Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Watching the Watcher

By now, I'm very used to being subject to strange glances whenever I'm out harrier-watching. Most days bring nothing unusual to this occurrence, however this week has seen two occasions that have been different to the norm.

Monday saw me heading up Mt Hobson, which, being a volcano, offers both the opportunity of a fantastic vantage point for me and a possible hunting area for local harrier. I spent some time walking around the mountain searching for the best observation point and whilst I only came across three other people, my whole time up there I was observed by a herd of cows. It may have been that I was following their grazing tracks and routines by coincidence, but everywhere I went, the cows went, too. It was like a strange, unwanted version of The Pied Piper and not surprisingly, rather disconcerting.

Yesterday saw me heading to East Tamaki where I discovered a couple of harrier hunting over a grassy patch behind a new business development area. This was a perfect chance to observe them in urban settings; using land that has been human-modified to create opportunities for themselves. My viewing point was from a public park adjacent to the business area, and yesterday just happened to be the day when the park was being mowed.

Running all over the place with backpack on, camera round my neck, binoculars glued to my eyeballs, pen in my mouth and field diary clenched under my elbow, I provided a great deal of entertainment to the men on the large ride-on mowers. Of which there were four. It was a precarious balance between keeping track of my birds (which Murphy's law dictates were not staying put in one place, but constantly moving backwards and forwards, near and far, up down and everywhere in between) and checking to see whether I was running into the path of a mower (yes, I know they are noisy, but when fully engrossed in watching I don't pay as much attention to my other senses!).

A quick glance in the direction of one of the men confirmed what was in the back of my mind as I kept track of my charges: the way I looked and my antics were hilariously ridiculous. How could I explain myself?? Would that even help me at all?? Nope, I learnt a lot earlier in the year not to worry how others perceive you when you're doing your science ... just suck it up and get on with it, your results will be your reward. I only hope that when I go back to visit that site again that the lawns will have already been done!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A-Birding We Will Go

Over Queen's Birthday weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the OSNZ conference in Nelson. Aside from hearing about studies and projects from around the country, covering all types of birds from migratory waders to our smallest wren, there was the opportunity to take a field trip. "Falcons and Grapes" was on the list and, although I admit that the grape/vineyard part was appealing, it was the falcons that I truly wanted to see.

A fantastic, conservation-minded approach has seen Marlborough vineyard owners pair up with the Falcons for Grapes project, to reestablish New Zealand falcons into the areas of their former range. This benefits the vineyards, as falcons are fearsome avian predators specialising in taking down prey mid-flight. They actively kill pest birds such as starlings, blackbirds and silvereyes, as well as being the best scare-tactic nature has to offer. Travelling in a group where every single person is an avid birder, it is needless to say that our enthusiasm upon seeing several falcons was limitless and we were all in raptures.

An early finish at the vineyards saw us dash across to the Waihopai Valley in search of the sole black kite that inhabits the area. Although our mini-van was packed with eager and talented bird-spotters, the lone kite eluded us and we headed back to Nelson.

Not far from my thoughts (particularly when focussed on birds of prey), we observed many harrier en-route to the vineyards (an hour and a half drive from Nelson); some when there was no rain, some when there was light rain, none when there was heavy rain. Another thing to explore further back here in Auckland!

All in all, a very worthwhile weekend with enough birding delights to keep me going until next year's conference.