Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tunable Silver on My Father's Birthday

". . . And shall we leap the trees as light as birds?" 
(from A Nest of Birds by Theodore Roethke)

Tui - Parson's bird. Photograph: Doug Beynon. 

Today is my father's seventy-ninth birthday. 79 is a grand number, I think.

Dad took this photograph of my resident tui sipping sugar water from the coconut chalice that hangs in my front garden. Not really someone wired to sit still for very long, Dad  demonstrates enormous patience out in nature, especially when it comes to birds. When he and Mum last came out to New Zealand, he would spend many happy hours (often with his camera at hand) sitting contentedly on the porch or out in the garden observing the antics of the native birds. 

According to the ornithologist, W. H. Oliver, the bellbird was undoubtedly the chief performer in the chorus described by Joseph Banks when Captain Cook entered Queen Charlotte Sound during the first voyage of discovery. “I was awakened by the singing of the birds ashore, from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile. Their numbers were certainly very great. They seemed to strain their throats with emulation, and made, perhaps, the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells, but with the most tunable silver imaginable. . .”

How perfectly Banks described the song of the bellbird - korimako - a small, spirited, olive-green treasure with an unforgettable voice. Each morning, when I open up the front door and head outside to feed the birds, the same little creature launches ebulliently into song. I reply with my raspy-by-comparison greeting. We've been doing this for a couple of years now; it's become so much a part of our daily ritual that he has graciously copy/pasted my paltry two note offering into his personal repertoire. Imagine that. . .  These days (and Dad, this little anecdote is especially for you), when I head out on my walks around the neighbourhood or down to the jetty, I call to him and he answers from the treetops. Oh, my heart. What  sweetness there is in this daily 'call and answer' conversation with this dear, listening bird. A daily miracle, really.  

Mum and Dad loved waking to the bellbird's song while they were here; so I'm re-posting a short recording I made some time ago when the birds and I were still practicing our 'tunable silver' ritual. Dad, herewith your Happy Birthday anthem. . .  

One last little ditty. . . Back home in the UK, my parents live in a home surrounded by orchards, hops farms and woodlands, so yes, their garden is year-round home to a large population of birds. This pheasant and his wife are regular visitors. Considering their very great age (ha - just teasing), my parents are actually pretty savvy when it comes to computers (Mum even has a laptop and Skype!) so it was no surprise when Dad named this handsome and audacious fellow Broadband?! Broadband, you ask? Yes - Broadband. Don't you just love it?! It hadn't occurred to me till now that Bluetooth might suit the pheasant's wife nicely. . .  

Broadband - 'Dad's' pheasant - Raggleswood, Kent. 
Photograph: Doug Beynon

Dad crossing the Hooker River per suspension bridge, Mount Cook Reserve, NZ 2009


  1. Oh, Claire! What a lovely birthday treat for your father. And a lovely reminder of home for me.
    Tena rawa atu koe.

  2. Your happy birds! I don't think I've ever seen a tui's colours picked out so clearly; what a great photo. (On Tiritiri Matangi in April, we were thrilled to see tuis and bellbirds living as they once did, without fear of predators, whooping through the understorey, even walking along the track. The whole forest seemed enchanted with song and the whirr of wings.) Happy birthday, Doug.

  3. so nice for your father, what a gift to him you are.

    i just listened to your birdsong...so funny, that singing here in Maine, my windows are open--no doubt confusing the singing birds of my yard!

  4. Just a delightful post, Claire. A lovely thoughtful gift for your father, and that fabulous birdsong for the rest of us. Brava! xo

  5. Beautiful shot.
    A happy birthday to your dad.
    Is his pheasant tame?


  6. Happy birthday Doug. And what a sweet pleasure to sit on my couch in my lumpy dressing gown with the sun gone down and listen to the bellbird. Thanks clarab xpx

  7. Turning up the sound for your birdsong as our wild parrots make their pre-sundown, high-volume appearance. What a sweet sound and how I love reading of the call and response you're created with them. A beautiful birthday gift for your father. xo

  8. Dinahmow, Pen, Susan, Sparrow, Ant, Pam & Marylinn - thank you for adding your good wishes for Dad to mine. The bellbird sings for you, too. xo

  9. Lovely to think of you listening, Mim. . .