May 22, 2020 … birds and bees

The weeks since my last post have been strange. Despite the easing of our lockdown status to level 2, life feels markedly different to the way it was before the restrictions. Perhaps it’s just the onset of winter weather.

As you will see from the pictures I display this time, I have not been to many places that afford a long view. Traditional landscape shots have been hard to come by. In fact, under the rules of level 2 lockdown, domestic travel is now permitted but I still feel obliged to stay close to home.

WARNING: The penultimate image in this edition is of a spider, so if spiders upset you, approach with caution.

Vivid colour

I was walking down the walkway beside Te Mome Stream near the Shandon golf course in search of our old friend “George”, the white heron. I never did find George on that trip, but these bright pegs (US = clothespins) seemed to make a picture.

Graffiti in the bush

On the same walkway, I encountered this shed tucked into the bush beside the track. I have no tolerance at all for graffitists who I regard as the equivalent of dogs marking their territory. Nevertheless the overall effect was interesting.

Hi, George

A few days later, I finally found George. More precisely, Mary found George while she was out on one of her long walks and texted me as to where she had seen him. I then drove to a street nearby and tip-toed into the area. There he was standing in a place where a storm-water drain empties into the Te Mome stream. I had to engage in a combination of sneaky approach and weird contortions to get a clear shot of him. So nice to see him again.

To see the world in a grain of sand

One of Mary’s treasured pieces of driftwood suddenly revealed the surface pattern that I had been looking at but not seeing for a long time. The Lockdown seems to have developed that skill a little. Please do click to enlarge in order to see the pattern.

A white-faced heron

This image was made at the Hutt River estuary while I was checking to see whether George had returned to his old haunts. George had gone elsewhere, but his smaller cousin, the white-faced heron was standing in the an area of sunlit water, producing an interesting high-key effect.

Madonna

Even as we came out of the level three restrictions, we had some less than pleasant weather. So, back inside for still life shots. Mary has a small sandstone madonna about 75 mm (3″) tall. I used my light tent and made this high key image. It was fun to do.

Pukeko

Still in pursuit of George, I prowled the banks of the Te Mome stream and encountered this handsome pukeko. The pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus) is a member of the swamphen family and there are numerous joke recipes for preparing it for the table. It usually goes, boil with an axe head until the axe head goes soft then discard the bird and eat the axe head. Regardless of its suitability for eating it is a fine looking bird with a vivid red shield on its head and beautiful blue and purple plumage. Did I mention that it has huge feet?

white on white

This flower was part of a bouquet that Mary received recently. As far as I can tell, it is one of the fleabane family and as you might guess, is related to daisies. I rather like the idea of high key images (usually very bright images with minimal shadows). So the faithful light tent was pushed into action again and I think it did a good job displaying the purity of the petals.

Bumble-bee resting

I was hanging washing on the line in our back yard when Mary drew this bumble bee to my attention. It was clinging to a down-pipe on the outside of the house, and looked as if it were about to die. I raced inside for camera and tripod and made images from several angles while it obligingly stayed very still. Then I completed my domestic duties and when I next looked, it had flown away.

Sandra II

Before the lockdown, I used to visit Hikoikoi quite often and am familiar with the working boats that are usually moored there. Sandra II is a sturdy little fishing vessel that, I suspect, rarely goes beyond the harbour limits. Nevertheless, I have seen her owner unloading good hauls of fish. On this occasion he seemed to be preparing to go out.

The elusive George

Another day searching for George and I found him, lurking among the reeds beneath some trees overhanging the stream. He certainly doesn’t make it easy. When I got to close he departed for distant places.

Glass

Another wet day and more indoor work. I am not sure how to describe this piece, but I suspect it to be a bas relief. It qualifies by virtue of no undercutting, but it is inverted, carved into the back of the glass block. Again about 75 to 100 mm tall.

Imperial gaze

This statue of Queen Victoria was cast it’s steely gaze over Kent and Cambridge Terraces since it was moved there in 1911 to make way for the trams in its original location in Post Office Square, It’s a fine statue, but the panels on the plinth were controversial because the Scottish artist had a rose-tinted view of the signing of the Treaty of Waiting.

Vagrant spider (Uiliodon albopunctatus)

Mary spotted this large black spider in the upstairs bedroom. It was moving pretty fast so she yelled for me to bring my camera. She then caught it in a glass jar and put some cling film to secure the beast. Neither of us was aware of it at the time but Uiliodon albopunctatus has a reputation for being aggressive and capable of inflicting a nasty bite. Like almost all New Zealand spiders, its bit is non-toxic. An hour in the fridge slowed it down considerably and I was able to pose it on a sheet of white paper and make my images. As it started to warm up and show signs of animation, I released it unharmed into the garden where it might normally live.

Leucanthemum (I think)

This flower is growing on a large shrub in a neighbour’s somewhat overgrown piece of undeveloped land. Botanical identification is quite difficult to me and often a flower seems to match at least five or six candidates.

That will suffice for this round. I look forward to your company in a few weeks.

Posted in Arachnids, Bees, Birds, flowers, insects, Light, Rivers, Weather | 1 Comment

May 5, 2020 … so much to be grateful for

A full five weeks of Level 4 lockdown is behind us. It seems to have been the right course of action. Yesterday, in New Zealand, there were no new cases of Covid-19 reported. In terms of our personal well being, Mary has performed daily domestic miracles, so from my perspective, lockdown has been no great hardship. We were warm, well fed, and only mildly inconvenienced. I have much to be grateful for. It did, however, constrain my photography. First world problem.

As I indicated two weeks ago, the main impact of lockdown on making images was that most of them have had to be made at short distances. I couldn’t drive to places that gave me the long view required for landscapes. Let’s see how I did.

Down the hole

In one of the neighbourhood walks into which Mary cajoled me, I looked over the railing at the edge of the footpath and down into the crown of a beautiful Silver Fern, (Alsophila dealbata or ponga). I liked the swirling impression it gave, rather like a whirlpool.

Spruce cone

Items of possible interest from her own much longer walks were delivered almost daily by Mary. As far as I can tell, this is the cone is from one of the 35 or so varieties of spruce. I was intrigued by the general lightness of the cone, and the delicacy of each seed wing. Even the simplest things in nature come with their own beauty.

