Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where are the fantails that survived the big snow?

Our unseasonably warm winter was interrupted by two ferocious southerly storms that dumped snow across much of New Zealand. My home town of Christchurch was buried for days while raked by strong, chilling winds fresh from Antarctica. While we all had the luxury to bundle up inside our houses around our fires or heat pumps, wild nature was left outside to struggle through the storm. As in past late winter snow storms, it looks like fantails have been hit particularly hard (except for three desperate, clever birds that sheltered inside someone's house).

I am an avid bird counter (my wife would say obsessive) and I've yet to see a single fantail since the second big snow, which ended over a week ago. On my weekly runs between Wigram and the Cashmere hills, I almost always see fantails. I've done two runs since the snow, and no fantails. On my bike into work at Lincoln, I usually see fantails, almost always when I go the long way through Tai Tapu. So far, three rides, including through Tai Tapu, and no fantails. My wife saw one fantail at Victoria Park yesterday, just one, after we've spent several hours in combination there since the snow.

How about you? Have you seen fantails? Where? Now is the time to use NZBRN and record where you are seeing, and equally importantly, not seeing fantails. When using NZBRN, you can tick the "Sought but not found" box to mark places and times where you looked for fantails unsuccessfully.

This is an important opportunity to learn where in our landscapes most fantails survive these storms. Fantails are prolific breeders and eventually bounced back after the big 1992 August snow storm. It is quite plausible that some places are where most of the survivors are, and these places play a disproportionately large role in the population's recovery. Perhaps it's sheltered dense lowland forests on low northern slopes facing away from the storm (not that Christchurch has any of them left). In Christchurch, perhaps it's Bottlelake Plantation, a large lowland pine plantation that presumably is partially sheltered from the worst of the winds and snow by Banks Peninsula. Perhaps it's sheltered well-wooded gardens without cats.

Only lots of your observations can tell us this.

Go the All Blacks?
In the South Island, we have both pied and black phase fantails. The black birds are found only rarely in the North Island and are associated with the colder climes here in the South Island. If you decide to record survivors of the 2011 Big Snow, it would also be useful if you recorded in the NZBRN comments whether each bird you see is pied or black. Perhaps the black birds, by soaking up more sunshine, were a bit better able to cope with the recent bleak conditions. The fantail population may become more black just in time for the Rugby World Cup!