Birds Hutt River Lower Hutt

October 31, 2012 … of fish and birds

A perfect morning out on the estuary.

No wind, bright sun, and the tide was right. The man in the dinghy seems to be the occupant of one of the little boat sheds nearby, and I often see him rowing purposefully out into the river to set or to haul in his net.

hauling in the catchThere was nothing much happening with the birds since there was a contractor with an air-powered stapler, noisily tacking anti-slip mesh onto the wooden walkway.

So I turned my lens onto the intrepid fisherman, hauling in his catch. I think he must have caught thirty or so fish of various sorts. It was fascinating to see them flapping and wriggling as each one came over the gunwale (not often a landlubber can use that word in a sentence). With the net gathered in, he sat and rowed efficiently, with the ease of long practise, back to his shed.

A white faced heron appeared, and did the usual wading and spearing routine, getting plenty of small fish and crabs. I was thinking about the speed at which they strike, and musculature in the neck that makes it possible when I caught this image. The wall of water suggests a very powerful action.Strike! White-faced heron goes fishing

Later in the day the wind came up and that got in the way of my attempts to catch bird shots on the lawn.  This little house sparrow sitting on the hedge beside our dining room table was shot through glass. I attribute the barren state of the hedge just there, to the fact that Mary feeds the birds at that spot. House sparrow

Warmest greetings to those of you who have been in the path of Sandy. I hope you are all safe and well.

Birds harbour Lower Hutt night Normandale Photographic commissions Sunset Trees

October 30, 2012 … a bit of this and a bit of that

Tofu, I should assure you,  is not normally on my menu.

However, some days are like tofu. They have no flavour of their own, but pick up hints of whatever rubbed up against it in the pot. That’s how it seemed yesterday. I had a photoshoot in the morning. I don’t  normally attempt portraiture, but a friend had a request, was unable to be there, so he passed the gig on to me.

In the afternoon, I was experimenting with low angle bird photography. I placed my camera on the lawn sitting on the tiny “Gorillapod”. I had a long lens mounted, and the wireless remote trigger. I manually focussed on a spot across the lawn, and then sprinkled bird food on the spot and concealed myself in the house. The food attracted the birds which in turn attracted the neighbour’s cat. Some experimenting is still required in terms of depth of field and shutter speed, but I can see potential here.  Here a common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) takes fright as the cat attempts to sneak up from behind. Starling invokes cat-avoidance procedures

Later in the afternoon, I had to walk up to Normandale School to collect my grandchildren since we were babysitting in the afternoon and early evening. On the way up there, I spotted this handsome native wood pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) sitting atop the trunk of a dead Mamaku or black tree fern (Cyathea medullaris) . I got quite close, and did not need a long lens. It showed no inclination to move. New Zealand wood pigeon takes a rest Despite its lovely plumage, it is a remarkably clumsy bird in flight. On landing it seems to crash through the foliage of the trees until it slows enough to grab a perch. I have seen it described as not so much a landing, as a controlled crash.

It’s always a joy to collect my grandchildren from school.  There are lots of young parents waiting to pick their children up, and when I go I tend to be the oldest guy there. But whenever Cooper or Maggie see me, there is a glad cry of “Grandad!” and they rush over, arms outstretched for a hug.  I can hear the “Aaaaawwww!” reaction around me. They will soon be too cool for this sort of thing, but I’ll lap it up while it lasts. They are really lovely kids.

After dinner, with the youngsters bathed and changed, ready for bed, we  took them home and put them to bed. The view from their house is magnificent, looking as it does, straight down the harbour mouth. Wellington harbour sunsetThere is nothing out there until you hit the Antarctic ice.

It was a lovely soft sunset.

Architecture Birds Cook Strait East Harbour Regional Park Landscapes Maritime Weather

October 29, 2012 … skylarking about on Baring Head

“Clearing in the afternoon”, said the weather forecaster.

As we drove down the Wainuiomata Coast road to the entrance to our planned walk, the lowering clouds overhead threatened to make a liar of him. However we stopped in the car park at the entrance to the Baring Head section of the East Harbour Regional park. With two cameras on their slings and a tripod strapped to my back, and with Mary carrying our drinking water in her backpack, we crossed the Wainuiomata River and began the sharp climb up over the ridge. It’s fairly steep, but reasonably well-formed, and very quickly offered scenic views back up the valley, as well as a welcome excuse to pause and gather much-needed oxygen.Pencarrow Station on the Wainuiomata Coast Road side of the hill.

