'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Greerton in the Springtime

The cherry trees are out again in Greerton, a small shopping centre in the city of Tauranga. Like many such villages, not so long ago Greerton use to be a village in its own right. Locals still call it 'the village' and it certainly has its own character with the lovely flowering cherries and mosaics. The first one features a tern.

Above; some weird and wonderful flowers of a kind I've never seen, but below a much more ubiquitous sight - the pukeko or swamp-hen.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Late Walk

A Late Walk

When I go through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

Robert Frost.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Snail City

At Miranda, the soft sunshine and spring warmth is encouraging the strongly scented Fennel Forest to sprout up again from the base of the dry stalks of last year's forest. But every night the old dry stems are a staircase to the sky for zillions of snails. They scrape away with their radulas at the last of the old fennel skin and encounter each other for conversation and sex. In the morning as the sun silvers the Firth of Thames to almost blinding sparkle, the snails slither down the stems, across the path (scrunch scrunch as you walk - auggh) and slide back to their secret day-time shelters.

(This post has a Starting-With-S Score of 27/108.)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Godwits come back to New Zealand Summer

Here, for you reading pleasure, and rather lazily just reproduced by me, is a recent article about the Godwits that appeared in my local paper the Bay of Plenty Times.

Every year about 20,0000 people visit Miranda, on the Firth of Thames, to watch and photograph shorebirds, and interest continues to grow, said Keith Woodley.

That level of interest was probably not anticipated back in the 1970s when Auckland Ornithological Society members decided to establish a centre for birdwatchers at Miranda.

Among those who founded the Miranda Naturalists Trust in 1975 were Richard Sibson Sylvia Reed and Beth Brown.

"They were regular visitors to the Firth of Thames and wanted a place to stay while they studied birds. They based the Miranda Trust on the British Norfolk Naturalists Trust," said Keith.

What brought the birdwatchers, and indeed the birds, to Miranda were the extensive tidal flats and saltmarsh bordered by a rare shellbank chenier plain. Over time this has become world-renowned as an accessible site for migratory birds such as the godwit and endemic waders.

"It is also sometimes visited by rare birds like the red-necked Phalarope, seen here in December 1996. It is one of the few waders which are also adapted to swimming and when it appeared, created a good deal of excitement among birdwatchers," said Keith.

Although the trust set out with fairly modest plans - to provide accommodation for committed birdwatchers - over time it developed the vision of a much more extensive complex which would provide accommodation, information and education facilities for the wider public.

The attractive building has a shop selling souvenirs and one of the best collections of bird books in the country. It also has a conference room as well as the accommodation areas.

The trust hosts school groups and provides seminars and information on birds and birdwatching. Keith said plans are in place for a $1 million upgrade of the complex to meet the growing demand from the public, schools and tour groups.

The centre no longer attracts just committed birdwatchers, but people keen to see flocks of birds in numbers not possible elsewhere, and especially the godwit and wrybill, which feature on the trust's promotional material.

Keith said both birds were vulnerable to man-made environmental impacts and even though the mudflats and shell banks at Miranda continued to attract shore birds in significant numbers, siltation was a major concern.

The Firth of Thames receives an estimated 150,000 tonnes of silt each year from the Waihou River alone and much comes from farms.

While initiatives are under way at local-body levels and within the farming community to alleviate some of the erosion problems along the river, Keith said river modification through stop banks and draining of wetland in modern times and dating back to early European colonisation continued to have an impact on the Firth of Thames.

The Miranda trust works to increase public understanding of the importance of the birds which visit Miranda each year and how vital it is that their feeding grounds are retained.

Among the "stars" to have helped heightened that understanding is Miranda godwit E7. She attracted national and international attention when satellite tracking recorded her amazing 11,680km non-stop flight from Alaska to Miranda in eight and a half days (204 hours), at an average speed of 56.7km/h.

Keith, who has written about the birds in his book, Godwits: Long-haul champions, was there when E7 and seven other Miranda godwits were fitted with the satellite transmitters, the data from which was to provide conclusive evidence of the small birds' amazing navigation skills and endurance.

The research also reinforced how vital to the birds' survival the stop-overs were along their "flyway". Godwits and other migratory birds use specific places as resting and "refuelling" stops on their journeys.

It is for that reason Miranda Trust has formed close links with Yalu Jiang reserve, in China, where godwits stop on their way north.

Keith has been to Yalu Jiang several times and says while people live on the reserve and make a living from fishing in the Yellow Sea, they can, with careful environmental management, co-exist with the birds.

Keith is equally enthusiastic about the wrybill, the only bird in the world with a bill which bends sideways. A New Zealand native, it nests in the braided rivers of the Canterbury Plains which are now potentially under threat from proposed intensive farming.

"We are keeping a watching brief on water right applications in the plains. The wrybill population is around 5300 and 40 per cent of them fly north to Miranda after breeding."

The Miranda Shorebird Centre is located on the Firth of Thames, one hour southeast of Auckland and half an hour west of the Coromandel. The centre is open daily between 9am and 5pm and the best time to view shore birds is several hours either side of high tide.

For more information visit www.miranda-shorebird.org.nz

Saturday, 2 October 2010


People coming to New Zealand from overseas generally arrive first in Auckland.
This is a large, sprawling city containing 1.3 million, which is about a third of New Zealand's population.
If the weather is clear, you may catch a glimpse of a few landmarks as you come in. If you enlarge this image (click on it) you'll see three of the more important ones. Rangitoto Island, (the volcanic cone under the cloud just offshore) the Sky Tower and the Harbour Bridge. Aucklanders love compliments about these three things.
Here are some things to say that will endear you to Aucklanders on your arrival.*
1. Oh my, isn't Rangitoto beautiful! (Rang-ee-tow-tow)
2. Gosh, that Sky Tower - it's so tall! Sydney's is nowhere near as tall!
3. Gosh the bridge is wonderful! I much prefer it to Sydney's.

You may also mention how fabulous you have heard the Rugby World Cup facilities are going to be. This will be a good move, for you'll get a long expansive monologue detailing it all, during which you'll be able to relax, close your eyes for a while and recover a little from your jet-lag.

Do not, under any circumstances mention South Auckland.

*Do not bother saying them to New Zealanders from any other part of New Zealand. They will be taken as an insult. Aucklanders are from a different New Zealand.

Friday, 1 October 2010

October nablopomo badge

Once again I've decided to create my own nablopomo badge. This one reflects the outdoors and with a touch of the strawberry summer to come, down here in the counterweight continent. The suggested theme for this month is 'play' but I will be extending that to mean 'exploration' - both physical and academic...

So this month will be a medley of images and information about places I've explored in New Zealand, and questions rhetorical and otherwise, that I will be 'playing with' as I come to the end of my scholastic year and wonder what plans I will make for the next, and the long summer months.

Here's a new strawberry badge. I didn't like the old one. It was too dull.

Eye Candy Day 26