The Bird Watchers…Himali McInnes © 2016



as read at Going West by author Himali McInnes

They think they come here to watch us, 
with their peculiar glasses glinting in the sun 
and their field books for lost creatures. 
Little do they know that we watch them even more closely. 
They are so ugly, with their plucked skin, 
their croaky voices, their lumbering bodies. 
They have a hole where their beaks should be, 
and tiny hooded eyes that can only see straight ahead. 
Gravity holds them like a mighty kauri rooted in the earth. 
How they must long to fly! To sweep and swoop in the sun, 
catching the sea wind through feathers, 
light as gossamer above the tree tops.
The humans spend their entire time on the island in a trance, 
drunk with the exhilaration of watching us. 
They squawk, they point things at us, 
they scratch at bits of paper. 
They stop at their feeding stations to eat strange fruit. 
Then they leave, 
on the silver-bellied whales that glide on the ocean's surface, 
croaking with satisfaction… 

We aim to please them whilst they are here. 
It helps us spin the spell that hides the truth. 
We flit, we strut, we lure them further in and further up 
with our siren calls. 
Songs sung since the very beginning, 
before the footed creatures came to our motu. 

They have no idea that I live still. 

The first to greet the humans are the piwakawaka. 
They were not here at the beginning of Bird-Time, 
but they have been here long enough 
to be considered one of our own. 
They know how to fan their tails,  dip their heads, 
charm the flightless humans. 
And so they lead them inwards into the island, 
deep into the sun-dappled green forests. 
Weaving the invisible nest that protects me.
piwakawakakereru-012-e1425953937702It is easy for the flightless lumberers 
to catch sight of the kerurū. 
Branches bend groaning under their cherry-eyed corpulence. 
So sluggish and slow, 
it is a wonder there are any left. 
They breath in and out, in no hurry at all, 
to the ancient rhythms of bush and wet earth. 
Do you not love their portly silhouettes? 
Perfectly attired in pearl white and purple-green, 
they invite the humans to linger in their sleepy sphere. 

The grey warblers, the proud riroriro, 
flit amongst them, 
liquidsilver darts of sound pricking the canopy of trees. 
Their energy stops the humans falling asleep where they stand. 
The last human who fell asleep, mesmerised by a keruru, 
slept for a hundred years. 
greywarblernestbuildinga%20bray%20hihi_newIn ancient times, 
Maui threw the stitchbirds into the fire 
and singed their breasts a golden yellow. 
The hihi remain cautious to this day, 
easily bullied by the bossy bellbirds and tui. 
Their song is sweet and sharp and high, 
a mountain stream unravelling over pebbles. 
It flutes about my ears and I love it. 

The tui are the comedians amongst us. 
Good-looking, with iridescent green-flaring-black feathers
so like my own, 
and that white tufted poi. 
Loquacious mimics of a myriad unearthly human sounds, 
some have even learnt the human tongue. 
They boast of forays into human forests, 
of how they are fawned over and fed with syrup. 

We do feel a little sorry 
for our land-locked siblings. 
Takahē, though, does not care for our pity. 
He is forthright and confident, 
feeding from the hands of humans, 
walking amongst them like a king, 
royal blue plumage and strong red beak 
standing proud. 
We giggle behind his back at how fat he is getting,
and I think he hears us, 
but he truly does not care, 
for he dotes on honey and bread. 

The shy little kiwi 
are so full of shame 
for having forgotten how to fly, 
that they only venture out 
under the cloak of darkness. 
They have let themselves go, 
and rarely look much better than a drab brown. 
The tui tell us that the humans are very fond of the kiwi, 
their image is everywhere 
across the breadth and width of the land. 

I cannot think why.  
Surely my own beauty would be far superior? 

My glossy plumage, 
the way my wattle flares a juicy orange in the sun, 
that striking band of tail-tip white, 
my strong curved beak. 
Perhaps it is because my kindred 
have been all but forgotten from human memory, 
obliterated by spear-tip and gun-shot. 
There was a time, it is said, many aeons ago, 
when we birds all fought together 
against the stinking ferrets 
with their yellow teeth and grabbing claws. 
We were warriors once, 
descendants of mighty beasts 
who roamed through land and sea. 

Now we have no need to be warriors. 
There are no more ferrets, 
no more rats with their twitching tails, 
no more evil stoats. 
At least not here, on our enchanted island. 
This is now an island of plenty - 
rainfall, bud burst, grub feast.

We have flourished here, and even I live on, 
despite my loneliness. 
The Birds will protect me for now, 
by placing all the attention on themselves 
and keeping me hidden. 
When the time is right, 
when the breath of the forest rises up, 
when the sea swells to meet the sky - 
then I will look for my own kind. 


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