A mountain biker using his lowest “granny gear” climbed smoothly past us, but not very much faster than we were walking. His two companions were defeated by the grade and walked up behind us, pushing their bikes.

The lower Pencarrow LighthouseBeyond the crest, we saw views of Wellington that I had not seen before.  A little to the North of us the lower Pencarrow Lighthouse was visible, and across the water, behind it, Breaker Bay Rd climbs up towards the Pass of Branda.

Clouds were still there, grey and heavy, but places where the light broke through to illuminate stretches of water promised some possible landscape opportunities later. The road turned South and followed the curve of Fitzroy Bay below, taking us through steep open farmland. Sheep were grazing happily, but scuttled away as we approached. Across the Strait, the Interisland ferry Aratere emerged from the haze near Tory Channel and before long, was below us,  turning towards the harbour mouth.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) in songSkylarks were a constant accompaniment to our walk. They pop up from their hiding place in the long grass and circle rapidly, singing joyfully as they gain height. They are hard to photograph at the best of times, since they move quickly, and are usually high above. In this steep hilly place they were sometimes low enough to capture on the camera, though a big crop was still needed to deliver a usable image.

At Baring Head, which is about one third of the way around the circuit if travelling anticlockwise, we paused while I set up the tripod for a landscape shot (I took several, but one will suffice here). Click to enlarge.Wellington's South Coast from Baring Head

The lighthouse itself is, like all other lighthouses in New Zealand fully automated, and the cottages where the keepers once lived are boarded up and neglected. Baring Head Light

On the way back to our start point, we watched the police launch, Lady Elizabeth IV, come growling up to inspect a small pleasure boat from which people were fishing. They usually inspect any fish caught to ensure that they are of legal size, and not in excess of the allowable numbers caught.  Police on fisheries patrol

Coming down the steep path which we had laboured up earlier, a young fly-fisherman, in hope of catching river trout caught my eye.

Trout fishing in the Wainuiomata RiverIf you are in the region with at least three hours to spare, and a good weather forecast, take some drinking water with you and explore this striking landscape.

I shall be back.

Art creativity hobbies Lower Hutt Railway

October 28, 2012 … world in miniature

Models have always fascinated me.

Not the scowling ones, with lip gloss and anorexia, but skilful reproductions of some aspect of the world in miniature. Railway modelling was my first venture into this world, though I soon crossed over into flying model aircraft. There are many areas in which people create miniature representations of real life, but the one that tugs most consistently at the public heart-strings is model railways. At least in the developed world, there is something in our collective memory that makes us associate “toy trains” with happy times.

Of course, the quickest way to alienate a true modeller is to refer to his (or occasionally her) magnificent obsession as a “toy train”. Aircraft modellers react similarly to the label “toy planes”.  This weekend, Lower Hutt is hosting “Railex  2012”, a national exhibition of the railway modeller’s craft.

Regrettably, the venue chosen for the exhibition was the Lower Hutt Town Hall and Horticultural Hall. I say “regrettably” because the Town Hall is part of the civic buildings complex that has been shut down because it does not meet minimum standards for earthquake resistance.

Railex went ahead anyway, with all the exhibits planned for a much larger space now crammed into the horticultural hall.

Railex 2012 - Lower HuttAs I said, railway models draw the crowds, so from the moment the doors opened at 10 am, the place was buzzing. In fact it was so crowded I had real difficulty protecting my camera and tripod at times.

Most of the layouts were beautifully executed, and most were made around some theme, geographic region, or period in history. Among my favourites was the British railway modellers layout. This excellent layout seemed to represent fairly consistently, the post war era in Britain. It appeals to me because it represents my last childhood memories of the land of my birth. Though most of the locomotives on display were pre-war designs, they were still around on the tracks of the Southern Region when I was at school there in the early 50s. A Drummond T9  in Southern Region colours running tender-first pulls out of the station

As in all fields, technology has come a long way since I had a layout. Wireless remote controllers, computer managed locomotive throttles and realistic braking, appropriate sound effects, all add to the suspension of disbelief and allow the hobbyist to be immersed in this miniature world. Even the roads on the layouts are now active, with trucks and buses trundling along following buried wires. In the image below, just to the right of the gantry crane in the yard, you can see a white truck rolling along the road (click to enlarge).An american styled layout around a freight yard

Another interesting layout was one representing some part of one of the American desert regions. Whereas British layouts tend to be compact and interwoven with the minutiae of urban life, American layouts tend to need more space, and long trains.long trains in the wide open spaces

At the other end of the scale, bush tramways and logging railways are always popular, with enormous possibilities for representing the quirkiness of pioneering life.rail truck scuttles along behind a steam log hauler in a bush railway layout.

