Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Barrel of Bees

Troy and I have just spent two awesome weeks in the South Island. I took a few hundred photos and so far I haven't even begun to sort through them. I'll share as soon as I can. Til then here's the drama that's unfolded in the last few days.
  When we left there was a family of young starlings being raised in the oak whiskey barrel sitting on our front porch. I figured they would have fledged by the time we got home but I never expected that a hive of wild honey bees would take their place!
A steady trickle of bees were coming and going in the busy manner that bees have. Now I like bees and I'm well aware they are in a dangerous decline worldwide due to sprays and poisons among other things. Bee stings I'm not so keen on - actually I'm a big sook when it comes to that so I was wary about having a hive three feet from my front door. It was lucky one of Troys best mates Misho is a bee-keeper so between the two of them they worked out a plan to move the hive without the total destruction of our barrel. It was tipped upside-down and Misho cut a hole with a skillsaw (meanwhile we were safely inside cowering in the kitchen - I took this shot through the sliding door.)

However after Misho assured me the bees were not going to attack I was brave enough to get this shot looking down thru the hole in the barrel, the whole interior was covered in bees!!! Double click on the above photo to enlarge, its kinda freaky!

A bunch of bees were collected from the barrel interior and dropped into a bee box. Misho then somehow found the queen amongst all those hundreds of bees and put her in the box then put the lid on. He then collected as many bees as he could and deposited them outside the box. By nightfall they had all moved into their new quarters to be close to their queen!
Unfortunately the honeycomb couldn't be saved but Misho placed the broken pieces in front of the bee box as the bees eat up the honey so they can use it in the new hive! Pieces of the remains of the starling nest were gummed up in the sticky mess.
Some of the honeycomb is used to house the young bees in the grub stage, some is used to store honey and some stores pollen (if I remember correctly.) A few bees got drowned in the honey when the hive was tipped upside-down but all in all it was a successful relocation. I was amazed at how much honeycomb the hive had made in less than two weeks. All in all it was quite fascinating learning how they work. In a couple of days Misho will add another layer to the bee box then take them to his place. And in a few weeks Troy and I will get a share of the lovely golden honey! Mmmm-mmm. A shame we couldn't leave it in the barrel, we could have had whiskey flavoured honey. But then again it would probably have had overtones of starling poop....eeeeyew!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Caspian Tern struggles with Eel

Caspian Terns are the largest species of tern found in New Zealand and are conspicuous by their bright red beak. They are common residents of the lower Whakatane river and can be spectacular to watch as they perform vertical dives for small fish.

 The other day I was surprised to see one with an eel which was still very much alive and wriggling. The tern was having a hard time holding on to it and the eel kept getting loose and free falling.
The bird wasn't going to let its meal get away and employed some cunning acrobatics to reclaim its dinner.

 I didn't get to see the tern finally swallow the eel but I would suspect it won out in the end.
I have often watched shags trying to eat young eels and just when you think the bird has swallowed the eel it will wriggle back out again! Sometimes the bird takes ages before it finally gets it all the way down. They must taste good to be worth all that effort!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dotterel Relocation Project, Herepuru - Matata

The day after my epic trek up the coast line in search of dotterel I found out the Dept of Conservation had decided it was too risky to leave the birds where they were due to the threat of pollution. A few miles up the coast the container ship Rena was stuck on Astrolabe Reef and still leaking oil into the sea and it was just a matter of time before it reached the dotterel habitat. These birds are extremely susceptible to oil but it was still not a decision the experts reached lightly.
 DOC dotterel experts were flown in and were met by local resident John Groom who has monitored the population here for at least ten years. I was fortunate enough to catch up with them at Herepuru and watch John Dowding in action.
Here he guides the bird towards the capture net. You can just see the dotterel right of centre on the sand.
 Within minutes the first dotterel was captured.

Its weight was recorded...

and an identification band attached to its leg.

 John Dowding is an ornithologist who specialises in these birds. He has such a gentle laid-back manner that seems to cause very little stress to the birds he is handling. The last I heard the team had caught 25 but were aiming for 40 with the captured birds relocated to Tauranga. I was priveleged to be there to witness their work and of course to get some photos. I'm just hoping the oil won't make it this far!

