Birds Hutt River Landscapes Light Moon Otari Petone Wellington

September 30, 2012 … feathers, fluff and ferns

Exercise is the thing.

Serious, sustained strenuous exercise has been conspicuously absent from my daily agenda for a while, and this folly is beginning to bite. My bathroom scales have no sense of diplomacy. They don’t soften the blow. They tell the plain, unvarnished truth. OK. Back on the weight wagon.

Mary points out that any walk with the camera is never fast enough to deliver the desired benefits, so she says leave your camera behind, we’re off for a walk. And so we did. From Te Papa in Cable St., along the waterfront to Oriental Parade, and around Pt Jerningham to Balaena Bay and back. There was a fairly stiff Southerly which was uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Back at the car, a quick wipe down, and then off to Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wilton.

Unlike Zealandia, the Otari Plant Museum and its surrounding park is owned by the City of Wellington, and admission is free. As well as the internationally respected activities of the plant museum which is solely devoted to native plants, there is a picnic area, and 100 hectares (250 acres) of native bush.  We ate our lunch at one of the tables on the Troup picnic area, and as we sat facing the green wall of bush to the West, Mary heard something overhead. New Zealand Falcon in the wildWith my camera to hand, I pointed it skyward and was delighted to capture a New Zealand Falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae), or karearea.

It was at extreme range so it’s not a great image, but Debbie Stewart, director and founder of the Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre in Rotorua identifies it as a wild juvenile female. Other comment suggests that it is a fledgling from the pair that hatched their eggs in Zealandia a year ago.

Hedge sparrow

In the bushes in front of us as we ate, hedge sparrows were preening, probably under the foolish illusion that they were unseen.

After lunch, perhaps too soon after lunch, we embarked on the “blue trail”, one of the many loop walks from among the 11 km of trails in the park. Needless to say, it was steep, with hundreds of steps, and as a consequence of recent rain, quite a lot of slippery mud patches on the trail. This trail takes you past a Rimu (a native evergreen conifer, Dacrydium cupressinum) estimated to be about 800 years old.  We got to the top of the track where it joins the Skyline walkway, along the ridges until it meets Mt Kaukau, but chose to descend. I am glad we took the path we did, because this descent was steep and treacherous, and might have been demoralizing going up it.  We exited the park via the low level circular route and drove home.

However, by the time I got to the computer, there was not much “in the can” that I was happy with. So, in the hour or so before dinner, in lovely evening light conditions I went out to see what was happening down at the estuary.

Mallard duck with eleven ducklings

One of my grievances with respect to photography discussions on Facebook is the surfeit of saccharine “cuteness”. Bleah! Yet I keep seeing these things that I know my granddaughters will love.  There on the little sheltered inlet by the boat sheds was a Mallard duck with no fewer than eleven little balls of fluff paddling furiously to keep up with mother. I got very close to them and the light was nice, so at the risk of adding to the sugar levels, here they are.Five of eleven

And then, in case the ducklings didn’t work out I went to Petone wharf, with the idea of catching a long view of the city in the last light of day.  City at sunset

I took my shot(s), and as I packed up the tripod, I turned around and saw that I had just missed the best moments of the moonrise behind the Fitzherbert transmitter on the Eastern Hills.

Moonrise over Fitzherbert

Aaaaagh! How could I forget that basic rule of looking behind you?



September 29, 2012 … parting is such sweet sorrow

Queenstown airport is a relatively bright and cheerful place, as airports go.

It is small, but has most of the essentials, though it could do with more seating not tied to franchised coffee shops or bars, and preferably with a good view of the Remarkables and the Crown Range.  I really lament the disappearance of outside viewing decks at airports. I guess they are viewed as some sort of security risk, though I don’t see how.

