Sunday, September 13, 2015

Just in time for the Great Kereru Count - New Book Launched

My favourite place  - the New Zealand bush -  is the topic of my latest book. It's a book for children, informed by many walks in the bush with botanists, bird lovers, and those steeped in bush lore.

Many of the plants and animals featured are those I've discovered as I walk by myself, with other trampers or with children. From the delightful hen and chicken ferns to the mysterious, membrane-covered puriri caterpillar holes found in certain tree trunks. I hope the book will encourage children to get up close and touch tree trunks and ferns, as well as to know what to avoid - bush lawyer and onga onga!
Opening scene of In the Bush

The book wouldn't be complete without some of the rare and endangered species that can only be seen in bush sanctuaries. Like the other scenes in the book, our sanctuary is one we've made up to suit the animals we wanted to show. I'm not sure there is any mainland sanctuary that has all of tieke, hihi, kokako, tuatara, robins and kaka. 

It was a pleasure to work with illustrator Ned Barraud again and see the images unfold. He's captured the look and feel of the bush, from the magic night-time scene to the mossy filtered sunlight peculiar to beech forests.

Publishers Potton and Burton have added a pull out laminated card in the back of the book, dedicated to native birds, this will be handy when you are off to the bush with children to take part in the Great Kereru Count (19-27 September). Perhaps they'll spot other birds too.  
In the Bush has a laminated card in the back

Need other ideas of things to do with kids in the outdoors or a rainy day at home? There are ideas to accompany the book for parents and educators that will be soon be available at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

This year we've not planned a book launch, more a virtual launch. In the Bush will be in all good bookshops from 21st September. If you want to buy a hardcover version of the book order it online at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

Watch this blog or Facebook for book events closer to Christmas.

Book launch last year at the Children's Bookshop.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Importance of Trees

On the Kapakapanui track some joker has put up a Give Way sign where the track diverges, yet I've never met another party here to give way to.
 I like to think of it as a reminder that we need trees and had better give way to them!
Give way to ... Trees
It's easy to agree in the abstract on the importance of forests to us - their role in producing oxygen, in preventing erosion, in cleaning the air, in supporting a diverse ecosystem. But perhaps harder to follow through when other human interests clash with maintaining or reviving our forests.

Te Matua Ngahere - Father of the Forest
Te Matua Ngahere is one of the giant kauri in the Waipoua forest, despite the tree's size the kauri forest is a delicate ecosystem, under threat from Kauri die-back disease, and home to unique plants, such as this climbing white rata.

Metrosideros albiflora

Do we give trees an identity so we can share our wonder at their size? 
Te Matua Ngahere is in the Waipoua forest along with Tane Mahuta, the Four Sisters and other named kauri. But even when trees aren't named, we're drawn in by our wonder of their age, their size, their beauty. 

Trampers circle an unnamed giant rata

An unnamed giant rata in Wellington's Karapoti forest is thought to be the largest Northern Rata in the world, rather obviously we call it "the giant rata".  Giant forest trees might each have an identity but the collection of trees, the forest, has its own identity too.
The forest has its own identity. 
Sometimes it's the kind of forest - Goblin Forest - or a forest in a specific place - Waitutu Forest. The names conjure up images or meanings, goblin forest in some minds is now a place to expect hobbits and elves, Waitutu Forest is known for its ancient trees.
Goblin forest Kapakapanui

Waitutu Forest

I've read that the Japanese have a word 'komorebi' which means 'sunlight filtered through leaves'. 
Sunlight filters through a young rimu and ferns
View into the canopy from the beech forest floor
So apart from naming trees and forests, we name the effects of trees. I'm pleased to learn a name for the dappled light effect, and would like to find one for the sensation of trees dripping on one after the rain has gone.
And then there are trees in the urban environment. 
There are lots of good reason to cultivate trees in the city. Catherine Kirby's Pausing to Appreciate the Trees blog on the Epiphyte Network summarises neatly the data - environmental through to economic, including data on trees in the urban environment. 

Recently I've been delighted by reports of a project in Melbourne giving trees email addresses to allow the public to report issues which had some interesting unintended consequences, when the public started sending emails to the trees. 

