Environment - Backyards bursting with life

By: Christine Rose

Imagine a bioblitz in your backyard. A bioblitz surveys the species in an area in a short space of time. It’s an intensive count of biodiversity to provide a snapshot of life. It will count fungi, mammals, plants, invertebrates and macroinvertebrates, land, freshwater and marine species. It will involve counts over night as well as during the day.

A bioblitz of my garden reveals around 40 species of birds. They include ruru sitting on the low branches of a tree I grew from seed outside my lounge door, three tui sitting at the top of the same tree (heralding in the morning and evening) and a kahu (hawk) flying above.

Last week, a pheasant flew past my head when I went down the stairs into the morning garden. I have starlings nesting in my letterbox. As well as my companion rabbit, Duggie, there are at least five small rabbits in my gardens (‘Little Grey’, ‘Little Tawny’, ‘Little Brown’ and so on – all of them creating havoc). There are fantails fighting off blackbirds, a shining cuckoo chick pestering its adoptive grey warbler mother and opportunistic pukeko. Then there are the ducks that return year upon year, the sparrows that follow us around and the chooks, Speckle and Shy. There are more than 50 different plants in one flower bed, different fruit trees, veggies tended by heart and by hand and eaten with honour. There are the occasional puriri moths, cabbage tree moths and white cabbage butterflies. There are monarch butterflies and, a little while ago, a Blue Moon butterfly from Australia.

If I include all the bugs, the biodiversity of my little piece of paradise seems unlimited.

There’s more than I could possibly imagine or know. Indeed, even when scientists count the life in their own backyards, they are surprised. During Lockdown Levels 3 and 4, Waitakere conservation biologist and Auckland University lecturer James Russell was practicing his mist net bird catching and leg banding under a permit from the Department of Conservation. What he thought was one resident fantail, turned out to be 36 different fantails visiting at different times.

Not only are there resident birds, as we would expect, living in nests in the trees in our garden, but there are also regular visitors and probably vagrants. Those of us who live in ecological corridors, for example near waterways, forests, wetlands, or on the North-West Wildlink, will also be aware of the occasional kaka, geckos, freshwater fish – extra special lives among the more common melange.

Christine Rose


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