In 2013, a community of crib owners banded together to replant and restore their special spot on the Kakanui River. The outcome? A thunderous symphony of birdsong that quite literally silenced the room during a recent AGM.
Gemmells Crossing is a former fisherman’s camp situated ten kilometres south-west of Oamaru on the Kakanui River. Off the beaten track for most holidaymakers, the village of 26 cribs and adjoining reserve provides a secluded spot for families to enjoy a classic Kiwi summer of swimming, camping and fishing.
The owners of the cribs (or ‘baches’ to our North Island readers!) have an active committee called the Gemmells Crossing Society who act as guardians of the historic space. Some years ago they made it a priority to plant native trees in order to bring back the birds to this bend of the river.
Bob Johnson’s family has had a crib at Gemmells Crossing since 1950. He can’t remember a lot of birds being there in the past, and neither do the other long-timers. “I certainly don’t remember native birds, anyway,” he says.
But since he began pulling out some of the old pines near his crib and replanting with natives, bird numbers started swelling. And once the birds started to appear Bob and his partner Erima Bedggood began feeding them.
“We put out Topflite seed for them and of course the tūī and bellbirds are nectar drinkers so we put sugar water out for them,” he says. “There’s billions of waxeyes too. They’re little rascals. You’ve got to be careful with them – you’d go through your pension trying to keep them fed!”
“It’s very rewarding. We’ve got tūī and bellbirds that sit out there and talk away. Now we also have a few kererū around the place that come back at certain times of the year.”
Bob, Erima, John Malcolm and a small crew are well supported by others in the community who love what they’re doing. “We bought a heap of native shrubs from the nursery up in Waimate – they’ve been very good selecting a variety of natives for us. Lately we’ve also been getting a lot from the recycle centre in Oamaru – who look after us and give us a really good deal.”
What’s more, the contribution of these committed cribbies is generating action elsewhere in the community. A local farmer whose paddock backs onto the crib has asked the group whether they’d be interested in planting along his front fence line too. “We said of course, you prepare the ground and we’ll plant it.”
Bob says that some of the crib owners at the bottom end of the reserve are also looking to form a working group to plant that area out in natives too.
“It’s quite a big area so we’re just attacking in bits”
Looking to attract native birds at your place? For ideas on which native trees and shrubs to plant this spring, see our guide to creating your own dawn chorus.
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