth (he died in 1727). Your third Cambridge photo is the iconic view of Kings College chapel (on the right), with part of the much less well known Clare College on the left.

    Sadly you don’t have a shot of St John’s College in this post, though you will definitely have seen it on your punting trip. Viewed from the river St John’s is most famous for the iconic Bridge of Sighs, built in 1831. For interest there are a couple of shots of St John’s, including one of the Bridge of Sighs, in this post I wrote after a 2019 return trip to Cambridge: http://64reflections.home.blog/2019/09/18/cambridge-my-old-stamping-ground/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Thank you so much for all that amazing information.
    My trip / punt down the Cam with UK friends was memorable – a very fond memory of a short trip I made across to see them when staying with my son in Berlin.
    The swan info is fascinating also. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Much appreciated and sorry, but I only located this response today, so hence delayed reply.

    Liked by 1 person

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