More neighbourly craft

The last time I posted, I mentioned our neighbour painting rocks. Her rate of production seems to have escalated and she has been gifting them to friends and neighbours and even leaving them in various places near the front of the driveway for strangers to find and treasure. It brings a smile to my face to see such a generous instinct.

Cicada

I associate the cicada with February. To my mind it is the sound of late hot summer weather. The sometimes deafening buzz-click of a million insects in unison is what summer sounds like. It was a surprise, therefore, to get one in late April.This specimen is not the common chorus cicada, but rather, I think it is the native April Green cicada, Kikihia ochrina. I have never encountered one before. I just love the delicacy of its wing structure.

Seizing the moment

Though many things are suspended during lockdown, our hedge keeps growing. So I had to uncoil the power cord, oil the hedge trimmer blades and begin the trimming. The hedge was in copious bloom, and the bees were doing their thing. As the clippers reduced the number of available flowers, the bees became a bit disgruntled and buzzed threateningly. I paused in my domestic duties to get out a camera with a long (400 mm) lens so as to catch the bumble bee visiting the last of the uncut flowers. Sorry bees, I bow to a higher authority and she asked for a tidy hedge.

Glass ware

I participate in making pictures to a daily theme with a group of photographers, most of whom are in or near Grand Bend, Ontario. One day recently, the theme was glassware so I produced this. The glass angel (in reality, a small flower vase) was placed inside a larger glass bowl that contains some of Mary’s found rocks. I had to reshoot this because glass that may appear clean to the naked eye is often not so. Any smooth surface seems to need a good wipe before a clean image can be made.

Lost marbles

Continuing the glass theme, I placed this handful of glass marbles inside a fruit bowl. I considered swirling the marbles and getting some motion blur, but with so many marbles, they stopped orbiting as soon as I put the bowl down.

Familiar scene, different light

ANZAC Day was unique this year. For the first time ever, there were no formal public observances. Instead, at the suggestion of our Prime Minister, citizens were invited to stand at their own front gate by the letterbox at 6am to collectively honour the dead of all our wars. And so it was. Many people stood in the pre-dawn darkness, to honour our fallen. The social-distancing rules were observed as we listened to the basic broadcast rituals of ANZAC day. A neighbour played a lament on his bagpipes, and as we dispersed silently back to our homes the day began. A beautiful red sky in the North East warned of murky weather to come.

Katydid

As you will realise, when the public mantra is “stay at home, save lives”, there are few opportunities to use long lenses, so I am always looking for something interesting at close range. Happily, Mary has a good eye, and is not scared of much so she brought this katydid home from one of her walks. The branch recently vacated by the cicada served as a posing platform. Unfortunately the insect kept waving her feelers about, and the relatively slow exposure meant that they were not as sharp as the rest of her.

Spinster

Another close-up is of a small pewter souvenir I bought for my late mother-in-law while I was in Amsterdam in 1982. The girl at the spinning wheel is described in Dutch as a “spinster”, so I was a little nervous about having an invoice for a spinster on my credit card. As with all my images, if you click on it, you will get a larger view and see the details better. As with most of my photography, this is made using natural light from a West facing window.

For medicinal purposes

Also made for the Ontario group, this time with the them with the theme of “bird’s eye view”, is this jar of marshmallows which I keep because someone told me that they are good for the relief of an irritating cough. I was prepared to take that as gospel with out doing any research to check it out. I suppose I want it to be true, and if it’s not, please don’t tell me.

Longhorn

My lovely assistant turned up with yet another interesting specimen. This one took a lot of Google time to track down, and even then, a friend found the identification before I did. It is a variegated longhorn beetle (Coptomma variegatum) … it is usually a forest dweller, the larvae of which burrow into live twigs. I thought it was a handsome beast, although it was very active. I had to resort to an old photographer’s trick of storing it in the fridge for a while until it slowed down with the cold. I got about ten minutes of relative stillness before it began to recover, and then it was turned loose unharmed.

Yucca flowers

Apparently, yucca plants are a significant cause of domestic injury in New Zealand. Their leaves certainly come to a viciously sharp point, and people manage to stab themselves with them. No matter, the flowers are a delight to the eye. The fine specimen in my neighbour’s garden seems to flower every other year and makes a spectacular show when it does.

Not George, but he’s not far away/

Our old friend George, the white heron is back in town. I hoped to see him in the usual place, but alas, he was elsewhere when we visited. His old and smaller friend, the white-faced heron was there keeping watch on his usual resting place inside the derelict boat.

That is all this time. I am guessing that we shall have at least another week or more in semi-lockdown, but perhaps some of the time ahead may allow travel to places with a longer view. Stay well, stay safe, observe the distance guidelines. See you next time.

Posted in adversity, Art, Bees, Family, flowers, Food, insects, Landscapes, Light, Plant life, sunrise, Weather | 1 Comment

April 19, 2020 … If I had the wings of an angel*

Three weeks of lockdown at level 4 (the highest) are now completed in New Zealand. At least one more week to go, and perhaps more. Even if the government does loosen the reins, I suspect there will still be considerable restrictions on movement, especially for those of us over 70.

If as a result, I don’t pass the virus to anyone else, or indeed receive it as an unwelcome gift from another person, then it is a price worth paying.

Mary and I are doing well in our shared confinement, and have much to be grateful for, especially having Mary as my “bubble companion”. Of course the confinement has a limiting effect on my photography. It does however, give me lots of practice in photographing things that are closer than usual. It also enables me to observe just how very hard Mary works (and has always done) to keep the house running smoothly and still keep supporting other people by phone.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Mary brings home things that might make a good image. I really liked this roadside plant. My web search suggests it is a Yarrow (also known as Achillea). The density of the little flowers made it especially attractive to me.

Autumn

Just about a kilometre down the road, and well within our permitted walking distance is the grand old house originally built for George von Zedlitz, one of the four founding professors of Victoria University of Wellington. Sadly, being German, he was interned on Somes Island as an enemy alien during the first world war. The university did not cover itself in glory with their support for him. The house is in what is now Jubilee Park, just across the road from us. It is currently designated as Hutt Minoh House, and is the focus of the sister city relationship between Lower Hutt and the Japanese city of Minoh. Although the park in which it is situated is predominantly native bush, there are patches of deciduous trees which allow me to find a touch of Autumn colour in the otherwise unrelenting green.

