A winter treat - sunshine and Monarch butterflies at the Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington on a good day - no wind, sunshine, and signs that spring is getting closer - what could be better!   Well, a walk in the Botanic Garden and a visit to the scented garden made it better still.   On the grassy hill by the Treehouse visitor centre, early Narcissus - white and yellow (probably N. tazetta) - are already blooming brightly.  But what were the flashes of orange that I saw?

Monarch butterflies were feeding and flittering and chasing each other and resting in the sunshine.  Evidently they have been overwintering here.  After the cold, rain and gales of the previous week, they appeared to be making up for lost time.  Alas, I was not equipped to photograph the ones on the wing, but I happily photographed some of the butterflies more intent on feeding.  These ones on a camellia bush were so settled they looked more like colourful flowers.

There was quite a choice of flowers for a hungry butterfly - yellow wallflowers,

pale purple wallflowers,

or "yellow daphne" - Edgeworthia chrysantha also known as oriental paperbark,

not to mention heliotrope, daphne and other scented lovelies in the garden.  The butterflies' wings looked a bit weatherbeaten, but they were still a magnificent sight.  And the scented flowers were a treat for me too.

Caught in the act - kereru (NZ pigeon) scoffing horoeka berries

I love pathways that get you up high and close to trees.  I was on one at the Arataki Visitors Centre in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges.  There you have a great view sweeping across bush towards the city and the Waitemata and Manukau harbours.  And there is a walkway that threads around some mature trees. 

As I walked along it I heard an odd sort of scrabbling sound coming from one of the trees - a horoeka or lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius).   At first, there was nothing obvious to see - but then I caught a glimpse of large red claws, white feather pantaloons, and a back with purplish-green feathers.

A kereru (New Zealand pigeon)!  It's a large bird - weight around 650 grams, length 51 cms - so an awkward size for the rather slender branches it was perching on.  But the numerous berries were obviously of interest. 

It struggled a bit to get to them, and some gymnastics were required - stretching and balancing.  But it was intent on scoffing those little berries. 

The kereru is a frugivore - a fruit eater - but will also eat flower buds and leaves, depending on what is available.  With its big bill it is able to eat the large fruit and drupes of a number of native trees.  The flesh of the fruit is digested, but the seeds are not.  The subsequent dispersal of native tree seeds in pigeon poo, and thus native forest regeneration, depends on the kereru.  Drupes are stone fruit with flesh surrounding a seed protected with a hard shell - like a plum.  And alas for people growing them, the kereru apparently does like the plum.  

The kereru is just one of a number of native birds that disperse horoeka seeds - even the little silvereye can eat the small berries.  So the horoeka does not depend on the kereru.  I daresay smaller birds would cause less kerfuffle when they are feeding on the horoeka too.

Maybe it was a bit big for its perch, a bit clumsy in its maneouvres on the horoeka tree.  But what a handsome sight the kereru was as it emerged to inspect me! 

Golden ginkgo in Cornwall Park - autumn colour in early winter

Autumn colour!  A lovely surprise on a brief visit to Auckland, where it is warmer and much less windy than Wellington.  It is considered early winter now, but the leaves were holding on.   A particularly dazzling display was in Cornwall Park - a grove of ginkgo trees planted in the 1960's.  I caught them in a moment of quiet.  People had been photographing, playing with the leaves, gazing and otherwise enjoying these wonderful trees. 

The trees look quite small in the photo above - but this was taken from a small hill beside the trees, and with a wide angle lens.  In fact, they towered over us.

While this grove is old it is certainly not ancient, but the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is an ancient tree - the sole survivor of a group of trees older than the dinosaurs.  It is regarded as a "living fossil."

Young trees have a more regular shape, but these branches seemed to swirl and tangle.

The bright green of summer leaves is gradually replaced by the bright yellow of autumn. 

Looking up you can see smudges of green remaining at the base of the fan-shaped leaves.  The similarity of the leaf shape to the maidenhair fern led to the ginkgo also being called the maidenhair tree.

It is a remarkable tree, beautiful, disease and pest resistant, very long-lived (the oldest is said to be 3,500 years old) and tolerant of quite poor conditions and pollution - here in Wellington it is a street tree in parts of the central city. 

What these trees have been through - from dinosaurs to fossil fuel-consuming monsters!