Food Lower Hutt

March 31, 2013 … a stranger in a strange land

I have heard of early mornings, but still struggle to grasp the concept.

Mary wanted to get to our local growers’ market before the crowd. If you have ever stood at a produce stall and watched shoppers inspect each piece of fruit, you may have observed that each rejected piece is just dropped, thereby damaging not only that piece, but also the others below. So an early start (whatever that is) was required.

It was still dark as we parked on Rutherford Street, just over the stop bank from the Riverside Market. Each Saturday morning, growers from as far afield as Otaki and Levin drive through the darkness and set up their stalls  at about 6am. In theory, selling doesn’t start until 7am but I have yet to see a stallholder refuse a sale to an early customer.

Fresh fruit in the darkness
I like the light on the rounded shapes of the apples and pears and stonefruit

From the top of the stopbank, the overwhelming impression is of the vast quantity of food on display. Of course the commonplace fruit and vegetables are there in bulk, but also some interesting specialist items such as bitter melon, daikon radish and taro. Some of the Chinese varieties of cabbage such as bok choy, and choy sum are becoming commonplace, but as I said, the overwhelming impression is the volume in this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”*

More fruit
Hot food stalls in the background

Mary did the shopping. I trailed along hauling our big wheeled shopping bag in one hand and shooting images with the other. By 7:30 am it was almost full daylight.

Sunrise on a cloudy day
It would be churlish to complain about the odd cloud after the summer we have had, but I still love it when the sky is blue and clear

So many potential customers in one place attract other vendors. Hot food stalls sell everything from burgers and fries to such dietary nightmares as fried bread, churros, or hot doughnuts. I was almost tempted by the offer of a whitebait fritter for a mere $7 (!), but I had already had my breakfast and my scales are already issuing final warnings.

A very high-tech portable stall with extractor fans and ovens was selling Hungarian “chimney cakes” and though they looked delicious my resolve withstood the temptation. Specialist meat stalls, one selling vacuum packed venison, another selling lamb packs, yet another offering fish, filleted or whole, were doing brisk trade. An “Espresso Rescue” vendor was offering coffee from a bright green caravan.

Meat retailer selling lamb from their own farm
Fish on one side, coffee on the other. The market has been running for several years now and goes from strength to strength

So I returned from this strange far-off land of “early morning”, and after the groceries were unpacked, succumbed to the temptation of a good coffee and a season hot cross bun.

Happy Easter.

*John Keats, Ode to Autumn

Architecture Wellington

March 30, 2013 … some of our heritage is well preserved

Pause and take a deep breath.

Do something different. It’s not as if I had much choice, given the weather and tides were not conducive to great bird shots yesterday. Besides, this is not intended to be an exclusively bird oriented blog. I decided to go into the city and have a look at some of its noteworthy heritage buildings. The streets were deathly quiet since, by law, there is almost no retail trading on Good Friday or Easter Sunday in New Zealand.

Dominion Farmers Institute Building
I suspect that only the external shell bears any resemblance to the original design. Internally there is an amazing glass atrium, well worth a look if you are passing.

The Dominion Farmers’ Institute Building was erected in 1917. Among its many functions it was intended to serve as a hotel and club for members of the institute visiting the capital. It has also housed the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.  Inside it has an astonishing glass atrium, and has a major reconstruction. According to the sign on the canopy over the front floor, some of its floors are available for lease. It’s external ornamentation was toned down after an earthquake in 1942.

The Wellesley Boutique Hotel
No longer a bastion of misogyny

Home to the Wellesley Club for many years, and restaurant. I recall being invited there by a member, but having to decline because my boss was excluded from the men only dining room. Now that the Wellesley is now a boutique hotelI believe all such restrictions have vanished. I recall attending a function in an upstairs reception room when my eldest son David was admitted to the bar, and my memory is of dark wood and heavy curtains. Wellesley is of course the family name of the Duke of Wellington for whom our fair city is named.
A very distinctive presence

Since 1909, the Public Trust building has presided over the corner of Lambton Quay and Stout Street. With its granite cladding over a steel frame it has stood up to many events in the 104 years of its existence, but is still a handsome edifice.

The old State Insurance Building, now home to Te Puni Kokiri
…. and if you remember “Gliding On”, that is to the left, next building along.

Currently home to Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) the Gummer and Ford designed building on the adjacent corner was opened for the State Insurance in 1941. It has recently had an addition on the upper floors designed by Ian Athfield. I can’t pretend to like it, but the original building still shines through.