Super Moon

The full moon just prior to Easter looked as if it was going to emerge into a clear sky. Then the Eastern hills acquired a blanket of low cloud. The moon appeared but hid behind the scudding clouds. I took the shot and was quite pleased with the result … click to enlarge for a better view. This shot was made from our front door.

The owner of this bear keeps changing its persona

I gather that in many countries where lockdowns are in force, people are putting “teddy bears” in their windows to cheer up the kids walking in the neighbourhood. Some householders are putting a lot of effort into their bear displays. This home owner changes the persona of the bear every so often and most recently it has a red wig and a guitar in its guise as Ed Bearan.

Thoughtful gift

A near neighbour has been painting rocks to give to friends and neighbours to cheer them up in these times of lockdown and anxiety. Some are left on the roadside as treasures to be found by random strangers and they each have a message of encouragement on the back. She does very nice work. People are really good.

Leptospermum

The flow of things that might be worth photographing continue as Mary does her regular daily walk around the hills, anywhere from seven to twelve kilometres a day. This lovely piece of leptospermum is a derivative of the Manuka shrub, much prized for the medicinal quality of the honey made from it. I like it for the delicacy of the flowers perhaps a centimetre in diameter. .

Floating flora

Sometimes I spend a lot of time setting up images that, while they may look attractive to me, make no sense. In this case, a chrysanthemum blossom floating in a glass vase is accompanied by some dandelion blossoms from the (un-mowed) back garden. I like it but can offer no other reason for making the picture.

A rare visitor

Despite the cuteness of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the common hedgehog is a pest animal in New Zealand. It is a serious predator of many of our ground-dwelling birds, and as a friend described it they are a “rat with spines”. It is rare that we see them near home and especially in daylight. I am not equipped either in tools or in my nature to kill the animal so it was allowed to wander on its way.

A howling Nor’Westerly

At the bottom of the front yard there is a ponga fern which is a good indicator of whether the wind is the prevailing Nor’Wester or a colder Southerly. It just depends on which side its skirts are lifted. At this stage the wind was well in excess of 60 km/h. Even had there been no lockdown, I probably would not have gone far on such a day.

Driftwood

Our home at 150 metres above sea level is very far above even the highest of tides, so the only explanation for this piece of driftwood is that it took Mary’s attention while on some beach walk and I was persuaded to load it into the car. It’s a very heavy lump of wood and thus not suitable for setting up on my usual photography table. The stump takes on various characters depending on the weather and the way its coating of moss and lichen catches the light.

Random Web

I have not seen the spider that made this web. The randomness of the pattern is astonishing. Even more so is the question of how it went about building it. I tend to view it as a little like Gaudi’s plan for the Sagrada Familia cathedral … for a very long time, though they admired the work, other architects struggled to understand how the design derived its strength and how it worked.

Koru

Though I have spent a lot of time focus stacking recently, I suspect I shall be glad to move onto other techniques when the present lockdown is relaxed. Meanwhile, here we have a new unfurling frond from a silver fern. the circle of light is a shot glass in the background.

As you can see, most of the images in this edition have been made in close proximity to the subject. Despite the relative comfort of our metaphorical prison, I shall look forward to the chance to get further away whenever it finally arises.

*The Prisoner song (Guy Massey)

Posted in Academic, adversity, Animals, Arachnids, Architecture, Art, flowers, Landscapes, Light, Moon, Seasons, Weather | 2 Comments

April 4, 2010 … everything is changed … a locked down but nevertheless golden celebration

This week marks a special occasion which you can read about under the final image.

When I last wrote, everything was more or less normal here in New Zealand. I no longer know what “normal” means. Back then, there was little indication of the changes to come. Now we are in lockdown, and since Mary and I are both in the over 70 age group, society is taking special care of us. We are not even supposed to go to the supermarket because we are apparently especially vulnerable to catching the infection.

When I first heard the lockdown regulations, I formed some preconceptions as to how this would play out and where I would still be able to go for photography. Reality is a little different and rather more restrictive. The basic rules are:

  1. Stay at home
  2. Wash and dry your hands frequently.
  3. Stay within your own domestic “bubble”
  4. Stay at least two metres from anyone from outside of your bubble
  5. You can leave home for essential purposes such as visits to supermarket, or a doctor unless you are over 70 in which case you need to get someone else to shop for you because you are more vulnerable
  6. Go back to rule 1 … rinse and repeat

Despite rule 1, it is permitted to exercise in your own neighbourhood by walking, running, cycling etc, as long as you remain close to home and don’t come closer than two metres to anyone else. More adventurous exercises such as hiking, surfing etc are not permitted because if you need assistance you endanger others.

So, with all that in mind let us explore the images I have made since last time, in chronological order.

Spoonbills in the river
Browsing the mud in the Pauatahanui inlet

A pleasant morning and the likelihood of some bird shots resulted in Mary packing a lunch and the two of us setting out in the direction of Waikanae. Remember, this was when things were still “normal”. On Gray’s Rd around the Northern edge of the Pauatahanui Inlet, we saw the spoonbills. I thought that the cluster of them dredging for crabs in the soft mud of a serpentine creek might make a picture. I like the wandering path made by the creek, but the spoonbills were less prominent than I hoped for in my mind’s eye. I think, if you click to get the enlarged image, you will see the grey teal in between the two nearest spoonbills.

Juvenile dabchick
Still dependent on its parents

In Queen Elizabeth II Park at Paekakariki, I checked out the US Marines memorial Wetlands and was delighted to find that the dabchick families were still in residence. This one still wears the black and white facial markings of a juvenile bird, and indeed it was still being fed by its parents. I have to say I always enjoy the deep green colour of the QEII wetlands as they reflect the surrounding bush.

Yachts in the marina at Oriental Bay
In Oriental Bay

It needs to be acknowledged that Wellington is a small city, and there are relatively few parts of it that I have not yet been to in search of picture opportunities. The obvious consequence is that there are some places that I have used over and over and over again. My excuse is that they are attractive or interesting spots to begin with, and different days present different conditions, and thus different pictures.

This image was made from inside the breakwater on the Eastern side of the Clyde Quay Wharf (formerly known as the Overseas Passenger Terminal). As you can see, the conditions were calm.

