June 11, 2018 … almost to the tipping point

The Winter solstice is always welcome as a sign that summer is on its way. Of course there is a lot of winter’s weather yet to come, but we know that the days will get progressively longer. Just ten more days to solstice.

Wellington

A bright spot in the city

As long as I am in Wellington, the weather tends to shape the course of my photography. We have had a lot of days with low cloud and actual rain, and my first image in this edition is from Petone beach looking towards the sunlit city … for some reason, the sun picked out the central city and left the outer suburbs in the shade.

Karapoti

Karapoti mist

As I have said before, there are times when the only way to deal with a problem is to make the problem the focus of the story. My next image is taken at Karapoti on the edge of the Akatarawa forest. There was intermittent rain but it was a joy to look at.

fantail

The fantail or piwakawaka flitting about over the Karapoti river

Something about the conditions brought out fantails in their hundreds on the Akatarawa river. It was easy to catch them at rest, but catching them in flight is another matter entirely. I generally regard the image as successful if the bird’s eye is sharp.

fog

Fog in the valley

The mist takes many forms and as I was closing up for the night, I was attracted to the light of the city glowing up through the fog in the valley.

Avalon

The old Avalon TV studio tower peers up from the fog down below

The next morning showed more promise for  a better day, though the fog lingered around Avalon.

glass

The darkness at the bottom of the glass

Then the rain came back, so I resorted to still life. I called this “the darkness at the bottom of the glass”, and you can interpret that as you will.

rose

Rose

I made a black box in which to shoot objects against an absolute black background. No flower or other small object is safe.

shag

Pied shag bring home nest repair material

Yesterday was almost fine, so Mary and I went for a walk in the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. The shags have some juveniles that are almost the same size as adults, but not yet fully fledged. The adults, meanwhile, keep bringing material for maintenance of the nests.

robin

North Island robin flitting about

My final shot of this edition, also from Zealandia, is of a North Island robin or Toutouwai. This endearing little birds are totally fearless and will sit on your boots in pursuit of the insects stirred up as you walk. Of course the long lens you have on will not focus that closely, so you have to watch them as they flit around you, until they are far enough away.

December 24, 2015 … perhaps summer

Another visit to Zealandia yesterday.

Kaka

The New Zealand kaka (Nestor meridionalis) is thriving at Zealandia. It uses its powerful beak to look for insects behind tree bark. This is a problem for nearby gardeners as it is capable of ring-barking a tree.

This time it was with our eldest son, daughter-in-law and four of our grandchildren. Though the stiff breeze persisted in the outside world, the sky was blue and the park provided shelter for us all. Bird life was plentiful and audible, with a particular abundance of tuis and shags. Further into the park, the kaka were raucous and buy. These native parrots were once prolific in the canopy of lowland forests. They are certainly thriving at Zealandia. I would not want my fingers near that fearsome beak.

Bellbird

The lyric soprano of the bush, the bellbird (Anthuris melanura) merges with the bush. Its lovely chiming call is a joy to the ear

My favourite place in the park is the “Discovery Centre”, and it is always worth the long trudge up the hill to get there. It is the place I am most likely to find a clear view of the saddleback (tieke), stitchbird (hihi), bellbird (korimako) and North Island Robin (toutouwai). I could sit there for hours, and do when I make a solo visit. I was pleased that, despite the presence of two animated grandsons, I caught so many birds yesterday.

Robin

The North Island Robin (Petroica longpipes) is an endearing little bird that will sit on the toes of your boots as it chases insects.

The North Island robin is a problematic subject because it comes towards humans. My son had his big 150-600 mm lens with him, but with the bird sitting almost on the toe of his shoes, he could not focus. I was further away.

Sunset

We are expecting a fine and sunny Christmas so this sunset on the 23rd seems to be going in the right direction

As the day came to a beautiful end, there was a gorgeous red-gold sunset. The trouble with seeing it at this stage is that, by the time I get to a suitable lookout point, the light has gone. I dashed upstairs and hung out the bedroom window, pointing the camera towards Petone and the Eastern Bays.

Another day done.

 

 

November 2, 2015 … close to home

Mary and I have sometimes driven long distances to see specialist gardens.

Belmont (1)

In the Belmont domain, very close to home

It’s 192 km to Cross Hills Gardens near Kimbolton. It’s 368 km to the Pukeiti Gardens on the slopes of Taranaki. We have lived in this house for 35 years, and until yesterday I was quite unaware of the wonderful Azalea and Rhododendron garden in the Belmont Domain just 6.2 km from home.

