Art Aviation Invercargill Queenstown Weather Wellington

November 30, 2012 … from Middle Earth to the Misty Mountains

Summer just got wound back three notches.

It was a stunning morning in Wellington as Mary dropped me at the airport. There were clear skies, bright sun and flat calm.

I was early for my journey, so I had a chance to see the sights for a bit over an hour. Inside the terminal, “Middle Earth” was everywhere. Overhead, a giant sculpture of Gollum chasing trout dominated the food court.

Gollum seeks his next meal in the food courtWhile I wouldn’t suggest it should remain as a timeless piece of art or anything, I have to admire the skills at Weta Workshops who are superbly skilled and practiced at this sort of thing.

Gollum blows bubbles and the fishing is goodIt stands up quite well to closer inspection.

Meanwhile, across the runway, a Gulfstream was sitting in the sun, and my first thought was that some executive from New Line/MGM was in town for the festivities. As I looked closer, I realised that while our own government might run around after such minor power figures, the US government was far less likely to provide a USAF jet. I have no idea which dignitary was in town, but thought it must be a nice way to travel. Special transport for a VIP courtesy of the US taxpayer

Another visitor to the airport was a BAe 146 “whisper jet” or “grasshopper”. I Think this one was owned by Vincent Aviation and is based at Paraparaumu. As it took off I had a strange nostalgia for the days when Ansett Airlines forced our own national airline to begin competing.BAe 146 ("grasshopper") takes off from Rongotai

Since I was travelling by Jetstar, I am happy to report that they are still forced to compete. I am happy to report that my flight was on time, staffed by a very pleasant cabin crew, and I had a very pleasant flight.

I was heading to Invercargill to see my brother. Oddly the cheapest way to do that was by flying to Queenstown and then driving with my son Andrew the two hours or so to the Southern city. By the time the plane past Blenheim, there was thick cloud everywhere, and I saw no land until the flight dropped through the cloud in the Kawarau Gorge just near the Crown Range Road.

Cold, grey, chilly weather greeted me, with spiteful rain. It must have come as an unpleasant shock to all the lightly clad young things who were returning from the joys of the Hobbit premiere in our sunny capital. Andrew and I grabbed a “Subway” meal (still the most reliable and moderately healthy fast food meal I know) … and we were on the road. Somewhere south of Kingston a cloud of black smoke was rushing towards us and I recognised it as the Kingston Flyer.  Unfortunately, we could not find a place to stop in time for me to set up, so the only evidence I have is this blurry hand-held shot taken across the driver and on all the wrong settings. But I am so pleased that the old girl was saved from the slow decay that seemed its fate during the bankruptcy that I had to include it anyway. Sorry for the quality. 

I am happy to report that my brother is in much better state than I feared, and I shall start the homeward journey today.

Architecture Invercargill Light Lower Hutt Trees

November 29, 2012 … I think that I shall never see*

Contemplating a special tree seemed appropriate.

The hoop-la associated with the Hobbit premiere was happening in the city and I made a conscious choice to stay away. As I parked in the grounds of St James Church behind the Lower Hutt Library, I remembered the two trees between the car park and the church  have always been rather special. They are golden elms, and in my opinion, are worthy of an honoured place in Rivendell or Gondor.

A tree surpassing any poemFrom the first green of spring until the bare branches of winter these are magnificent trees and I must check with the city council to see whether they are on the register of protected trees.

From there, picking up on the suggestion of my longtime correspondent Pam, in Switzerland, I decided to look at a few of the angles of Lower Hutt City.

Honesty requires the admission that this is not a spectacular city. It is Wellington’s dormitory. It has few public buildings of real architectural merit.  For a while, back in the 1950s some work was done with reinforced concrete structures that was good for its time, but which is no longer as appealing as it was back then. There can be a fine line between clean minimalist architecture, and the graceless totalitarian military look. In my opinion, the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library and the associated Little Theatre just scrape on to the positive side of that balance.Post war minimalism --- the Little Theatre

Previously I have lamented the slow death of High Street and Queens Drive caused by the glittering attractions of the modern mall nearby.  Historic photographs show a bustling main street with many fine buildings of which the citizenry were justly proud.

If you look behind the sad neon, the faded billboards and the for sale signs, the skeleton of the old days is still there, but crumbling fast. One prominent building which survives for now, is the old art deco styled Post Office building on the corner of High St and Andrews Avenue.

