Monday, February 23, 2015

Top 2 Sea Life Apps - reviewed in time for Sea Week

Sea Week is approaching fast, a good time for schools, parents and public to turn their attention to the treasures of the sea.  Sea Week 2015 runs from 28 February to 8 March and the theme this year is "Look beneath the surface - Papatai o roto - Papatai o raro".

Unlike a trip to the beach or the bush, it's hard to show children what lives under the sea, although there are more and more great programmes to get kids snorkelling and out and about on the ocean. Sometimes books, the internet and Apps are what is needed to give a good picture of what is beneath the surface. Our book "Under the Ocean" aims to do just that for younger readers and we've worked on showing different habitats, reefs, sea floor, deep ocean etc as well as some of the creatures that live there. But there was a limit to how many animals we could show so I've been looking at websites and apps to help parents, teachers and kids find out more about what is beneath the surface of our oceans. Some of the best are listed in our notes for children, parents and educators. You'll find tips and ideas here for activities and reading the book too.

Now for my top two Apps - what's more they are free!

The Whale Watch App covers the marine mammals and birds that visitors to Kaikoura might see. As well as a picture of each species and information about them, the App allows people to post sightings of that particular species to Facebook. The little picture that pops up with the post, gets around the difficulty that most visitors will have of getting a good photograph of the animals.  I also like the two Conservation Challenges - which pose questions and propose action. While this App is designed for tourists, locals (not just those in Kaikoura) will enjoy it too, and it is pitched at a level that will suit families,  parents reading to their children, and primary school children using it themselves.

I've been using Auckland Museum's New Zealand Marine Life App since their superb Moana - My Ocean exhibition in 2013.  I was delighted to have access to the information about such a wide range of sea creatures. There's one thing about the presentation that could be a drawback - the information is written in reversed out text (white text on a black background). This is harder to read than dark text on a light background - the black appears to bleed into the letters narrowing them and adding challenges for young readers. But I've since discovered that the basic format of this App is the same as those used by the Museum of Victoria for a series of Field Guides, so I can see that Auckland Museum may not have had a choice when it comes to the black backgrounds.  When it comes to the information, unless you live in Auckland you'll need to ignore the map. At first I took the map to mean that the animal I was reading about was only found in Auckland, then I realised the App only shows where the animal lives in the Auckland region, so provides no information on habitats outside of the region.  Apart from these two details it's a great resource to have handy when you are off to the beach or the ocean.

Related Posts:
3 Top Nature Websites for Kiwi Kids all three of the websites include some ocean life, one exclusively so.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Feeding Fairy Prions - a volunteer's week on Mana Island

100 fairy prion chicks from Takapourewa/Stephens Island were welcomed on to Mana Island a week ago, on 22 January.
One of the 100 Fairy Prion chicks

I was one of a team of Friends of Mana Island volunteers whose job was to feed and care for the birds until they were grown up enough to leave their burrows and fly out to sea. We were helping scientist Helen Gummer with this part of the project.

The chicks were delivered by helicopter and the welcoming party and volunteers quickly whisked them from the helicopter into the shade. Working quickly but carefully, we checked their identifying bands, wrote down their details and gave them a burrow number.
Ready for its band check

Each of the 100 chicks was given a health check and a drink and then placed in its carefully made burrow.

The burrows had lids which made it easy for us to lift out the birds, they also had a tunnel that the bird could use to get out when it was ready to fly away. To ensure that only those birds that had grown enough to survive at sea could leave their burrows, a gate was placed across the entrance.

With views of blue sky and sea, a colourful caravan, numbered burrows and a music system that played fairy prion noises at night, the whole set up resembled a Fairy Prion Holiday Park.
Fairy Prion Holiday Park

The birds' burrows were cool, but the clear skies and all day sun made it hot work for the humans. There was a lot to do - water to boil, things to wash, equipment to sterilise and things to carry to and from the site (about half an hour walk from the volunteers' house).

