Saturday, April 19, 2014

World Heritage Day - protecting our natural heritage

What better way to spend World Heritage Day, than getting out and protecting our natural heritage. It just so happened that the stormy weather cleared and Friends of Mana Island volunteers were able to get out and clear the pest traps along the nearby mainland coast. Volunteers clear these DOC traps regularly, each time they are cleared the trap is set again and ready to catch another pest.

The pest traps are designed to catch stoats, weasels and rats, all of them introduced predators of the native lizards that live in this coastal habitat.

Our native skinks and geckos are an important part of the coastal ecosystem.
Baby gecko
Keeping down the numbers of predators might also give little penguins a chance to start nesting here again, as well as making life easier for other native birds.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oystercatchers at the Beach

It is autumn and there are four noisy variable oystercatchers on our beach. These are the parent birds photographed in spring. Now they have two teenagers hanging out with them. The younger birds still need their parents help to get enough food. It is quite an art to cracking open a shells with their beak and the young ones have to learn how to do this.

Oystercatchers are bigger than the blackbirds you see in the garden and also bigger than the red-billed gulls that you might see on the beach. The adults bright orange beaks make them easy to identify when you see them. But often you'll hear them first, making a loud shrill 'kleep, kleep, kleep" as they fly across the beach. 

My favourite bird website NZBirdsOnline has recordings of bird calls, so before you go to the beach, listen to their call on the website and see if you can hear them at the beach. 

It was a delight as I was tramping around Stewart Island in the summer, to see a pair of adult variable oystercatchers on every beach I came to. But only one pair, because each pair has its own territory. This pair was resting on Smoky Beach, their lovely bright beaks tucked in close.
Smoky Beach, Stewart Island

Ned and I included variable oystercatchers in At the Beach. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Storylines Notable Books List 2014

Looking for a good New Zealand book for children or young adults? Look no further than the Storylines Notable Books Lists. The Storylines lists are longer than the finalists lists for the various children's book awards and so cater for all reading levels and a wider range of interests. This makes them a great starting point for parents, grandparents, educators and librarians.

You can access the 2014 list here, as well as see lists from previous years.

And yes - In the Garden has been selected as a Notable Non-Fiction title. Thank you Storylines judges.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Great White Scare - Butterflies in the Garden

Usually when we hear Great White, we think of the Great White Shark which has a fearsome reputation. Recently a new Great White has appeared on land, and while it might look like a cute butterfly it has a fearsome reputation too!

Gardeners think of the Cabbage Butterfly (or Small White) as a pest, it seems that the Great White is even more destructive and is a danger to native plants as well as to crops.

It is their caterpillar that is destructive, eating up large amounts of leaves and making it hard for plants to grow. Each type of butterfly favours a different plant, and both the white butterflies like plants in the brassica family. This includes cabbages, broccoli and nasturtiums.

Great White Butterflies have been found in the Nelson Tasman region and will spread further if they aren't found and killed. On my last visit to Nelson I thought I'd do my bit and check out this nasturtium plant - its holey leaves showed it was clearly being eaten by caterpillars. I found caterpillars which are the same green as the stem of the plant, a great camouflage! They looked like Cabbage Butterfly (Small Whites) caterpillars, Ned has illustrated one in In the Garden on page 21. I checked DOCs Great White Butterfly fact sheet to make sure they don't have a similar caterpillar and saw that the Great White caterpillar has black spots and looks quite different.

Later I heard that this nasturtium had already been checked along with other plants in the garden by the Great White butterfly eradication team.

If you live in Nelson/Tasman you can help by looking for host plants, checking butterflies and caterpillars against the pictures in the fact sheet and following the advice from DOC.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sea Week - At the Beach

Sea Week is on - with events around the country. Sea Week is run by the NZ Association for Environmental Education, so has a schools focus.
But that shouldn't stop the rest of us making the most of Sea Week at the beach - or at home.

Sea anemones
Here are some things to do in Sea Week:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cicadas in the Garden

It is the beginning of March, officially autumn, and the cicadas are calling frantically. In the garden and in the bush, the noise is almost deafening. 

I have written about cicadas in In the Garden, here is Ned's drawing of a cicada from page 22.

There are signs of cicadas everywhere in the garden, you can find old skins - still attached to trees or walls. 
Cicadas climb out of the ground where they have been living in a juvenile form, called nymphs. It moults, sheds its skin, and then flies off to find a mate. 

Sparrows in my garden are having a cicada feast. It is quite impressive to see a small sparrow eating one of these large insects. I didn't see any sparrows eating them earlier in the summer. I wonder if they catch cicadas in late summer/autumn when a different species of cicada has emerged? I read that adult cicadas only live for 2 to 3 weeks, so perhaps the sparrows are catching the dying cicadas?

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand has some interesting information about cicadas, as well as recordings of cicada songs. If you want to read about the evolution of New Zealand's cicadas, as well as the regional differences, I recommend Ghosts of Gondwana: the history of life in New Zealand by George Gibbs. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New App to Help Identify Native Flora

In the park, on a school trip or out tramping, here's a new tool to identify common native trees. 

With Flora Finder you take a photo of a leaf you're interested in, answer a few simple questions about the leaf to narrow down the selection and then see what matches come up. Flora Finder uses shape recognition technology to match your leaf with one (or more) of the common native trees in the database. There are 87 species in the database with more to come in the future.

It's encouraging to see a New Zealand App about our native flora that takes an interactive approach and makes full use of the iPhone or iPad capabilities of photography, mapping and feedback to the creators. Users can save their identified trees on a map for future reference. You can also use the App to email photos of leaves that weren't able to be identified to Otago University, and apparently this feature is proving popular.

Flora Finder will be very useful to community groups - I can immediately think of a seed collection project where, with only one expert in the group, the rest of us could have made good use of a leaf identification tool. Having a piece of white paper on hand for a plain background for photos requires a bit of planning and perhaps makes it less likely that people will use the App while tramping. But here the browse function comes in handy especially if you already have an idea of which tree it might be.

The process of answering the simple questions the App takes you through - size of leaf, whether its composite, what kind of edges does it have? - are great prompts for refining observation skills. That and the fact that there may be more than one possible match requiring further checking against the various descriptions, make this a great educational tool.

There's more to tree identification than leaves - bark, flowers, fruits - so I'll still be referring to my tree books at home. But I will definitely be using Flora Finder out in the field and will look forward to updates as more trees are added.

Flora Finder was created by Dr Janice Lord, Botany Department, Otago University; staff at Otago Innovation; and MEA mobile and costs NZ$4.19 at the iTunes store. For more on Flora Finder, go to the Otago University website here.