A change of pace again tomorrow.



Birds Hutt River Maritime Miramar Seatoun South Coast

March 29, 2013 … airborne elegance

Lunch in town often leads to other things.

If I have taken the car in to the city, as I did on this occasion, I feel obliged to maximise the value of the trip by doing other things. On this occasion, I took a leisurely drive out to Miramar and around the scenic drive to scorching Bay. It’s a narrow road, and because there are many pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit is 40 km/h. That didn’t stop some person driving a car with the name of a well known used car dealer on the side from overtaking me at about 70 km/h and disappearing around the tight corners ahead.  I came round Point Halswell, and saw him taking off from a gravel patch to go back the other way. Much spinning of wheels spitting of gravel and he was out of sight.

Schadenfreude is never attractive, but I confess to a certain sense of justice served when, on the way back, I saw the car had missed a turn and parked at a 30 degree nose-down angle on the jagged coastal rocks beside the road. I checked that no one was hurt, and moved on. I should have resisted the temptation to capture the scene from the other side of the bay, but didn’t.

Unconventional parking
The driver of this car overtook me at high speed on a road that needs a great deal of care.

But I digress. The stumpy little inter-island ferry Straitsman  was passing, and if you look closely, you will see lots of white dots against her dark blue hull.   Many white fronted terns (Sterna striata) were in the vicinity.

Straitsman leaving Wellington bound for Picton
Look at the large version at the spots around the bow of the ship.

As well as my shots of the ferry, I tried to catch the birds in flight. One of the defining characteristics of the tern is its agility. It is lighter and more manoeuvrable than the more common red-billed gulls, and its flight path is less predictable. It “flits”, and I swear it can detect the autofocus mechanism and attempts to “sidestep”.

White fronted tern in flight
Terns are in my opinion, amongst the most beautiful of the seabirds around New Zealand


There were many more misses than hits, but I got some.

More terns
Three in one shot was a good outcome

Carrying around to Scorching Bay (where, despite the name, the water is always freezing), I did a face-palm. If the term is unfamiliar, “Google is your friend”. Since I first came to Wellington in 1966, I have known there was a tern colony in this bay. I had spent half an hour trying to shoot tern images with perhaps a 3% hit rate. There in front of me, adjacent to the tables of the nearby restaurant was a rocky outcrop with hundreds of terns coming and going. Wonderful.

Tern landing on the rocks of the colony
This colony has a table-service restaurant within ten metres

If you are a local and decide to go there, please do not disturb the colony. Maintain a respectful distance.

On the way home, I checked in at Hikoikoi and was astounded to see no fewer than twenty Royal Spoonbills all lined up on a mud bank.

Royal Spoonbills
On parade … I was lucky to catch a moment when there was a still reflective patch of water in front of the birds

It was a good day.


Aviation Maritime South Coast Wellington

March 27, 2013 … taking the long view

This is a retrospective issue.

I took the pictures, so to that extent, I kept the faith. What I forgot to do was post the blog.

Still trying to find a way to make the 2x converter work by sheer bloody-minded persistence, I went to the  South coast to find out in what circumstances I could make the  device achieve the desired results. The short answer is, with my particular zoom lens, not many.

My first shot is not, as you might guess the conning tower of a submarine, but the cab of a small fishing boat partly obscured by the deep swells of the Cook Strait. Since the boat was at a more or less constant distance, the lack of autofocus was not much of a problem.

Fishing vessel in the trough
The waves didn’t look all that big, until I saw the little boat disappearing

The next shot, of a small commuter plane about to touch down at Rongotai. Since the plane was coming towards me at about 120 kts, the focus was changing rapidly. Some shots I got right, and some were less successful.

Commuter aircraft arriving
I normally hate “stopping the props” in a photograph, but with this huge focal length, I had to use a high shutter speed

The Boeing 737  contrasted with the sea-sick green paint at the end of the runway merely demonstrates that in some circumstances, a lens with an effective focal length of 1,280 mm is overkill.

B737 preparing to depart
That paint is an awful colour

My last shot is a bit of a maritime curiosity. This is a highly specialised cable laying ship, the Ile de Sein owned by the French telecommunications giant, Alcatel-Lucent. The ship has a special claim to fame as the vessel that recovered the flight data recorders (“black boxes”) from the ill-fated Air France flight 447 which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. She was leaving port in hazy conditions.

