Monday, October 27, 2014

The Forest Unseen

I've been mulling over a new project on my bush section and was wondering how I do it when I saw a book advertised online that sounded just the ticket. The book's called The Forest Unseen - A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell and it's both fired up my imagination and fanned my enthusiasm for looking even closer at the world we live in.

The American author, a university professor of biology, records a year's worth of observations of a square metre of old-growth forest in Tennessee. He has called it a mandala, based on the Tibetan re-creation of the path of life, and relates it to his belief that 'the forest's ecological stories are all present in a mandala-sized area'. This treasured book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, weaves science and poetry in subtle overlays and explores the relationships within Mother Nature.

Being a northern hemisphere book, the year conveniently starts in January's Winter and progresses through the seasons. Haskell wraps his knowledge of biology around the observations to explain complex processes such as why some trees get leaves later in Spring than others or how trees manage to pump gallons of water up to the canopy without generators, noise or the use of fossil fuels. He sees how interactions between species result in communities that benefit the inhabitants and how disruption of these communities can have unexpected results.
Haskell states that 'nature' is not a separate place and that by observing the forest he has come to see himself more clearly. He encourages us to find our own mandala that we can observe and whilst I don't have his in-depth knowledge or command of language, I have tools such as NatureWatch and the internet that will allow me to spin my web of connections. If you enjoy this blog then I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of 'The Forest Unseen'.
Looking closer has opened up whole new worlds for me; Andy Murray's talk on Collembola and other critters prompted me to buy a 20x loupe (magnifying glass). After reading David Haskell's book, I went searching for higher magnification loupes and bought the selection below from Phoenix Imports on TradeMe (all links open in a new window).

left to right: 60x currency loupe with white and UV light $6.99,
a 30x jewellers loupe (no light) $3.99 and a 40x loupe with white light $5.99
The vendor's service was great - fast, friendly communication when I asked about combining freight, and I had the goods within a couple of days. The best one for putting in front of my camera viewfinder is the white one on the right; the currency loupe will be great for examining flat surfaces such as leaves and the low-tech 30x loupe fits in a pocket easily. The optics of these cheaper loupes are a challenge for taking sharp photos but they work well to get acquainted with small objects.

I had an excellent demonstration of how we miss 'seeing' things as I unpacked my loupes. The Forest Unseen was sitting nearby and its front cover was used to check out each loupe. What looked like a smooth photo became quite different under magnification...

I've been looking for a spot, or spots, to set up my mandala - no convenient rock to sit on like David Haskell's choice spot. New Zealand bush will differ from that in Tennessee but I'm sure I'll find parallels especially at a fungi/lichen level. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lost in Wonderland

I didn't fall down a hole like Alice but I'm definitely in Wonderland; there's so much going on and I can't wait to tell you about the book I've just finished reading. That will have to wait for my next blog though as seeing the kiwi came first!

I went to a birthday dinner party on Saturday evening; Nicoletta's house is about a 50 minute walk away and I left early so I could enjoy the sunshine and take photos on the way.

Looking down on Bathing Beach and Mill Creek

Native Fuchsia excorticata flowers hanging in the sunshine

Close up of Fuchsia excorticata flower

Sand ridges on Horseshoe Bay

I was puzzled by these bits of shell and gull prints but then realised that
it was the remains of a shell that the bird was dropping from a height
to open it - this is where it opened and the bird landed to have its meal

The mended slip on Horseshoe Bay Road - the reinforcements were pretty
impressive but are mostly buried now
The dinner party was a great success with yummy food and fine company; we left about 9.30pm and I got dropped off at Hicks Road, cutting 30 minutes off my walk home. The moon wasn't shining but there was just enough starlight to make out the road without using my torch. The power station turn-off is about 100m up the road and I had just gone past when I heard a rustling off to the right. I stood still and carefully turned on the red light switch of my torch in time to see a kiwi striding through the grass away from me. Magic!! I started walking again and this time the kiwi passed me on the right and then crossed in front of me, close enough to hear its claws doing a tap dance on the roadway.

