Monday, October 13, 2014

Pilgrimage to a Tree - the largest known Northern Rata

In dense bush north of Wellington stands the truly awesome giant Karapoti Rata.

Forest and Bird trampers and the Karapoti Rata
Thought to be over 1000 years old, it is 39 metres high and has a girth or circumference of over 15m. To read about who measured it, see The New Zealand Tree Register. The register tells you the GPS location of the tree. But it's one thing to know the location, it's quite another to find the tree in the forest.

We were very lucky that a member of our tramping group had the ambition to not only find the tree but also to note the route so he could lead us there. He and his friends were very determined - it took them several long attempts before they were satisfied they could lead us there. Our seven hour trip involved quite a few scrambles - up and down creeks and slippery slopes, sometimes using ropes - but it was worth it.

So big, it took 15 people to hug the tree!

Looking up the tree
Northern rata (Metrosideros robusta) are extraordinary trees.
They start life as an epiphyte. Epiphytes are plants growing on a host tree. The seed takes root on a branch of the host tree. It sends long roots down to the bottom of the host tree as well as growing up to the canopy. Over the years it sends down more and more roots that encircle the host tree. Eventually the host tree dies and the rata takes over completely.

A big thank you to John, Mike, Allan and Marianne.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kereru Count & Citizen Science

I have a new appreciation of kereru - New Zealand pigeons. I've been observing them more closely during the Great Kereru Count over the last fortnight.
Kereru on Banks Peninsula
These mighty birds - half a metre long and weighing over 600g - have a reputation for being clumsy. It's not just that they are noisy fliers, we also see and hear them crashing around in trees, sometimes falling right through the foliage.
Kereru at Zealandia, using its wings to maneuver
But I've figured it out - they are Risk Takers. Yes, they see some juicy fruits or tasty flowers and they take their chances that the twigs they land on will hold their weight. That's a bit of a risk on a twiggy species like tree lucerne. But worth it for the tasty treats that they find.
Kereru at Nga Manu Sanctuary
The kereru has a particularly big mouth (gape) - it can swallow fruit such as tawa, puriri and karaka whole. It then poos the seeds out in a nicely fertilised heap somewhere else. (Kereru, Tui and Korimako/bellbird are the three birds that are most important for forest growth. They are the main seed distributors and pollinators which have survived the introduction of mammal pests.)

Citizen Science
The Great Kereru Count is a citizen science project put in place by the Kiwi Conservation Club, the size of kereru and their unwillingnesss to fly away quickly, certainly makes them easy for children to spot. I regularly saw a couple in my neighbourhood and entered the data in to Thundermaps - see everyone's sightings on the map here.

Today I read about another citizen science project - the Yellowhammer Dialect project. What an intriguing project, researching whether birds in different areas have different dialects. I like their website it makes the project seem easy to participate in. We have a few yellowhammers around here, so I'm already to have a go recording them (when the wind isn't blowing a gale).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Counting Birds - New Zealand's 10 most common forest birds

I've been subjected to some friendly teasing from friends and family, who find it amusing that I just spent 2 days on a bird counting course. "How hard can it be?" they laugh, counting off 1 - 2 - 3 on their fingers.
 One tui in a kowhai tree
I admit even I can see the amusing side. Picture this - a dozen adults standing in a rough circle not on a track or in a clearing but right in amongst the tree trunks, deep in the ferns, poked by branches, barely able to see a bird for the trees. Each clutches a clipboard. A series of strange scenes ensue. Eyes shut, ears cocked, they point in seemingly random directions. Then eyes open but utterly silent they turn their heads this way and that all the while scratching away with their pencils on the clipboards.

We were standing like this just metres from the path, a tramper walked past head down, a bellbird call trills out loudly from one of speakers our tutor has hidden, still he doesn't look up. What a fright he'd have got if he'd looked up and seen our silent coven standing still amongst the trees.

Deep in the forest - where are the birds?
I've put my teasers in their place, explaining that I was learning a special technique, used all over New Zealand -5-minute bird counts. We're counting all birds seen and heard in 5 minutes from marked locations to figure out trends in bird population and the health of the forest. Identifying their calls when they can't be seen is the biggest challenge. We used the DOC online bird identification tool and practised the calls of the 10 most common forest birds.

The 10 most common birds in the New Zealand forest:

  • tui
  • bellbird - korimako
  • fantail- piwakawaka
  • tomtit - miromiro
  • grey warbler - riroriro
  • rifleman - titipounamu
  • NZ pigeon - kereru
  • silver eye - tauhou
  • blackbird
  • chaffinch

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Under the Ocean - Book Launch

Please join us at the book launch of Under the Ocean on Wednesday 1 October at 6pm, at The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington. Ned and I will have our signing pens out, and there'll be drinks and nibbles for all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Stick Insect Surprise

Stick insects are so beautifully camouflaged in the garden or the bush, so when one appears off its normal tree, it causes a bit of a surprise.
This one hitched a ride on someone's arm!

Here's the stick insect Ned illustrated in 'In the Garden', on page 15, hiding in the manuka.
Another place to find information about stick insects written for a general audience is Te Ara: The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

There is scientific information about stick insects as well as lots of photos on the Landcare Research website. One thing I learned from this site is most stick insects are female, with some populations having only females, who reproduce without the help of males, called parthenogenesis.

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Day of Spring - Tui and native flowers

The traditional first day of spring is cool, calm and sunny. We've had many winter days with settled weather, so it's been easy to get out and about. There have been signs of spring everywhere. The noisiest are the tui, usually solitary birds, they're gathering together, chasing, swooping and flying around the bay from tree to tree.
Five Tui silhouetted in a tree
Other birds who are making themselves heard in bush gardens are warblers - riroriro, and fantail - piwakawaka. And everywhere kowhai trees are coming in to bloom.

Tui in Kowhai tree
And in the bush look out for another sign of spring, the beautiful flowering native clematis - puawhananga - a vine which climbs to the canopy and covers the canopy with large white flowers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

In Praise of DOC Huts

We have a unique system of public backcountry huts in New Zealand. From poky, smoky huts etched with history through to Great Walk palaces with solar lighting, these huts provide much needed shelter on our tramping tracks. Often a convenient day's walk apart, most provide the basics of bunks, benches, rainwater tanks and a tap, with an outdoor toilet at a pong-free distance.

There's nothing quite like the sight of a hut in the distance after a tough day on the trail. Glimpse it in the distance through the bush or across the bay and suddenly your pack feels lighter, the rain less persistent, and hunger more bearable.

But best of all is the view from the hut, having been on the move all day, you can now sit and enjoy the view out to sea, up the river, or deep into the bush interior.

The huts on the North-West Circuit of Stewart Island, are all in inspired locations. Each hut we came to had its own delightful setting. Thanks DOC!

Here are some of the huts paired with their views.

1. Most welcome view of a hut in the distance - Bungaree

2. Best dolphin watching spot - Christmas Village
3. Most peaceful river setting - Yankee River
4. Best view from the loo - Long Harry
5. Top marks for location - East Ruggedy
6. Most rewarding arrival, after a slog through the mud - Big Hellfire