Archive for March, 2019

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.