Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Great Animal Orchestra

A very wet day and 760Mb data to use up before it renews on Tuesday is a fine recipe for sitting inside and blogging. Happy New Year to readers - may miracles happen this year for all things on this glorious planet.



My list of interesting books is growing weekly and I've had a fine time delving into unknown waters. The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause is a fascinating read, accompanied by examples of the book's soundscapes on his website at http://www.thegreatanimalorchestra.com/

Bernie Krause started with sound before he was 4 years old; first learning the violin in 1942 and then the guitar. He was an early adopter of the Moog synthesizer and Dolby A301 noise reduction and a pioneer in recording soundscapes (see the Wikiepedia definition here) and bioacoustics. Check out his website at http://www.wildsanctuary.com/ for more information.

The book touches on the author's early history with sound but, for me, the spell he weaves is relating how sound affects the lives of living things. He splits sounds into three categories - geophony (sounds made by non-biological sources, eg thunder), biophony (sounds made by non-human, non-domestic biological sources, eg frogs) and anthropophony (sounds made by humans, eg jet ski). What sounds were made 16,000 years ago? How has it changed with man's spread around the globe? How and why do living things make sound?

The narrative is easy reading; the technical stuff a bit more challenging for me but well-explained. When I got double-glazing installed here, I really missed not being able to hear the night-sounds. I toyed with the concept of putting in hardware that could pick up sounds outside the house and play them to me inside. I read a bit on the internet but got bogged down with how to achieve it and put the idea in the too-hard basket. Krause has re-ignited this idea and I'm more aware now of what I will need. Splash Audio will be my next point of call once work quietens down. There are several websites with recommendations for hardware but not many recent ones - and of course technology that's 5 years old is no longer available to buy. Will keep you posted!

A few startling facts from Krause's book...
  • In 1968 there was 45% of old growth forests in the Lower 48th (USA) still standing; by 2011 there was less than 2%
  • 83% of land area in the Lower 48th is now within 2/3rd mile (1.07km) from a road
  • recording one anthrophony-noise-free hour of material takes more than 200 times longer than 40 years ago
  • In Krause's estimation, anthrophony can be heard in more than 80-90% of wild habitats much of the time
  • Sound levels in movie trailers with THX or Dolby Digital sound systems are now more than a factor of six greater than they were in the early 1990s
  • More than half of Krause's soundscapes (15,000 species, over 4,500 hours) can no longer be heard or are seriously compromised
How quiet is your place? How long can you sit outside and listen to biophony and geophony without hearing man-made sounds? I'm very lucky here but even so, there's regular flights overhead and a few vehicles every day. What effect does sound have on humans and other species? A low flying jet over a Swedish zoo in 1993 panicked animals into killing their offspring, 23 in total; Navy sonar testing in the Bahamas in March 2000 resulted in the stranding and deaths of Cuvier's beaked whales; vessel noise in Alaska was thought to be the reason that humpback whale numbers decreased.

The book also explores the origins of music based on the biophony/geophony of the environments the people lived in - waterfalls, rivers, the sea, birdsong. Krause calls it an "acoustic mirror - it reflects our culture and our surroundings at any point in time". There are many examples that are lightbulb moments for me - if I have piqued your interest put this book down on your 'to read list'.




Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell to 2016

The last day of the year again! How do 365 days go so quickly? I barely got into double figures for blog posts this year yet not sure where the extra time went to. It seems to be a sign of the times and my resolution for 2017 is to smooth the chaos and make every day count. Wish me luck!!

I've had a busy December working at Stewart Island Lodge; early starts mean that I hear the glorious dawn chorus as I'm getting ready for work. Last week's sun rise was at 5.49am and I was in bed before the sun set at 9.42pm, no wonder kiwi are seen occasionally during the day as there's less than 6 hours of darkness in December. I've heard 6 kiwi calls since Christmas Eve - a duet at 4.36am, a duet the following night at 10.57pm, a female call 3 days later and another at 2.38am this morning. There were small kiwi-like prints on the drive so perhaps there's a wee one exploring with its Mum.