Northward view across Oriental Bay Marina
The other direction

On the same day as the preceding image I crossed in front of the boat sheds, to catch the stillness of the day. Many leading photographers tell us that clear blue skies are boring, I still make blue sky images if the scene appeals, but I do enjoy grey skies if the clouds have textures. On this occasion, I liked the patterns and their reflections in the remarkably still water. So far, life is still normal.

Purple water lily
Water Lily

If I had known that my photographic activity in the near future would be almost exclusively based on still life, I might have gone elsewhere. However, the Begonia House in Wellington’s Botanic Garden offers some visual pleasure, even in normal times. There were some nice shots of orchids, and begonias to be had, but the vivid purple of the water lilies made this an image of power for me.

Pauatahanui looking moody but still
Pauatahanui Inlet

Another place I visit often in normal times is the Pauatahanui Inlet. I have over 3,000 images in my catalogue from there. So many different moods, but always my favourites are when the water is still and offering reflections.

The Hutt Valley was misty so I had hoped there might be similar conditions at Pauatahanui. Sadly that rarely happens, and I am guessing that the exposure to the sea air on the Western side of Haywards Hill prevents the mist forming. Anyway. I regret that E.L.James seems to have captured the phrase “shades of grey”as I love these conditions (the meteorological ones).

Swells on Wellington South coast
South coast

There are days when, even though conditions are calm, the South Coast still gets heavy swells. The sheer majesty of a big slow moving wave and the weight of water thudding into the rocks never fails to move me. I could watch those green walls coming in for hours.

View across Cook Strait from Makara
The day before it all changed

And now the change begins. The New Zealand Government implemented a series of conditions numbered 1 through 4 each with increasing levels of control measures to manage the spread of Covid-19. It opened at level 2, and then on March 24 went to level 3 with the warning that it would be at level 4 for at least four weeks from the following day.

Careful to minimise contact with others, Mary and I made the last of our final day of freedom for a while and drove first to Makara and then on to Plimmerton for a picnic lunch. On the way, we visited the West Wind wind farm. There standing beside one of the big turbines, we enjoyed this view across the Cook Strait to Arapawa Island and parts of the Kaikoura ranges.

I wholeheartedly endorse the government’s management of this crisis even though it means that for at least the next four weeks, we are required to stay home except as required to obtain the necessities of life. All businesses except those providing essential goods and services are firmly closed. People over 70 (you may be surprised to learn that that includes us) are instructed fairly firmly to stay at home and rely on others to shop for them. So here we go.

Sea Urchin shell
Sea Urchin shell

Day one of the lockdown. While taking that last walk on the beach at Plimmerton the previous day, Mary found this lovely little sea urchin shell. It’s rare to find an intact one and this is a very small one … about 50 mm (2″) in diameter … I was unaware of its beautiful colours until after I made the picture.

Fly Agaric toadstool
Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric

Mary is a walker. There are few days indeed when she doesn’t walk briskly around the hills or along the riverbank for 90 minutes or more. I on the other hand, am a couch potato. Mary knows that a four week lockdown is going to be hard for me as an obsessive photographer. Bless her heart, on the first day of lockdown, she gathered a bunch of objects that she knows will make interesting still life images. The common fly agaric toadstool is quite toxic, but also presents a striking appearance. My darkbox is going to get used often, I suspect. Focus stacking may also be used for this kind of image.

Collected sea shells
Memories of beaches past

Not only is she good at gathering things while walking, but Mary also has a large collection of small mementoes gathered on various trips over many years. And so, I was allowed access to her box of small sea shells. The background in this picture is a glass drinks coaster with etched concentric circles.

Kiwi feathers
Genuine honest to goodness kiwi feathers

Back in 2014, our local hospice was involved with the Department of Conservation in a fundraising exercise involving the naming and release of a young kiwi. Mary and granddaughter Maggie got to handle the young bird, and even walked with the DoC rangers to release it in the hills behind Wainuiomata. The bird left some of its feathers behind and they found their way into Mary’s souvenir tin.

Beach souvenirs
Indoor beach

On day five of the lockdown, I was given access to some of the larger beach memories. I borrowed the sand from my long forgotten mini Zen garden and spread it in the floor of my lightbox. A couple of starfish, some sponges and some interesting shells were arranged over the sand and thus we have instant beach though no water was involved. While attempting to return the sand to its proper space, I managed to spill some on the carpet. Vacuum cleaner duty!

Dandelion and reflection
On reflection

Another of Mary’s finds (isn’t she a gem?) was this dandelion. I decided against the straightforward ‘head and shoulders” portrait since I have done it so many times before. A paper plate was filled with water to a depth of one or two millimetres. The dandelion was then drooped until I had a clear reflection.

Early morning view up the Hutt Valley
A landscape day and I am trapped at home

Landscape images are very much harder to arrange now that we can not go anywhere in the car. The best I can manage is shots of the valley from the front yard. Happily, different day, different light, different weather means a different picture. On this day, river mist coming down from the upper valley made a difference.

Starling in the bird bath
The Spin Cycle

We have a bird bath on the front lawn, and it is well used. Sometimes five or six sparrows splash about in it, sometimes a huge kereru fills it to overflowing. On this occasion a starling was taking heed of the instruction to wash frequently and thoroughly. This was taken through the glass window of our dining room, but I enjoyed the scene.

More fly agaric specimens
More found treasures

A bunch of fly agaric toadstools were in Mary’s latest collection so I arranged them in some compost from one of our pot plants. I know they are toxic, but as far as I know that refers to ingestion, and anyway, the hand washing regime should take care of everything else.

A personal celebration

Mary and I on the day before our golden wedding anniversary
Fifty Wonderful Years Together

On April 4, 1970, Mary and I got married in St Patrick’s Church in Patea. We had a Nuptial Mass celebrated by the late Father Brian Sherry from New Plymouth. Being so long ago, some details of the day are hazy in my memory. However, one thing is clear, this was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Together we have five amazing children of whom we are extraordinarily proud. They in turn brought their spouses into the family and gave us six wonderful grandchildren who light up our lives, even though, in the present circumstances visitation is not possible.

Mary does not like to be the centre of attention, and I shall probably catch it for what follows, but something has to be said on such an occasion, so here goes …

She is a woman of deep faith who believes her purpose in life, her calling, is to serve others, especially those in most need. I have never met anyone who better understands the true meaning of the word “vocation”. I and my kids have benefitted enormously from this. Mary was a registered nurse for fifty years and in the last decade or so of her employment was a social worker helping patients and their families in Te Omanga Hospice.

