White-faced Heron Gully!
A breeding pair of white-faced herons, croakily vocal and day-time active, have been treating the gully and surrounds as home territory for a month now. In contrast, the gully’s owls have gone quiet, as they do in spring when they’re sitting on their nests and rearing their broods.
A first for the gully: white-faced herons at home there; and a first for a gully fir tree up near the house chosen as a nest site. But not the pair’s first choice; it’s late in the season, even for down south, to be nest building.
A fir tree so close to the house; a white-faced heron perching, no more than half-way up a gully willow (instead of their near the top preference); scouring the gully for worms, insects, spiders and much else besides; clutching sticks from the gully floor in their beaks for the construction of a nesting platform. Such behaviours surely positive signs that they see us as of little threat.
We still trigger hurried take-offs, though, when they decide we’ve got too close to where they’re foraging – I estimate at anything from 10 to 20 metres. I’ll be walking towards the hen house sited at the base of the fir they’re nesting in and be as startled as the heron feeding lower down the slope: with a stretch of wings spanning a metre, its half kilogram weight gets airborne with powerful, slow, deep wingbeats.
A nor’west gale with gusts of up to 140 km/hr huffed and puffed and blew their first house down. Surveying the damage close-up, you’d think, after all these years, I shouldn’t be surprised (but I still am!) to find the old man pines snapped off rather than uprooted. Under New Zealand conditions, perhaps the pines grow too fast to build sufficient lignin strength in the core of the trunks and branches to withstand such powerful and direct onslaughts.
Late winter- early spring, three or four breeding pairs built new nests or refurbished previously used ones. Young reared on the nesting platforms built near the top of old man pines in a farmer’s paddock, the trees less than a hundred metres from the west-facing side of our house. I assume that the same birds, who mate for life, migrate every winter from coastal areas to our inland site. We first noted the settling in of a pair of herons several years ago, and now that there are more, it’s likely that some of the herons fledged here are now returning to rear their own broods in the pines.
Two old man pines, a mighty oak, and four other firs are in the same cluster as the fir tree near the house favoured this year. The white-faced herons, for several months of the year, grace us with their presence, so, as far as we are concerned, they’re welcome to regard that clump in the gully as an insurance policy of sorts!