Garden birds

March 24, 2019

The blackbirds and thrushes have returned to my garden, attracted by the removal of old vegetable plants. They are quiet and semi-tame, scurrying behind a plant as I walk through. And for this poor blackbird, it’s the time of the moult. Time to get the apple slices out for them to enjoy!

Moulting blackbird.
Young thrush with splendid plumage. No snails in my garden!

A phalanx of shags

March 24, 2019

I walked to the Waikanae River estuary yesterday to count birds. It was very hot and around mid tide, so the birds were sitting and preening or fishing in the lagoons and river. Not that many humans were about and those that were had their dogs on leash and were enjoying the sun and sand.

My bird counts were done on the north side of the river, first where the (darker, 1 o’clock) Waimanu lagoons empty into the river and second, a little way down the sand spit (10 to 12 o’clock).

At the Waimanu lagoons I witnessed a group of little black shags (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris), diving and fishing cooperatively together.

Yes, I know this isn’t the best of photos, but WordPress won’t let me upload the video, showing them working together across the lagoon. Everyone else was head down too, so there must have been plenty of fish in the lagoons.

At the lagoons I counted:

19 scaup
3 black birds
2 starlings
18 black swans
1 dabchick
4 mallard ducks
3 red billed gulls
14 little black shags

Numerous (and uncounted) house sparrows

At the estuary I counted:

3 red billed gulls
11 pied stilts
12 kawau (Pied shags)
3 Caspian terns
10 Variable oystercatchers
31 black backed gulls
1 Welcome swallow
1 little black shag

That’s fourteen species in two 5-minute counts. The seasonal waders (godwit, turnstone) have gone and the spoonbills were clearly feeding elsewhere, but it was good to see such biodiversity.

From top: red-billed gull, pied shags, male scaup.
Banded Caspian tern, Waikanae River estuary
Dabchick, Waimanu lagoons

Aotearoa New Zealand’s giant raptors

March 20, 2019

Great SciBlog today by Michael Knapp!


March 20, 2019

It has been an interesting year for tomatoes. As usual, many seedlings sprang up in my garden, from tomato seeds out of the compost. Most of those that were allowed to grow turned out to be the small “Sweet 100” variety. Prolific and healthy, but not that satisfying. Best of the crop this year has been the “Beefsteak” variety. I learned a new trick from my friend and supergardener David Ellison, who cuts the laterals off young plants, pops them in a glass of water until they sprout roots (which only takes a few days), then plants them on. As a consequence of copying him, I ended up with about 10 Beefsteak plants, which gave me a huge crop of healthy tomatoes, perfect for salads and salsa, or roasting and making passata or soup for freezing. The plants are still ripening in our warm late summer sun.

The “Black Krim” variety wasn’t nearly so prolific, but the taste was better. The heritage tomato varieties I grew from seed were the most disappointing. Perhaps I started too late, but for whatever reason, plants grown from seed were smaller, set fruit later and were less prolific.

It has also been a good chilli season, though not hot enough to turn these beauties red.

Weaning off Facebook

March 20, 2019

Friday 15 March 2019 changed New Zealanders and this old kiwi for good. I spent the day in my Low Carbon Kāpiti teeshirt, supporting school students, in their #SS4C (School Strike for Climate) event, outside the Kāpiti Coast District Council offices. It was a time of passion. It was a time of hope. The mayor was inspired. The kids were inspired and inspiring. We felt for a few minutes that we could change the world to be a better place.

Maha Fier – SEAR (Social, Environmental & Animal Rights)

Mayor GUrunathan talks to the students

Supporting students for Low Carbon Kāpiti


Then, driving home, the horror of the Christchurch mosque killings became centre stage. I knew the positive force for change I had just experienced would be pushed to one side by the unbelievable happenings in “Godzone Country”. I am not going to discuss the killings at the two mosques in Christchurch. Fifty lives taken by an Australian far right extremist. I have been weeping uncontrollably off and on, since then, like many ordinary everyday atheist, Christian, Moslem and Jewish New Zealanders. As-salam alykum. At last the burials are happening. Everyone is weeping. The surgeons, the police, the ambulance officers, the nurses. Nobody can talk straight. Everyone is changed. I have logged out of Facebook and will try this blog as a substitute. It has been a while…

I would love to commemorate these ghastly days by supporting the #SS4C students to plant groves of 50 trees – native icons, fruit orchards or trees from the appropriate countries – all across the country. I know we can provide the funding and find the trees, but the initiative needs to come from the #SS4C group.

Journeys: I recently visited my cousins Stuart and Alison Chambers, at their cottage on the edge of the sheep farm they ran for so many years, at Mangatarata, on the Hauraki Plains. I used to be sent up to the farm as a teenager, to keep me “out of trouble”, so Stu and Al are like second parents. On the farm I learned to muster the sheep, to handle the sheep dogs and to skirt a fleece. I learned about the satisfaction of climbing the peaks in the Coromandel Ranges and learned the difference between a godwit and a knot, at the Miranda Shorebird Centre.