She also volunteered for various good causes. Since her retirement in 2017 she has become busier than ever, volunteering for an organisation that offers care and assistance to young mothers, and another that supports the partners of people who have dementia. She is the most selfless person I know. It is a matter of some grief to her that, being over 70, the lockdown rules prohibit her from carrying on those tasks until it is over.

Mary has been there for me and for all our family throughout our fifty years of marriage. We have shared many joys and a few tough times. I particularly admired the way she supported me when I lost the plot and undertook to do a PhD late in life. Even more, she allowed me to leave a well paid management role in industry for a job as a university lecturer on literally half the salary.

Mary is a wise and loving woman who I am privileged to have as my wife. She is nevertheless real, and each of us occasionally does things that drive the other nuts. (I really should exercise more and eat less) But she is also a forgiving woman so here we are together still, and if my luck holds, we will continue to be so until the end of our days. Our planned celebration with the family is of course cancelled, and alas, not even the florists are open.

Thank you Mary for all that you have done, and for all that you are. You are a beautiful person and the light of my life.


Posted in Academic, Birds, Cook Strait, Family, flowers, fungi, Landscapes, Light, Maritime, Plant life, Rivers, Tararuas, Waves, Weather, Wellington | 9 Comments

18 March, 2020 … interesting times

Interesting times are upon us. As far as I know, I and all my loved ones are well. I hope the same goes for you and all who you hold dear.

Today I offer fifteen random images with no apparent connection between them except that they were all made in the last few weeks. Mindful of all the world’s current woes, I am feeling grateful for living in a peaceful and politically stable country with so much beauty on offer. .

Remutaka Forest Park – Catchpool Valley

New Zealand’s bush typically seems much more dense, twisted and tangled than the ancient forests of the Northern hemisphere. Most of it lacks the grandeur of tall parallel tree trunks. So be it. I still love being in the bush, enjoying the shelter it gives from the wind and the pleasure I take in so many shades of green. This short track in the entrance to the Catchpool valley surprised me for the amount of dead leaves on the ground amongst what I thought were predominantly evergreen trees.

Mana Island on a beautiful day in Plimmerton

This picture of Mana Island was made by getting down low, or at least by getting the camera low, hanging inverted off the tripod centre post. Because the water was almost flat calm, it was almost touching the surface.

If you click to enlarge, and look at the gap between the furthest incoming wave and the island, you will see the neck and beak of a shag which popped up as I pressed the shutter. It’s as if it knew I was here, and was checking to see whether I was a threat.

We have had a string of beautiful calm Autumn days. They go some small way towards compensating for the miserable wet windy summer we had in Wellington this year.

Another lovely day in Plimmerton

The local yacht club was racing at Plimmerton despite the apparent lack of wind. As you can see in the picture, some of the yachts are heeling despite the light breeze. They certainly progressed around the course at a reasonable pace, and I liked the metallic effect given by the translucent sailcloth.

Ferry berth

Anyone who understands the term “depth of field” instantly knows that this picture could not have been made with just one exposure. Loosely, depth of field is the distance between the nearest “in focus” point, and the furthest. Most lenses have a relatively shallow depth of field so either the ship or the flower would be sharp, but not both. Many photographers delight in a usually expensive lens with a shallow depth of field and the artistic effects it produces. Others, like me, seek more extreme depth and achieve this by “focus stacking”. In its simplest form, and in this example, that means taking a photo in which the flower is sharp and another in which the ship is sharp. Then the two images are merged and the sharp bits from each are retained. This was possible back in the days of the darkroom, but is much easier now that we have PhotoShop.

If you think this is somehow “cheating”, then avert your eyes now because I don’t care.

I have consistently said that the art is in the final image, no matter how it was achieved.

Sacred Kingfisher

If you have been a WYSIWYG reader for any length of time, you will know that birds are among my favourite subjects. Nevertheless, I lack the patience and skill to stalk and capture the fastest and sneakiest of birds. Some of my friends make superb images, bordering on the impossible. I lack the patience and the willingness to get down in the mud and make the images they do. Now and then, I get lucky. Kingfishers typically fly at about 45 km/h.

From home

I have often presented this viewpoint, from my bedroom window and I justify it on this occasion for the special early morning light. I am grateful every day for the splendour of this view.

From the control bar

Mary and I went to Whitireia Park in Porirua where we intended to have a picnic lunch. While I looked for images, Mary walked the Onepoto Loop Track. As I wandered, a man in a wet suit was setting up to go kite-surfing. He got the kite airborne while he was still on the beach and I cheekily got down near his feet and caught his view of the canvas.

A stranger in a strange land

On one of my many trips through Evans Bay and around into Oriental Bay, I was astonished to encounter this old Seagrave fire appliance. As per the signage, it once belonged to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Made in 1960, it was retired in 1990 and gifted by the City of Los Angeles to the City of Auckland in recognition of their sister-city relationship. Since then it has been on display at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT). This is an articulated 100 foot ladder machine that has a driver in the front, and another at the rear steering the trailer wheels. As you can see it is designed for the Los Angeles climate. The well wrapped crew drove this down from Auckland to Wellington in cool Autumn weather and were on their way to Invercargill for a charity fundraising event. They are going to have to raise quite some funds as it goes through $500 to $600 of fuel a day plus the ferry fares in each direction.

Sisters

Another of those days when, despite the overcast, the glittering sea was relatively still. East-West ferries have two catamarans with which they operate a commuter service that runs from downtown Wellington across the harbour to Days Bay, with stops at Matiu / Somes Island and occasionally at Seatoun. It is marginally quicker than the trip around the harbour by bus, but infinitely more pleasant. They even have a bar on board. Anyway, there I Was as Cobar Cat came in from the right after refuelling at Chaffers Marina, and City Cat approached from across the harbour.

Lavender blue

Simple things sometimes need complex treatment. This little cluster of lavender, growing in a pot at our back door, is captured with another focus stack. You can see that the background trees are well beyond focus as I intended them to be. However there are four different images of the lavender stalks. This only works in windless conditions because if the plants are in different positions as they wave, they can’t be merged.

Abstraction

I was having a coffee with my youngest son, Anthony (Ants) at the Seaview Marina. It was a beautiful morning with the sun smiling on the yachts and lovely reflections in the water. Then a ripple from elsewhere in the marina did interesting things with the reflected masts and rigging.