There's not many places in New Zealand where you can have encounters such as this so close to home. A high percentage of trampers doing the 10-day North West Circuit see and hear kiwi, with some lucky enough to get stunning video footage of their encounter. The best odds of non-tramping visitors seeing a kiwi is with Bravo Adventure Cruises. I did this evening cruise on my second visit to the island in 2010 and it was well worth the price of $140 which includes a cruise up Paterson Inlet as the sun is setting, a guided walk in the bush, then strolling along the beach until we spotted a large female kiwi turning over the kelp for the sandhoppers. Whilst they don't guarantee that you'll see a kiwi, their success rate over the last 5 years is over 99%. Of course, seeing a kiwi without paying is the ultimate experience but if you're limited by time then the cruise is a great alternative.

If seeing a kiwi in the wild is on your bucket list then late October is a great time of year to visit Stewart Island; you don't have to wait long for it to get dark, the operators are re-energised after their winter break and the birdsong is darned amazing. The only thing better than staying a week is to stay for two, and I predict that cameras and walking shoes will get a lot of use!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sitting (in the cafe) on the dock of the Bay

Jo's café, 'The Bird on a Pear', has reopened for the tourist season and it's the perfect place for watching boat activities whilst eating yummy food and drinking hot chocolate. I'm speaking from experience as I spent three hours there today with a friend and 'the boat show' provided entertainment that would be worth paying for. Jo joked that she was going to cover the window in black paper and sell 'peepholes' - reckon she'd be on to a winner there!

The café sits above the ferry terminal and has full windows on the two sides overlooking the water. One side looks down on the wharf where a forklift moves the ferry bins and freight in and out of the pickup area. We watched a number of small boats docking to offload people and gear, then the Real Journeys ferry docked to load freight and luggage for the 3.30pm sailing, followed almost immediately by the freight ferry from Bluff.

View from our table looking over Halfmoon Bay - the freight ferry (left)
docked 5 minutes earlier and is now unloading gas bottles

The boat and trailer were lifted with ease by the hiab on the freight ferry

Manoeuvring large objects looks easy when you're only watching! 

Getting the ferry bins prepared for loading on to the 3.30pm passenger ferry
Passengers' luggage gets put in the ferry bins, covered and tied on the rear deck for the crossing of Foveaux Strait. When I moved to Stewart Island it cost $35 to bring a bin-full of freight over so it's a significant cost, especially for things such as food and drink.

The freight ferry comes less often and brings the larger items - the decking that the boat and trailer were stowed on lifts up with a lot more space for freight down in the hold. This ferry is used for bringing vehicles to the island - it would be so much easier with a roll-on, roll-off ferry like the ones used on Waiheke Island.

What a relaxing way to spend an afternoon - definitely recommended for all visitors to this special island.

I recorded part of the dawn chorus this morning so will put that audio up on my next blog - so much going on at the moment!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Follow-up on yesterday's post

Living on Rakiura is great every day - but sometimes there is a day so special that I can't imagine a better place in the Universe to be. Today was such a day; what a buzz to walk to work accompanied by birdsong ringing in my ears, then stand in the middle of a tui raid with birds flying just above my head. I walked down to get milk just before 10am and watched the fog roll in over the boats in Halfmoon Bay. An hour later the fog left leaving blue skies and a temperature that soared to 27°C. What better excuse than to go slow-walking in the bush after I got home from work!

The female flowers of Coprosma foetidissima - standing upright to catch
the pollen from the male flowers
While I was taking the Coprosma photos a crane fly hovered nearby and then landed where I was standing. I took full advantage of this invitation and snapped away.

The filmy ferns deep in the bush are shrivelling up but their darker colouration means that you can see the spores more clearly.

The sunlight filtering through the canopy made some features stand out like a singer under spotlight...

Koru within koru - so symbolic of new life

Sun shining on moss stalks and spore capsules
A shy spider abseiled down and became my next subject.

There's been a stack of moths on the windows over the last couple of nights; they may be the native grass moth, Orocrambus flexuosellus but will put the photo up on NatureWatch to check. They rise in masses as I walk through the grass and aren't easy to photograph - I'm picking that the warm weather has caused them to 'hatch' - my mission is to try and photograph one with its wings outstretched!
Update 16 October: the NatureWatch identification was the Diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), a European moth that has spread worldwide. It's also known as the cabbage moth and is a pest of brassica crops.

