Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The End of Summer

Well folks, it's almost time for this birder to return to school. The final report's been written, scientific poster produced and everything's been neatly wrapped up. It truly has been a fulfilling year of new learning, new experiences, new acquaintances, new understandings, new perspectives and new passions. Though all good things must come to an end.

How do I say goodbye to my closest friends from 2010? Those wonderfully majestic of creatures who captivated me and kept me company throughout hundreds of otherwise solitary hours in the field. I can't but help to keep tabs on these birds who were such a part of my life. My eyes are always on the alert for an upwards spiral or lazy quartering glide to take me into the avian world once again. Although I've been a birder for as long as I can remember, I know one thing for certain; harrier-searching is engraved in me forever.

However, an ending equals a beginning. My young charges this year will be subjected to wonders of the natural world in all their intricate glory; I hope they, like me, find excitement and awe in what they discover. But in the here and now, a classroom awaits desperate attention; there's furniture to place, many a box to unpack, things to stick on walls, documents to draft, activities to prepare.

I'd like to extend a HUGE thank you to all those who have supported, encouraged and helped me along the way; you made my work just that much easier. Keep up the bird watching!!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sailing the High Seas

(A diversion from raptors, for a change ...)

A few months ago I received an unexpected email from the Royal Society. They asked if I would be interested in supervising three students who had been chosen to sail with the Royal New Zealand Navy to the sub-Antarctic, delivering a group of scientists to Campbell Island for a research expedition ... was there ever more than one answer to that question??!!

Two days ago I returned to land and have yet to shake off my sea-legs; there's currently a moderate swell in my living room that has yet to die down. Modestly, I make a great sailor (no seasickness for this intrepid young lady), but on a seven day voyage, traversing the roaring forties and furious fifties, what exactly did we get up to?

Campbell Island, approx. 700k south of mainland New Zealand, is the southern-most point of land in NZ's EEZ (exclusive economic zone). We entered Perseverance Harbour surrounded by snow-dusted peaks, swooping antarctic terns, giant northern petrels, Campbell Is shags and an inquisitive Hooker's sealion keeping a watchful eye.

The southern royal albatross kept us enthralled as we trekked across the island, experiencing the full plethora of sub-Antarctic weather: cloud, sun, snow and wind. Lunch among a mega-herb field? Why sure. A beautiful, contemplative time to reflect on the exquisite land and ecology around us, I sat there thinking "Nature, I love you just so incredibly much."

It would be hard even for the most non-environmentally minded not to be moved by the wonder of Campbell Island or the Auckland Islands (we visited Enderby Island, part of the Auckland Is group, after two days at Campbell). From navigating the sealion gauntlet, walking past 'penguin alley', having albatrosses soar effortlessly overhead, being surrounded by a collection of plants that exist nowhere else, the heritage and legacy of our sub-Antarctic islands showed exactly why they have the highest level of protection possible.

These World Heritage Status places are largely untouched by human presence and nature is slowly redressing the impact of the sealers, whalers, castaways and unsuccessful farmers from a century or two ago.

This trip has upped my nature-geekiness to new levels and has provided much knowledge and understandings to share with future students and acquaintances alike. I could easily move to the sub-Antarctic in a heartbeat. Inspired and awe-struck, I loved every single second we were present in these special places and am already dreaming of a time that I can return for more.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In the Presence of Knowledge

Last week saw me attending the Ecological Society of New Zealand's annual conference. It is a chance for scientists from around New Zealand (and several from far beyond our shores) to meet and hear about just some of the many projects and research that is being done in the realm of ecology.

What amazed me, being a lowly quasi-scientist, is the enormous scope that these projects cover and just how vast this discipline of science is. From mountain to ocean, slug to pigeon, native to invasive, it was a non-stop week of immersion and gained knowledge. There were attendees who have spent their whole studying and working lives dedicated to knowing and protecting the world we live in. Very humbling.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tea For Two

It's now time to talk about Bonnie and Clyde ... another of the harrier pairs I've named. These two occupy a lovely little extinct volcanic crater and have been entertaining the locals (and me) with their courtship antics.

