Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Becoming the Brave Little Tailor

When you spend the majority of your working hours without any interaction with other people, you are bound to develop a strange fixation or two. My current focus (I won't go so far as to call it an obsession - I'm not there yet!!) is on becoming like the Brave Little Tailor: "seven with one blow."

Over the last week that I've been out and about looking for harrier, I've had a rather pleasing hit rate: at least one a day, every day I've been out. Which, admittedly, is a great result, however I'm waiting for the day when I can proudly say I've seen seven different harrier all in the space of that one day. So far my total has been three. (Almost half-way!)

Of course, it's not a competition. And even if it was, I'd be the only competitor. As I gain more knowledge of the types of habitat in which these hawks may be found, it would be easy for me to skew the results in my favour. But I won't. I want my genuine Brave Little Tailor moment. I may not sew it on a belt and parade around the town seeking fame and fortune, but I'll be mightily chuffed all the same.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Little Engine That Could: Perseverance

Child-like enthusiasm is a wonderful thing; it binds you up and carries you along on a terrific high, but the tiniest factor can cause it to fragment and fall apart. Case in point: one child I taught was writing the most fantastic narrative, complete with incredible drawings (he was ridiculously talented in creative areas), but upon realising he'd made a mistake, screwed the whole thing up into the tightest ball imaginable and tossed it into the paper recycling. He then sat immobile, staring despondently at his empty desk for quite some time.

Never a fan of sulking or such-like, I pulled it out of the bin and made him articulate exactly what had gone wrong and we problem-solved a way to fix the error. (He didn't want to then start all over again; turns out I'm a dab hand at ironing creases out of paper!!)

In teaching, we often have moments or situations that stay with us, that stick out beyond the normal day to day happenings (although there is hardly much room for normalcy) and teaching a child perseverance is no mean feat.

Perseverance plays a large part in the success of my project. I get up in the morning. I prepare and plan. I'm ready. I arrive at my first site and wait, full of joyful expectancy, for a harrier to arrive. As the day goes on, the expectancy stays though the joy tends to slip a little. I sit through hours of: cold, sun, wind, mosquitos, sandflies ... all with the hope of being rewarded. Some days I see a harrier, some days I don't.

When I do sight one the joy comes rushing back, a huge wave of it, that makes me want to grab the nearest person, shove my binoculars in their face and shout "Look! Look!" (I have so far managed to practice restraint in this area, safe to let that response live only in my head!)

Perseverance can be a real pain. If the end-point becomes obscure, if things turn to custard, if you make a mistake, if it's taking too long ... there are so many ready excuses to give up. But if you don't give up, if you persevere, nothing beats that feeling of success, pride and self-belief. It tops up the tank and renews you for the next round.

The once-screwed-up-but-now-ironed-out-and-completed story?? It was finished and proudly presented to his grandmother for her birthday.

Me and my harriers? We're doing just fine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


New Zealand is not typically known for its raptors, or birds of prey. We have morepork and harrier, which are native (found in other countries as well) and our New Zealand falcon, which is our only endemic bird of prey.

One of the best places to see all three of our raptors close up is Wingspan in Rotorua. Wingspan is a trust that was set up to "care for sick, orphaned and injured raptors. This includes research into their habits and habitat, captive breeding, public awareness and the rehabilitation of raptors back into the wild."

I went down there earlier this week, with some colleagues from the Department of Natural Sciences at Unitec. Now, I've seen countless harrier and morepork before, but have never seen
a New Zealand falcon. It was a new trip for all of us, and we did wonder exactly what would greet us. Just in case we didn't end up getting close to them, I took this photo opportunity:

A 'falcon' of sorts ...

Which turned out to be totally unnecessary. Wingspan has a large barn area that is divided up into about a dozen aviaries that visitors can wander through. Here we saw adult falcons, a juvenile falcon, adult and juvenile moreporks and an elderly gent of a harrier. They were easy to see in their homes; some of the more curious falcons came right up and perched next to the viewing screens.

As harrier age, their colouring gets lighter.

After feasting our eyes and taking many photos (well, my companions did, thanks guys!), we went outside to continue this with the flying demonstration. A male falcon called Ozzy was the first bird brought out. He was very well-behaved, showing us all manner of flying and hunting techniques.

Medieval falconry techniques are still used today in the rehabilitation of injured raptors.

Next came Atareta, a female who was bigger and far more brazen than her male counterpart. She had clever ways of making sure her handler gave her the food she wanted (pigeon or chicken was preferred to rabbit).

Female falcons can be up to one and a half times larger than males.

The demonstration was accompanied by insightful, fact-loaded but easy to understand commentary, which left viewers with a clear understanding of these incredible birds, and apart from being their advocates, I'm sure all who were there now desire to become falconers! Noel, Debbie, Andrew and the team at Wingspan are very passionate and have phenomenal amounts of expertise and knowledge to draw on.

I'm so pleased we made the trip. It has been beneficial to my project in many ways: creating contacts within the raptor realm, fleshing out my knowledge of birds of prey and just having a chance to see these birds close up.