Monday, February 22, 2010

Observation Area: visual reference

Forgiving the scribbly-ness of the red boundary line, this is the area that I am wishing to collect harrier sighting data in. The line is not exact (area extends a little further north and a little further south), but hopefully gives a clear enough idea of the area under scrutiny.

Defining urban:
For the purposes of this study, I will be using a general 'farmland' rule: if there is farmland or lifestyle blocks in the vicinity, or that have been passed through to get there, then that location is not urban. If you're unsure, send the sighting through anyway:

I've started to receive sighting and location info from lots of people, so thanks everyone for the email jungle vine; keep it up!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Help Wanted"

So Harrier HQ is now set-up and ready to take sightings from one and all. Emails have been sent and sent and sent, which I greatly appreciate. Here's a snippet from my appeal, please pass it on as much as you like!

2010: Year of the Harrier

As you may be aware, I'm undertaking a project (courtesy of a RSNZ Awarded Teacher Fellowship) with the rather large aim of identifying the distribution of the Australasian Harrier within urban Auckland (amongst other things). However, to do this, I need your help. You too can become an avid sky-watcher ... without having to actually go out of your way.

So basically, if you see a harrier over an urban area in Auckland any time throughout the year, I NEED to know. "But I don't know how to tell if it is one or not!" Rubbish - just use the quick 'how to spot a harrier' guide below.
Then, email me with as much info about the sighting as possible, include: date, time, weather conditions (sunny, overcast, rainy, windy), specific location (be really detailed - I need to map this), what the bird was doing, direction it came from or flew off in. All of this information is helpful and will be gratefully received.

Please forward this email to HEAPS of other people, too. The more, the absolute merrier (and the better data for me to work with). Every single sighting helps ... and better yet, it's painless!

Sightings can be sent to me at harrier HQ via this address:

How to Spot a Harrier:
  • Firstly, look at the shape of the bird first - is it large and brownish, with 'fingered' wings? If so, it's probably a harrier
  • Secondly, look at its flying habits - is it soaring in slow circles, or quartering (flying backwards and forwards) a certain area with slow, steady flight? It's most probably a harrier. Harriers use the wind currents to move them about, so they hardly seem to flap their wings at all. Therefore, if you see a large bird flapping madly about, it will probably not be a harrier!
  • Thirdly, harriers are solitary and mostly silent, only vocalising around breeding season. So match this with the above characteristics and you'll be able to guarantee the accuracy of your observation.
  • Easy!

Thanks everyone :o)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lessons in patience

Ahhhh, fieldwork. Fieldwork in the realm of ecology, no less. You get all geared up, travel to location, find your optimum vantage point, set up telescope, adjust binoculars, have data recording sheet ready .... and .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... nothing.

"If you build it, they will come." Nice guarantee, that. Unless they're an actual animal species and not ghosts in a movie. What you are guaranteed is a LOT of weird looks from passersby, completely unknown members of the public stopping to chat about what you're doing ("so you're a bird-watcher then?") and a lot of time sitting, waiting.

Patience can feel so different depending on context: in a classroom helping a little 7 year old sound out a word (whilst, at times, feeling like forever) takes 1-2 minutes; sitting waiting for a bird to show (or not) takes hours. Hours.

BUT ... patience is a virtue, my first harrier sightings for this project have been recorded and reports from other people are starting to trickle in, so my minor panic that they all have fled upon learning of my study is over. Phew!

It will take a while to build up the kind of data that I'm hoping to collect, so in the meantime I'll sit back, relax and try to enjoy the views. And as a friend and colleague suggested, I'll "take a good book!"

Friday, February 5, 2010

And so it starts

Okay, so today finds me at the end of my first week of non-teaching. How do I feel? Strange. So much 'newness' to be discovered.

Firstly, it's quiet. I mean, dead quiet. There are no young kiddies scrambling every which way for my attention, there's no playground duty, no bells going, it's quiet. This may be because, in actual fact, there are no kids. A whole day can pass by where I don't encounter a single person younger than me. I never knew this kind of world existed.

Secondly, as much as I felt being a teacher and running my own classroom automatically created work independence, it actually was only because of the nice fluffy encapsulating boundaries of student needs and curriculum choices. When studying in ecology, you're dealing with species in the wild and the subsequent huge degrees of unpredictability that this generates; it's like being taken blindfolded on a trust game, except that my guiding partner happens to be a feathery expert hunter, with rather large talons.

Thirdly: time. Time itself is a marvellous thing. Who ever knew there was so much of it to be had. On my first day, I was finished and home by 3pm. 3pm!!! I really did feel quite unsettled. Seriously, what do people do at 3pm? A teacher's work-day doesn't usually end until at least 5-5.30pm, not to mention the planning and prep we do after dinner, so this whole having extra time thing is a novelty that I have only just started to explore.

So, 3 and a half days into the academic year, I think I'm qualified to say that this teacher fellowship thing rocks! I'm looking forward to a year of peace and solitude, adult company, pursuit of knowledge and having the time to enjoy all this. For any kiwi teachers reading, if even one of these aspects appeals to you, it's time to apply for a Royal Society of New Zealand Awarded Teacher Fellowship. So far, it's all it promises and much more.