2nd November 2020: Avon River

Date:    2/11/2020
Avon River, Christchurch, NZ
River Conditions:   
1.656 cumecs at Gloucester Street bridge. Water mostly clear. Grade 1.
Weather Conditions:   
Overcast and coolish.
Number on Trip:    
1 person.
Time on River:  
30 minutes.
Comments:  After a long day doing science in the lab, I headed home, dropping off a DVD at Alice’s and picking up extra groceries (almost a little too much for my motorcycle). Lauri met as I pulled up, needing to tell me something before I’d even turn of the bike and taken my helmet off.

Apparently the family of pūtangitangi (Paradise shelduck) that had been living around Swanns Road bridge and Avonside drive, which had originally consisted of two adults and fourteen ducklings had been stuck with further tragedy. The mother duck had been hit by a car a week or so earlier, with papa duck soldiering on with a rapidly diminishing troop of ducklings. Down to just two ducklings, papa duck was killed by a car and his remaining youngsters were being bullied by other adults birds (pūtangitangi can be very territorial).

A group of bird rescuers had been trying to catch the remaining ducklings so they could be relocated somewhere safer and be taken care of until they could look after themselves. They had been trying to catch them for most of the day, but being restricted to the river banks, had made the task quite difficult. Lauri had seen the request for a kayak and had offered her one up, if anyone was willing to pick it up, as she wasn’t up to getting down to the river and chasing ducklings.

When I got home, the group was still down at the river after nearly 10 hours and once Lauri had filled me in on the details, I quickly changed into my kayaking gear while she put away the groceries. Shouldering the Blitz, I hurried off to the Swanns Road bridge. Spotting a group of people upstream, I headed in that direction while looking for a good launch spot. The banks were a little steeper than expected and the water was a bit shallow, but I managed to select a suitable spot and then struggled to get my deck fitted, feeling a bit tired and out of practice.

I paddled over to where a guy on a sit on top kayak was trying to catch the final duckling, who was playing hard to get (the other duckling had been caught earlier). I tried to herd the duckling to the sit on top, so the guy could scoop it up in the small hand held net, but the duckling was very good at evading and when we got close, it would often dive under the water, swim under the kayaks and pop up somewhere else.

Chasing a paradise duckling on the Avon. Photo by Verity Tearnan Verster.

We tried various variations on this theme, without success. Eventually I took the net to see if my luck was any better. Paddling, maneuvering and chasing a fast moving duckling isn’t exactly easy, especially when you’re holding a net as well as a paddle, and are trying not to scare or hurt a young, fragile bird. Eventually, after a number of attempts, the duckling surfaced next to my kayak after diving to avoid the net. With the net still under water, I was able to lift it up under the duckling, trapping him and lifting him out of the water. From there, he was transported carefully to the waiting rescuers on the bank, where he was able to join this sister.

Job done, I said goodbye and wished them luck, before paddling off downstream. The river was quiet and empty and I briefly reveled in the peace and solitude, before clambering out of my boat and up the bank. A short walk home and then I filled Lauri in with the news. I then changed and wander down to the shops to pick up some well deserved takeaways for dinner.

The ducklings were given a full check over and one was treated for a minor infection. Once they were sufficiently recovered, they were relocated to a sanctuary with sprawling fields, a private stream, various other animals. Hopefully they will have long and happy lives.