We had a guest speaker in the camera club about a week ago, and she explained very well how she went about making a wide variety of abstract images. I grasped the “how” well enough, but remain mystified by the “why?” Anyway, here I am offering an abstraction. This is a single shot, as seen by the camera

A rare selfie

I almost never take selfies. Usually I would prefer to make an image of the place or thing that I saw, rather than a picture of myself in the place or with the thing I saw. This image is an unintentional selfie. I saw a trailer which was a bitumen tanker. It had an engine chugging away underneath, presumably powering the burner that keeps the bitumen in its liquid state while the tractor was elsewhere. What caught my eye was the polished stainless steel cladding and I liked the grassy reflections therein. Regrettably I could find no way to exclude myself from the reflection. Though I am substantially built, I am nowhere near the proportions in that distorted reflection.

My favourite kind of day

Among my favourite places in the region are various spots around the shores of Lake Wairarapa, especially on those days when the lake is glassy calm. Whenever I come over the hill to Featherston, I usually start at the Lake Domain Reserve and see whether there is a new image to be had. The rusty steel piles of the yacht club’s old jetty make a nice feature.

Wairio Wetlands

Some thirty km to the South on the Eastern side of the lake, are two sets of wetlands beloved of many of my photographic for their prolific bird life and for the intrinsic beauty of the places. I chose the Wairio Wetlands rather than Boggy Pond on this occasion. Whereas Wellington has had a wet summer, the Wairarapa is officially in drought. This wetland still has water, but the level is lower than I have ever seen it before. There were plenty of birds there, though they were cautiously placed some distance from the walking tracks. If you click on this image to enlarge, and have a close look at the most distant of the birds, at about one third in from the right, there is a white heron (kotuku).

Low and fast over the road

As I came back up the Western side of the lake, I heard a whistle and a roar and saw a top-dressing plane shoot over the road and into the hills to the West. I was ready for it as it came round a second time and was pleased that it was a venerable Fletcher FU-24 950. The basic FU-24 design has served New Zealand agriculture since 1954. No fewer than 297 of them were built and in the later years many were fitted with powerful turbine engines. Sadly many bold Fletcher pilots didn’t get to be old Fletcher pilots because they over-estimated their skill at avoiding high-speed contact with the ground.

That is sufficient for this edition.

I am going to borrow my farewell from Radio New Zealand’s Suzie Fergusson who said at the end of a session the other day, “Wash your hands, keep calm and carry on. Ka kite anō au i a koutou (see you all again).

Posted in Aviation, Birds, Boggy Pond, Camera club, creativity, flowers, Forest, Lakes, Landscapes, Light, Manawatu, Maritime, mountains, Museum, Rimutaka Forest park, sunrise, Weather | 2 Comments

February 29, 2020 … I’ll take what I can find

I seem to have fallen into a rhythm of posting every two weeks, perhaps in the hope that I might have produced sufficient images that I am happy to share. Obviously, I would like to produce great images, but even the best photographers produce a modest number of great shots out of the hundreds of images they make.

Let there be no illusion, my images are rarely, if ever, in that “great” category, and any that come near are usually the result of serendipity. On the other hand perhaps it is not too immodest of me to hope that I can deliver five or six images each week that, to my own eye at least, are pleasing. If you like some of them too, that’s a bonus.

Courting ritual

Dabchicks fascinate me. Like others in the grebe family, their legs are very far back on their body and they are designed for water propulsion rather than walking. I love their parenting technique which includes hiding their chicks in the plumage on their backs. I hoped to see the little black and white chicks sticking up like periscopes from one or other of this pair. Things seem to have moved further on than I thought. I am told the dance I observed is a part of their courting ritual, so the previous youngsters are on their own and the parents are thinking of a second brood.

Photographs such as this would be better taken from nearer to the waterline, perhaps at their eye level. Sadly, neither my agility nor my sense of balance is what it once was, and if I get down low, I have to think about getting back up again. So I tend to shoot from a standing position. I am working on solutions to this that don’t involve getting the camera wet, or me actually falling in.

Super moon

Though I tend to take it for granted, the view across the Hutt Valley from the front of our house is one to be treasured. This shot was taken from our front lawn at about 9 pm on the day of our most recent super moon. I am a little cynical about moon shots. Unless there is something else in the image, and provided the shot is basically well exposed, there is very little to distinguish one moon shot from another. I concede that high quality optics and a solid tripod can help make a better image, but I prefer to have a recognisable context. In this instance, the foreground includes the Avalon tower, formerly headquarters and production studios of TVNZ. The tower is not artificially lit here, but is catching the last light of the setting sun behind me.

Just hanging around

This branch may look familiar. It should. I have used it many times before as it is a favourite roosting site for various shags. I have a particular affinity for the little blacks and the lovely patterns visible in their plumage. These birds made me smile for their gangster-like pose. Apart from small numbers of rooks, New Zealand has no significant population of corvidae, so these are the nearest we come to seeing the sinister bird characters portrayed so well by Edgar Allan Poe. The setting is the Waiwhetu stream where it passes through the channel at Seaview. It often provides nice background colours.

Get your warthogs sharpened here

Petone retains its own separate character, despite having been absorbed into Lower Hutt City. It is slowly becoming “gentrified” which is a matter for regret. A few weeks back it had its annual street fair in which Jackson Street was blocked off for the day and filled with various food and craft stalls. Though I rarely make images of people I thought I had better have a look. This stall made me laugh out loud. I am sure the company concerned makes really good sharpeners but the ambiguity of their name amused me. I should mention that Warthog Sharperners is a reputable company based in South Africa,

Nature’s architects

My workshop has not been seriously used for a very long time, so other tenants have moved in. Mary drew my attention to the amazing curves of a spider web. A little exploration revealed that it was made by the “daddy long legs” spider. Their webs are notoriously messy but every so often they achieve some beautiful curves.

A scented gift

I am happy to observe that my kids all really appreciate their mother, and that this is often demonstrated by a random “just because” bunch of flowers. In this case, she received red roses, and to Mary’s great pleasure they were quite strongly scented. Sadly, most roses supplied by florists lack any scent. Not these. They are lit with natural light from the window against the blackness of my “dark box”.

