Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stoats and Anzac Day

Every day a wax-eye pair come and work over the apricot abutilon (Chinese bells) flowers for nectar. They cheat and peck a hole at the base of the flower. As the tree is covered in blossom they do well.

It’s ANZAC day. Little River had an impressive Memorial Gate to the Domain. During my youth the whole community in Sunday best attended the service. The old diggers with their ribbons marched before going off for a beer and a yarn. At school we were given lectures about service. At the end of World War 11 few names needed to be etched on the Gates. Admittedly there had been depopulation but the slaughter was not nearly so great as in the first world war. Dick, my stepfather, used to regularly attend until a particularly bellicose speaker irritated him so much he stopped going. He was opposed to the secularisation of the holiday though. ‘They’ll want racing next’ he said.

After reading my blog Auckland friend Rosemary Stagg sent this email:
‘I am pretty sure you say somewhere that you have never actually seen a stoat. Ken and I have a very conflicted attitude to them. On the one hand they are a ruthless predator of native birds and we have been faithfully looking after a couple of lines of stoat traps for Ark in the Park [in the Waitakere Ranges] for about three years now. On our first line, which was deep in the heart of the Ark area, we didn't catch a single stoat and only one rat in over two years. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this was a good thing as it meant that predator control round the edges of the Park area was working well. A few months ago we were asked to switch to a new line that is on the edge of the park and in January we caught a stoat. It had been in the trap for several days and was mummified rather than decomposed. Its lips were drawn back to give very good view of a fearsome set of needle sharp teeth. Since then we have caught a rat and then - on our last check - three hedgehogs!’

‘Ken and I are in the habit of going every spring to camp on Motutapu island for a weekend. We take the ferry to Rangitoto with our full sized tramping packs with tent, food for two or three days etc and people look at us very curiously, clearly thinking we are a bit over equipped for a day excursion to see the volcano. We walk the track around the edge of Rangitoto for about three hours to reach the causeway that links Rangitoto to Motutapu. A couple of years we were doing this and paused on the other side of the causeway for lunch. We were sitting in a lovely grassy area under some trees with a bank of scrub behind us. We could hear rustling in the bushes and, as we sat there drinking our coffee, a pair of stoats came dancing out of the scrub and engaged in the most amazing mating dance in front of us. They were incredibly beautiful and agile and we were quite transfixed. A terrible mixture of delight and horror - such wonderful little animals and yet thinking of the vulnerability of those tiny pied stilt chicks with their fuse wire legs we were about to see on the island.’

I have seen live stoats several times. The closest I got was in Greece in the old stadium high above the temple ruins at Delphi. I was quietly sitting on a toppled pillar when suddenly this stoat emerged near my feet and stood on its hind legs sniffing the breeze. It stayed in this pose for several moments ignoring me before slowly loping off. My feeling was like Rosemary's.

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