Since I was travelling on standby, yesterday, I turned up in plenty of time. “Sorry,” I was told, “we can’t check you in until nearer final check in.” This was perfectly reasonable, though it raised my natural tendency to anxiety by a notch or two. I went to the restaurant franchise and had a coffee which I needed and the custard square, which I didn’t. While I was there, one of Air New Zealand’s black Airbus A320s pushed back and departed.That striking black colour scheme

I have no idea of the costs involved, but I think that the black colour scheme which has now been applied to two A320s, a Beech 1900D and a Boeing 777-300ER is a stroke of marketing genius. It looks spectacular.  But then I am always proud to see our teams wearing black.

But I was flying with the other team, Jetstar. They too operate A320s into Queenstown, and their good-looking silver and orange paint scheme also gleamed in the sun.  The flight to Sydney was there, and it too pushed back and taxied off down the runway.  Both airlines put on a brave show against the white snow on the Crown Range and beyond.

Air New Zealand ZQN to AKLJetstar ZQN to SYD

As for my trip home, I did get a seat without trouble. It pushed back five minutes ahead of schedule, and arrived in Wellington twenty-five minutes ahead of schedule. That’s what I call service. Take a bow, Jetstar.

Back to Earth tomorrow.

Birds Landscapes mountains Queenstown Uncategorized

September 28, 2012 … mountains and streams

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Lake Dispute.

Now that I have caught a glimpse of it from high on a walkway, I am  not especially overwhelmed. Not by the lake itself, anyway. The walkway, on the other hand, was a delight.

My son, Andrew, with his son Otis in the backpack, led the way across the bridge over the tumbling waters of Twelve Mile Creek and then uphill.Twelve mile creek

By way of showing consideration for his elders, he led us on the loop walk, choosing to take the more gradual slope first. I am so pleased he did. He is very fit, and even with a sturdy two-year-old on his back, was striding up the track, and waiting until I appeared, gasping, around the bend behind him.Andrew and Otis on the trail

As we climbed away from the start, we  got increasingly better views of snow-covered peaks, of which the nearest and largest was Mt. Crichton. Clumps of cloud drifted around its peak. Birds sang in the surrounding bush, but didn’t show themselves much. I think I caught a bellbird, briefly. Alas, the image was too small to be useful. Mt Crichton

At one point, Andrew said “that’s pretty much the end of the climb”. He lied. The track peaked about 500 feet higher. When tackled on this discrepancy, his excuse was that it was a motivational strategy. He lied.

From the overlook, the view back towards glassy calm lake Wakatipu across the headwaters of Lake Dispute and some farmland was very attractive.Lake Wakatipu beyond the headwaters of Lake Dispute

We walked on, over the real high point in the track, and then downhill, coming eventually to a historic stone hut, erected by Bill  Summers in the 1930s and used by his son Bill as a home and the base from which he prospected for gold for many years.

A little later, we took a diversion through a narrow tail race, designed to channel the surplus water from a nearby gold sluicing operation. The channel was just a little wider than my shoulders, and went for about 24 wet dripping metres through solid rock 10 metres high. Amazing work considering it was cut by hand.Gold sluicing tailrace near Sam Summers' Hut

The downhill bit from there was very steep, and perhaps it was better to have come up the other side.

We got back to Queenstown in time for a truly superb steak lunch at Ivy and Lola’s restaurant on the waterfront beside the Earnslaw.

The rest of the day was essentially family time, but as it came to an end, the sky cleared, the moon rose over the Remarkables and I thought it might make a good note on which to end.Moon over the Remarkables

On the other hand you might look at that bland hillside and ask what’s so remarkable about the Remarkables? Well the picture above is a semi-civilized shoulder of the range. The real mountains look more like this: Remarkable Range

Note to self: eat less, walk more.

Aviation mountains Queenstown Weather

September 27, 2012 … mist and mountains

Yesterday was a murky day. Clouds around the tops of the mountains most of the day, and some periods of rain.The Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu from high on the Remarkables Road

I don’t mind that, since it sometimes gives nice moody possibilities for photography. My son bravely trusted me with his car, a big 4WD wagon, so I set out to drive the road up to the Remarkables ski field. I had never been up there previously, so I planned to get some shots from the high places.

