30 September 2009

Endemic, invasive — ti kouka, pink ragwort

Ti koukaTi kouka, the New Zealand cabbage tree, has a special place in the culture of Aotearoa, and few New Zealanders would fail to feel a twinge of homesickness on seeing an exiled cabbage tree in a foreign land.

Often survivors where everything else has given way to the dreadful desert of productive pasture, these plants prefer swamps and wetlands. Their most characteristic feature is probably the multiple, leafy heads, but the trunk has its own rough, gnarly charm. This is a young tree on the true right bank of the Waitotara river (the same as in the photo I posted for International Rock Flipping Day); older trees have thicker trunks which are often hollow. The bright flowers in the background are the invasive weed, pink ragwort (Senecio glastifolius).

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

29 September 2009

Don't mess with Ming the Merciless

MingWhen Sartre used the term "The Look", he probably didn't have this in mind.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

28 September 2009

Cats own my home [Ming]

MingLeave a door open and this is what happens.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

25 September 2009

Laughing dove, Bharatpur

Laughing doveIn a country teeming with so many humans it was easy to despair about the future. But the birds gave me hope, and although the dove as a symbol of peace is about as appropriate as New Zealand as a leader in addressing climate change, doves are birds, and that alone lifted my spirits. And, at least this laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) seemed peaceful as it rested quietly on a finial in Bharatpur above the frenetic evening traffic on Christmas Eve, 2006.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

24 September 2009

Wild weather on the way at Flounder Bay

LagoonLight rain speckled the slow stream where it widened into the lagoon. Beyond the sand bar, a building surf pounded the beach; gannets soared over the ocean; the eastern sky darkened. Everything waited.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

23 September 2009

Kowhai flowers

Contrary to popular belief (here, for example), Aotearoa doesn't have an official national flower, but if we did, kowhai (Sophora spp.) would be one of the prime contenders. Pronunciation varies: "KOR-fye" or "KOR-why" (with a slightly aspirated "wh") are common, but some people still stick with "KOH-eye". The Landcare Research database, Nga Tipu o AotearoaNew Zealand Plants, lists 10 species plus one synonym and a cultivar, but many of the most conspicuous trees in gardens are hybrids. In the wild, they're most commonly found near rivers and streams, where the abrasive action of stones and grit scarifies the hard-coated seeds as they tumble along the stream bed.

They're flowering profusely now, much to the delight of the nectar drinking birds like tui and korimako — and, I suspect, much to the delight of anyone with an eye for masses of bright colour.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

22 September 2009

Signs of the times

ApostropheThis could be so many places around the world, but this time it's Whanganui's Saturday morning market. I suppose it's only a single misplaced apostrophe if one assumes the vendor's name is Hot Chip.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

21 September 2009

Ti kouka and pink ragwort, Waitotara

Ti kouka and pink ragwortNear the mouth of the Waitotara river on Sunday. Those mauve-pink flowers on the far bank are pink ragwort, Senecio glastifolius, yet another worrying invasive plant in the Taranaki-Whanganui region. The distinctive, spiky-headed trees are young ti kouka (cabbage trees, Cordyline australis).

Once we left the rough 4WD access track and dropped down to the river, the place felt old — or perhaps it was a glimpse of the future, after we've gone?

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

18 September 2009

Crisp kelp, dry driftwood

BeachAt Flounder Bay in May this year the beach often looked like this. Sea, sand and sky; clouds and the wind. A few birds, hunched, facing into the wind or running on pink legs. Cold, but not the kind that drives one to despair. In summer you'd fry out here.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

17 September 2009

Nandor Tanczos

Nandor Tanczos
Nandor Tanczos, one of Aotearoa's more colourful — some say controversial — political figures resigned from Parliament last year. Because he's a rastafarian and promotes the decriminalisation of cannabis, he was frequently pilloried; however, having heard him speak and having read what he's had to say on social justice and environmental issues, I suspect his critics either didn't bother to listen to his arguments or felt it easier to resort to attempted ridicule than to respond with reasoned arguments.

Since resigning from Parliament, he's kept a low profile, but given his contributions to keeping the world safe, just and healthy, no one could fairly accuse him of not having done his bit.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

16 September 2009

Tony remembered the party...

Tony comic

Just a bit of fun.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

15 September 2009

Spring sycamore shadows

Sycamore shadowSpring is here, but the shadows are still long. This was a few minutes before 11 a.m. a bit over a week ago; the foreground tree casting that shadow is a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and the leafless tree on the left in the background is an ancient apple. In some situations here in Aotearoa sycamores are considered weeds because of their propensity for springing up uninvited.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

14 September 2009

Spider vs spider [Daddy longlegs spider eating spider]

Pholcus eating spider

Spiders that eat other spiders aren't rare. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, whitetailed spiders (Lampona spp.) are probably the best known, but the common daddy longlegs spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) like this one will kill anything trapped in their webs, including other spiders. I mentioned this in the caption to an earlier photo, but at that time didn't have a photo to document the claim. Well, here's one. I noticed this today and immediately reached for the camera. The prey spider was bundled up tightly in silk and rubbish, so I couldn't identify it (and I wasn't prepared to steal it), but it might have been a cobweb spider (Cryptachaea veruculata).

