Weekly photo challenge: the world through your eyes

June 22, 2013 § 7 Comments

This week’s photo challenge: the world through your eyes reminds us to observe before we take a photo. I’m still suspicious of my camera, and still wonder at the impulse to run off for the camera at the glimpse of something without even having looked. This idea that we’ve just seen ‘a good photo’. In my garden, I often watch scenes for weeks before I take a photo. This bird comes back really often, to sit in the first morning sun.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

May 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Escape. Just a little one. But an escape into a sunny, late autumn afternoon.

Walking in the Tawa Tawa Reserve, Wellington.

Walking in the Tawa Tawa Reserve, Wellington.

Weekly photo challenge: solitary

September 23, 2012 § 8 Comments

Kōwhai is a just beautiful native New Zealand tree. I have several trees in my garden. The birds love it, particularly the tui. I love it because it heralds spring. When finally the days become a little warmer and just a little longer with every new day, kōwhai burst with an astonishing density of unbelievably yellow flowers, all holding honey. It is the warmest, deepest yellow I’ve ever seen on any plant. And then, as spring moves on, the flowers fall. Last year in my garden, one solitary kōwhai flower was stubbornly holding on to spring.

Kōwhai flower.

This week’s photo challenge was to share a photo that means solitary to us.

Weekly photo challenge: free spirit

September 2, 2012 § 8 Comments

It’s been a bit more than a month that I started this blog, and I’ve been looking forward every Friday to the weekly post with the new photo challenge. I just love the themes, thinking a bit about them and carrying them around for a wee while … until the image sort of happens. This week the theme is Free Spirit.

I thought, “Yeah! Great! Finally a theme were I can share a photo of my dog Tuhi.” She is so spirited and independent.

But then I saw this duckling on Matiu/Somes Island. I watched it for almost half an hour. It was so busy and energetic about flapping its little stumpy wings, I just couldn’t stop watching.

Stretching with so much energy into wings that have yet to grow — that meant free spirit to me this week.

Lord of the Rings and little blue penguins

August 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

The geological formations are imposing, the surf is pounding, and the skies are vast. Where the Aorangi Range drops into the Pacific Ocean, you can see why one of New Zealand’s outdoor businesses called itself Earth, Sea & Sky. Not in many countries is almost all of the land that strongly influenced by all three elements. New Zealand, tiny as it is, has one of the world’s longest coastlines at about 14,000 km. Last week, I had the opportunity to see another bit of coast and join a one-day excursion to the South Wairarapa coast, hosted by the Aorangi Restoration Trust.

Following is a photo essay of the day.

The Aorangi Restoration Trust’s vision is to restore the natural heritage values of the Aorangi Forest Park and its private surrounding land. The park still has pockets of important biodiversity and outstanding geographical features. To work against degradation and eventually reintroduce locally extinct species is a grand vision, and when you see how big the park area is you realise just how grand a vision. Kiwi, weka, whio (blue duck) all used to live in the area, and it would be great to be able to restore their habitats and bring them back. “A two to three hundred year plan”, Clive Paton, the Trust’s chairman, says with a smile. A worthwhile plan nonetheless, and the Trust works together with the Department of Conservation, Wellington Regional Council, Forest & Bird, the local Lions Club and local landowners, fishermen and hunters to, initially, manage the predator control (in its Key Native Ecosystem program).

The Trust and affiliated groups and individuals already manage small restoration projects in the park. One of the first plans is the Coastal Buffer Zone Plan, and in association with it Project Penguin, a plan to help bring back in higher numbers the little blue penguins that used to nest along this coast.

And that’s why I’m there, together with two more members of the team that has been involved with blue penguin research on Matiu/Somes Island in the Wellington Harbour. Since we’ve been doing fieldwork and ongoing monitoring of the blue penguins on Matiu/Somes for years, the Aorangi Trust people and our group have started mutual visits and exchange of experiences and knowledge.

So, bright eyed and bushy tailed, at 7 am we (Ros, Vince and myself) were headed from Wellington to Palliser Bay, via Featherston, to meet up with the people involved with the Trust and to explore the coastline for signs of penguins and put out penguin boxes and predator traps together.

The car was full of the usual gossip and chatter about penguins, predator control, and geology, and I was leafing through a book on the geological features of the Wairarapa coast that Vince had brought along.

