This is a tale of two trees; one I planted and the other a much older tree I didn’t have a hand in grow­ing, that I see when I look out my kitchen win­dow

NZ Gardener - - CONTENTS -

Robert Guyton plays the long game of plant­ing trees

Both are bird trees, serv­ing as favourite perches and nest sites for their own com­mu­ni­ties of birds. The first tree – a na­tive lace­bark, houhere, I planted in my neigh­bour’s sheep pad­dock – has been cho­sen by a large flock of spar­rows as their night-time roost. Why they chose that par­tic­u­lar tree, I don’t know. There are dozens of sim­i­lar trees across the road in my for­est gar­den, but they pre­fer to clus­ter nois­ily, ev­ery evening, in the lace­bark.

It’s right be­side State High­way 99 and must be a much nois­ier place to try to sleep in than my quiet gar­den, but that’s where they’ve cho­sen to overnight.

It was on one calm evening when I was walk­ing past the tree that I be­came aware of their pres­ence. The noise they made was sig­nif­i­cant, twit­ter­ing and flap­ping about as if in a flus­ter, but prob­a­bly just set­tling in their places for a sleep. I was sur­prised by the com­mo­tion as I didn’t know spar­rows clus­tered in this way.

I’ve seen star­lings swoop­ing into the big street trees in Dunedin, along with the most strik­ing ev­i­dence of their oc­cu­pa­tion, splat­ter­ings of guano all over the foot­path beneath the trees, but no such sign had caught my eye in my neigh­bour‘s field.

I stood and lis­tened for a long time, en­joy­ing the hub­bub and think­ing how lucky the neigh­bour­hood was to have been se­lected for the pur­pose. Per­haps our cats are es­pe­cially sym­pa­thetic or too old to threaten the flock, or maybe the view is spe­cial from up in those branches

(it is, in fact, gor­geous, tak­ing in the glis­ten­ing wa­ters of the Ja­cob’s River es­tu­ary and the Tak­itimu Moun­tains in the far dis­tance, but I don’t think birds ap­pre­ci­ate such vis­tas).

I’m pleased that the rea­son they can oc­cupy those branches is be­cause I went to the trou­ble of plant­ing the tree in the first place.

It was trou­ble­some, in that I needed first to con­vince my dear neigh­bour Va­lerie, now in her twi­light years, that a tree, in fact two (I planted a kowhai along­side the lace­bark), was a good idea and wouldn’t in­ter­fere with the lives of her few sheep that grazed the grass there. I man­aged that by promis­ing to care for the trees as they grew, and they did, ad­mirably.

Now, some 15 years down the track, both trees serve as shade for the sheep as they lan­guish in the South­ern heat on cloud­less sum­mer days, so that’s an un­ex­pected a bonus.

The sec­ond tree was planted long be­fore I moved into the neigh­bour­hood.

It stands three times as tall as my dou­ble-storey house. It’s a macro­carpa of the sort and age that were planted by farm­ers across the coun­try to pro­vide shel­ter from the wind for live­stock.

Like many other macro­carpa of that vin­tage, this one is manky, hav­ing es­caped the pruner’s blade for decades now, but still been sub­ject to hack­ings by var­i­ous own­ers fear­ful of be­ing felled them­selves by fall­ing limbs.

This tallest of the sev­eral macro­carpa that I watch from my win­dow is where the white-fronted herons from around here nest. It’s tall and in­ac­ces­si­ble enough for them to feel at ease there and they use it ev­ery year to hold their nests and the eggs therein, and as a plat­form to launch from as par­ent birds leave in search of food from the es­tu­ary, or as fledgelings, set­ting off to ex­plore the world as soon as their feather cover al­lows it.

The herons, all leg, beak and neck, sweep in ma­jes­ti­cally from wher­ever they spend their days. They cir­cle once or twice while emitting their rau­cous, grav­elly croaks, be­fore land­ing, thin legs out­stretched, grace­fully and – to my mind – per­ilously, on the high­est plat­form the tree has to of­fer.

I adore those birds and am grate­ful there are still tall trees like those in the neigh­bour­hood. The fash­ion these days is to fell any­thing of the size those macro­carpa have at­tained. That’s a great shame from the point of view of herons which re­quire such aerial land­ing and nest­ing sites.

I’m sure many other birds, owls in par­tic­u­lar, love old macro­carpa too, and fade from the land­scape as the old trees are taken down.

It’s usual in col­umns writ­ten for this mag­a­zine to in­clude in the ar­ti­cle hints and sug­ges­tions for things to do in and around the gar­den and this month, in light of my fo­cus on trees and their im­por­tance to our feath­ered brethren, I rec­om­mend that you plant some, as many as you see fit, any­where you can, be­cause my ex­pe­ri­ence has shown me and I hope you have been able to see also, that a tree can play a role and have value far greater than you might orig­i­nally have in­tended.

My own ef­forts to get some trees in a bare pad­dock are now ben­e­fit­ting the birds. Like­wise, the long-ago ef­fort of who­ever planted the now-huge macro­carpa is much ap­pre­ci­ated by the herons of here­abouts.

There will be, now or in the fu­ture, bird fam­i­lies and flocks that, if they could and if they knew who you were, would thank you for your fore­sight and in­dus­tri­ous­ness, car­ried out with them in mind.

It doesn’t mat­ter to them, it seems, what you plant ex­actly, so use other cri­te­ria to guide your choices.

One im­por­tant fac­tor in se­lect­ing a type of tree to plant for the fu­ture is, will it last long enough to be use­ful?

By that, I don’t mean, is it a long-lived species; more, will some­one ob­ject to it’s pres­ence and chop it down, which seems to be the greatest threat nowa­days to trees of any stature.

Plant with 30 years into the fu­ture in mind and do the best you can to pre­dict what the sit­u­a­tion then might be.

Plant trees that have no known “dis­lik­ers”. Your favourite tree might be the mon­key puz­zle, but there will be le­gions out there who will ob­ject to the spiky branches they shed, or the tow­er­ing light-swal­low­ing crowns they pro­duce.

Think smart, strate­gise and plant like there’s no to­mor­row! That’s my task of the week!

The macro­carpa pro­vides both land­ing and nest­ing sites for wild birds.

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