Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life cycles

Wandering about in the bush gives me time to ponder on the meaning of life. Over millions of years Mother Nature perfected her life cycles with one organism's waste products becoming another's food. Our native species below the ground lived in harmony with the native species above - the right pH, the right fungi and the right conditions for new trees and shrubs to germinate and grow.

I learned about New Zealand rainforests in my Native Plants course; how its five-layered structure (forest floor, small shrubs and trees, smaller trees and tree ferns, broadleaf canopy trees and the emergent top layer) takes maybe 120 years to reach climax formation and how species had their own 'territory' - both in latitude and altitude.

I also learned how these natural cycles were interrupted by introduced animals and humans and now my eyes are opened, it's hard to ignore what the future may hold for our heritage. If you want to help out, the Department of Conservation has plenty of volunteer projects coming up for the summer season - check out both short and long term volunteering opportunities here.

One of the life cycles that I've been looking at lately is decay; a tree dies and over the next few years the solid matter slowly but surely breaks down and becomes food for all sorts of things.

Look closely and watch a spreading mass of fungi and slime moulds...

The chemicals they release soften the bark and waste products become a slow-release fertiliser for something else. Small critters start chewing their way through and solid wood changes into soggy 'weetbix'. The critters get eaten by bigger critters who then become the next meal for insectivores and eventually the tree completely decays and provides the nutrients for the next cycle of new seedlings.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Zoom eyes

How closely have you looked at critters in the leaf litter? One guy who does look closely, Andy Murray, was on Rakiura for the last two months collecting information and images on these small critters - he gave a fascinating public talk last Thursday and showed stunning photos, including a couple of new species that he's found on the island - visit his Flickr pages here.

Andy Murray with a photo of a Stewart Island Collembola or springtail
His talk and enthusiasm has inspired me to look closer than ever at what's around me - my rat trap check took over 2 hours yesterday but look what I found...

Collembola (?Lobellinae) - about 2mm long, on tree trunk

This is another Collembola showing relative size to my thumb

Native snail - about 5mm in diameter

Reverse side of the above native snail

Another native snail showing relative size to my thumb
A landhopper (the terrestrial version of the sandhoppers found
on the beach) - shortly after moulting

Landhopper (right) slowly moving away from old case (left)

Another shot using flash
My camera continues to amaze me - it's a $200 point and shoot model but it can see details that my eyes can't. Andy suggested getting a good loupe (magnifying glass) so I'll look for one next time I'm in town - what I really need are zoom eyes, preferably with a high quality built-in camera facility!!

Overnighter in Invercargill

The longer I'm on the island the harder it is to fit into 'normal' city life - the noise of traffic, the hustle and bustle and resisting the urge to wave at every vehicle that comes along. To make sure I don't forget how to 'behave' completely, it's good to get a taste for big city living every now and then. Last week I flew to Invercargill and managed to fit in a haircut and dental check-up before heading into work for a meeting with my boss for the rest of the afternoon. The following day we had our admin team meeting - the first I've been to since November last year - then a quick walk back to the airport for my trip home.

Nice and calm for my flight off-island last Tuesday

Invercargill Apartment Hotel - good value for $65 per night winter rate

Compact bathroom - but how do you stop the water
spraying everywhere when you're having a shower?

Another calm flight back to the island on Wednesday

Almost home

A lovely double rainbow over Oban village
There was time to do a bit of shopping - some things are just too hard to buy online. I called in to Kathmandu to look at daypacks to replace my red Kathmandu one - it's done a mountain of hard work over the last 6 years with almost daily use. It's hard to get a feel for size and weight from an online picture so it was great to check out the range instore. I ended up with a new Kathmandu Altai 50L women's pack - unfortunately only one choice of colour (bright blue) - but it has all the right things in the right place and it's lightweight at only 1.35kg. It's slightly bigger than my red one so it should work for multi-day tramps if I'm careful what I pack. I'll let you know how it handles my next big grocery shop!
Buy Altai Women Pack v2 Aqua online at Kathmandu

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Winter - yay!

