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Wellington harbour a muted cacophony of quacking and honking

Savanna Boyce happily feeds the appreciative birdlife at dockside.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Frigid winter days filled with warm sunlight and an accompanying deep blue sky have been in short supply so far this winter season. So many grey overcast days does not a winter make, but that all changed last weekend.

After a two-day snowfall last Thursday and Friday, bringing the dry kind of snow that doesn’t make for successful snowman building, and isn’t good for snowballs either, the temperature plummeted, the sky cleared and the sun shone for the first time in a while. It also meant it was a perfect clear sky for viewing February’s full moon Saturday night, also known as the snow moon.

The mostly open water at Wellington harbour, patches of ice glinting in the strong sunlight, brings many hundreds of birds every winter where they seem happy to over-winter in safe harbour.

The frozen ice of West Lake in the near distance brings many more birds; some happy to sit atop the ice, others more content to float in the frigid waters, a few attempting skating practice as bird legs splay in all directions on the scattered thin ice floes.

Several species of waterfowl exist in close quarters in Wellington harbour through the winter and all appear to get along with their neighbours. There are large swans, looking much bigger than their regular size, no doubt with feathers plumped for extra warmth. Among them, mute swans, recognized by their orange bills, and Canada geese, and many many ducks, including mallards, dwarfed by the much larger contingent of resident swans.

The harbour becomes a muted cacophony of sounds, from quacking and honking to squeaks and whistles. Among the gaggle of geese and the bevy of swans, a majestic pair of tundra swans stands out among the crowd, recognizable by their black bills.

But the pair may not be tundra swans, but instead the identical and much rarer trumpeter swans; one had two large numbered yellow tags attached to its plumage (reading K46).

From the opposite approach to the harbour from the Wellington beach side, five-year-old Wellington resident Savanna Boyce happily feeds the appreciative birdlife at dockside. Her plastic bag of bread becomes a magnet as the swans are attracted to the welcome food source.

Under the watchful eye of dad, Jason Boyce, the swans grab the food from the little child’s hand carefully, but without hesitation. Wearing shorts, a year-round occurrence for him, he says, Boyce regretted the decision to enjoy the crisp winter’s day with bare legs, as the thermometer read -13 degrees Celsius, without factoring in wind-chill.


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