This was all fine, as the landscape began to spread out before me as I climbed. Aircraft were using the runway below, very far below, when I realised that two of them were military types. RAAF coming round the mountainThey were C130Js and thus not from the RNZAF. It seems that the RAAF regularly cross the Tasman to practice mountain flying since they have no real mountains of their own.  These two aircraft were taking off from the airport, circling the mountains to  the North of the town, then flying up to the Crown range to line up for another touch and go.RAAF Touch and Go at Queenstown

In normal circumstances these are big aircraft. In the context of this majestic landscape they appeared tiny, and very fragile.  They were coming in low over Lake Hayes, and lining up over the Lake Hayes houses to line up with the runway.  Though I thought it was great, I can imagine the people below may have been less impressed.Lining up over the houses at Lake Hayes

As I got higher up the mountain, I got closer to the cloud until suddenly the visibility ahead was about half a car length. On the basis that, even if I did drive to the end of the road I would see nothing anyway, so I turned around in a chain bay. And came back down again. I chose to turn South on the Invercargill Road, until I got to Jack’s Point where I got a view of the cloud covered valleys on the other side. Cloud in the valleys across the lake

All very nice, despite the cloud.


Architecture Queenstown Trees

September 26, 2012 … old among the new

In the wide open spaces between Queenstown and Arrowtown, there is more concentrated affluence than I have seen anywhere else in New Zealand.

Beautiful houses in beautiful settings, they are for the most part beyond the wildest imaginings of most New Zealanders. Many of them have ancient artefacts artfully strewn here and there, in seeming casual placements that probably cost quite a lot to achieve.

Wagon wheels - MillbrookMy son took me for a drive in that area yesterday, and we paused for a coffee in the Millbrook Golf resort. Old wagon wheels and farm implements bearing no obvious connection to golf presented photo-opportunities. From there, we went on to a place called Thurlby Domain. This was one of the early grand houses in the area from the time of its construction in 1872 until its fall into ruin around 1946.Remains of the big hose at Thurlby Domain

Another house is on the property now, but the ruins have become a favoured venue for wedding photographs.

Gardens of Thurlby DomainThey are certainly appealing, in a lovely garden setting. Willows and poplar sit comfortably in a large open lawn, surrounded by pines  and other trees. A pretty stream tumbles over a series of man-made weirs and reflects the trees behind.

Some of the old agricultural buildings of the estate still stand more or less intact. Farm workers cottages, stables, cow sheds and barns all reflect the European style of farming which must have been the norm when this estate was in its heyday.

Unfortunately, the day was overcast, and the light flat.  I have formed the definite intention to revisit this again in the future in early morning or late evening, on a fine day. old farm building with artfully strewn artefacts

The public seem to have free access to what is private property, though there is apparently a charge for its use as a formal photography venue. In other countries, I suspect the ruins would be fenced off for fear of lawsuits if anyone got hurt.

Here it was a joy to get unfettered access.


flowers Queenstown Uncategorized

September 25, 2012 … some people shots

A friend and former colleague commented on how  unusual it was for me to include images with people in.

Interesting thought. I already explained that I am never likely to be a street photographer, but I do quite a lot of family shots that rarely go beyond the walls. I don’t intend to make a habit of family album shots, or pets (I don’t have any). However, with permission of all concerned, here are a couple of exceptions to that policy. OtisFirst, meet the youngest of my three grandsons, Otis.

He is just two, and already has the reputation of being “laid back” and a “cool dude”. I am very much enjoying his friendly demeanour, and having fun with him.

Billie at speedAnd then, his six-year-old sister Billie is a lovely child (as are all of my grandchildren). She is active, reads well and is fun to be with. She was very eager to show me how well she rides her bike.  How could I resist such an invitation.