Remembering farming days

Evening light

Dawn over the Hauraki Plains


On Sunday 10 March we all went to Miranda, to farewell the godwits on their long journey to Siberia and to celebrate the Year of the Wrybill. Who knows what the fate of these strong and determined birds will be, with landing and feeding sites in China and Korea becoming more and more limited.

Godwits and knots at Miranda – high tide

All for now. Garden and biodiversity updates will come in the next few days.

The chickens of Vatthe, Vanuatu, for Russell

March 28, 2016

Rooster Rooster 2 Chook family RoosterP1000595

Winter on the Sunshine Coast

July 12, 2015

Queensland is regarded as having a summer climate all year round. This is not necessarily so. The rain can pour and the wind can blow and although the daytime temperature may reach 22-23°C, at night the temperature may drop to 5-10°C. In houses built for the long, hot (dry) days of summer, winter can be cold and damp. Mould spreads across ceilings and haunts the backs of cupboards. In the farmers’ market at Currimundi, stall owners wear beanies and scarves, as they sell pineapples, avocados, mandarins and peppers. The wild places on the coast thrive during the winter, recovering from summer fires and flowering in profusion.


The honeyeaters flit from wattle to banksia and fill the air with song. Most common are the brown honeyeaters, which have a lovely song. Brown Honeyeater on banksia

The white-cheeked honeyeater is a beautiful bird, with its black and white stripes and flashes of yellow, but it is very elusive.

The blue cheeked honeyeater prefers the grevilleas grown in many gardens.



In the dense undergrowth Variegated Fairy Wrens go their busy ways. This one is a curious female. Female varigated fairy wren

Meanwhile, down on the famous beaches of the Sunshine Coast, people and dogs are the order of the day, rather than wading birds, although ibis, heron and pelican can sometimes be spotted.

Dog heaven P1020868 Perfect picnic spot

Transition to the coast

May 28, 2015

I moved to live on the Kapiti Coast in early 2015. The feel of the place is very different from Dunedin. It isn’t the temperature, although in the early stages of winter there were obvious climate differences.  I find myself walking and biking more. The air is laden with the salty smell of the coast and the light on the water makes one stop and just look. Kapiti Coast is a wonderful place to come back to, after a hard day in the city. Salt on your tongue, sand in your shoes, mother-of-pearl and azure, with the softness of small feathers.


IMG_1222 Spoonbills Little river shags PekaPeka IMG_1977 IMG_1980 IMG_3289 IMG_2368 - Version 2 Megan P1020331 Pied stilts Caspian terns P1020562 P1020565 P1020615 P1020618 P1020619 P1020621 P1020622 P1020623 IMG_2357 Waikanae beach evening

Growing wilder kids

July 18, 2014

I recently gave the Peter Spratt Memorial Lecture to the science teachers’ conference SCICON. There have been many calls for copies, so as it is a large file, I thought I would add it to the blog.

The full title is “Growing resilient children – getting kids wild about nature”. It describes the importance of getting children outside and into their environment and the ways that individuals can help improve community resilience.

FLEMING-Growing wilder kids

Celebrating life in the Banks Islands

June 12, 2014

26 April 2014

We woke to a rolling sea the colour of gunmetal and were up early and on deck. The Spirit of Enderby was drifting in the centre of the Banks Islands, maximising our chances to see the rare and little-known Vanuatu Petrel, as it made its way to feeding grounds from the island of Vanua Lava, thought to be where it roosted.


The landscape was surreal, with volcanic islands all around, topped with cloud or steam. I spent the morning on board, watching for birds, while the zodiacs went out to find the petrel.

We were all relatively successful. As the day got warmer, parts of the sea began to “boil” with movement and fish were seen jumping and scattering. Some of the crew went out with lines and succeeded in catching a beautiful small tuna, about a metre long, which we sampled as sashimi that evening. These fish feeding frenzies attracted the birds as well, including storm petrels, boobies and frigate birds.


Storm petrels working a fish frenzy.

Mid afternoon, after another huge lunch and time to relax, we all boarded the zodiacs and headed out in a calm sea, to try to spot Vanuatu petrels returning to the islands to roost. The evening was to prove to be a highlight of the whole trip. As we sat rocking on the sea, we were suddenly visited by a pod of Blainville Beaked whales, which surfaced so close we could smell their fishy breathe. It was a remarkable encounter, one that left everyone in my zodiac quiet and pensive, for at least five minutes.


Not long afterwards, as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky behind Ureparapara, the sea began to boil again with fish life, as tuna chased smaller baitfish and flying fish. Suddenly the birds appeared – frigate birds, boobies, terns, storm petrels and then the Vanuatu petrels, wheeling and diving around us. It was a magnificent sight, made all the more exciting by the rarity of this bird and how little is known about it. We stayed out as late as we could, watching a constantly changing scene of fish and birds, until the sky began to darken, and we were “forced” to return to the Spirit of Enderby, to celebrate another wonderful day.