Sunday, November 27, 2011

The subtleties of Spring

New Zealand native bush doesn’t appear to have a lot of Spring colour. If you look closely though, you’ll find the most amazing colours, blossoms and shapes as new growth stretches towards the sun. Have a closer look next time you are out. I grabbed the camera one evening and got these photos from near the house.
Puawananga (Clematis paniculata) blooms profusely here in Spring (left). The
male flowers are larger than the female ones and borne on separate vines

Not sure if you can see the detail here so may have to post these as
larger pics sometime

Blechnum fern fronds on left, plantain (middle) and green shades galore
along the roadside

Purple makomako Aristotelia serrata blossom (left and middle),
kapuka Griselinia littoralis on the right

Lime green fern on left, wonderful shapes (middle) and
pate Schefflera digitata on right

I think this is Blechnum discolor - still furled tightly on the right

These white flowers make a lovely display along the roads but I haven't
been able to identify it yet. They close up at night and the flowers are quite
papery - almost like everlasting flowers. ? Lagenifera or Helichrysum spp.

Native kotukutuku Fuchsia excorticata in flower. The pollen of the
tree fuchsia is blue and the flowers change colour from green to purple
to deep red as they age.
I'm sitting out on the deck to maximise my internet connection and can see ducks in the duckpond, a kereru feeding in the flowering broom, a male chaffinch feeding on the seedheads in the grass and my little ngirungiru (tomtit) flitting around - and I can hear the ever-present yellowhammer calling for a mate. The wind is still blustery but it's fine and dry so time to get back to work in my woodshed!

Busy days

It’s a tad wild and woolly outside so a great time to update my blog. Unfortunately the strong southwesterlies are also playing havoc with my internet signal so it’s back to Microsoft Word and hopefully I’ll be able to cut and paste this post later in the day.

The weeks are racing by and my free time is getting squeezed considerably—not just from working but also from all the other jobs around the section that need doing at this time of year. I’m in the process of building 30 rat traps that I can put out in the bush behind the house and give the birds the best chance possible. I bought the materials from SIRCET, the community environmental trust that is a driving force on Stewart Island; the traps aren’t that difficult to make but I need to find some more timber for the baseboard. I have a couple of pallets that will do for a couple of years but haven’t found an easy way to break them up without splitting the board.

Rat traps made with corflute, netting, Victor traps and a timber base
I enjoy stacking firewood but re-stacking it is a questionable waste of time. I made the mistake of stacking the first four trailerloads along the back wall of the shed with subsequent rows in front. This worked fine until I got some more trailerloads of wet wood – luckily I was off-island for a month so stacked those in front of the dry stuff and kept my fingers crossed that it would dry out before I needed to use it. Now I have more wood but it’s ‘green’ so needs to season. I’ve taken the radical step of restacking all the wood but this time making each row go from front to back, rather than side to side. A big job and I’ll have to work out a way of preventing the front from collapsing (? salmon netting) but then I can cycle dry wood first next winter.
Part way through the woodshed re-stack
I had to revise my enjoyment of barberry hunting after last week’s efforts. We’re working in scrubby bush (flax, bracken, blackberry, bush lawyer, grass at the road boundary, moving into more established bush further away from the road) but spending most of the time on our knees dealing to dense barberry plants, from juveniles (above knee height) to adult trees with branches over 8m. Last Tuesday (our third day on this property) we took 7 hours to move 100m before running out of Vigilant gel and energy. Not looking forward to more time here but at least I’ve now got kneeling pads which should make life a bit more comfortable. We move on to Chilean Flame Creeper (CFC) in December so good to mix it up a bit.
The unstable weather patterns lately meant that the island was isolated last Friday with no ferries, planes or water taxis operating. A Search and Rescue operation was instigated after a photographer missed his plane pick-up but it wasn’t until late afternoon that a bigger helicopter could brave the weather to check Freshwater Hut, normally accessed by water taxi. Fortunately, the photographer was there but I wonder if he had any idea of the efforts and resources that went into the operation. It was a busy day in the Visitor Centre with tourists having to spend an extra night on the island and phone calls from trampers that couldn’t make it to the island so needing to cancel their Great Walk hut reservations.

