Doing the birds a favour

Edith turned up with three boxes of trees last weekend.

"What sort?" a herbaceous friend asked me later.

"Trees - I told you," I snapped.

Some people never listen.

Nature and I are not in any sort of a civil union. So when Edith placed an ad in the paper offering free bird-feeding trees to Brook residents, I was immediately attracted. Mostly by the word "free". You can't help but admire her vision. The plan is to create a "landing lights" corridor for birds to and from the Waimarama sanctuary further up the valley.

Edith has scrounged up the trees and shrubs from local nurseries, and propagated others from seed. She's approaching a total of 2000. "Give me your tired, your misshapen, your excess stock," she said, arms thrown wide ... or so legend will have it. And bless them, they obliged. Grand as her vision is, she must have had a wobbly moment of doubt when looking over my section, where Minimalist St intersects with Neglect Ave. "What's your favourite tree?" she asked. Not the sort of question that has come up before, so I shrugged. Edith gave me a look people usually reserve for tapdancers and beer-can collectors.

She reeled off some Latin names. My two years of the language at high school failed me, but I was reasonably certain she hadn't mentioned a centurion being poked in the eye with a burnt stick. I wasn't entirely deprived of nature as a child. I played in the bush when my parents would abandon me out there with nothing more than a trail of breadcrumbs to find my way home. We were a playful bunch. I preferred my wildlife in black and white: Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Flipper.

We also made the obligatory trip to the zoo when visiting the big smoke, Auckland. Personally, the chimpanzees tea party never upset me. I liked their little costumes and their cheeky antics. Sure, a few of the little troublemakers may have been grumbling, "Good grief, this is so demeaning. Get me Attenborough on the phone", but others may well have been chattering happily, "One lump or two, vicar?"

And the pacing of the polar bear, up and down, up and down, bereft of his senses, for days on end, we call that test cricket in human terms. (Nonetheless, I'm expecting an official parliamentary apology to the bears any day now.) But in the raw these creatures are something else.

As every boatie knows, one afternoon you are slopping about on the briny, drugged by the sun and a few tinnies, when suddenly you are leaping out of your skin like a four-year-old, hollering at the sight of a pod of gambolling dolphins. Shoehorn those same dolphins into a swimming pool for the entertainment of tourists and I feel like killing someone.

A trip to Stewart Island a few years ago was my full-scale religious conversion. From the main town of Oban you can hear kiwi calling at night. Imagine that our national bird actually exists outside the coinage. On the predator-free islet of Ulva the birdsong is a heavenly choir, and we came across a kaka shredding the bark from a tree with the sort of casual violence that attracts rugby league contracts.

I think it was a kaka. One big mother, anyway.

So the prospect of the Waimarama bird sanctuary on the doorstep is a huge bonus. I quite believe the hints that it could become Nelson's biggest tourist attraction.

And the scale of the thing, all done by gutsy volunteers like Edith, is jaw-dropping.

Edith (email name "treelady") came back to help me position the plants  - there must have been a dozen and a half - then left the great botanical unwashed to it. A few sweaty hours later and they were in, the right way up, hopefully. And another greenie friend has put me on to the bird survey. (I really must stop hanging out with people who talk about "botanising" places. It's unhealthy. Next they'll be "podiuming").

All that's required is an hour sitting in the garden counting the feathered visitors - how hard is that? The aim is to compile a huge database that will track the effects of the sanctuary on birdlife across the city. I take my hat off to these people. They think big. In a few years' time I want to be out in the front yard at dusk giving Edith a call. "Hey, your garden is teeming with birds," I'll say. "Sorry about the din. They're probably breaking the noise bylaws."

"Wonderful news," she'll say. "What sort?"

"Birds - I told you!"

Some people never listen.

You can contact the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust through project coordinator Rick Field, (03) 546 9175 ext 683.