A sunny evening in Paradise

Stewart Island Lodge at the top of the picture
I've spent more time down at the wharf this month; I don't usually meet the Lodge guests but I had to pick up a radiator key that was being sent over on the 5pm ferry from Bluff so went down early and took photos...

Ferry arriving from Bluff

The Foveaux Express coming in to dock
The conditions were a lot calmer than on Tuesday this week when gale force winds forced the cancellation of the afternoon's ferries from Bluff and from the island. Accommodation is always tight between Christmas and New Year so it was extra-challenging finding beds for all the visitors that were stranded. Everyone that I was involved with took it in their stride though and came out to breakfast the next morning with smiles on their faces.

I've been reading lots of good books lately - hmm, maybe that's why I haven't been blogging!! Will post some reviews when I have time. Eleven years ago I did a 'New Zealand Native Plants' course by correspondence and that one semester paper changed my life. The evidence that we are damaging our Mother Earth for future generations of ALL species is hard to ignore and I think that 2017 will be a pivotal year; are we prepared to change our habits and work toward a more sustainable future? Let's hope so.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Summer serenity

The tourist season is getting into its stride and I am enjoying sharing my backyard with the guests staying at my workplace, Stewart Island Lodge. My first visit to Rakiura in 2009 is vividly etched on my memory and I hope all visitors leave happy and relaxed and with fond memories of this extra-special place.

Above and below: Early morning panorama from the Lodge deck




I haven't had a lot of time for slow walks lately so it's nice to have long, sunny evenings to go orchid-hunting. Most of the spider orchids have finished their flowering although my special clump has lasted longer than most...




...and now it's the time for the greenhoods, Pterostylis, and the bamboo orchid, Earina mucronata

Pterostylis in flower on the roadside bank near home

View from the top

Close-up of Pterostylis flower
The Aporostylis, Caladenia and Drymoanthus are budding up and there's a miniature forest of sun orchid, Thelymitra, appearing - they usually flower in January but the seasons seem to be mixed up - no doubt I'll be posting photos as soon as they are out! My large patch of green bird orchids, Chiloglottis, were a bit displaced by kiwi probe holes a couple of months ago; there must have been a lot of juicy worms there.

My last photo was my attempt to go 'arty'. I was walking past the Cenotaph when I noticed a wee poppy flowering among the rocks - it must have seeded from the ones planted last season.


Monday, November 7, 2016

A day on Ulva Island

A day off and a late-morning low tide make a great combination for visiting Ulva Island. Add a warm, sunny day to the mix for a guaranteed perfect experience. I hadn't been to Ulva since March so was especially looking forward to this special place.

Post Office Bay - looking west

Post Office Bay - looking north
Ulva Island, Te Wharawhara, is one of three open island sanctuaries in New Zealand, with the other two (Kapiti Island and Tiritiri Matangi) off the North Island coast. Ulva is the largest island in Paterson Inlet and is easily accessible by a 5-minute water taxi ride from Golden Bay. Reserved under the Land Act in 1899 it became one of the earliest 'native game and flora' reserves in the country and is a must-see place if you are down this way.

Striding along the well-maintained paths isn't recommended; the best way to see the birds is to stop often and wait for them to come to you. The excellent $2 self-guided booklet produced by the Ulva Island Trust presents information on the birds, plants and history of this predator-free island.

Enough talking! Come with me on a slow walk...

The inquisitive toutouwai, Stewart Island robin

Boulder Bay at low tide

Weka parent finding food for her chicks


Weka chick looking for crab

Boulder Bay - looking south across Paterson Inlet

Lovely rock formation on Boulder Bay

A seaweed 'heart' at low tide

Post-lunch visitor - a male sea lion

Hmm... where does this track go?

Lichens, mosses, koru and a young lancewood

A bank of spider orchids (lighter green heart-shaped leaves)

Spider orchids galore

Close-up of a spider orchid in flower

Slow-walking weka
The sea lion encounter was a bonus! I had finished my lunch and was wandering along the beach when I noticed a fast-moving disturbance on the surface of the water. Was most surprised when a sea lion poked his head up out of the water and looked around, then proceeded to drag his weight out of the water and lumber up the beach. He chased the weka and eyed us with suspicion (we were standing on the rocky outcrop) before he headed up the track - glad I wasn't walking down it! After a while he came back on the beach and although he stretched out on the sand at times, it was never for long - he reminded me of a bear with a sore head.