Sunset in the Eastern Sky

Often, if the clouds are right, a lovely sunset in the west projects its colour in the East. This is another view from our front door looking across the Hutt Valley. Though it was taken at 9 pm the sun is still lighting the lenticular clouds and provides a little colour down on the valley floor.

Midsummer drizzle

Summer cruises around the New Zealand coast and especially to Wellington seem to be a lottery. It is sad that a one-time visitor to our fair city who strikes it on a day of bad weather goes away with a warped view of the place. Still, as a photographer, I find that the misty conditions have a charm of their own. I hope that the visitors travelling on Europa come again on a better day.

Armada

In the bird viewing hide at Queen Elizabeth II park near Paekakariki I waited in vain for any interesting bird life. The only thing moving was the vast cluster of feathers from some moulting event. They put me in mind of a vast fleet of sailing ships. I have to say that this is my favourite image in this edition.

Lingering on after the wind has died

A few days of consistent Nor’Westerly wind can usually be relied upon to generate some lenticular cloud above the Eastern hills. They often linger for a while even after the wind drops. This image was made from the park at the Western end of Petone Beach looking towards Eastbourne.

Wary, but standing its ground

Petone wharf is on shaky ground, and is not as straight as it once was. It has wooden hand rails on most of its length, and these serve as a handy perch for the variety of gulls and shags in the area. The little shag is the most common of the varieties in New Zealand. They can be easily identified by their long tail feathers and short beak. This one was less skittish than normal and allowed me to walk past it without it taking flight.

A summer morning

I use and like the paid online video tuition provided by Scott Kelby. Almost his first piece of advice for making good landscape images is “go somewhere where there is a good landscape”. Most of us tend not to think of our own back yard in those terms. And indeed there are days when I look cynically at a grey wet Wellington landscape and dream wistfully of distant scenes of great beauty. However, if I wait long enough, the harbour goes still, the sky clears and the Tararuas provide some lofty mountain grandeur as a backdrop.

It’s raining as I write this, but earlier in the week we had several days of pure magical stillness. I was driving from Evans Bay around Pt Jerningham in the late morning. The temperature was a modest 24°C … not really hot, but sufficient to deliver a haze on the distant mountains. The harbour was almost perfect, and the various vessels moving about were leaving clean sharp wakes. On such a day, I did not have to go far to find a pleasing landscape. In case you were wondering, Mary and I live on those distant hills just a little to the left of the edge.

That will suffice for this edition. I hope you enjoy what you see and read here. Your feedback is always welcome.

Posted in Arachnids, Birds, Festivals and fairs, flowers, Maritime, Moon, mountains, Weather, Wellington | 7 Comments

February 8, 2020 … articulation

A random post on Facebook last week caused me to think about the processes and mechanisms of human thought, and especially my own. The writer was a person who thought verbally and was shocked to learn that there were people who think in other ways such as in images. This came as a shock to me too, but from the other side of the fence. Somehow, until now I had never understood the difference between verbal and visual thinking. I seem to be a visual thinker.

There is nothing linear, logical or even verbal in my usual thought pattern, as far as I can tell. Nothing that remotely resembles a coherent verbal sentence in my native language. Though I don’t suffer from synesthesia, I can sense that this moves in that direction. Whatever is on top at the moment can be displaced in an instant by something triggered by a smell, a sound, a taste, a touch or something glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. If someone asks what I am thinking about, it takes quite some effort to put together a coherent answer. This can be frustrating to those who want to know what I am thinking, when I am unable to respond. I am not being difficult, I just have nothing useful to give them.

It makes me wonder how, in Heaven’s name, I ever completed my post graduate degrees which obviously required lots of linearly evolving verbal exploration of the topics. If I were to choose a word to describe my thinking processes, it would be “scatterbrained”. Now these are matters for me to explore in more depth and in some other arena. However, I wanted to see how all this impacts on my photography and how it affects my sense of what is art. So this week, you may notice a slight change in the style of the purple prose.

Varnish

On the city side of Wellington’s Clyde Quay is Chaffers Marina, characterised by a generally upmarket fleet of glossy yachts. On the other side of the quay, nearer to the Freyberg Pool is the Oriental Bay marina where the moored boats are much more humble. I made this picture for a number of reasons. First, there is that boat with its lovely juxtaposition of red/gold varnish and white paint. Second, the hull is reflected nicely in almost calm water. Finally, this is an honest-to-goodness home-built yacht, Look at the uneven seams between the planks clearly visible on its side.

While I try not to be rule-bound in making my compositions, I also know that some time-worn conventions help make a better image. For example, I try to avoid having eye-catching material intruding at the edges of the picture. I also try to ensure that it is clear to the viewer what the subject of the picture is.

Seeds of an idea

Mary came into the house with a beautifully symmetrical dandelion seed head and thought I might like to make a picture. At first, I was not enthusiastic, but conditions outside were uninviting, so I set up the camera with tripod, macro lens and my “dark box”. To be clear, the seed head was positioned outside the box, and was illuminated by light from the window. I rarely use artificial light. I use the box to provide a totally black background behind the subject.

This image is made using a technique called focus stacking . It consists of about eight images, the first focused on the nearest point, in the front centre of the subject and each successive image is focused a little further back until the last one reaches the “equator” of my little globe. The images are then merged in Photoshop (which is not a bad word, nor is it in any way “cheating”). The software takes the in-focus sections of each image and if I made enough images produces a fully focused whole. I have attempted this several times before, but I think this one is the most successful to date.

Giant dragonfly

In the Pauatahanui Wildlife Refuge, I was walking along the trail to the Thorpe Family bird hide when my peripheral vision was captured by a transparent blue thing flitting about. To be honest it was not until it paused on a bush that I got a clear view and could identify it as a dragonfly. Later inspection of the picture suggests that it is the New Zealand bush giant dragonfly (Uropetala carovei) or in Maori, kapokapowai. I had the long lens on ready for birds so had to step back to be able to focus … and the darned thing instantly zipped off on its erratic zig-zag course. However, it didn’t stray far from where I first saw it so I stood patiently and attempted a shot each time it paused. The autofocus systems on modern cameras are wonderful in many circumstances, but not in this case. The camera doesn’t know whether I want to focus on the third stalk of grass, the eighth, the insect or anything else that might be in the direction I am pointing it. Most of the images I took were not as sharp as I hoped for but I got lucky with this one. Isn’t nature beautiful? I would have liked to miss the shiny blade of grass across the lower left, but I’ll take it.