Self portrait with OtisAnd just to throw a total curve ball, I include a self-portrait … albeit in an indirect kind of way. Billie was at school, so I was in Queenstown with their parents, Andrew and Abbie, and little Otis. Andrew was doing business, Abbey was shopping, and I was left in charge of the stroller with Otis in it. We found ourselves waiting for Abbey in a women’s sportswear shop, and the mirror was serving to keep Otis entertained, I sneakily pointed the camera at the mirror, and thereby snuck up on myself.

At this time of year, Central Otago is ablaze with flowering stonefruit and pipfruit trees. They are everywhere, and make a spectacular showing. As well as the pink and blue of the fruit trees, there are the yellows of Acacia and gorse, as well as red bushes unknown to me. This particular tree, however was standing apart in the middle of Queenstown and I thought it attractive. Spring blossoms in Queenstown

Queenstown is definitely a different kind of town. It is the first place I have been where even the kindergartens have a bike rack, and all the slots have upmarket wooden framed “bikes” for pre-schoolers. Kindergarten bike rack

I think this is the pre-school equivalent of a car park full of BMW and Audis.

It’s all very interesting.

Animals Birds flowers Food Queenstown

September 24, 2012 … and whether pigs have wings*

So here I am in the sunny but slightly chilly South.

I had an excellent and on-time direct flight from Wellington to Queenstown with Jetstar. A clear view all the way was a bonus. Jetstar Airbus A320For the first time I was on a flight that passed over Cromwell and then through (not over) the Kawarau Gorge. All of my previous trips have come over Wanaka and the Crown Range. Interesting to be flying in an aircraft of this size and looking up at the peaks on either side.

Of course it is always a joy to catch up with family, especially when you haven’t done so for a while. It has been over a year since I saw the Queenstown family, longer still since the Brisbane and Melbourne branches, but we are working on it.

Yesterday was bright and clear, though not warm, in Queenstown. My son and his family took us to a very nice restaurant (Walnut Cottage) near Arrowtown for lunch. Sitting in a sheltered spot in a garden with cherry blossoms and rustic artefacts everywhere, drinking a beer and having an excellent salad was very nice indeed.  The afternoon was laid back with a stroll along a piece of the new walkway under construction from Frankton to Gibbston.

Exploring the new walkway and Otis has spotted the digger


Accompanied by my granddaughter Billie, and her classmate, Sorcha, I came to the local “zoological gardens”, Home to various animals and birds such as peacocks, ducks, pigs, ponies, rabbits, etc, it was a delight to two six-year-old girls.

Peacock trying to attract a mate

And then there was the pig, or more precisely, the Kunekune. Here is a face that was undoubtedly loved by its mother but …

kunekuneIt was a very enjoyable day.

*The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

Birds Wellington Zealandia

September 23, 2012 … birds and bees

As I said in my previous post, this one is from Queenstown.

It’s a day late in appearing because it was not appropriate to haul out the laptop and start writing and processing images.  On Saturday, Mary and I visited Zealandia. I hate the name. Stupid marketing ploy, really. When it was the Karori Wildlife Reserve, you knew what you were going to. Then they got big ideas, spent lots of money and have been in a seemingly intractable debt pit ever since.

Nevertheless, they have achieved remarkable things since the establishment of the huge predator-proof fence which has been imitated by many others since.  The bird life is amazing, though you hear far more than you see. If you want to see birds, I am convinced it is necessary to stop moving, to sit, and be still. In the twenty minutes or so that we sat to eat our lunch, we saw more birds than we had seen in the entire previous hour.


had hoped to see Karearea, the New Zealand Falcon, but alas, the nest site seemed deserted. Still, during our visit and a wonderful walk in the bush, we saw Kaka (the parrot), kakariki, various shags, finches, Tui, and kingfisher, and a variety of ducks including the NZ Scaup, or black teal (papango).Scaup

We enjoyed the experience so much that we knew we would be back again, and decided that the annual subscription was a bargain, and joined up.

adversity Birds Lower Hutt

September 22, 2012 … the soul off wit

Very brief post today.