We soon got into our routines. First thing, there was morning roll call to check on the birds and see which ones had flown off in the night.
Morning roll call
Carrying the bird up to the caravan

Then working in two teams we carried the birds up from their burrows one at a time to be fed in the caravan. Each bird was weighed before feeding. They were fed a kind of sardine smoothie, using a syringe.

Ready to be weighed
Feeding sardine smoothie 

Feeding such tiny birds (they weigh around 100-120g) is tricky, and trickier still is giving them just the right amount. The first feed was especially messy as they were getting used to the new way of being fed. Occasionally a bird with a full beak of sardine smoothie would do a head shake and spray sardine around over the handler and the feeder.

Helen was keeping a close eye on every bird (and the volunteers) to make sure the birds were getting enough food and growing strong. She measured wing lengths and checked to see whether they were losing their baby down.

We gave names to some of the birds - Fluffy, Flappy, Cutie - but these were interchangeable as they all started off fluffy, all were cute and the older they got the more they flapped their wings. A few got their own name - Pipe Bird (it seemed to prefer the tunnel to the burrow), Zero (for its burrow number).
Not quite so fluffy now, but still cute

After the birds had been in their burrows for two nights, Helen removed the gates from some of the burrows and next morning we looked with interest to see how many had flown away in the night. Six had gone. On the third night 21 birds flew off. On the fourth night it was 13 birds, and on the sixth another 15 left. So after our week on the island there were only 45 of the 100 birds left to feed. It was time for our group to leave too, and hand over the feeding to a new group.

The humans left by boat

Many organisations and people are involved in this project, this is just one volunteer's view. 

  • Colin Miskelly led the collection team, read his blog on the Te Papa blog to find out how they chose the birds and about the science behind this project. 
  • For other stories about the Fairy Prion project see the Friends of Mana Island Facebook page.
  • And for the younger ones, there are a few facts about fairy prions in my book Under the Ocean.

Thanks to Friends of Mana Island and Helen Gummer for an amazing opportunity and to Mana Island DOC rangers and the other volunteers for being such a great team.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Rubbish Start to the Year - and the Strange Bowerbird that Likes it

My blog readers can't help but notice that rubbish in the environment is a source of great concern. I've blogged about beach clean-ups, both private and organised, about road-side rubbish, and about rubbish such as plastic bags endangering wildlife. A friend responded by sending me these images from Jakarta.

 There is so much rubbish here, the standard kiwi beach clean-up doesn't apply.

This is the world's problem, not just mine or yours. But we can do something. Here's some ideas from the US environmental group NRDC on Solutions to Plastic Pollution in our Oceans.

And in a strange twist here's a true story about a bird that likes rubbish...
A few weeks ago, I was walking in Australia's beautiful blue mountains. Beautiful scenery, not a piece of rubbish to be seen despite large numbers of tourists.

When I saw an explosion of rubbish on the forest floor.

I was almost ready to leap in and pick it all up, when my Australian companion pointed out this was the Bower of a Satin Bowerbird. 
Satin bowerbird above his bower

The male Bowerbird collects blue objects, the same colour as his eyes, and creates a bower of grasses too. Plastic rubbish - bottle tops, drinking straws and other bits of blue plastic make for a bright bower. Birds that don't have access to rubbish use blue feathers, stones, shells, berries etc.

The bower is the thicket of sticks at the top of this photo.

Their penchant for blue plastic puts them at risk from getting rings from blue plastic bottle lids stuck around their necks, and has led to calls for such rings to be banned.

Some people have taken to You Tube with their observations of Bowerbirds in action. Here's a link to one - Courtship Display of the Satin Bowerbird.

Stumbling across the Satin Bowerbird was one of the highlights of our trip. For once it was good to see rubbish being put to good use.

