Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Longest night

Today started the same as normal: had breakfast, made my lunch and down to DOC for another day of barberry hunting. The other team members were already at work but surprised me with the news that they had a house fire yesterday - see the write-up at

Luckily it looks like they haven't lost too many possessions and hopefully the damage is limited to an exterior wall and water damage. Sorting out alternative accommodation and cleaning up was going to keep them occupied for the day so I took the day off and returned home to tackle the sealer coat in my new bathroom and office. I'm now sitting in a paintfume-filled house and hoping that it doesn't linger for the rest of the week.

I'm a newbie to painting and am certainly no expert with a roller. I used Resene's Sureseal pigmented sealer, an enamel-based paint, and was amazed how quickly it disappeared once I started rolling. Maybe if I took the splatters off my face and hands it may have gone a bit further!! The bare gib in the bathroom and office have been covered but there's no sealer left for the bare gib in the lounge. I don't need to have the lounge side completed before the carpet and vinyl get laid (July 4) so it's not a biggie. I'm so glad that I've managed to get Coat 1 of 4 finished; the undercoat goes on next followed by two coats of Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen Kitchen and Bathroom paint - white on the ceiling and Rice Cake on the walls.

There was just enough daylight left cut some gorse and barberry and then clean/rebait my rat traps. Not the day I thought I'd have when I woke up but productive nonetheless.

Just for the record:
Sunrise was at 8:33:28am
Sunset was at 5:04:32pm
Minimum temperature: 6.4 deg C at 7:25pm
Maximum temperature: 9.1 deg C at 10:37am

Monday, June 20, 2011

Supplejack Samba

It's a shame I don't have my camera when I'm hunting for Darwin's barberry as there's some magnificent forest that we travel through: carpets of filmy ferns, canopy-piercing rimu, a range of fungi, rotten trees and curious ngirungiru (tomtits) that check out what we are doing. I wonder what they make of the Weed Team in fluoro coats and safety glasses, struggling through supplejack and bush lawyer. I'll pop in a few photos taken on previous visits to the island - hope I've identified them correctly - please let me know if I haven't.

Putaputaweta - Carpodetus serratus
The terrain has changed markedly in the three weeks I've been working: the first week we were in old farmland that is reverting to scrub so lots of gorse, hydrangeas gone mad, scrub and weeds. We'd come across large patches of wall-to-wall barberry and spend the next hour or so cutting and pulling.

Week two had more established forest, steeper terrain and swamp - but also less barberry. We ran long navigation lines up the length of the narrow properties and made good progress. Ha, I thought, hard work but it's all downhill from now on. Yeah right!!

Pate - Schefflera digitata

We started Week Three in bush with lots of barberry and gorse, then Alex found a 'huge' barberry tree (ie greater than 150mm in diameter at chest height). We took it in turns to cut through the main trunk with our Silkie saws (fold-up bow saw) but was unable to pull it down as it was well held up in the canopy. At a guess it was 4-5m tall and probably over 40 years old - I wonder if it was one of the original plants brought on to the island. It was raining on Wednesday and we got wet feet walking up through the swamp to start our line. We then ran into challenging terrain; supplejack, bush lawyer, windfalls and bog. It was made worse by being wet and not moving fast enough to warm up. We called a 'Wet Day' and finished early at 2pm and Ed dropped me home in the ute - sheer luxury!! I spent the rest of the afternoon in front of the fire and washing/drying my gear.

Refreshed after a good sleep we spent Thursday morning at the Native Nursery, had lunch back at the office and went out barberry hunting in the afternoon. Well, that was the plan, but the supplejack decided we weren't going anywhere in a hurry. At one time I was 'swimming' in a vine hammock - couldn't go forward or back and with increasing anxiety about how I could escape!! On Friday we decided to try the residential sections along Horseshoe Bay Road but the supplejack trumped us and was even more dense in places. I had survived the week but was definitely feeling my age!

? Lichen

It was with trepidation that I started the fourth week today; luckily the gods took pity on me - it didn't rain and it was lovely bush with the odd patch of supplejack but nothing like last week. The team covered a lot of territory and we found a few barberry plants along the way. Long may it last!!

Paterson Inlet at dusk

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Winter's here!