Almost telegraphic. It is nearly midnight, and I have yet to pack for an early morning flight to Queenstown.

Yesterday I tried for some shots of the prolific tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)in the gum trees in the grounds of Te Omanga Hospice. Tui in the gum treeI failed dismally because I have yet to master the art of selective focusing when a fast-moving bird is in amongst branches and foliage. I shall keep practicing.

Tui in flight through the trees.

My next post will be from Southern parts.

adversity Birds Hutt River

September 21, 2012 … bread upon the waters*

Yesterday it was trains, today it’s shorebirds, next week it will be Queenstown.

Given that I have another camera which, in theory, has higher specs,  why was I so excited to get the 7D back? Well it is what is known as a “crop frame” camera. It has a smaller sensor than the so-called full frame cameras such as my 5D. With one exception this is not usually a good thing. The exception is that the optical geometry means all lenses give an image magnification which is 60% larger than the same lens on the full frame camera.  To simplify, my 400mm zoom acts like 640 mm zoom when it’s mounted on the 7D.  This is great for photographing birds, if I can keep the lens steady and pointed at the target.

Back to Hikoikoi, where, on the whole, there is a good chance of seeing something interesting. Of course, a well-meaning passer-by, on seeing the camera had to upset me with “you should have been here this morning. The white heron was here”. Summoning all my reserves of courtesy, I thanked him through gritted teeth, and moved on.

At first sight, bird life was fairly ordinary. Gulls, starlings, ducks.  But gradually, more  interesting things became apparent.

Starlings in the 'hoodOddly it was the starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). They sat in a flax bush on the shoreline looking like bit-part actors trying out for a gang movie.  They seemed to be intimidated, however, by the real hoodlums, the Oystercatchers. Oystercatchers in flightAfter the bigger birds moved away a bit, the starlings hopped down onto a sandbank exposed by the tide and started feeding on heaven knows what. I had never thought of the starling as a shorebird.

Then a pair of black swans (Cygnus atratus) cruised by, trailed closely by a tiny grey ball of fluff, paddling furiously to keep up. A single cygnet seemed unusual, and the parents were quick to interpose themselves between the youngster and me. Just around the little spit of land on which I was standing, one of the people in the boatsheds was “casting bread upon the waters”*.  The swans picked up the pace and on arrival at the scene of all this bounty from the skies, the male stretched his wings a little and another four little fur-balls hopped out from under his plumage to join in the feasting. Black swan guarding her brood.

Knowing that some of my friends and family like their regular dose of “cute”, I got a bit closer to the cygnets, and though the parents kept a watchful eye on me I was careful to give them no cause for alarm.Black swan cygnets

After taking way too many shots I had a quick look back in the main part of the inlet and was startled by a colourful blur of feathers whizzing close past my head. It resolved itself into a kingfisher which perched on a weed covered tree trunk in the bay, and shortly after, was joined by its mate.
A pair of kingfishers on crab patrol in the Hutt River estuaryIt was a bad day for the crabs in the mud. These birds are real speedsters, so I cranked the shutter speed up to 1/2000, but forgot the adverse effect this would have on the ISO rating if I left it on Auto-ISO. That’s a downside of the 7D … the quality of its low-light performance is much inferior to that of the 5D. I could have prevented my problem if I had remembered. Nevertheless I got some interesting, if somewhat grainy looking shots of the kingfishers at rest and at speed. This one suffers from the grainy effect of that high ISO setting, but the timing is great. It is picking up a crab from the mud, without landing.Kingfisher gathering food at speed

And finally, as I was getting ready to go, one of the birds took off towards me. Through the viewfinder, it looked as if it would fly straight down the barrel of the lens. It didn’t.Kingfisher head on at high speed

It is such a joy to have both cameras back in action.

*Scriptural quotes on two successive days … Ecclesiastes, 11:1.