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

13 September 2009

Flounder Bay evening

Flounder BayOnly four months since we were there, but it's far too long.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

11 September 2009

Blue waxbill; Lilongwe, Malawi

Blue waxbillBlue waxbills (Uraeginthus angolensis) were common around Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. Given their abundance, I suppose they eventually become one of the unnoticed species: invisible to most people. But, for me in 2007, most of the birds — and Malawi has a huge diversity — were new and fascinating.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

10 September 2009

Art in galleries

GallerySigns left by lives long gone fascinate me. Invested with meaning, they encourage thoughts that wander their own tracks, sometimes well worn, sometimes branching into wild places, seldom with identifiable destinations. One inevitably discovers intimations of mortality — one's own as much as that of the life that left the sign — but often what's evoked is simple delight at the artistry of invertebrates. [Hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily]
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

09 September 2009

Toddler, Barda Hills

ToddlerThis little guy was happy with his handfuls of dirt — then his mum sat him down and posed him for the camera. In Gujarat's Barda Hills, early 2007.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

08 September 2009

100% pure New Zealand


Since 1999, Tourism New Zealand has marketed Aotearoa as "100% Pure New Zealand". However, our agriculture is still primarily conventional, relying heavily on non-organic fertilisers and pesticides, and despite the good efforts of some farmers, the impacts of pastoral farming on our rivers and lakes are shameful. This helicopter spent a couple of hours this morning spraying the farm near my place. I don't know what it was spraying, but the Teawaoteatua stream just below my place certainly got a dose (in addition to the nutrients it also receives from the cattle that wade freely through it).

I don't want to get into the "organic" vs conventional farming debate, but it strikes me that "100% Pure" falls short of an accurate description. Sure, it looks beautiful (in many areas it's simply breathtaking), but even that's under threat from creeping "development" in the form of such things as proposed hydroelectric power schemes on rivers like the Mokihinui and Hurunui, and, most recently, the proposal by our Energy and Resources Minister to remove protection from some of our most valuable conservation areas to allow the potential for mining.

I could go on — the list of threats to our environment, particularly under the current economic-development focused Government, is depressingly long — but I think I'll leave it at that. I still think Aotearoa must be one of the most wonderful places on the planet, but if you think you'll ever want to visit, do it soon. It's not getting better.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

07 September 2009

Amartya Sen

Amartya SenAmartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1998. I'd never heard of him until December 2006, when I picked up one of his books, The Argumentative Indian, in a bookshop in Naini Tal in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya. When I returned to New Delhi I discovered he was speaking at a international conference on Ecological Economics, a conference in which several of my friends were participating. Impressed by his book, I sneaked in to hear him speak and, from near the back of the room, tried discretely to photograph him. Not an easy task, as I discovered. This, as he left the stage at the end of the talk, is the best of a poor bunch of photos — possibly the only one in which he didn't look as if he was in the throes of food poisoning.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

06 September 2009

At the opium ceremony

Bishnoi manThe last stop on a half-day visit to the desert near Jodhpur was for an opium ceremony. This was our host. Given the dilution of the opium, I was less concerned about it than the water it was diluted in, but as it turned out, neither had any effect. Afterwards we were treated to a simple and delicious meal, which for me was as memorable as the ceremony.

[I published a new post on Pohanginapete a short time ago. Given how it reads, perhaps the effects of the opium were just delayed a couple of years ;^)]
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

05 September 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day

VultureToday, 5 September 2009, is International Vulture Awareness Day. If you're not aware of the reasons vultures are vital, or not aware of the threats to their survival, check out the site or go to BirdLife International's page about the importance of vultures. Throughout much of Asia, vulture populations have declined catastrophically, largely because of their susceptibility to veterinary use of the drug diclofenac; now, diclofenac residues in livestock carcasses are beginning to decimate vultures in parts of Africa.

This a hooded vulture, Necrosyrtes monachus, next to the carapace of a green turtle on the coast of Ghana in April 2007. The photo first appeared on Pohanginapete in a tongue-in-cheek (the pun is unavoidable) post about the joys of eating offal.

Blog for VulturesUpdates:
1. Charlie, at 10,000 Birds, has posted a wonderfully informative article about what's happening to vultures. Fortunately, as he concludes, it's "not all doom and gloom". Highly recommended.
2. If you think vultures are ugly, you might change your mind after seeing Gwendolen's photo of a Rüppell's griffon vulture.
3. As I've noted above (and Charlie elaborates on), much of the problem arises from veterinary use of diclofenac. Meloxicam appears to be a vulture-safe alternative to diclofenac; however, it's considerably more expensive. Moreover, in Africa vultures are also threatened by off-label use of the extremely toxic pesticide furadan, as well as (you guessed it) habitat destruction.
4. To end the updates on a much lighter note: Corey, also at 10,000 Birds, has collated a handful of wonderful quotations about vultures.

All content (other than the IVAD logo in this post) © 2009 Pete McGregor

03 September 2009

Evening at Kausani

Kausani viewFrom Joshimath I caught the bus to Karanprayag, stayed the night there, then travelled by bus to Kausani, famous for its views of the Himalaya. This might not have been the kind of view the tourism posters love, but it did it for me. I did get to see the classic views while I was there, though.
All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

02 September 2009

Self-portrait at Joshimath

PeteIn December 2006—is it that long ago already?—I stayed a while at Joshimath (the spelling varies) in the Indian Himalaya. I guess this is hardly proof I was there, but despite its minimalism it brings back memories for me.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor

01 September 2009

Riroriro (grey warbler)


Riroriro, the grey warbler (Gerygone igata), was the surprise winner of the 2007 "Bird of the Year" vote. Although common throughout a very wide range of habitats, they're more often heard than seen, and I've found them to be among the most difficult of Aotearoa's common birds to photograph because they never seem to stay still for more than a moment and their preferred habitat is among foliage, where they glean insects. While this rather scruffy little individual (photographed last weekend a few hundred metres from here) doesn't provide a classic portrait of riroriro, something about it seems to suggest the intensity so characteristic of these little birds — perhaps it's the charisma that earned them that accolade in 2007.

Their song varies markedly among regions, but you can hear a particularly good version courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand, the Department of Conservation and Radio New Zealand (whew!). My birds sound different, of course.

All content © 2009 Pete McGregor