Belmont (2)

How did it take me 35 years to find this place?

They were a little past their prime, and there was evidence of weather damage, but I think there are magnificent displays for at least another week or two.

Tuatara

Tuatara in Zealandia

From there, Mary and I went to Zealandia to show her the exciting things I had seen in my exploration with my friend Allan  a few days earlier. The Tuatara were plentiful, including some without the intrusive identification beads.

Quail

Californian Quail in Zealandia

Up near the kaka feeding station, we saw a pair of Californian quail and I though the male was a particularly fine specimen.

And now the weather has soured again.

October 31, 2015 … spectacular change

Yesterday’s edition was about a surfeit of rain.

Kereru

Kereru fledgling enjoying a siesta in the nest

Today I am happy to report a splendid warm sunny day. I had the very great pleasure of lunch with a friend at the Rata cafe  in the wildlife sanctuary, Zealandia. Lunch was excellent, and the stroll though the reserve afterwards was beneficial to us both. It was especially good for me because my friend Allan is married to one of the volunteer guides so he knew where to find all the habitats that most of us walk past without seeing.  This shapeless bundle of not-quite feathers is a kereru chick, sleeping in the nest. It was at eye level, no more than three metres from the main track. Hard to believe that this will become and irridescent green, grey and purple vision that is our native wood pigeon.

Tuatara

Not many of us can claim a 200 million year family tree as this tuatara can

Then we found a tuatara … in fact several tuatara. According to Wikipedia, “tuatara are the only surviving members of their order, which flourished around 200 million years ago“.  The jewelry behind its neck is the reptilian equivalent of the bands used  by scientists to identify birds. A stainless steel wire is inserted through a skin fold and the coloured beads added and held in place by keepers similar to those used on ear rings. I hate seeing them, but understand the scientific need.

Kaka

Kaka, like most parrots is gregarious, perhaps even extroverted.

Then we came to the kaka feeding station. The kaka is an endangered native  parrot, found mostly in lowland forest. It is foolishly unafraid, and not much liked by local gardeners because it can ringbark trees as it uses that fearsome beak to get at the underlying sap.

Kaka beak

The wicked hooked beak looks easily capable of removing bark

Within Zealandia, they have flourished, and have spread to neighbouring bush areas where they seem to be breeding successfully as evidence by the number of un-banded birds seen at the feeding station. Their plumage is darker than that of their alpine cousin, the kea but handsome nevertheless.

That’s all for today.

September 28, 2015 … with other eyes

Sometimes the gift of a visitor helps to see a familiar place in new ways.

Scaup

Green with a dash of duck

We took my brother-in-law Paul to Zealandia yesterday. The weather was surprisingly good, and interrupted a span of wet and wind. On the lower dam, a pair of scaup were snoozing amidst the bright green reflections from the surrounding bush.

Tui

Tui checking out how effective its territorial display had been

Birdsong was everywhere, and the tui were especially visible. I am not sure if they are adopting magpie tactics but they were swooping over the visitors to the park as if to deter them from their nest sites. When we were undeterred they perched nearby and gave us the “side-eye”.

Bellbird

Bellbird merges beautifully with the bush

Up in the “discovery area, stitchbird, North Island Robins and bellbird were feeding. I could hear saddlebacks but didn’t get a clear view of them. The robin walked across my foot, so close that I couldn’t focus on it. And then there was a bellbird music fest. Second only to the grey warbler, the bellbird is one of the best songsters in the New Zealand bush. It has a clear liquid chiming note that is a joy to hear.

Kaka

Kaka – the lowland native parrot

The “character” bird of the sanctuary is undoubtedly the kaka. The kaka is a big lowland bush dwelling parrot with a beak that looks capable of amputations. Though there is a great deal of celebration at their reestablishment in the city, they are capable of ring-barking trees so not every gardener is pleased.

Exhibition

My friends from the camera club discuss the placement of images in the early stages of setting up the annual exhibition

Later in the day, I had to deliver my prints to my friends and colleagues who were setting up the annual exhibition of the Hutt Camera Club which will be open daily from 10 am to 4 pm in the Odlin Art gallery, Myrtle St., Lower Hutt from 30 September until October 11. If you are in the area, please drop in. I feel honoured to have four images in the exhibition.