What a change in our weather overnight. We had a lovely sunny week with heavy frosts and thick ice on my drive puddles. I did my fourth listening survey last night with clear and super-calm weather, then woke up this morning to strong winds and almost horizontal rain! I'm glad I did my rat line check yesterday in the sunshine and I'm not feeling guilty at all as I spend today inside. The volcanic ash produced an unusual sunset last night with a crimson glow that deepened in colour over 45 minutes or so.

My weeding job had some surprises in store last Wednesday. We moved out of high density barberry into more established bush and it was encouraging to walk for a couple of hours without finding any weeds. On Wednesday we were criss-crossing a large swampy area and I managed to take a bath in the deepest, smelliest part when the sapling I was holding on to snapped and I fell backwards into the bog. Thanks to my team for not laughing too loudly and for putting up with the smell - although I was relegated to the ute tray to come home and get some spare clothes.

Nothing much happening on the alterations front as I'm still waiting for the last of the gib stop visits before I can start painting. The electrician removed the old ceiling lights and it looks so much better with the two new ones in place.

There's been some stunning views during the week when I haven't had my camera with me - kaka silhoetted against the sunrise; fog hovering low over Halfmoon Bay; sunny beaches and white sands from our viewpoint up high on the ridge; mossy/ferny patches in beautiful bush; starry, starry nights and close-ups of curious birds checking us out as we work. Hard work for sure, but compensated by so many sights that you don't get in an office! I am so lucky to have this opportunity.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Winter Weeding

I've survived three days of weeding and am grateful for the long weekend. Working fulltime is a bit of a shock but I must be fitter than I thought as my body's not complaining too much! The Weed Team's mission is to search and destroy Darwin's Barberry which was brought to the island as a hedging plant some time back. Not happy with escaping from the garden, it is now growing in native bush and doing very well. Most non-natives can't grow in low-light areas but Darwin's Barberry thrives in our cool, dark bush and grows quicker than native seedlings, thus crowding them out. The plan is to eradicate it from the island - it would have been so much easier (and cheaper) to have stopped it coming here in the first place.

Darwin's Barberry on my property
The area that we are working on used to be farmland; it's now regenerating scrub/bush with lots of gorse, barberry, blackberry and bracken. It's demoralising to see so many barberry plants - it's not an easy plant to get rid of and cut stumps and branches will shoot/root again without difficulty. We've found a number of 'adult' (over 1500mm tall) and 'huge' plants (stem diameter > 150mm at chest height) and unfortunately birds feast on the berries with widespread dispersal of the seed so plants are scattered throughout. Growth appears to be rapid although research carried out in Wellington showed that seedlings have a high mortality rate but I haven't seen evidence of that down here!!

The members of the Weed Team line up a few metres apart and, using GPS and compass, walk/crawl/climb boundary to boundary. On finding barberry, you shout out 'Barberry' and set to work cutting or pulling the plants out, coating the stems with Vigilant gel. A waypoint is then marked on the GPS unit with a count/estimate of adult, juvenile and seedling plants. Once the team reaches the boundary, you move along a bit and do another line parallel to the first. It's been slow going in this high-density area but no doubt it will go a lot quicker when we move into older, more established bush.

We're also on the lookout for other nasty weeds - Chilean Gunnera is another garden escapee that is costing a lot of money to control. I had several plants here - some biggies with leaves over a metre in length. Again, the birds eat the fruit and disperse the seeds, often in hard-to-access areas - like the middle of blackberry patches!! The South Taranaki coastline has a big problem with Gunnera infestation needing helicopters to access the cliffs so that they could spray it.

A small Chilean Gunnera seedling
I wish we could turn back the clock and ban imports of non-native plants. I don't think anyone will make the mistake of introducing predators like stoats again but plants are being brought in all the time, with expensive control measures required to control them in the future. The Native Plants course that I did in 2005 opened my eyes to the ecological damage that happens from garden escapees (Old Man's Beard, gorse, ragwort, broom, heather, mexican daisy, horsetail, wandering jew...) and I decided that I would no longer plant non-natives and since moving down here, I will try to stick to plants that are native to Rakiura - with maybe some extension for natives that are on the endangered list.

I have my work cut out as I have a lot of gorse, blackberry and broom on my section but I guess it's just a matter of keep plugging away and removing every weed plant when it appears. You can help too by thinking carefully about the plants you choose for your garden. Regional copies of 'Plant Me Instead' can be downloaded from the Weedbusters website here: http://www.weedbusters.co.nz/get_involved/plant_me_instead.asp