Once the regional headquarters when “post” included phones and telegraph, it is now deemed an earthquake risk, and has been vacated by NZ Post, though other tenants have chosen to remain. The most prominent tenant on the corner is Cash Converters, the modern-day descendant of a pawn shop. I don’t think they actually “pawn” goods, but my perception is that they pay low and sell high. How could you go wrong?The old Post Office building on High Street


My last building of the day is also subject to seismic hazard … the Town Hall and Civic buildings are being temporarily vacated pending strengthening work.

Lower Hutt Civic CentreBehind the civic buildings is the lovely Riddiford Gardens and the Library which brings us back to the start point of today’s adventure.

The next instalment will come to you from an apparently chilly Invercargill.

* “… a poem lovely as a tree”  Trees, by Joyce Kilmer


Birds Normandale Seaview

November 28, 2012 … sweet and sour

Consciousness came with music yesterday.

It was the music of my old buddy, the tui who was sitting on the ponga just outside my bedroom window whistling, honking and chiming. He was proclaiming his sovereignty over the immediate surroundings and the valley below.

Peering through the curtains, I reached for my camera (it will come as no surprise to some of you that at least one of my cameras is within reach in my bedroom). I slid the curtains apart as quietly as I could. He was undisturbed. I opened the window and was sure that the audible crack as wood moved would frighten him off, but still he stayed.

Yodeling and warbling to all his loyal subjects, he ignored me. The lens crept out into the crisp spring air, and I began shooting. Wake up callIt’s a different angle from the tui image earlier in the week. It’s the same frond, and probably the same bird, unless there has been a palace revolution. That shot was from  ground level, against the sky.  This one was from upstairs with the bush of Jubilee Park across the road as a splendid backcloth.

As our Prime Minister said in defence of the “100% Pure” marketing slogan, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. He went so far as to compare it with McDonald’s ads. If he had compared it with election promises we would have understood. So it is with me and birds. I had intended to refrain for a while, but when your day begins with such grandeur, what can you do?

Partly as an antidote to all this natural saccharine, and partly to live up to my stated intention,  I now invoke the spirit of the “kitchen sink realism” school (Google is your friend) and look over the fence into one of the scrap metal yards in Seaview. It was taken after the gates were locked and everyone had gone home. Even the mackerel sky cooperated to capture the mood.Gritty realism

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

My brother has suffered a health crisis, so I am dashing off to Invercargill to see him tomorrow.

I shall be operating remotely for a day or two.

Birds Uncategorized Weather Wellington Zealandia

November 27, 2012 … another day in denial

This is not a birdwatching blog.

It really isn’t.  It was never intended to be.

On the other hand, a beautiful bird is irresistible to me. Yesterday, despite earlier resolutions, I put myself back into the zone of maximum temptation … I went back to Zealandia. It’s like putting a kleptomaniac in a department store or a dipsomaniac in a bar. My excuse for yesterday’s trip  was that it provided shelter from the wind.

As soon as I got there, I knew where I wanted to be and headed up towards the upper dam and the “discovery area” where I have previously had the good fortune to see the stitchbird and other small jewels of the air.

Little black shag at ZealandiaAs I approached the wetlands area at the head of the lower dam, I saw a little black shag (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) dive, so I paused and waited for it to re-emerge. This shot is just moments after it popped to the surface … you can see the drops of water falling from its grey bill (the feature that most easily identifies it as a little black).

There was a big cruise ship in town so there were guided clusters of tourists here and there within the reserve, and I threaded my way past them on the narrow tracks heading steadily upwards to my target area. I knew their happy exclamations and cheerful chatter would not go well with my aims.

Scarcely a minute passed after I reached the area,  before the birds began to appear. The bellbird (korimako), stitchbird (hihi) and North Island robin (toutouwai)  were suddenly all around me. The saddleback did not put in an appearance.North Island robin

The North Island robins (Petroica longipes – which is actually an Australian bird) were absolutely comical. They would hop down on the path by my feet, or on the bench next to me if I was seated. The lens I had on has a minimum focus distance of 1.8 metres, and for quite a while I could not get a shot of them.

I backed up, and they followed. It was both frustrating and hilarious.

My first thought was that these birds were accustomed to being fed by humans. A conversation with a ranger later revealed that this is quite normal behaviour for this bird. The entry in the DoC website says it “is a friendly and trusting bird, often coming to within a couple of metres to people, and occasionally standing on a person’s boot.” It seems their hope is that the big folk will stir things up and allow them to get to the insects.North Island robin at the minimum focal distance of my lens

I did get some stitchbird shots, but for reasons I am still exploring, they were all much more under-exposed than the ones taken in the same area and the same light conditions as the robins.