My 7 hours on Ulva went far too quickly. The birds I saw were Stewart Island robin (toutouwai), bellbird (korimako), brown creeper (pīpipi), tūī, yellowhead (mohua), saddleback (tīeke), weka, bush parrot (kākā), New Zealand parakeet (kākāriki), oystercatcher (tōrea), fantail (pīwakawaka), rifleman (tītipounamu), morepork (ruru), native pigeon (kererū). Most of the time I was walking I was accompanied by constant birdsong - thanks Mother Nature for a magical day.



Saturday, October 15, 2016

Where to start?

A renewed monthly data allocation, a couple of days off work and weeks of unwritten blogs; I'll just chip away a little bit at a time and get back into the swing of things. My Telco, Spark, has given me an extra 2.5Gb/month which makes the difference between running out and having some to spare. I'd love to switch to rural broadband with 80Gb of monthly data but will wait until after the busy summer season first.

Spring means orchid time again but this year's different to last year; the spider orchids appeared at the same time but the greenhoods are emerging 2-3 weeks later than 2015. I never tire of looking closely at the spider orchids - no two are the same. Here is a selection of them...








Graham, the roading contractor, did a fine job of trimming the banks at the sides of the road and it's fun watching the wee orchids pushing through the dirt.

Masses of Thelymitra (sun) orchids filling the bare bank

More sun orchids

Greenhood orchids (Pterostylis) just emerging
My friend lent me Gertrude Dempsey's book 'The Spell of Stewart Island' which covers the author's  first visit to Rakiura in 1951 and her life on the island after her marriage to an Islander. She has a lovely way of describing the jewels you can find here; not just the beautiful views but the birdlife, community and observations that only come from one who looks closely at things. Here's a wee snippet of her description of Ryans Creek track...
"The beauty of coastline of the nearer shore was told again in emerald depths of water, and emerald were the reflections of the little islets in the dark blue sea. Splendid clouds were piled about the blue distant shores. A tui settled on a branch not six feet away and we could see every detail of his iridescent plumage and the delicate curled white feathers at his throat. Her perched there, regarding us without fear and then flew into a tree, and his heavenly notes dropped into the sunlight which blessed that place. Yes, it is better to allow a day for the walk, for it is a long one and much too interesting to be hurried."

More next time!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Photo catch up

Woohoo! My monthly 5Gb data allocation renewed itself today so I can get back online. I dream of having a fast fibre internet connection with unlimited data but I don't think it will ever come to Rakiura. My Win10 notebook is performing very well but the upgrades for the operating system and apps seem to hog a lot of the 5Gb so I'd better get a few blogs up before I run out again! This blog is a potpourri of photos from last month...

Golden Bay with Iona Island to the right and Ulva Island in the background

Golden Bay at low tide
As usual, the weather in April was a mixed bag but still very warm...

Beau and Nonu playing on Ringaringa Beach

What better way to spend a day than walking Ringaringa Beach at low
tide - Mac looks on while Nonu and Beau play tug-of-war

Beautiful rainbows abound on showery days - this beauty appeared 
at the bottom of Hicks Road

Low cloud over Halfmoon Bay disrupting flight schedules
My bush track was mostly under water through the month; we've had quite a lot more rain compared to last year and it hasn't drained away. Gumboots are the perfect footwear for stomping around my rat traps as long as you know where the deeper puddles are, otherwise you end up with wet and muddy feet!

Muddy tracks - great for seeing kiwi footprints
April was a boomer month for catching rats - a grand total of 18 caught in the traps, 17 of which were adults. Twelve of them were kiore, five ship rats and 1 Norway rat - great to have those out of the area as we go into winter but I wish I could eradicate them rather than just keeping them at bay.

Graph of rat catches per month since Jan 2015

Nicely caught