Dabchicks with a dabchick chick

Many of my favourite photographic gurus counsel against setting out with a photograph or even a plan in mind. Rather they advise keeping an open mind and waiting until something grabs your attention. This is consistent with my erratic way of thinking as discussed earlier. However, I am prepared to make an exception for dabchicks. The New Zealand dabchick (Poliocephalus rufopectus) is a member of the grebe family and it holds a special charm for me. This is especially true when they have chicks. In the first week or two the chicks ride on the back of one or other parent, hidden in the plumage except when they stick their heads up to be fed. By three or four weeks they are too big to be carried. They are still fed by the parents for up to ten weeks after which they make their own way in the world. Their legs are very far back on their body and the feet are much better for propulsion in water than walking on land. Scientific naming conventions are rarely as direct and prosaic as in this case – Poliocephalus rufopectus translates as grey head, red breast.

Near the end of the free ride

Here we see two chicks on the back of the left parent, hoping that the other parent will dive to the bed of the pond to get food. What they may not know is that the success of the almost constant feeding will make them too big to be carried after about two weeks. To my eye, the appeal of the two dabchick images above is more in the story than in any artistic value or composition. This tends to confirm the advice that it is often better to shoot what catches the eye than to make a preplanned image.

Soft shades

Most of my photography is a solitary activity. I don’t mind being in my own company. On this occasion, I had a friend with me and after visiting the dabchicks together, we went up over the ridge into the Maungakotukutuku Valley where there seemed to be some swirling mist about the tops. Well, when we got down into the valley, no swirling mist, just soft but steady drizzle. It was different to the effect I expected to find, but I am always a sucker for receding layers of landscape in soft shades of grey. Sadly, they tend not to do well in the eyes of other judges. On the other hand, I don’t care. I like them.

The Prancing Pony

In Oriental Bay, I pulled in to a rare empty car park slot with the intent to get a shot across the harbour. My butterfly brain was instantly distracted by this beautiful Ferrari California in the adjacent slot. Pininfarina was a design genius, and the underlying machinery is amazing also. I am torn between admiration for the sheer beauty of the thing and my revulsion for the ostentatious consumerism. Despite being a ten year old car, these things sell for about NZD$160,000. A new one would go for double that. I would never spend more than a tenth of that on a car.

Hanging in there.

After I made the image of the seed head earlier, I neglected to clean up after myself. A day or three passed by and the poor thing began to droop. It was in a water-filled vase, so it fought the good fight for a while before it began to droop. Finally remembering that I needed to put things away, I went back to the dandelion, and loved the beautiful curve that I saw. A few seeeds had dropped so the head was not quite as symmetrical as it had been, but close enough that it still made a nice image. Since I had not yet put the dark box away, it was pressed into service again, and another image was made before the dandelion was finally discarded. This is still in natural light from the window.

Lindanger is not in danger

A hazy morning with no wind tempted me down to the harbour in Lowry Bay where the tanker Lindanger was emerging from the mist near Miramar. CentrePort’s two tugs, Tiaki and Tapuhi emerged from the mist behind Matiu/Somes Island and made fast at the designated tug-safe areas. As the trio approached the Seaview oil terminal, the red paint became more obvious. A friend who is both a professional photographer and an experienced photographic judge once told our camera club that any image that contained a large clear splash of red had a significantly greater chance of being accepted by other photographic judges. As an accredited judge myself, I suppose there is some truth in this, but usually I want more than just a splash of colour. In this case the reason I made the image was the separation from the bank of mist in the background.

White fronted tern getting rest while it can.

My many encounters with terns always reinforce the delight I take in their delicacy, the sheer elegance of their presence whether in flight or at rest. If the red-billed gulls are weight-lifting gymnasts, then the white fronted terns are a ballet troupe. They tend to come ashore in times of sustained strong wind and find a place where they flatten themselves below the flow of the wind. The whole flock usually weathercock into the wind. In this case, the flock was on the crumbling jetty near the remains of the old patent slip in Evans Bay. I was amused at the way they merged with the guano-mottled concrete of the wharf.

Wind, wind, and more wind

When the wind is strong enough to be annoying and nothing else comes to mind, I often choose to follow the Wainuiomata Coast Road down to the Southern shore near Baring Head. On this occasion, though the wind was not all that strong, I saw some fairly forceful waves near Turakirae. I love watching long slow waves. If the waves are more than ten seconds apart they tend to be worth watching. Slow majestic walls of water advance towards the rocky beach and arrive with a thump that you can feel in the ground through your feet. The white wind-whipped wave crests contrast beautifully with the deep green wall of each succeeding wave.

One of many stairways in Wright’s Hill Fortress

A few days ago we observed Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. After attending morning observances I drove to the South side of Karori intending to look for landscape opportunities from the top of Wright’s hill. When I got to the top, I discovered that the people who manage the old World War II fortifications were having an open day. The fortress is an extensive network of tunnels and gun emplacements under the upper part of Wright’s Hill. Though I am not fond of enclosed spaces, I had never visited before so I paid the $8 to the restoration society and set out along the tunnels. There were lots of other visitors but the extensive nature of the tunnels meant that I could easily get images without other people in them.

The Engine Room in Wright’s Hill

In the 1940s when the complex was built, it was necessary for the facility to have its own power to enable all the activities associated with the two big 9.2 inch guns installed there. To the great sadness of the restoration society, the two Ruston Hornsby 6VCR diesel generators which provided power for the guns are both missing major vital parts. Ruston Hornsby is long defunct, so spare parts are no longer an option, and any replacement bits will likely need to be made from scratch. The smaller 4VRO provided lighting and forced air for the facility and it has recently been restored to running order. Why did I make this image? My dad spent much of his life working in ships’ engine rooms and I was often allowed to clamber down the oily companionways to inspect the mighty machinery. Engines like these hold a place in my heart and remind me of my Dad.

That is all for this issue. I am not sure whether my thoughts about thinking make sense to anyone else, but they may explain the scattergun approach to subject selection.

Posted in Adventure, Architecture, Art, Birds, Cook Strait, flowers, insects, Landscapes, Light, Machinery, Maritime, Turakirae, Waves, Weather, Wellington | 4 Comments