Unlike the robin, the stitchbird is wary and skittish, but at one stage with about eight spell-bound birdwatchers all standing still or moving very cautiously, I saw five at once. Of course they come to the feeding stations which are, to put it kindly, “butt ugly”, but happily for me the birds tended to sit on branches nearby while assessing the risk before feeding.

Male stitchbird at ZealandiaThe stitchbird (Notiomystis cincta) is classified as “rare”, and outside this sanctuary are most likely to be seen on offshore predator-free islands. What a privilege to stand among a whole group of them. What an achievement on the part of the conservators.

My shots of the bellbird were irredeemable. I must remember to take the speedlight on my next visit, and to set a lower ISO rating.

Maybe back to the real world tomorrow

Cook Strait Maritime mountains Weather Wellington

November 26, 2012 … brisk breezes

Wellington has a great climate.

I just wish it didn’t go past so fast. Yesterday morning was spent on some necessary and overdue chores (hedge trimming, garden weeding). If trapped I can be put in those situations. As the hedge cuttings were flying off towards the neighbour’s house, I should have been warned.

As it happened, I had to visit a second-hand bookshop in Newtown (the excellent Book Haven), so having found what I needed there, decided to revisit the South coast.

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and in the car, heading South, the Nor’Wester didn’t seem so bad.  When I came over the ridge from Mt Albert into Melrose (… I think, … the boundaries of Wellington’s Southern Suburbs confuse me), I saw a view over the airport and Pencarrow, so I parked an opened the door … and nearly lost it.

I am glad the Camry has robust door stays. Even with my tripod at its lowest and sturdiest configuration, and with me bearing down on it to add stability, the camera was shuddering in the wind. In hindsight it would have been more sensible to shoot from inside the car.

From Melrose, looking across the airport and the Miramar Peninsula to PencarrowBut the view was impressive, and the sea and the whitecaps thereon were very vivid in the bright sun.  Planes taking off were airborne very quickly and climbed at improbable rates.  From there explored streets I have never been on before, and ended up on  small reserve overlooking Houghton Bay. I went beyond the crest and got as low to the ground as I could, but the wind followed the contours and there was very little relief from the very vigorous wind.

The InterIsland Ferry Arahura turns to enter the harbourLooking out over the strait, I could see the Arahura in the distance, and hoped that her stabilizers were doing the job for the passengers crossing with a very strong beam wind. I caught her in this image as she turned into the wind below Baring Head for the run up into the harbour.

Out to the west, beyond the wildly waving grasses on my little hilltop perch, the blue and white of the strait was quite spectacular and in the distance, mighty Tapuae-o-Uenuku was thrusting its snow-capped peak into the clouds (just to the right of that Toetoe seed head). Across 40 km of wind-swept water

Getting home became a challenge as a result of a car accident in the Mt Victoria Tunnel and subsequent jams on Oriental Parade and Kent Terrace.  And the wind is persisting today.

Birds flowers harbour Hutt River Korokoro Light Normandale

November 26, 2012 … “For I am the ruler of all that I see!”*

Nailed it.

A competition judge may disagree, find fault, suggest improvements, I don’t care. Tuis are prolific this season, and noisy with it. Perhaps it’s something to do with attracting a mate, but individuals seem to choose a prominent place and use it to broadcast a mostly musical and very repetitive message. Just outside our spare bedroom window is a ponga (silver fern). It is not a particularly big one, but its tallest frond has been a campaign platform several individual tui.

Perhaps in the same way that many dogs will claim and mark the same tree as being within their territory, many different birds proclaim themselves as ruler of the world. Since the one frond was a popular perch, I mounted the camera on the tripod with its remote in the bedroom and opened the windows to avoid the distortion of glass. From the lounge, I could see each bird arrive and deliver its lengthy manifesto and depart. It was just necessary to press the trigger at appropriate moments.

My first attempt was a mixed success. When I focused on that branch, I had forgotten that the tui is a fairly solid bird and would bend it quite a way downwards. So, being unhappy with head and shoulder shots, I simply reframed the shot and tried again.  Bingo! It’s not often you will hear me say I am happy with a shot, but I am pleased with this one.Hear ye! Hear ye!

Later in the day I went out to see what was happening elsewhere in the late afternoon sun.

Down at the estuary there is a profusion of flax bushes, all enjoying their brief flowering season, and these are a favourite spot for more tui moments. I was surprised then, to see a common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) on one of the flowering stems. I had thought them to be seed and insect eaters, but it seems they like nectar as much as the next bird. Starling on flax

From there I went to the start of the Korokoro walkway at Cornish street. Literally just a few metres from the entrance, the outside world is left behind, and there is bush, flowers and birdsong.