I'll give the last word about urban trees to a 12 year old.  In an old news cutting, talking about a tree planted in our garden at his birth, my son said:
"It's really nice to have a tree that honours me, and it is such a good feeling to breathe in the air it lets out. At night I love listening to all the insects that live in it."
The Dominion 2002

Related blogs: 

Epiphyte Network

Visiting New Zealand's Forest Giants in Waipoua Forest

Pilgrimage to a Tree - the largest known Northern Rata

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Behind the Scenes - Nature at Te Papa

Usually I'm out and about exploring nature - outside. But recently Wellington's 150th Capital Anniversary provided a special opportunity to explore nature indoors. An open day at the museum - Te Papa Tongarewa - was a unique chance to see some of the treasures stored there.

The day started with a guided behind-the-scenes tour of the Botany collection. Te Papa's curators had carefully selected some treasures to show us, from plants collected by Solander on Cook's 1st voyage 1768-1771
Solander's collection orchid and tree fern

to the now extinct Cook's scurvy plant
Cook's scurvy plant

and items from a historic lichen collection preserved in handmade books and boxes to hold the rocks that the lichens were growing on.
Lichen collection

We soon got the message that the collection isn't just about preserving 'old stuff', we were shown how the ferns in the collection enabled a curator to make and exciting find a new tangle fern, and how the curators also are out and about looking at live plants and making discoveries such as how fungus gnats may be pollinating spider orchids who are disguising themselves as fungus - wow nature can be really weird.

Next stop was the Te Papa storehouse in Tory Street for more weird and wonderful stuff.

Here the queue snaked through the fish preservation area (no photos allowed due the flammable nature of the preservation material) to the subterranean vaults with skeletons, fossils, shells, and lots more.
Giant land snail shells
There were staff on hand to tell us a few things about the finds, but we had to keep moving with the press of people behind wanting to get a look too.
A collection of sea stars
Tiny snipe and their huge eggs
These tiny snipe were a revelation, I had no idea how little snipe were, since they are extinct here on the main islands.
A stuffed kakapo
But this mossy kakapo had to be my favourite and while its interesting to see a well preserved kakapo to get an idea of colour and size, its nothing like seeing the real thing - I hope you'll be going to see the live Kakapo, Sirocco at Zealandia.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hail and Snow - what's the difference? and some Rainy Day activities

Cold weather is sweeping across New Zealand in waves this winter. Children who have never seen or touched snow before have had the chance to build snow people and have snow fights. And discover that while it might be fun in its snow form, it soon melts and turns into wet slush.

I had to walk up into the hills to the snow. But down where I live near sea level we've had hail which lay on the ground long enough, it almost looked like snow.

What, I wondered, is the difference between hail and snow?

My search led me to many complicated explanations. I understand why scientists want to give as much detail as possible and explain a phenomenon as accurately as possible, but, for young children, a simple explanation is what's required.

Here's a simple explanation:

HAIL is frozen rain drops
SNOW is made up of ice crystals 

And here's a slightly more complicated version:
Hail is formed in rain clouds that get very cold, so the rain drops turn to ice.
Snow is formed when water vapour (think of how you can see your breath on a cold morning) in clouds freezes so quickly that it goes straight from vapour to ice crystals without turning into water first. (Usually water vapour cools and turns into water and then cools more to turn into ice.) This is how ice crystals form. The temperature below the cloud (and on the ground) needs to be cold enough that the snow doesn't melt before it reaches the ground.

My search took me to lots of sites to find ones that were clear and easy to follow.
A good site aimed at children is Severe Weather 101.
I also like this student's attempt at explaining it on You Tube by Izzy M. Why does it rain, hail, sleet and snow?
Here is a more technical answer on You Tube: MetOffice UK

On the way I learned that there are many different names for precipitation - wet stuff that comes from clouds.
rain, sleet, snow, 
drizzle, powder snow, 
firn, blizzard, shower,
soft hail, 
snow pellets, 

There are sayings too, which try to describe the kind of rain or snow like:
raining cats and dogs,
teeming down
biting rain

A couple of my own descriptions are:
horizontal rain (rain in strong wind coming in at an angle)
tramping rain (heavy rain that would make noise on a hut roof)

Some rainy/snowy day activities
Next time it rains, hails or snows, invent your own names and phrases to describe the kind of precipitation. Create a precipitation picture dictionary.
Make paper snowflake patterns and stick them on the window. Snow flakes always have 6 points.
Create your own video explanation for rain or snow.
Play in the snow.
Cut a hailstone in half and look at it through a magnifying glass.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Who's In the Garden? my Garden Bird Survey

For a number of years now I've been counting birds as part of the annual Garden Bird Survey. To start with it seemed a bit artificial only counting the birds seen in one hour. But knowing that many birds are visiting, moving from one garden to another, it's a fair approach. What began as a simple survey led me to was to spend more time looking at who was in my garden and when.