Ile de Sein
I believe this to be a very high-tech vessel

The more I play with this 2x converter, the more I am convinced it is the wrong choice for me.

Sorry about the posting lapse.


Birds Butterflies Lower Hutt Moon

March 28, 2013 … migration mysteries

Unless my “Saturday night investment plan”* pays off, I am unlikely to satisfy my desire to get a significant increase in focal length.

For my purposes, the 2x converter which I discussed earlier in the week does not work. It certainly gives the required magnification, but the degradation of image quality, and the inability to allow autofocus on my current long lens mean that it just doesn’t work for me. I am very grateful to the friend who lent me his so that I could discover these things before I dashed in and bought one as I had firmly intended to do.

Having put it back in its leather pouch, I went out yesterday relying on the lens in its unmodified state. My first call was at the estuary where I found a kingfisher perched atop a branch that a friend had implanted in the mud to provide exactly this kind of opportunity.  Given where it was, and where I was, I took the shot in what old-time photographers used to call “contre jour” conditions (into the light). The result is at least interesting.

Kingfisher on a perch provided by a photographer
When I was first involved in photography, the glittery artefacts in the background would have been regarded as a fatal defect. Now we call it “bokeh” and it is sought after.

From there I went elsewhere in the valley, and checked on a tree which I knew to be a roost for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). This splendid tree is a majestic redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Since its natural habitat is to the West of the Sierra Nevada in California, it is clearly a migrant with not more than two hundred years growth, and probably less.  Its relatives in California are the largest trees in the world.  But I digress.  Here the monarchs gather and rest as part of their migration behaviour. Science seems unsure why they roost together since they migrate alone, and not together. They are fascinating to watch and astoundingly difficult to photograph in flight.

Monarch butterflies at their rest and recreation station
Apparently this is not mating behaviour so any advice as to what is happening here would be welcome.

I had to be satisfied with them on the tree, or on the nearby garden gathering nectar.

in search of nectar
The green background is a happy accident

Last evening gave us a magnificent full moon, and though I had intended to catch it, I was doing something else when it appeared. Mary alerted me to its appearance and laughed as I scrambled to get my camera and the monopod to the front door to see it  rising.

The Eastern sky was still reflecting a delightful soft rosy colour from the beautiful sunset. However, if you expose to see the detail on the moon’s surface strange things happen to the colour in the dark sky behind. This was a good as I could get it.

Moonrise over the Eastern hills of the Hutt Valley, New Zealand
The Easter moon

I wonder what I will find today.

Birds hobbies Maritime Pauatahanui Petone

March 26, 2013 … hey big spender

Technolust is an awful thing.

The more you have, the more you want. My big zoom lens has a nominal reach of 400 mm and mounted on a crop-frame camera (my Canon EOS 7D), the 1.6 magnification factor gives me the optical equivalent of 640 mm. Even that powerful capability does not get me across the mud flats to those darned kingfishers. So, having sold off an unwanted wide angle lens (I still have another one) I decided to explore the notion of an “extender”.

This is an optical converter that fits between the camera body and the lens itself. They are quite complex and expensive lenses in their own right, and come in two sizes which multiply the focal length by either 1.4x or 2x. However, they are an optical compromise and degrade the image quality somewhat, and reduce the light received at the sensor.

I am fortunate in that a friend in the camera club has one and has generously allowed me to play with it so that I can decide whether to buy one of my own. All of today’s images are made with the 2x extender in place.

My kingfisher shots from yesterday are still crops from a larger image, but I have to say that I am so far, disappointed in the image quality. Furthermore, with my particular lens, there is insufficient light to allow the autofocus to work properly. Long lenses tend to have a shallow depth of field (the area that is in focus at any one time)  so manual focussing is difficult to master, especially with moving targets.

I got some usable shots, but the number of discards was unacceptably high. I shall persist for a few days over the Easter break to see if it is merely lack of practice or willpower that is the barrier to more consistent success.

Kingfishers gathered to harvest crabs
Until now, I have usually seen a solitary bird here, and get excited when a second arrives. Four on the same branch was amazing.

Anyway, my trial site was out at Pauatahanui. When I got there, the conditions were right, but no birds nearby. I settled down to wait, and the first one arrived. As I reached stealthily for my camera, another arrived, and then another and another. I got excited up in Napier at the numbers of kingfishers, but here, I had four of them sitting on one branch. Astounding!