On to more interesting things with my next blog...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Picnic at Dead Man's Beach

Today was Picnic Day; the weather forecast was for a front to pass through at lunchtime bringing rain but the Weather Gods blessed us and we've had a fine day instead. I met Raylene, Nicoletta, Lee and the two dogs, Mac and Snow, at Butterfield Beach and we walked from there to Dead Man Beach via the Horseshoe Point Track. It's a pretty walk alongside Bragg Bay and then through native bush where I've spent many an hour with the barberry team.

Picnic at Dead Man Beach - the white area at the end of the red line!
Photo from Google Maps - looks like the ferry is coming in
At the Visitor Centre there is a folder with how areas got their names and although it doesn't go into details, apparently Dead Man Beach was named because a dead man was found on it!! It's a beautiful white sandy beach, only accessible by boat or a walk and it looks stunning in the sunshine - see a photo here

We had a lovely picnic spread and watched the dogs dig holes in the sand - just as well the tide was coming in as we might still be sitting there!

The path down to the beach is steep with lots of steps

Picnic time

A well-camouflaged Mac in amongst the sand

Lee's dog, Snow

On the way back to the cars, we came across a horizontal tree trunk smothered with what I think is the native orchid, Earina mucronata. The flowers have a light fragrance and I really needed to have my close-up lens so that I could get a good close-up - will have to go back and try again as none of these are really sharp. A great website for orchids is

A whitetail deer has been grazing on the grass over by the duck pond whilst I've been writing - I've just had to turn the light on so now I can't see anything outside! Two more kiwi calls this morning; a female at 4.07am and a male at 4.25am. I had the possum trap set so had a quick peek out to make sure they weren't near it. The possum was around the other night and had a feed of silverbeet before coming up on the deck. Luckily I was still up and chased it away, then stayed up for another couple of hours to make sure it didn't come back. My vege garden now looks like Fort Knox with plastic netting surround - unfortunately I couldn't fashion a gate so it keeps me out as effectively as the possum!

Barberry tomorrow and Wednesday with Visitor Centre duties on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I cut down the reeds growing out from the deck with a curved slasher this morning but didn't get around to putting the wood in the woodshed so that's next on the job list.

Have a wonderful week...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

All the Ones

Tomorrow is a once-in-100 years occurrence with the date of 11.11.11. According to the Stuff website the last time it happened in 1911, Kansas City had a sudden temperature drop from 24°C in the morning to -12°C by evening, and to a lesser extent in other US states. It was known as the Great Blue Norther and hopefully it won't happen again tomorrow. It's son Jeff's birthday but his 31 years is trumped by Andrew Fearon of Whangaparoa who turns 11. It's also the 93rd anniversary of Armistice Day with 1 minute's silence at 11am on 11.11.11.

I've had a 'woody' week with two more trailerloads of firewood delivered plus a large kamahi that blew down a couple of months ago. My neighbour chainsawed it into rings and I've spent the afternoon splitting it with my new Fiskars axe. This axe is a cross between an axe and a splitter and it's worked a treat on the kamahi.

Two more trailerloads of firewood

Chopped kamahi with still a few rounds to go on the left

I bought a time and tide clock off TradeMe recently; the first one didn't work but Cruising Electronics gave great customer service and replaced it promptly plus arranged freight to return the faulty one. Thanks guys. It's great to know what the tides are doing and all I have to do is find a permanent spot for it once I've decided where pictures and mirrors will go.

Time and tide clock - the red hand moves clockwise but at a
different rate to the time hands. It was 1hr to low tide at 7.30pm
My veges are growing really well in potting mix considering the hail we had last week. I picked my first spinach and silverbeet of the season and the mesclun seeds I sowed last week have already germinated. I'm trying a new-fangled gadget called Aqua-Shield - see the pink 'thing' below.

Aqua-Shield - a plastic surround with a difference
It's a double-skinned self-standing plastic surround split into individual tubes which you fill with water. According to the packet you can add 1 month to the growing season - solar energy warms up the water in the UV-treated plastic and provides a wee hot house for the plants inside. I'll keep you posted on how my silverbeet seedlings fare in this environment.