Fantails weren't here at survey time this year
When I did that first survey, I found that grey warblers visited our garden. They are such tiny, hard-to-see birds but their trill surpasses all but the tui's. They, and the fantail regulars, are after the insects they can snap up. To start with I thought they were winter visitors only - until I found the remains of nests in the autumn. Clever little birds, they obviously keep a low profile when they are nesting.
A grey warbler's nest
The tui have been nesting here all along too, and making a song and a dance about it. Now I know what that sound loud buzz of wings overhead is about when I'm hanging out my washing. It's a 'keep clear of my nest' warning. Then two years ago rather dramatically a tui nest fell down and the chicks had to be rescued, which mother tui was quite happy for me to do. You can read about this in an earlier blog Tui Chick's in the Garden.
Two of the rescued chicks in the nest 
The Garden Bird Survey was very helpful when it came to deciding which birds I should include in my book In the Garden which was published in 2013.

 Looking at this year's preliminary results, I would have been tempted to include bellbirds and grey warblers, as the numbers reported have increased over the previous years. Three times as many grey warblers were reported compared to the last two years - see Landcare's interactive graphics that show where a particular species was seen around the country. But it's not as simple as taking numbers reported without looking at other factors too, like region and garden type. I was interested to read about the Number-crunching challenges that the Landcare scientists discuss when looking at tui numbers. So I'm looking forward to reading more as the results are processed and of course taking part again next year. Meanwhile I'll be paying attention to who's here in spring and summer too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Rainbow of Fungi on a Mid-year Walk

This year our fungi hunt was delayed to June. An autumn without rain meant the usual outburst of colour from the ground and trees didn't show until nearly winter.

Now that its wet and cold enough, those magical fungi have appeared. Some are the fairy kind of magic - charming rings and fairy fingers, bright rainbow of pouches and waxgills, the perfect blue toadstool.
purple pouch fungi, wax gill fungi
wax gill fungi, finger jelly fungi
blue-green potato fungi, blue pinkgill fungi
Then there's the other kind of magic -slimy extrusions, jellies, dark mouldery toadstools, puff balls that let out eerie clouds of dust and evil smelling stinkhorns.

stinkhorn, unknown fungi webcap fungi, puff balls
When I look them up in field guides, our finds read like spells or incantations.

Brackets, caps, pouches, balls, fingers, corals, 
baskets, nets, horns, slimes, moulds, inkcaps, helmets, 
earth-stars, bird's nests, woodtufts, potatoes

L-R T-B shaggy inkcap, bird's nest fungi, basket fungi, Bondarzewia
Here are some of the fungi we saw on our winter tramp into the Orongorongo valley.
spindle pouch
 helmet fungi
another type of puff ball
Scarlet pouch (top) and something else!
orange porebracket
a puff ball
a bracket fungi

I added all the finds from the walk on Nature Watch.

I've used a couple of field guides and books to try to learn more about fungi:
A Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of New Zealand by Geoff Ridley, photos by Don Horne - the most comprehensive and the most useful as it has 136 species, unfortunately the binding makes it hard to flip through in the field, it just won't lie flat.
Some Common Fungi at Mount Holdsworth by Di Batchelor - a nice little overview that explains the different kinds of fungi lifestyles.
Nature Guide to the New Zealand Forest  by John Dawson and Rob Lucas published by Godwit Press - mentions some of the common fungi, but not enough to really help with identification on a nature walk where so many are seen.

Many thanks to my tramping friends who have shared their photos with me. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Finalist in Children's Book Awards - Under the Ocean

Great news - Under the Ocean is a finalist in the New Zealand Children's Book Awards.

Image from Booksellers NZ

The awards are a celebration of publishing and the diverse list shows that children's publishing in New Zealand is in great shape, with a wide variety of topics, authors, illustrators and publishers.

Best news of all is that authors are invited to participate in a tour of schools and libraries in early August. I can't wait to take part, especially as it was our tour of schools in 2013 that gave Ned and I the idea to create a book about New Zealand's sea life.

The award ceremony will be on 13 August. Under the Ocean will also be featured in the Wellington Storylines Festival that will be held later in August, so Ned and I will have a busy month promoting our book with children and parents

For parents, schools, libraries and booksellers - here are some ideas for Tips for Reading Under the Ocean with Children and you can also find some craft ideas and useful links on my Pinterest board - Explore NZ Sea life.

Congratulations to the other finalists and many thanks to the judges.