Kingfisher swoops on an unfortunate crab
These birds are very fast so in-flight shots tend to be a matter of luck

Crabs were plentiful and for a little while they maintained a shuttle service, each bird dashing off to catch a luckless crab and bring it back to the log for ceremonial dismemberment and consumption.

Consuming the catch
When the bird gets back with a crab, it proceeds to bash it against the log and generally force it to stop struggling. After a few crushing bits, it tosses the crab and swallows it.

Just to see how the extender worked for other subjects, I came back to Petone foreshore, and saw four or five crews out practising for waka ama (outrigger canoes)  races. This is clearly not as sharp as a native lens, but it is a picture. The cruise liner in the background is the Marina (66,000T, 1,252 pax)

Waka ama practice
This used the extender, but the lens was not zoomed out.

More experimentation over the next few days.

Birds Light Pauatahanui Porirua Seasons Whitireia Park

March 25, 2013 … migratory photography

Sorry, birds again.

Maybe I ‘ll do something different in tomorrow’s edition, but no guarantees. Mary entered a walking event in Whitby yesterday, so I dropped her off at the start and arranged to pick her up at the end. This left me free to look for photographs. Despite being in a beautiful location, I failed utterly in my pursuit of landscape images.

With regard to landscapes, I have come to understand that only the sheerest luck will yield a good image when you happen upon an area with an interesting structure. Light, season and weather are all important factors. One of my landscape heroes, Andris Apse  is famous for seeing a landscape and visualizing it at other times of day, other seasons, other weather conditions. He then goes out into that country choosing the best viewpoint, and waiting for the right conditions to occur.  Visit his website and view the open edition prints  (and if you are feeling flush, the limited edition prints). I love all his work, but as a quick example, follow this link to his farmland images. These shots were not casually grabbed while driving along a nearby road. Serious work went into each and every image.

And that brings me to my point. If I want to do real landscape photography, I will need to get out on the road and spend a day or two in a neighbourhood in the season and weather conditions of my choice. That wasn’t happening yesterday.

Yesterday was about happenstance. I am here. What can I see and can I make it into a picture? And to be honest, that amounted to birds.  I began at a promontory on the North end of Whitireia Park, where I sat and ate my lunch and waited for the birds of that area to appear. They were getting closer and each time I was almost ready for them, someone in a car or mountain bike would charge through the scene and away they would fly.

Skylark doing something in the dust
The skylarks seem to love the long dry grass on Whitireia Park

I settled for this Skylark (Alauda arvensis) which was doing something mysterious in a hole in the track.

Goldfinch at the roadside
So many seeds in the park that I wondered why it came to the roadside to seek them out

Then there was this goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) with its brilliant splash of colour. It was fossicking about on the edge of the track, but  the interruptions from passers-by kept it at a distance, so this is a severe crop.

On my way to have a coffee with a friend in Porirua, I paused beside the Porirua harbour near Whitireia Polytechnic and caught this Caspian tern  (Sterna caspia) sitting on the shore amid a group of variable oystercatchers. It got nervous very quickly, and in this shot is spreading its wings for departure.

Caspian tern takes to the air
The oystercatchers were untroubled by my presence. The tern was much more wary


Finally, I tried for the kingfishers again. Unlike those at Napier, the ones here in Pauatahanui are very risk averse, and depart as soon as the detect human movement One day I shall get a hide from which to do real birding images. As I was taking this, I left my phone in the car, and thus missed the text from Mary that said she was ready to be picked up an hour earlier than expected. Whoops!

Kingfisher sets out to catch a crab
The kingfishers in the park are creatures of habit, and regularly visit a number of perches such as this stranded tree branch.


Today, a friend is lending me a 2x lens converter which will double the length of my big lens. I don’t expect it to be a panacea, but I am considering buying one. And am grateful for the opportunity to try one.

Who knows what today will bring, but it seems we have another brief interruption to the most beautiful summer in my memory.


Birds Landscapes Pauatahanui

24 March, 2013 … waders

Yesterday offered a very narrow window of photographic opportunity.

I raced out to Pauatahanui in the hope of finding something interesting, either a landscape or bird life.  My first shot is, arguably, a mixture of both. Not a great shot artistically, but it does give the broad image of the harbour and the number of birds.

The North Eastern reaches of the Pauatahanui inlet and some of its bird life
Plentiful bird life, though much of it was too far out to reach (until I get my extender)

Black-backed gulls, black swans, pied stilts, red-billed gulls, mallard ducks, and about fifteen Royal Spoonbills.