As a hobby, it is predominantly followed by men, usually of advanced years. There are women, involved, and I watched spellbound as one young woman was doing meticulous work soldering the parts of a beautiful cast-metal kit of a heavy diesel locomotive.  The thing that blew me away was the neatness of her workbench … something few men, especially me, ever achieve. Her tool kit was laid out like a surgeon’s instruments.

It’s a first world indulgence, I guess, that we each have our hobbies and our obsessions. For now at least, mine is still photography.

I may resume model making one day.

Art Aviation Birds Paremata Pauatahanui

October 27, 2012 … curves and panoramas

Somewhere in my schooling, I remember an art teacher saying “there are no straight lines in nature”.

As a generalization I suppose it works. Though my first job was as a draftsman (or back then, draughtsman) at a pulp and paper mill, and I was trained to produce lots of neat straight and square symmetry, curves were always appealing to me. Leaving aside the obvious biological origins of this preference, cars, boats, and planes  with curves always caught my eye. My candidate for the most beautiful airliner ever built is the Lockheed L1049G Super Constellation. If you follow the link, just look at those curves.

Similarly with ships. Real ships always had a sheer line … the curve in the main deck which went from the high point in the bow, through the lowest point, midships, and up again to the stern. Modern ships tend to be rigid straight rectangular boxes with a pointy bit welded on at the front  to ease its entry to the water.

On my way to the Pauatahanui inlet, yesterday, I was halfway over the Haywards hill when I recalled that the local house relocation company, Britten’s, had a sturdy wooden vessel parked in a corner of their yard. It has been there for a while, and the curves of its wooden planks have been catching my eye. What the heck. I pulled in and after asking permission at the office, took some shots in the hope of seeing the good old-fashioned fair curves of good boat design. fair curves of an old hull

I was unable to find any back story for the boat. As far as the nice lady on the desk knows, it is just one of many objects taking up space in a yard normally used for storing houses awaiting relocation. I wonder if this vessel will ever see the water again.  I imagine the sprung plank is repairable, but it looks like a lot of work is required to make her seaworthy.

From there, following the road through Pauatahanui, and resisting the siren call of the excellent coffee shop in the village, paused at Motukaraka point. There, I gave enormous innocent amusement to some older people by lying flat on my belly on the grass beside the shore to get a few shots of one of the many white-faced herons around the harbour. My rough count is about 30 during my circumnavigation. Their mirth was justified, by the way. The grass was not as dry as it looked.

ruffled feathersGot something ... is it food?

I went up one of the side roads at the top of the hill in the suburb of Cambourne and climbed to the little promontory where the water reservoir sits. About eleven images were stitched together to create this panorama of the Porirua harbour with the Pauatahanui inlet on the left, and the Porirua arm to the right centre. Out to the extreme right, the channel passes the Whitireia reserve and heads out past Plimmerton to Ward Island and the open sea.Porirua Harbour

An interesting round trip.

Evans Bay harbour Maritime Weather

October 26, 2012 … I’ll huff and I’ll puff …

The day may be seized, but the moment still missed for purposes of photography.

Things change so rapidly for a photographer that an idea seen or dreamed of, needs to be actioned now. Right now. The opportunity may no longer exist when I finally get round to it. The sun will cloud over, the bird will fly away, or some other essential element of the planned image will cease to be there. Of course, the alternate universe which presents itself when I do get round to it may present a new or even better opportunity than the one missed.  On the whole, however, I associate failure to act at the right moment with regret for opportunities missed.

Yesterday, my friend Brent rang me to tell me there was a pod of Orcas in the harbour. I was not in a position to act on his kindly advice and I regret the opportunity missed. Since he said they were heading towards the sea, I decided that going down late was bound to be disappointing.