That’s all this time

September 14, 2015 … conservation of birds and machines

Steam whistles are unmistakable for anything else.

Shag

Parent preens while the youngsters plead piteously for food

I heard it howling as it crossed the bridge at Moera and saw the plume of steam and smoke as she raced around the curve from Ava to Woburn towards the stop at Waterloo. I had intended to be down there to catch the steam train crossing the bridge. I must investigate these things called mornings one day. Mary suggested a trip to Zealandia, and since the day was looking good I readily agreed. My usual first stop was down by the lower lake where the shags were tending their chicks in the nests on the Eastern side.  It’s a fairly casual sort of nurture, with the chicks squawking piteously  until the absentee parent eventually shows up and the feeding begins.

Saddleback

Tieke or Saddleback making lots of noise

Yesterday Zealandia was brilliant. There was enough warmth in the air for the entire avian chorus to be in full-throated song. Warblers, bell birds, tuis and kakas, saddlebacks, stitchbirds and kakariki all sang merrily. Considering that the saddleback was on the verge of extinction, what a delight it was to see five or six of them competing with each other for the most joyful song. Truth to tell, the song of the saddleback will win no musical competitions. To my ear, it is a shrill manic giggle which you can hear at this link from nzbirdsonline.org.nz.

Bellbird

Bellbird all puffed up

My favourite call is that of the grey warbler, but though its cascading notes are everywhere, I have had little success catching it with the lens. Another favourite is the clear perfect chime of the bellbird. I am not sure what was happening with this one, whether it simply having a bad hair day, or as a friend suggested, putting on some sort of mating display. The astounding and wonderful thing about Zealandia is that these birds are free and wild. No wires, no cages. Lots of scientific study occurs and the environment in which the birds can prosper is set up. A magical place.

Daffodil express

The annual steam-hauled excursion from Wellington to the Wairarapa to pick daffodils was a sell-out success with thirteen carriages

At the end of the afternoon, I had an appointment with a friend that involved “a wee dram”. However, I had checked the timetable of that steam locomotive’s excursion so before going there, I positioned myself near the Petone flyover in the hope of catching it is it burst out from under the bridge for the run along the harbour’s edge to Wellington.  I know that this cloud of smoke and steam is at odds with the values of Zealandia, but I am glad that the good people at Steam Incorporated are doing their bit for conservation of another kind. J1271 and her sisters are things of beauty too.

That’s all for today.

August 29, 2015 … birds and more birds

My fellow club member and expert bird photographer, Toya invited me to accompany her and a friend to Zealandia yesterday.

Tui

Inversion by the tui

I don’t need a lot of coaxing to go to Zealandia, and the opportunity to see how Toya achieves her amazing results were too much. Almost immediately there were birds around us. A tui was undaunted by our proximity and performed some interesting gymnastics in pursuit of food. The picture is not upside down.

Shags

Shag apartments – one up, one down

 

Down by the lake, the pied shags are on the nest. We saw no chicks so perhaps the latest eggs are yet to hatch.

Takahe

Critically endangered takahe

A little way up the path from there, were the Takahe. There are apparently fewer than 300 left in existence. It was something of a disaster then, that a group of deer shooters who were contracted to cull the pukeko population on Auckland’s Motutapu Island managed to shoot four of the takahe by mistake. The colouring is similar, but the comparison is an anorexic fashion model with a sumo wrestler.

Robin

North Island Robin

In the bush, we were accompanied for a while by this chirpy little North Island Robin. They enjoy the insects stirred up when people pass.

It was an enjoyable experience but I shall probably never develop Toya’s patience.

March 31, 2015 … problems with sunlight and darkness

Peter Pan lost his shadow.

Web

Above and below the canopy

I seem to have lost my birding mojo (whatever that is). It won’t stop me trying, of course, but when I went to Zealandia yesterday, I struggled to take good shots in the very dark shadow of the bush canopy. I ended up with vast amounts of digital noise and a great deal of frustration. I got a shot that I liked that illustrates the contrast between the bright sun overhead and the intense shade under the trees.

blackbird

Female blackbird

Even in quite wide avenue, the edges were dark, so I was quite pleased to catch this female blackbird (the females are brown) but even in this relatively open space, I had to push the settings to get the required detail.

green

Just another duck sailing by

Apart from that, none of the images I made of stitchbird, bellbird and robin were useable. Sadly I didn’t discover this until I got home. Clearly some re-learning is required. I had more luck in the open air, and enjoyed the contrast of the duck’s dark plumage against the lurid green of the water in the lower dam.

