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

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Seabird of the Year 2014 - Poor Knights star

I enjoyed snorkelling at the Poor Knights Island - a fabulous marine reserve with lots of underwater colour and life. But on the day the real star was the Buller's Shearwater, which put on an extraordinary feeding show.
Poor Knights Islands, seen through a haze of seabirds

Flocking in large numbers, the birds were taking advantage of krill and other small sea creatures that were being driven to the surface by larger fish.
In the foreground fish are driving up a feast for the birds

According to NZ Birds Online, Buller's Shearwaters only nest on the Poor Knights Islands. Their style of eating - sitting on the surface to eat what is driven up - also makes them vulnerable to fishing techniques. Lucky for them the Poor Knights is a Marine Reserve with no pests on the islands and the sanctuary extending out 800m from the islands. Of course they do fly further afield around New Zealand, and as well as being vulnerable to fishing, they are also affected by marine pollution - 156 were known to be killed by the Rena oil spill in 2011. After they have nested and raised their chicks, they fly north to the waters of North Pacific (Japan, USA) .

Buller's Shearwaters

Join me in voting for the Buller's Shearwater to bring attention to its vulnerability in the Seabird of the Year 2014 Competition.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Celebrating Conservation Week

Posters from Conservation Week 1993
A wonderful way to start Conservation Week - a mystery parcel arrived from a friend and in it were these posters from Conservation Week 1993. They've been on classroom walls and in children's bedrooms and now they've come to rest in my study.

The theme for 1993 was "Living Places". The theme for Conservation Week 2014 is "Discover the world where you live". Conservation is about ensuring that the world where we live has living places for wildlife too.

Get involved and enter the Conservation Week Competitions or take part in a Conservation Week Event. Or simply take the books in our "explore and discover" series to discover more about the world where they live - looking at the beach, the ocean and right at home in the garden.

Enjoy discovering the world where you live.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Forest and Bird Walks in Wellington - from my journal

It's spring and heading into tramping season. Thanks to the longer days and warmer weather (and the fact that I'm between books) I've been able to go out with Forest and Bird on a lot of day walks. Here's a sample from my nature journal of what I've observed.

Puriri moth
Tramping out from seeing  the Giant Rata, a puriri moth was found by a fellow tramper on the pathway. He picked it up to move it to safety.  This is the first time I've seen a live puriri moth so I was pretty excited by this find. What a gorgeous mossy green and what big eyes it has!

Wellington tree weta
Another insect slap bang in the middle of the track, this time a Wellington Tree Weta - a female - that spike at her rear end is an ovipositor for laying eggs. We gently moved her to the side so she wouldn't get trodden on.

Native clematis was also festooned over the bush canopy but most obvious to walkers where it was flowering at head height on the low scrub, stumps of tree ferns and other vines. We've never seen so much of it before.
Single clematis bloom suspended between trees

Clematis mixed up with bush lawyer, hence the spiky leaves

Clematis growing over a tree fern stump

WEDNESDAY 15th - FIELD HUT (again)
Phlegmariurus varius, common name - fork fern, although it isn't a fern but from an ancient plant family. Look closely and you can see each strand forks into two and then into two again. This symmetry is part of its beauty.
Phlegmariurus varius

Alongside the pathway were Tutukiwi or Green hood orchids. If you don't know to look for them it's easy to walk on by. Once you know, you see them everywhere. When I looked this up to check its scientific name I discovered there are many different kinds of green hood orchids, but I'm pretty sure this is Pterostylis banksii.
Pterostylis banksii

Forest and Bird - Wellington Regional Tramping Group runs walks and tramps of varying difficult for its members. Unless they are described as a Nature Walk, they're primary focus isn't botanising or we'd never make it to our destinations! But it's enjoyable to learn something about nature and still have a good walk. Our observations are often made looking down at the track or pathway - we avoid tripping up and at the same time learn more about the natural world.

You can see more of my observations, and those of lots of other people, on Nature Watch. Or join up and join in on Forest and Bird walks and see them for yourself.

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