Friday, 14 October 2011

National New Zealand Dotterel Census

 On Thursday I took part in a Nationwide census on New Zealand Dotterel. These birds are a threatened species and at the last count in 2004 numbered around 1700.
  My section of coastline was the stretch of sand from Coastlands subdivision near Whakatane to the Whakatane Golflinks. Sue Greenwood from forest and bird along with Alan Houltain were to patrol from Coastlands down to the Whakatane rivermouth. We set off a little after 9am, Sue and Alan turning right from the carpark as I turned left. It was a rather stormy day and I was enjoying the brisk weather until a few minutes into the walk when I got a nose full of oil smell from the gounded Rena in Tauranga. It was horrible and my throat began to hurt when fortunately the wind changed and the smell disapeared. I arrived at the Golf links having seen a few Variable oystercatchers but no dotterels. I texted for more instructions. "Carry on to the Thornton rivermouth." I wondered how far that was....seemed quite a long way.
There were some great Physalia washed up also known as Man o War jellyfish. Excellent colours!

And my favourite shell of all times - the Violet snail.
No dotterels but still I walked....and walked....and walked....
Bloody Hell! Where's this rivermouth then? Seven kilometres up the coast I spied Sue and Allan walking to meet me. And there finally were some dotterels tho since the other two had spotted them first I had to reveal my tally as none! Waaaagh!

To learn more about dotterels click on the link below. This clip shows a population at Omaha Beach.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Latest Paintings

This is my first post since early June, nearly four months ago. Sorry to anyone who followed my blog but I just haven't been in the right frame of mind due to a whole lot of stuff that's been going on in my life. Lost my mojo for a while - have hardly even taken any photos. Still, its spring now so I'm done with the winter blues and I'm determined to get my inspiration back. Here are my latest four paintings.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Baby bunnies

There has been a family of young rabbits living in the woodpile over our fence. Charming little creatures they are too. My neice Nicola wanted to see some photos of them so I spent the morning stalking bunnies. These are for you Nicola.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Parrot in the Persimmon tree.

Mums neighbour Bill was kind enough to email me the other day to tell me a Kaka had been regularly visiting their garden recently. I was given the all-clear to head over there with my camera if ever I heard him. I kept my ears open and sure enough, a few days later I heard the screeches and chortles of a native parrot. I found him in a tall tree in the front yard. Too far away for decent photos. He was feeding on grubs and beetles in a dead tree. Kaka enjoy a varied diet and this one was getting his protein by ripping the dead wood open with his strong beak to enjoy the insects within. I heard from other people in the neighbourhood that he had been in their macadamia tree cracking open the nuts. You'd have to have an extremely strong beak to get those things open!

Finally he flew to the persimmon tree in Bills back yard where I was able to get quite close to him and get some good shots. Kaka move like monkeys in the trees. This guy was grabbing the branches with his beak to climb up and down in his quest for ripe fruit. When he found a persimmon to his taste he would rip pieces out with his beak and hold the chunk of fruit in his foot like a kid holding an ice cream and the juice ran out around his toes. I could get quite close - about fifteen feet, plenty close enough to see the cheeky glint in his eye!
  Sadly this is a species in decline. Kaka are quite threatened now due to habitat loss and scarce food supplies. What a shame - they have so much character!

Battered Bat

A couple of weeks ago one of Troys workmates was driving through the Waioeka Gorge when a tiny bat hit the windscreen of her car. It was night time and she initially thought it was a leaf. When she finally got to a place where she could pull the car over she retrieved the little lifeless body and later put it in the freezer. On Monday morning I got the chance to get some quick shots before it was given to the Department of Conservation guys who were going to turn it over to a taxidermist for preserving. 

It was the first time I have seen one of our two New Zealand species up close. What a fascinating creature. Its wings were like crinkly black crepe paper, very thin with long arm bones along the leading edge. A tiny clawed thumb is situated at the top joint, the rest of the wing are actually supported by the fingers. Delicate little clawed feet ended on short legs.

This one was a long-tailed bat and there was indeed a substantial tail complete with the same kind of membrane as the wing. Unfortunately I couldn't pull it out to photograph it. What a treat to be able to study this bat up close, it was an amazing little animal! Just a shame he was dead.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Neighbourhood watch

Yesterday morning there was a racket in the skies above my studio. Four Tui were circling and shrieking their alarm call.

I wondered what all the fuss was about. Finally they disapeared and were silent. A moment later a falcon flew past. I figured out what they were doing - it was Tui Neighbourhood Watch!

The falcon must have been perched nearby looking for prey. The Tuis let all the birds in the neighbourhood know to lay low, there was danger about. Falcon gave up and flew off in a huff!