I was enjoying a “hills are alive” moment (Relax, there was neither singing nor pinafore). In a small clearing, bright green grass was dotted with clover and buttercups. White butterflies and bumble bees flitted about and there was plentiful birdsong. It was a pleasant moment, warm, relaxed, grateful for all that I was seeing and experiencing.The hills are alive

Then, at the edge of my vision I saw movement in a nearby bush. A tiny grey ball of feathers was moving about. My first hope was that it was the elusive grey warbler and I managed several hand-held shots. Back at home, having a closer look, I now think it to be a female New Zealand Tomtit (Petroica macrocephala).  Regardless, I am pleased to have seen it.  New Zealand Tomtit (female)

Perhaps I shall try for a few bird-free days  this week. The forecast is (at this stage) quite good.

*“Yertle the Turtle” by Dr Seuss


Birds Landscapes Normandale Pauatahanui

November 24, 2012 … flattened but not beaten

This city can be cruel.

After a very nice lunch of my favourite mussels steamed in blue cheese sauce, I went out to Pauatahanui. As soon as I got there I knew it as not going to be a fruitful journey. With camera and tripod strapped to my back I was having to lean into the stiff Nor’Wester to make progress. The gold and brown salt marsh vegetation was rippling and pulsing under the lash of the wind. As I got to the Southern Hide, a pair of black swans wandered into the distance and nothing much else was visible other than the odd swallows flitting about.

I waited inside the hide with one of the viewing slots open (thus letting the wind in to swirl about). Ducks and gulls of no great interest passed by … so I shut down and packed up. As I was closing the door I saw a wooden post with a white-painted top across the creek. It looked like a survey peg of some sort. I peered at it through the zoom lens, and was surprised to see it staring back at me. That “survey peg” was a white-faced heron, huddled miserably in the shelter of a bank of reeds.  With head hunched firmly down on the shoulders, it was focused on staying warm rather than looking for food.  The grasses were being knocked about and the expanse of the harbour beyond was flattened by sheer force of wind.

My "survey peg" (white-faced heron) staring back

I took a few pictures and it extended its head like one of those telescopic hoists on a fire engine. It was almost comical the way the head went up and then began scanning.

On my way back to the car, with the wind behind me, I saw another heron in one of the weed covered ponds. This was the first time I had seen a wader in this part of the reserve, and I am guessing that it was finding shelter in the lee of the vegetation around the pond.Heron in the pond

Back at home, I paused at the letterbox to check for mail. A melodious yodelling above me came from a tui in full song. When I say melodious, each cycle ended with a harsh crashing noise like a missed gear change. I can’t recall a year when the tui have been more noticeable both visually and aurally. In fact there has been a crop of letters to the editor in the Dominion Post from people complaining about the surfeit of tui song, and the variety of mimicry that they indulge in.

Operatic tuiI took the shot, and then gave it away for the day.

It seems this was a mistake, as the wind died out, and there was a golden evening in which several of my photographic friends made really good images.

See what I mean about cruelty?

Art Birds Cook Strait harbour Landscapes Light Maritime Wellington

November 23, 2012 … celebrating a beautiful day

There was something special about the day to begin with.

Warm sun, little cloud, slight breeze, and the harbour was calm. Where should I go to “seize the day”? The South coast is often a good answer to that question. I drove out to Miramar, around the peninsula. People were enjoying coffee and muffins at outdoor tables at the various coffee shops on the way round. On the beach at Seatoun, dogs were being walked.

Through the Pass of Branda and along the coast to the rocks at the harbour mouth, people were out and about. I saw an organised group of young people cleaning up the shore line, collecting all the rubbish they could and taking it away in sacks. Highly commendable exercise.

After a bit of juggling with angles and leg lengths, I got my tripod firmly based on the rocky beach close to the water, noting carefully where the highest waves had been recently. And then I sat and watched and contemplated … and if a promising wave looked interesting, pressed the button on the remote.At the entrance to Wellington Harbour The rocks here are not as red as they are further round the coast, but their contrast with the blues and greens of water and hills was startling.

Two men nearby were struggling into their wetsuits and scuba gear, and from the conversation I overheard, they were a pair of young lawyers who were not very impressed with the skills and aptitudes of one of their colleagues. It’s amazing how people can be so indiscreet in earshot of strangers. Hopeful gulls circle the AquillaOut on the water, people living a simpler life were hauling in fish for a living. Judging by the circling gulls, there was some sort of return to the water, either small fish or perhaps offal. The Aquilla is a small trawler operating out of Island Bay. Whether by accident or design, she was going backwards with the tide towards the harbour.