Earlier in the day, I was aware of the wind shrieking around the house, and the weather reports later in the day suggest it peaked at around 110 km/h from the North West . Of course I hoped for spectacular waves, but for most purposes the best waves come after a strong Southerly. At the entrance to Evans Bay, I was impressed not so much by the size of the waves, but rather by the flattening effect of the wind, and its ability to rip large volumes of water into the air as spray and hurl it downwind. I opened my car door and almost lost it as the wind ripped it from my hands and slammed it forward against the restraining stays.  I sat down in the lee of the sea wall  and tried a couple of shots. Squalls in Evans Bay

By the time I got round the shoreline to the area of Shelly Bay, the wind was already falling away, though the waves were still slapping solidly into the rock wall at the base of the old wharf there. Near Shelly Bay

Across the bay, the city was sitting there in a weak wash of sunshine, shoulders mildly hunched against the wind.

Wellington breezeA friend said later in the day what a lovely sunny day it had been.  I suspect she had not been out of her office all day until the calm descended in the evening.

A different universe.

Birds Food Zealandia

October 25, 2012 … soup and songbirds

Well, I went back.

This time I took my speedlight to Zealandia. I believe I needed to better illuminate the birds under the dark canopy of the bush. I was pleased with the birds I saw yesterday, but am not yet satisfied with the technical quality of the results obtained. Clearly more practice is required.  So, for anyone who doesn’t like bird photographs, you may have to skip some issues, though I shall try to vary the mixture somewhat.

Disappointingly, the juvenile Grey warblers were nowhere to be seen, and the Takahe were also in hiding. Likewise, I didn’t see a Saddleback this time, though a fellow retiree and former colleague from the university did report having seen them just up the hill from where we met.  I climbed to a promising spot and waited …  … … for quite a long time … … …   a grey warbler sang somewhere above me, and even flitted in to perch fleetingly on a branch nearby. I was much too slow to catch it. Discouraged, I went further up the hill to the lookout tower, and on around the “discovery area”.

My heart sank a little as a bunch of kids on a school trip came by. However, they were very well-behaved, and for a group of that size and that age, they were very quiet and attentive to what the ranger was saying to them. I was impressed.

As they moved off, I saw a lovely Stitchbird or Hihi (Notiomystis cincta). He was heading for a feeding station, but was understandably wary with me nearby, so he sat on a branch a little way off, thus giving me the opportunity to capture him in the camera. This is the first one I have (knowingly) seen in the wild. Very exciting. As a friend observed, “four rings is a lot of bling for one little bird”.
Male stitchbird

Female stitchbirdThe female stitchbird is much less ornamental, as is often the case in the bird world. Click on the thumbnail image (left) to see what I mean. She came in and fossicked about in the mulch under the feeding station.

I just used a small thumbnail image as it’s not much of a shot, but it will display full-size if you click on it.

Bellbirds also came to the same feeder, and were similarly caught in the camera.  They are less colourful than the stitchbird, though the green is nice. The real joy of the bellbird is in those pure chiming notes. I think the use of the speedlight to fill in the dark areas was OK, but need to practice more.

BellbirdBy now, my internal alarm system was telling me that it was my own feeding time, so I began my trek back towards the Rata Café at the entrance, and stopped to catch this fine pair of Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) sitting in the branches above the path, watching me closely.Kaka (NZ Parrots)

Despite my anxieties about image quality, I was happy with my morning’s expedition and enjoyed a fine bowl of tomato and Chilli soup with garlic bread for lunch.

Birds Pauatahanui Weather

October 24, 2012 … w

Pauatahanui is a variable source of bird shots.

Some days there are plenty of birds immediately available, and on other days not much. Yesterday I went out to the Southern hide (nearest Pauatahanui village) in the late afternoon. The first thing I found was a disrupted boardwalk, lifted from its foundations by the strong winds and tides during a stormy weekend. At no small risk to my ankles, I made into the hide and was pleased to see a flock of Royal Spoonbills snoozing on the sandbank across the creek. The view through the slots in the hide is a very pleasant one and leads to high hopes. Through the slots in the Southern hide at Pauatahanui

If you enlarge the image above you will see the spoonbills just to the right of the grassy lump in the left of the image. There was a stiff Southerly blowing and they presented a comical sight standing on one leg with their beak tucked in to their wings. Their plumes streamed out giving the impression of a bad hair day. Other birds in the neighbourhood included spur-winged plovers, starlings, and black swans.