Shags

A very young chick squalling for food

At the edge of that dam is a tree much favoured by the local population of pied shags, and I was delighted to meet a very young chick in a nest just a few metres from the stairway.

Tomorrow, a shuttle will take us to the airport at 03:50 … things may get delayed.

November 30, 2014 … same walk, different outcomes

Back to Zealandia again.

Shag

Juvenile pied shag

 

Yesterday was a very nice day on which the wind almost disappeared. Our morning plans were interrupted, so Mary and I went to Zealandia with the intention of having lunch there.  The first environment you meet on passing through the gate is the lower dam, where there are several varieties of waterfowl. A significant colony of pied shags nest in two large trees on either side of the lake.  For some reason, when they take off to the South, they seem to do a standard procedure turn and come back over the  nearer shore line. I think this one is a juvenile bird.

Dabchick

The dabchick is a member of the grebe family. They are small and that yellow eye makes them look angry all the time.

 

A newcomer to the dam is the dabchick. As far as I am aware, this is a singleton, and as yet there are no signs of more. I continue to be entranced by the colour contrast between the dark plumage and the brilliant green of the nearby bush reflected in the lake.

Scaup

Scaup family

 

At the top end of the lower dam, there was a family of New Zealand Scaup (Papango). I counted eight ducklings though they kept diving for food so it was hard to keep track. The behaviour of the male was at best, furtive, as if trying to dissociate himself from the consequences of his actions.

Bush trail

Whether or not you see anything else the sights sounds and smells of the bush are worth the journey.

 

Leaving the lake, we followed the lower path and enjoyed the walk in the bush for its own sake. We could hear bird song all around, but in this part of the reserve the bush is so dense that the birds can stay hidden if they so choose. On a warm day with little wind the dappled light was a delight.

Kaka

Kaka – the lowland parrot

 

When we rejoined the main path, we saw several Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) , the lowland parrot. These birds are similar in size to a chicken and that beak looks as if it could inflict injury.

Hihi

Hihi – the stitchbird. Only the male has the yellow patches

 

Up in the discovery area, where there are feeding stations, many Stitchbirds were fluttering in and out. I estimate there were perhaps twenty of them, occasionally augmented by the bellbird with its clear chiming note. Pure delight for me.  I still have not regained my control over the use of the long lens in deep shade, but definite improvements are happening.

Robin

Toutouwai – North Island Robin

 

We carried on around the Round the Lake Track, as I had done with my visitors a few days earlier. To our great pleasure we were accompanied some of the way by a tiny North island Robin  (Toutouwai). These birds are fearless and will advance towards you and sit on your boot in hope of catching the insects you disturb. This can be a problem with a big lens that won’t focus closer than 1.8 metres. I had to keep backing away.

orchid

Greenhood – native orchid

 

My final picture of the day is of a less agile subject but one which is almost harder to find. The native New Zealand Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis australis) flowers in November to December. It is small (about 10 cm)  and hides itself well among the various grasses on the bush floor.

That’s all for now.

 

 

 

November 27, 2014 … bird successes and failures

Friends from out of town are fun.

Shag

A shag looking the wrong way and the main reason I selected this image was that glorious green water

 

Mark and Mary were generous with their time when we were in Washington back in 2012, so it was a delight that I could spend time with them yesterday at Zealandia and Makara. Outside the valley and on certain exposed spots, we felt the full force of the wind. Down in the valley, the sun shone and it was sheltered. Wonderful!  Sadly I had some sort of lapse in the brain and stuffed up my camera settings for the dark parts of our walk through Zealandia and got little but the black images. This was doubly tragic because we saw plenty of Saddlebacks, Stitchbirds. Bellbirds, a North Island Robin and even a few Whiteheads. And not a single useable photo of any one of them. Thus I have had to use the birds I found in open air.

Tui

Tui everywhere, yodelling chiming, mimicking.

 

Tui were plentiful to the point of overload and this one sat less than two metres from us.

Kaka

A fine couple of Kaka

 

Halfway up the valley, there were five or six kaka and though they seem drab at first sight there is some real colour in that plumage.

Quail

Californian Quail

 

My last image today is a Californian Quail, and a particularly handsome specimen too.  I think Mary and Mark enjoyed being re-acquainted with the flora and fauna of their native land after so long away. I certainly enjoyed their company.

Come again.