Variable oystercatchers
These birds plunge their beaks into the sand and it’s like watching a sewing machine.

Closer to my position, there were a pair of variable oystercatchers, one in the intermediate phase with the mottled breast plumage.

Not much else exciting yesterday, but a white-faced heron came cruising past and “photobombed” my shot of the oystercatcher.

White-faced heron fly-by
Low level intruder

Well it’s been a long day and I am sleepy so more tomorrow.

Forest Plant life Reflections Rivers

March 23, 2013 … though I walk in the valley

… I shall fear no evil.

Ngaio Gorge is a weird place to situate a courier depot.

It’s a narrow road with limited parking and a lot of traffic that makes turning a problem. On the other hand, it provided me with the opportunity to explore Trelissick Park. This park is a reserve that follows the meandering course of the Kaiwharawhara  Stream from Crofton Downs down through the Ngaio Gorge to the industrial area at Kaiwharawhara.  (That name is easier to say than it is to write).  Designated as a wilderness area, the park has fairly minimally developed walkways and the occasional bridge. It is however, absolutely beautiful.

The stream is at the bottom of a steep-sided gorge between the Johnsonville Railway line to the South and Ngaio Gorge Road to the North.  Even at mid-day with the sun overhead, much of the track is in shadow. Nevertheless, it is a lovely place, and I don’t know how I have lived in Wellington all these years and never previously visited this park. Ah well, now it is found, and I shall return.

Buddleia against the stream
I must try this shot again, but shall have my trusty tripod next time.

Low water volumes may have altered things but I found several patches of calm water, and in one place the contrast between the cool green stream and the purple Buddleia (Buddleja davidii) looked nice. A long lens hand-held is not likely to produce the sharpest shots.

Kaiwharawhara stream
The walkway can be seen on the valley wall ahead

Flat calm in some places, with reflections on the water, there are also some interesting little areas of turbulence which probably get more interesting in times of normal water flow.

Deep in the gorge
It’s a place of dappled light, bird song, and running water.

My day ended, as most do, at home. I noticed a weed growing at the front door. Happily I needn’t take any action as the garden staff are demolishing it, one mouthful at a time. This “Woolly Bear” caterpillar (Nyctemera annulata) was making steady progress when I last saw it. Its myriad relatives are making a mess of our miniature kowhai bush though.

Woolly Bear at dinner
The caterpillar of the Magpie Moth, these little creatures are quite destructive, and are reputed to cause skin rashes if handled.

See you tomorrow.

Birds Evans Bay harbour Reflections South Coast Weather

March 22, 2013 … by thy long grey beard*

Coleridge tormented my 5th form year (year 11, in modern parlance).

We were required to learn by heart, very large chunks of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I was less grateful then than I am now. As you might guess, today’s focus is, once again, the sea.

My journey yesterday began at Wellington Hospital (no dramas), and since I was at that end of town, I carried on down Adelaide Road to Island Bay. There, sunning itself on the jagged rocks was this Little Shag (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) … at first I thought it to be a little Black Shag, but the white throat plumage suggests otherwise.

Little Shag at Island Bay
It’s definitely not an albatross, and unlike the Ancient mariner, I wished it no harm.

From there, I made my way back towards the city for lunch with a friend. Passing through Evans Bay, I paused near Greta Point to admire the stillness of the water, and Coleridge came to mind again.

“Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship …”*

Naval whaler in blue
The heavy wooden whaler is used for training cadets

My “painted ship” is a good old naval whaler, owned by the Sea Cadets  Training Ship Amokura (under the auspices of the Royal New Zealand Navy).

“…upon a painted ocean”*

Reflections on a boat shed
The boat shed seems to be falling into disrepair. The front ramp has become dislodged and is loosely moored to the shed itself.

But I think that not even Coleridge envisaged a “painted ocean” such as this.  There is a boat shed in Evans Bay that has a lurid colour scheme, and in the right circumstances, it reflects wonderfully.

Sea-themed images from yesterday conclude at the “Star Boating lagoon”. Almost flat calm the water was a perfect foreground to the city behind. In the centre, is Tanya Ashken’s much loved sculpture/fountain “The Albatross”. To the right of that, customers are enjoying the sun at the tables of Kaffee Eis … purveyors of fine coffee and superb gelato.

Star Boating Lagoon
A lovely day for lunch by the sea.

Hopefully wiser now, but not necessarily sadder, I wait “the morrow morn

*The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge