img_2446The overnight event at Aongatete Lodge was billed as ‘Breakfast with the Birds’. It could equally have been described as ‘Spying on the Spiders’ or ‘Walking with the Weta’!

The rain had stopped and, fuelled by a sumptuous dinner, the 60 participants went out in the dark to walk in the forest. We were guided by spider expert Bryce McQuillan, an excellent choice as there were spiders everywhere, lurking in sheet webs, tangle webs, orbwebs and tunnels, or just hunting on the forest floor. And it wasn’t just spiders. We saw centipedes, millipedes, moths and an astonishing variety of weta. They ranged from the middle-sized tree weta to little, jumpy ground weta and truly enormous cave weta, which fortunately stayed motionless on the tree trunks! The children were particularly adept at spotting camouflaged creatures.

Stick Insect – large

What this variety demonstrates is the value of pest control. Rats, stoats, possums and feral cats may fancy birds’ eggs and chicks but, as Bryce explained, the bread and butter of their diet is invertebrates, the creepy crawlies.

So engrossing was the night walk that it was very late when we went to bed and we woke again in the darkness at 5.30. Even then tui were calling and with the dawn came robins, bellbirds, kingfishers, fantails, grey warblers and moreporks, (presumably on their way to bed.) It was a delight to hear so many robins, which were scarcely seen at Aongatete before pest control began.

Altogether it was a splendid event with fine food, fascinating field trips and great company. We will be doing it again.