I woke to a white world yesterday morning; it was a boomer frost and I grabbed the camera to see what I could capture. A good frost is great for killing the garden pests and any wasps that might be surviving in the milder weather - and it's interesting to see the different ways that plants respond to the ice crystals.

View from the garage

A frosty driveway with the ice on some mud puddles thick enough for
me to stand on it

Not much warmer at 10am - I bought this minimum-maximum thermometer
from Magnamail; it sticks on to the outside of a window and resets the
min/max temperatures each day

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Surprises to celebrate 200 blogs

I'm the guardian of a 1.05ha section, averaging the width of a rugby field and half as long again. The front half is in scrubby wetland (blackberry, bracken, reeds) and the rear half is in regenerating native bush. There's a boundary track around the bush and I walk it most days to check the rat traps so you'd think I'd know most things by now! Not a chance!! I dedicate my 200th blog to the small wonders of our beautiful native flora and fauna :)

What looked like a clump of sooty mould now has 'spots'

Close-up shots show these trunk-like structures
Grain-shaped 'things' growing on dead and living leaves but only in a
localised patch

Close-up of above
Magical water droplets seemingly suspended in space

A fuzzy pic of the spider creating these

?Pseudopanax crassifolium trunk with lots
of freshly excavated holes

What's making them?

One of the holes had these 'worms' writhing about - did they make the holes?
Spot the fuzzy springtail (Collembola) at top right
What's this? I think it's fungal and the wavy bits are hyphae??
Look carefully towards top right - I think this is another
 Collembola or springtail
I have my very own kiwi that comes out during the day!

PlantID course

Last week I spent two days at a PlantID course run by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in conjunction with the NZ Plant Conservation Network. The Department of Conservation's new structure needs (and welcomes) the community's input and the PlantID course is free of charge for New Zealanders keen to get involved in conservation volunteering.

Ten years ago I knew very little about NZ plants and I believed NZ was 'clean and green' and well-protected; I was proud to call myself a 'Kiwi' and thought that farming was a productive use of the land. My turning point came in 2005 when I was offered a fees-free course of my choice with the Open Polytechnic. I found this course and did the biggest U-turn of my life!

Complacency sits well with ignorance. One of the biggest shocks I had was that 95% of kiwi chicks that hatched in unprotected areas died before they reached 6 months; I didn't need to be a rocket scientist to realise that time was running out fast for our national bird with our identity becoming the equivalent of the dodo. The mirage of being clean and green evaporated as I learned to identify what was native and sustainable, the importance of estuaries to fish populations and that Mother Nature's life cycle had no 'waste' - in stark contrast to our own.

DOC has a number of free online courses on their website...

...and 3 of the 9 practical field-based courses are also free. The PlantID course is suitable for beginners keen to learn and for those wanting to brush up on the terminology. Our tutor, Beth, did a great job of leading us through and the resources you get to keep are great.

Ignorance may be bliss but I'm glad I've belatedly connected with the natural processes that this earth has perfected over millions of years - it just feels right.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Frosts and fungi families

It was a cool 0.5°C when I pulled the curtains back this morning and the deck was icy so I was very careful going down the slippery steps to read the rain gauge. The 2mm of water had to be shaken out rather than poured, the stars were twinkling brightly and I could feel the frost on the rhubarb leaves.

Leaving at 7.30am for work produced another surprise when a female kiwi started calling; she was just a few metres away and I stood still for 5 minutes hoping that she might walk past. A male kiwi answered her call but he was quite a distance away; I'd love to know what they are 'saying' - is it 'Hey Babe, I'm off to the burrow, are you coming?' or maybe 'Those two-legged people will be up soon, we'd better scarper!' I walked down to work with a big smile on my face - and taking careful steps on the icy tarseal.

I had a slow walk home in the sunshine on Monday and found more fungi families...

This wee chappie was on one of my rat traps - according to Landcare Research (link opens in new page) there are 21 species of stick insects in New Zealand out of maybe 3500 species worldwide. They are usually active after dark and taste good to rats and possums. Some species (eg Acanthoxyla) can reproduce without males - I must do more research as they are fascinating creatures.

I'll finish with this pic that made me smile - my nephew had it on his Facebook page...