I'm still pondering on whether to get a tunnel house. One of my biggest problems is not knowing how to garden in a tunnel house so I can't visualise how to fit everything in. I've found a lovely wide tunnel house but I'm not sure if it will fit between the house, garage and water tank. My gut feeling is to make my own frame and get some wide plastic to stretch over it; a magic wand would come in so useful here!! I'll have to do something before deer and possums turn up for midnight feasts.

How about this idea for a small garden with a difference...
Save your large tins for me!!!
Enough rambling for now. Happy 11.11.11 everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friendly visitors

The weather today is cycling through hail, rain and bright sunshine but the severe weather warning issued on Wednesday seems to have bypassed Oban - or maybe it went through when I was fast asleep! You can have four seasons in less than half an hour here but I'm keeping dry and snug inside with the fire going.

My friend, Jen, left on the first plane this morning after six days visiting and it's now very quiet at home. We've talked up a storm, walked lots and sat outside in the dark listening for kiwi and deer. It's been great to show her my new home and hope it's not too long before she comes back so we can do all those things that we ran out of time to do.

Last Sunday Jen and I went on the 2½ hour Stewart Island Experience Paterson Inlet Cruise:

Paterson Inlet Cruise route
see - this was a new experience for me as well and we both had a ball. Great viewing as we sailed slowly out of Halfmoon Bay and round the coast into Paterson Inlet. Free tea and coffee, an interesting commentary as we stopped at places of interest (including Kaipipi and Price's Inlet) and then an hour's guided tour on Ulva Island. I've been to Ulva several times but having a guide opens your eyes to so many new discoveries.
Ulva Guide, Bevan, pointing out plants of interest

Ulva Island spider orchids
My camera only had a few minutes of battery left so I'll have to do the cruise again and get more photos!! It was a great way to get a good perspective of Paterson Inlet and hear the history of the old boatbuilders and whaling stations.

We stayed in the village after the cruise so that Jen could experience the famous Stewart Island Pub Quiz. We paired up with Rowena and Bruce, and Di and Jim but our six brains weren't good enough for the winners Eh What's Up (DOC guys) or Raylene's team (Ghoulish Delights) which got second. The theme was Hallowe'en and I think we did remarkably well to get any points at all!

Monday was rat line day and I had a very cruisy time watching Jen do all the work! We took some rope with us and tied that to some trees on the steepest section so I now have something to hold on to when the track is wet and slippery. No rats in my traps but five traps (some with rat fur) were sprung so perhaps a weka had pulled any caught ones out.

I chose to sleep in my spare bed in the garage whilst Jen was here and was so glad that I did. The garage isn't lined, hence no soundproofing to muffle kiwi calls! I heard a female kiwi call twice on 30 October (4.33am and 5.26am) and heard the dawn chorus in all its glory. Early Wednesday morning (4.45am, 2 November) I was wakened by a 'growly purr' sound and thinking it was a possum, I jumped out of bed, grabbed a torch, opened the door and shone the torch around. I saw a dark shape move behind the large pots and then caught another movement over by the house steps. I was totally floored when I saw a kiwi standing there, not a possum at all!! I immediately turned the torch to a red light and watched the kiwi walk purposefully down the path towards the drive. Woohoo! My first sighting of two kiwi on my section!

First kiwi sighting over by house steps, 4.45am 2 November 2011
Grinning from ear to ear, I hopped back into bed and a few minutes later heard the male and female duet by the garage doors with about 8 bars synchronised with each other's call. Double magic! Unfortunately, Jen slept right through it and we didn't hear them call again whilst she was here, despite leaving windows ajar.

Jen enjoys the bush and birds as much as I do. I think the card she brought down for me sums up our friendship perfectly...

...thanks Jen for taking the time to visit; it was a pleasure having you to stay.

Back to work next week with a mixture of barberry and VC duties. There's a community Snack and Yack next Saturday (barbeque and stalls to welcome new residents etc) and increasing numbers of tourists signal an end to the 'quiet' off-season.