I was amused at a steam of plovers walking briskly through the group of somnolent spoonbills. It reminded me of one of those essentially British sitcoms in which someone has built a house across an ancient walkway, and the locals exercise their rights to keep the walkway legal by hiking through the bedroom of the new house. Spur-winged plovers walking through the bedroom as the spoonbills sleep

I love the lockstep of the two plovers in the rear. That was pretty much it. On the other side of the reserve (which I drove past for a quick look) there were some mallard ducks, paradise shelducks, and some pied stilts. All in all, a hard day at the office.

It may be that I lack the patience required of a true birder. Somehow, I want action. But I am learning.

Birds Weather Wellington Zealandia

October 23, 2012 … whatever it’s called, it’s a great place

I still think it’s a stupid name.

In my mind, I still go to the “Karori Wildlife Sanctuary”, even though my membership card says “Zealandia”. But the birds don’t seem to care, one way or the other.  We went there because, among other reasons, there was a really strong wind blowing. One of the great things about the reserve, is that the wind passes, for the most part, over the top. The large pines on the Eastern side were swaying visibly, but on the valley floor it was sunny and nearly flat calm. Wonderful.

My first point of call was the nesting site used by the falcons last year, but, alas, no action there, apart from a single fantail. Over the suspension bridge, and down the Beech Track, we came to a clearing where one or two other patrons were in that state of uniformly aligned suspended animation that says they are all watching the same thing. Sure enough, a splendid Saddleback or Tieke (Philesturnus carunculatus) was hopping about pecking at the mossy bark on the tree trunks.Saddleback at Zealandia

New Zealand’s native birds have evolved, on the whole, in such a way as to allow them to hide in the bush. There are few patches of bright colour. The Saddleback can also be hard to see, even allowing for its comparative rarity, except when it gets in the sun. Then its rust brown saddle and red wattles seem to light up.

It’s good that young children are brought here to learn the joys of the bush. The downside is that their cheerful prattle scares the birds away. So it goes. Moving along, and taking a different path to the happily oblivious family group, we next encountered three or four bellbirds near a feeding station.

Grey warbler juvenile (?)Further down the valley, some movement in the glossy green leaves directly overhead turned out to be three or four tiny grey birds which I believe to be juvenile Grey Warblers or Riroriro (Gerygone igata). We were able to enjoy their antics for quite some while, and since we were off the main tracks, there was no other foot traffic to scare them away.

As we neared the lower dam, several Kaka,  the lowland parrot  (Nestor meridionalis), were swooping through the trees. They are very silent flyers, except for their raucous call. Beside the lake, a pair of South Island Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) were obviously weary of so many sightseers and chose to remain huddled in the swamp grasses.Takahe taking a rest

On the walkway back up to the main gate, a common chaffinch caught my eye

ChaffinchI shall go back to the reserve on the next reasonable opportunity, this time with my speedlight to compensate for the darkness under the canopy.

Eastbourne Landscapes Light Railway Seaview

October 22, 2012 … the seedy side of the city

Most cities have an industrial back yard.

Lower Hutt is no exception. Over to the East, where the road squeezes in between the Eastern hills and the harbour, there is an area called Seaview. With a name like that, you might expect pleasant dwellings overlooking the harbour. But no. Instead we have scrap metal yards, petrochemical storage areas, a (locally) significant paint manufacturer, various road freight concentrators, and a multitude of other small to medium industrial sites.

Last evening, I was coming back from Eastbourne and the weather and the light were deteriorating rapidly. Amidst the industrial blandness, a splash of  oddly contrasting colour caught my eye. There was a lot of graffiti on rakes of old oil tanker rail wagons. There are about twenty of them, parked on some sidings that now seem to be cut off from the rest of the rail system. They are totally landlocked, and could not be taken anywhere except by being lifted out. Ominously, there are two large scrap metal yards nearby.

Despite the double row of hurricane mesh fence, each topped with barbed wire, the people who must emulate dogs by marking their territory with their tags have got in.

I despise tagging anywhere, but if nothing else these marks gave me a splash of colour in an otherwise drab area.derelict oil tankers

Then, following the rule to look around from the original target, I noticed the contrast between the nearby petrochemical tanks and the stormy sky behind them.Tank farm

I think I know at least two regular readers who may enjoy this short-lived lapse into  industrial imagery.