Ode to the grey warbler: a singer of songs
Guest Blogger: Graeme Hill, Secretary, Campaign for the Grey Warbler 2008 (and Radio Live Host)
2007 was a landmark year for Gerygone igata, or the grey warbler, or the riroriro, or the Bird Of The Year, or the Coolest Bird in New Zealand. At long, long last the underbird got the recognition it deserved, and if you read on I will put the case why it deserves to win this year as well.
But first, an apology:
Towards the end of a long and hard campaign last year some regrettable things were said by the Grey Warbler campaign about other birds. I was tired, I was emotional and I broke. I’m sorry.
However, Mr Stephen Braunias, the self proclaimed “Birdman” (read bird-brain) is fair game. You should be aware that his campaign for the white-faced heron (not endemic!) is merely a Trojan horse for his secret favourites, those invasive harpies the magpies and galahs. [Sunday Magazine Oct 5 2008, p50] He is traitor and a charlatan. The Lord Haw-Haw of bird-dom.
I’m often asked why I support such a common bird, a bird that inhabits cities and gardens and forests alike. They’re everywhere. Common as muck.
So, they’re common huh? But have you ever SEEN ONE? Positively identified no confusion couldn’t be anything else SEEN ONE? Hmmm. I thought so. Common as muck eh? That sort of elusiveness is akin to magic.
Common in this sense is merely a pejorative term for resilience. There is no other endemic bird that has coped so admirably with our intrusion and other invading species. None come even close. Grey warbler ….1st place, and they’ve done all that while raising shining cuckoos 10 times their size by the thousands every year without a tweet of complaint.
The humble grey warbler may be elusive to the eye, but it is the most evocative of all our birds to the ear. It is the backing track to all our childhoods and all our lives in New Zealand. A mystical magical sound, it is at once lament and elation. As far as I know, only Johnny Cash has ever pulled that off before. While the theme of the warbler song is consistent, every single Warbler lilt is utterly unique. The grey warbler sings your very own neighbourhood anthem. Everybody lives near some. Know your warbler. Better than a post code.
Here’s one. Yours will sound different. http://www.mtbruce.org.nz/Greywarblerinfo.htm
I said this last year but it deserves repeating. Travel away from New Zealand for any stretch of time and then hear a recording of a grey warbler. Memories of sun drenched sandy summer days will flow into your mind. I have noticed recently that Shortland Street has added a grey warbler song on occasions where somebody opens a door to a sunny day just to add that New Zealand flavour. Nothing else would do this so clearly and subtly. I certainly hope they all vote Warbler 2008.
This humble passerine has also evoked some of the most beautiful bird-based writing ever.
Consider these lines.
“Presently, from some manuka thicket, a sombre plumaged little bird will emerge, light on some topmost twig, and pour forth to three-quarters of the globe – for in his ecstasy he nearly sings a circle – this faint sweet trill that heralds fuller spring.”
Herbert Guthrie-Smith, 1910.
“The ghost of a kitten’s mew – the echo of dwarf violins played on the moon”
Allan Bell, Kaitaia 1911.
Are other birds more worthy?
Others are certainly in vastly more plight, and they deserve an all-hands-on-deck approach to preserving them and their habitat. Please join and help Forest & Bird.
However, if we can just recognise and appreciate the little, common and uniquely New Zealand things for their own beauty then appreciation of the others will surely follow. The kiwi, The kakapo, the kokako… they can all benefit from the sterling job the grey warbler does every day on the front line of bird awareness just by being right outside, singing the song of our conscience. A herald reminding us all of their avian brethren and the battles they are facing. A call to arms.
The grey warbler is a patriot. A battler. A get-on-with-the-job stiff-upper-lip never ask for help all round great bird with enough goodwill to spare that it will gladly adopt the needy and feed them. You, reader, almost certainly have a tiny pair, both just the size of your thumb snuggling together for warmth in a tree near you tonight. They will be unthought of, and perhaps unvoted for, yet tomorrow they will gleefully colour the air with THE sound of New Zealand. Surely those that do such good yet never ask for thanks should be given some.
Don’t let this battler for goodness be thrown into the ferret-mouth of indifference ever, ever again.