An earthquake at 6.13pm gently moved the earth for me, not sure about the heavens; it's certainly been a day to remember.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I spy with my camera's eye...

Aren't weekends wonderful? And don't they go much too fast! On the pretext of searching for barberry, I spent a number of hours just 'walking and looking' and reckon I'll be an expert in the art by the time retirement rolls round. Yesterday's wander took me down near the swamp to see if the native clematis, Clematis paniculata, that flowered last year was still there. It sure is and the buds are just starting to open...

Native clematis buds beginning to open

Coils of native clematis vine winding around the trees by the swamp

Native clematis in full flower on Back Road - it can look like water
cascading down the bush canopy in places
I think these are the male flowers of stinkwood (Coprosma foetidissima); the wind will blow the pollen from the anthers onto the female stigmas (according to the book!) - I'll go out during the week to get some photos of the female flowers. Coprosmas are dioecious which means that male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Today's excursion started off right by the deck. I washed the exterior of the house yesterday which hosed most of the cobwebs away. A large orb web spider had captured a moth and was in the process of wrapping the body in silk. Fascinating to watch and being easy to access I grabbed my camera and loupe with these results...

Wrapped-up moth on left with orb web spider, Eriophora pustulosa, at right

Close-up of orb web spider's underside

Close-up of the silk-making abdomen with the spider's legs wrapping
up the moth
 I checked out the native ants' nest again by lifting the branch over one of the entrances. This time I was ready with the camera to take a few snaps before they disappeared down their holes.

One of the winged varieties

Not sure if this was a guard but he was one of the few to come out of the
nest and look around. The ants are about 8-10mm, not sure if they bite
I took more photos of other spiders but they've all gone in the recycle bin; they move too fast for the dull light conditions under the canopy. I did manage to snap this native cockroach though...

 So, it's now 9.30pm on a Sunday evening and I have a long list of jobs that I didn't get done at the weekend. I wonder why!!!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Orchids and an eclipse

Native orchids are popping up all over the place - there's never a 'boring' walk here and it makes me realise how much I missed when I had a car. The summer-flowering sun orchid (Thelymitra) just has green shoots at present and most of the greenhood (Pterostylis) orchids haven't flowered yet but there are a heap of spider orchids (Corybas) in flower. My camera doesn't have much depth of field so it's challenging to get a good photo with most of the flower in focus - but trying is always fun.

Greenhood orchid flower (Pterostylis)

Earina mucronata flower buds starting to open

A spider orchid flower (Corybas)

Spider orchids high on a bank at the base of a tree

I think this is Corybas rivularis in flower

Close-up of spider orchid

Newly opened spider orchid

Another shot of the one above

And another angle

This spider orchid leaf is about the size of my thumbnail

Corybas rivularis in flower

This spider orchid has the longest lateral sepals I've seen

Close-up of Corybas rivularis flower

Earina mucronata flower buds - almost open

Delicate greenhood orchid flower
Of course, you realise I'm guessing at most of these! I usually check out Hugh Wilson's 'Field Guide to Stewart Island Plants' - but tonight picked up the 'Colour field guide to the native orchids of New Zealand' by Eric Scanlen and Ian St George and got totally lost. This fab reference book has Corybas as a synonym for Nematoceras, a name I haven't come across before. And the 'rivularis' part has changed to 'rivulare' - or is this a different orchid??

I'm in awe of the people who specialise in identifying our native plants; the range is so diverse and the orchid 'language' especially has my brain stretched to full capacity...

"Sheathing bract at stem base, is a colourless, trumpet-shaped sheath, usually sloping up to a variable apiculus at the rear, whose point is mostly dark but sometimes green. Peduncle lengthens as a scape after pollination for good seed distribution."

Just as well there's a website that makes it easier - go to New Zealand Native Orchids website for a look around. Their Orchid Structures web page is great to learn the parts of an orchid flower. I'll have to study it well so I can start identifying some of the plants I find.

The total lunar eclipse last Wednesday night was almost a fizzer here. Heavy cloud and driving rain was the excuse for an early night but fortunately I woke at 11pm and watched the moon sliding into full eclipse with the occasional cloud sweeping past. My wee camera came up trumps again with being able to capture some of the action, not bad at all for a 4x optical zoom and being handheld!