From there, I went to Owhiro bay and saw, but didn’t adequately photograph a pipit. It was lunch time, so I went into the city, and paused near Frank Kitts Park on the waterfront to see what the fine weather brought out.

It’s not new and has been shot from every conceivable angle, by night and day, but I have always loved the clean lines of Tanya Ashken’s sculpture “Albatross” and this shot was from up on the walkway over Jervois Quay.Tanya Asken's "Albatross" Young men were jumping off the  newly erected diving tower on the Taranaki St Wharf ( I remember when freighters would berth here. In later years, the “RoRo” ships were frequent visitors … Maheno, and Marama,  Wanaka and Hawea came almost every other day. Now it is a mere pedestrian promenade) In one of the gaps in the wharf structure there is a platform which people can get down to the water. And there was a man who is a serious hobbyist in the field of bubbles.

If you stop and talk to him, you will learn lots about polymers and marbling, and the suitability of different mixtures for different conditions.   Of the many opportunities I got with his different bubble techniques, I liked this one of some huge bubbles (about a metre in diameter. If you look carefully in the centre of the big bubble (try an enlarged version) you will see me pointing the camera at it.Reflection on the reflections within the other reflection

For me, the sheer joy that his giant bubbles were giving people was the real phenomenon.

Aviation Birds Kapiti Coast Pauatahanui Retirement Whitireia Park

November 22, 2012 … fur, flaps and feathers

If I had known the freedom conveyed by retirement, I might  have contemplated it sooner.

At least for now, I am free to get up when I wake, and to go out and pursue anything that interests me. Yesterday I went out to the Pataka Gallery in Porirua where the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition was on display. If you are in the region and like nature photography, don’t miss it. The thing that distressed me most was the quality of images submitted by young people (ten years and up). I hope to become as good as they already are.

On the Porirua Harbour near the turn-off to  Titahi Bay, a flock of fluffy ducklings were being shepherded by proud and anxious parents. At this stage of their lives they are at risk of sudden death from below (eels) or above (Black-backed gulls). Other water fowl tend to bully them and I saw geese chasing them away from food put out by nearby householders. Duckling squadron

Near Titahi Bay is Whitireia Park, the wild windswept Southern headland at the entrance to Porirua Harbour.  Most Wellingtonians will know it as the site of the old transmitter masts  for 2YA (Radio New Zealand National) and four other AM stations.

With the prevailing Nor’Westerly wind, it is a much loved site for the model aircraft community for the branch of the hobby known as slope soaring. In the right conditions, pilots can put their models out into the updrafts and fly them up and down the cliffs for as long as their batteries will allow.

Since it was a working day for most, there was just one flyer there yesterday. In the light breeze at the start of the day, he had launched a motor-assisted glider. When I say motor assisted, it had a folding propeller and electric motor in the nose. If he found himself in trouble below the lift on the cliff face, he just opened the throttle. The blades swung into life, and the aircraft shot into the air like an express elevator. This was a purchased model rather than a made one.Model glider descending rapidly with full brakes From the Czech Republic, it made extensive use of carbon fibre for the spars and leading edge, and was an impressive piece of technology. He kindly brought it down from the heights with flaps in air-brake setting, and then swung across the harbour entrance to give me a more interesting background. Very nice.Model glider near Plimmerton On the way home I went past the bird hide at Pauatahanui where I found a pair of pied stilts meandering about, but not much else.Pied stilt at Pauatahanui

A new day tomorrow

Birds Normandale

November 21, 2012 … a seedy affair

A few seeds was all it took.

That and a little patience . My camera was pre-focused on a particular spot on the lawn, and I spread a little bird-seed along a line across that point.

The party gets under way. Within five minutes the birds found the treasure. First a solitary greenfinch, then the sparrows, a bullfinch, a yellow-hammer and a blackbird, and more greenfinches. Soon it was a full-blown feeding frenzy.  I was inside, peering round a curtain, and using the remote trigger to fire off shots when I thought the cluster was interesting.

What do you mean, conspiracy theory? I tell you someone is watching us!I suppose the sideways displaced wireless remote is not as good as being in a blind looking through the lens, but I liked some of what I got.  After the first batch, I zoomed a bit closer and had a second shot. It worked, but was even more of a lottery as to what was in frame and what was not.

The greenfinch is a beautiful bird but always looks severeOK. Learn something new each day.  I was surprised that no waxeyes showed up to the party, nor any starlings. Tuis show little interest in seeds at this time of year (they are nectar feeders).

Almost time for a glass of best Islay malt nectar.