Thanks to Libby for the photos from Jakarta and Sarah for the showing me the Satin Bowerbird.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The best of the season - a year of nature blogging

As the summer Christmas/New Year break approaches here's a look back on the Best of 2014 blog posts.
Pohutukawa - New Zealand Christmas tree


I'm always trying to improve the information on my blog. Now you can see my observations on Nature Watch, thanks to a cool widget they provided (they are now part of the international

I'm now posting most of my blog posts on the Facebook Nature Bloggers page. You can also follow me on Facebook at Gillian Candler - Author where you can find out more about my books for children.

I hope you are enjoying reading about New Zealand nature and getting tips about things to do out and about with kids (and adults). There's more to come in 2015 including reviews of Nature Apps for children and adults, Seaweek and Wellington walks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Giveaways at Pauatahanui Clean Up

The Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet (or GOPI for short) run an annual clean up around the inlet.

Always a popular event, there is a barbecue afterwards and of course the satisfaction of knowing you've done the environment a bit of good.  For children this year there was something extra, as my publisher Craig Potton Publishing agreed to donate a copy each of Under the Ocean and At the Beach to be spot prizes for children that helped out to be drawn at the barbecue.

Well over 100 people turned up, each family was assigned a particular part of the harbour.

The worst type of rubbish to deal with was buried, here a plastic bag was full of mud and sand it was difficult to get out. A crab ran out when I gave the bag a tug. I don't think plastic bags are much of a habitat for crabs.
Here's some of the rubbish we collected, not just bags of plastic and bits and pieces but dumped tyres too.

Then came the fun bit, a barbecue and the prize draw. First little Sienna from Aotea, got a copy of At the Beach.

 Then James of Papakowhai won Under the Ocean.

They both loved the books, and I was pleased to be part of the clean up. I look forward to helping out again next year. To find out more about the Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet here is the website The website includes some rainy day and educational activities for children as well as news and reports about the inlet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gannets at Muriwai - day trip from Auckland

The gannet is a beautiful bird, snowy white, with black-tipped wings, yellow head, blue eyes.

 I often see one or two from my window, gliding, beak pointed downwards eyeing the sea below. If I watch long enough I'll see the bird suddenly dive at startling speeds.

These impressive birds feature on the first pages of Under the Ocean, where Ned has illustrated them at all stages of their diving.

They don't nest around here, but I've seen them nesting near Cape Kidnappers, we walked for a few hours along the beach to see them, leaving as the tide was going out and returning before it came back in again.

Now I've seen them, smelt them, heard them, in large numbers at Muriwai Beach.

I had no idea how close we'd be able to get to them, or how impressive the birds would be in large numbers. We spent hours watching them. 

Here's a photo from one of the lookouts, in the top left hand corner of the photo you can just see the lookout where I took the video from. This photo shows how close we were and gives an idea, perhaps of the size of the colony.

The birds had all secured a nest site but not yet laid any eggs. It was amazing to see how the nests were all the same distance from each other, there was not a scrap of wasted space.

The Auckland Regional Council website has information about how to get there, it's just 45km north of Auckland. The walk to the colony is called the Takapu Refuge Walk and is described as being 30 minutes long, but you'll want to spend more than 30 minutes there.

The Maori name for the Australasian gannet is Takapu. You can find out more about Australasian gannets on NZ Birds Online.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Clean and Green? Let's put an end to litter.

Like many tourists, I like to take photos of beautiful landscapes - places I've seen and enjoyed. The lovely clear waters of Northland
 and the stunning Karekare waterfall
It's rare that we'll photograph something unpleasant, so our trip photos usually show the best side of the places we've been. Sadly on a recent trip, we came across overflowing rubbish bins close to beaches (all it needed was a wind gust for all that plastic to end up in the sea) and rubbish dumped in the bush at the beginning of a walkway close to a road rest stop.

Want to take action?
- Join a beach or park clean up, one place to find out about what's on in your area is or contact your local Forest and Bird branch.
- Take rubbish home, rather than using bins at the beach.
- Think about how you might produce less rubbish, some good tips can be found at Rubbish Free Guide

local school children campaign against litter