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

Monday, August 11, 2014

3 Top Nature Websites for Kiwi Kids

As a writer of children's books I spend a lot of time reading and researching, using books and websites. I keep an eye out for websites that I can recommend to children and their parents. It's amazing how many websites there are that fall into the New Zealand nature category. Check out my Pinterest board New Zealand Nature Online to see some of them. Most are written for general audiences but many are specialist sites that focus on one geographical area, such as a sanctuary, or one species, such as yellow-eyed penguins.

Here are my top three nature websites for children interested in New Zealand nature. 
My criteria are: easy navigation, informative and interesting content that children can grasp, a range of media (not just text to read).

Number one is the Kiwi Conservation Club website

The site isn't restricted to members of the club (although children might want to join when they see what's on offer!). It has a good range of information about New Zealand wildlife, habitats and conservation issues. There are quizzes to do online as well as hands-on project ideas. And it's written specifically for children

Second is New Zealand Birds Online
This site gets top marks for easy navigation. It's easy to find information about a particular bird or to identify a bird. Each bird has its own page with audio files as well as lots of photographs. It's not written for children, and so children may need some help interpreting the information. Adults or older children helping out will probably get hooked on this site too!

And number three is the Marine Studies Centre website
The highlight of this site is the Marine Life Database which has undergone some recent improvements, making it easier to search for sea creatures.

Aside from the database there is a link to a YouTube channel and there are some children's games and downloadable resources.

The organisations responsible for these websites - Forest and Bird, Te Papa, Birds New Zealand, DOC, Otago University - deserve our congratulations and support. They're helping make the internet a rich resource for kiwi kids.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Wasp's Nest!

My friends found these wasp nests when they replaced their roof. Years ago the wasps built these nests, and although the wasps died long ago, the nests have endured.

In "In the Garden" I wrote that wasps like to nest in warm places such as house roofs and Ned illustrated the wasp beautifully.  
But we didn't show a nest or talk about how wasps build them.

 Look closely at this photo of the wasp's nest and you can see it looks like its made of papery wood shavings!
Photo by Max George
The wasps chewed up wood from trees or their surroundings and mixed it with saliva to create their nest.

We were lucky that this was an abandoned nest. Wasp stings are very painful, so you should never approach a wasp's nest unless you know for sure its empty!