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November 2023 Issue
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Nature’s alarm clock

Photo: Chris MacDonald

There’s a deep joy to hearing the dawn chorus, for it is the celebration of a new day. By Tarsh Turner

The warbling and chiming of tūī reached my ears and my steps faltered, brought to a halt by a warm rush of familiarity. I smiled and paused for a moment, eyes closed, lost in a world of birdsong, moss-laden beech boughs, streams stained by coppery tannins, banks overhung with thick ferns. 

Someone behind me coughed and I remembered where I was: in the international arrivals area at Auckland Airport after a stint working abroad. That sentimental Air New Zealand recording had got me. I blinked away a sneaky tear but my smile stayed. I was home. 

My connection to the hinterland of Aotearoa is a defining element of my life. Our native birdsong is so evocative and inclusive of special places. Among my most treasured experiences of tramping in New Zealand is the ushering in of each new day; the orchestral ritual of the dawn chorus. I hear deep joy in it, a celebration – we’re here, it’s a brand-new day!

Photo: Tarsh Turner

My heart aches when I read, in accounts of colonial exploration of Aotearoa, descriptions of flocks of birds that darkened the sky. Or of the writer’s inability to sleep because of raucous kākāpō. I long to have access to these experiences. Botanist Sir Joseph Banks recorded his amazement at first hearing a korimako / bellbird chorus when the Endeavour was anchored in the Marlborough Sounds in 1770. He described it as the most melodious wild music he had ever heard. Imagine my joy, then, to have a similar experience while camped in a Fiordland valley with flowering fuchsia all around. I woke to the most musical pearling I had ever heard, rising and swelling in rich melody, and held my breath as my mind processed the dawning understanding of the English name, ‘bellbird’. Having spent several years checking traps in this valley, it was truly inspiring to hear such a tangible reward for our efforts.

Awakening to a dawn chorus feels so natural and such a privilege. It is the most soothing way to ease into the day, so gentle and peaceful and pretty. Whatever that day may bring, those precious moments set me up with gratitude and a sense of wonder and appreciation. It makes me feel that I am in sync with the rhythms of the natural world. I am connected to the creatures around me – we are all rising together, blinking away sleep and feeling the sun’s first soft rays warm our face. It is a ritual that has played out in a gorgeous symphony, again and again, with each new dawn, for millions of years. How incredible is that? 

– Tarsh Turner is an outdoor educator, trekking guide and stoat trapper. Her favourite adventures usually involve tramping, trail running, mountaineering or climbing.