On a sunny spring morning, Bonnie and Clyde were doing their usual routine of calling, sky-dancing and general mosy-ing about. After a turn around the crater rim, Clyde dropped down for a rest while Bonnie soared over towards the lake area. Clouds of passerines and other birds flew up into the air - the safest bet when a harrier is about - and Bonnie returned after a couple of minutes, headed in the direction of the man of leisure, Clyde.

I had my camera poised and at the ready (that morning's goal had been to get some good shots of harrier for use in my study documents) and so I took advantage of Bonnie's endeavours, snapping happily away. I didn't pay much attention to the details of the shots at the time, knowing that I'd review them on the computer later.

So imagine my surprise/absolute delight a bit later when, after zooming in on an image that looked a bit funny, it revealed that there was someone (or rather, something) else along - unwittingly - for the ride. Grasped in Bonnie's talons was a medium-sized passerine (blackbird, song thrush?) and she was bringing home the bacon to share with hubby.

Although it's taken at a distance, this shot is so neat in it's incidental capture of a very rare moment. Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hunting for the Hunter

Today's field exploits saw me get horribly distracted by these wee things:

I couldn't help but to throw all previous plans to the wind as I madly stalked them around the tree base. The eight bunnies all eventually disappeared down the hole in the roots and I prepared to move on and back into a world of sanity. Not so, as around the very next corner sat seven more little balls of ridiculous cuteness, just waiting for me to while away time snapping their pictures as well.

Having appeased my need for ooh-ing and aaah-ing, I crossed the open space and took up a perch opposite where the bunnies were ... for although they were gorgeous tiny things, the other thought that came to mind was: bait.

I was completely ready to sacrifice these bunnies to the supremeness of a harrier, adding a new item to the list of things I have seen them scoop up, but alas, none came. The bunnies are safe for another day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the Wings of Love

Well courtship is, for the most part, over, with pairs formed and nesting territories established. I'm back to searching the skies in eternal hope of a glimpse of harrier, with one sighting a day enough to thrill me (my record has been six in a day - so close to my brave little tailor aspirations). The rarity of harriers at the moment is evidence that some of the ladies have got buns in the oven .... or rather, eggs in the nest.

With the females out of sight (the good old-fashioned confinement period from centuries ago) it's up to the males to be hunter-gatherer and food provider. Which, thankfully for the expectant mums, is what these birds excel in. It just makes life/work a lot harder for any harrier chasers (i.e. me)!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ode to the Feathered Ones

If often wish, when I'm absorbed in watching harrier soar through the sky, that I was a writer. That I could put pen to paper and adequately compose poetry to match the majesty and spirit of these wonderful birds. But I'm not. Instead, I have to make do with reading the words of others who do a far better job than I could ever do.

Sometimes, it's the Wind,
Sometimes it's the Calm.
Something about clouds
Swirling around.

Sometimes its the wheat fields
as they dance in the light.
Or the sounds of the leaves
as they make their last flight.
The sounds of the ocean,
the waves as they crash,

Something so small or something so large,
Or even at times, it's nothing at all.

The splendor of the things,
that touch to the soul
Stir the depths of emotion,
from places unknown.

A feeling, there are but few words to describe,
It's of love and respect, excitement and calm
A place of perspective,
The center of peace.

A place once you have been there,
Your faith, will increase
A feeling of knowing,
Not in futures untold,
but that what ever life brings you,
You will carry on.

It's a feeling a flight,
High into the sky,
A place of such lightness
tears touch your eyes.

Not tears of fear, nor tears of pain,
Nor tears of sorrow,
though they can mingle and blend

Tears of a Joy, that can push you
to fear,
The fear of flying that we all hear.

But should you have the courage
to fly:
The courage to look on into the sky,
To gaze from the heights to the earth far below,
To feel the wind rush straight to your soul.

Your life will never
be what it once was

You'll find new beauty in the places you live,
You'll feel for another as if your own pain,
The Smiles you share, will come from the depths or your heart,
And the joys that it brings you,
There is nothing to compare,
Except of course,
The feeling of light;
With the Wings of an Eagle
The freedom of Flight.

by D.Enise