Heading to the coastline of the Aorangi Range.
Photo from Reading the Rocks: A Guide to Geological Features of the Wairarapa Coast , by Lloyd Homer and Phil Moore (1989).

We arrived a little early, and decided to have a look around the Putangirua Pinnacles camp site (well, to use the toilet, really). The “badlands erosion” of the Pinnacles has created an amazing landscape, which attracts many visitors to the Wairarapa. The Pinnacles have become even more of a tourist attraction since they were the location for the Dimholt Road, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride along in The Return of the King to meet the Army of the Dead. Definitely worthwhile to come back and explore the walks around the Pinnacles.

The iconic colours of the Department of Conservation (DOC) signs blend into the landscape, which here, as in many places, is characterised by the invasive gorse. Putangirua Pinnacles camp site.

But after that short touristy stint in the cold air, it’s off to do some work:

After a cheerful introduction round, it’s time to read the map. The Aorangi Project Penguin people show the Matiu/Somes penguin people the scope of the plans to restore the Aorangi Forest Park and its coast line.

Every conservation project in New Zealand needs to begin with the control of introduced predators, such as stoats, ferrets, rats, or feral cats. So, first stop is at the trap line, and a Wellington Regional Council representative shows us how to set the traps.

Next stop is the Te Humenga Dunes, protected by a conservation covenant only since 2009. These dunes are among the most important dunes on the North Island for their biological values. The Te Humenga dunes are among the most intact remaining dune ecosystems. We are to put in some penguin nesting boxes and some more predator traps.

Morning tea and our truck load of penguin boxes at Te Humenga.

GPSing the sites. Te Humanga Dunes.

As we are heading towards the fishing village of Ngawi, we pass a memorial to the victims of a shipwreck. Such shipwreck memorials, as this one to the victims of the Zuleika, dot the New Zealand coastline. New Zealand’s long rocky coastline has seen more than 2000 wrecks since the 1790s.

Later we were looking for signs of penguin activity at Cape Palliser and putting in two experimental penguin boxes. And then a very Kiwi thing happened … a surfer came jogging around the corner, out of nowhere, with his surfboard.

Looking back at Whatarangi Bluff in the long shadows of the late afternoon light, just before finishing the day off & haeding to Lake Ferry for a drink at the hotel. There have been many problems with this stretch of road and coastline because of coastal erosion. Apparently several houses in the fishing village of Ngawi have slipped into the sea over the years. As a local described the wild and exposed Palliser coast: “Yep, she’s a moving coastline”.

Heading back home to Wellington & looking back onto an interesting and wonderful day. The long, straight Wairarapa roads. You go straight, until you go left or right.

We had a day rich with new experiences of New Zealand conservation work. About a dozen or so of us spent the day together exchanging stories and much more, while doing hands-on work out in the country. What will stay most with me is the powerful landscape, the infectious enthusiasm and motivation of the people, and the generosity — both in sharing knowledge and food and drink.

What has also impressed me again is just how important, large and lively the role of community-driven conservation projects is in New Zealand. So many people are willing to work on restoration and conservation at their own cost — investing with time and money.

This model of a strong integration of community-run projects might be a good model to think about one of the main problems conservation work and the environmental movement faces in so many parts of the world: the clash between government-enforced environmental laws and the needs of local communities. A strong and wide network of government, non-governmental and local groups as well as individuals in addressing environmental problems might help increase conservation successes and prevent crisis situations such as what is currently happening with India’s tiger reserves.

India’s supreme court has recently issued a ban on tourism in all core tiger habitats, in disregard of the local communities and livelihoods that have been sustained around the tourism within these parks for decades. This case is a good example of just how enmeshed human and natural communities are. The tourist guides not only guided tourists but also have been crucial in volunteer conservation work within the parks. Because of such many complex interaction, the order to keep tourists away from tiger habitats, many conservationists fear, will actually endanger the tigers more.

Disregarding human communities and their needs never has been a way forward in conservation. A model as at work in New Zealand of close cooperation between government and community-run projects can support communities and activate volunteers, rather than destroy communities. Our global environment is so degraded that every single bit of volunteer work, and every single powerful bit of local knowledge, is needed. There is no pure state of nature on this planet. Our ecosystems are complex networks within various habitats of human-animal interactions — each with their own but also deeply connected lifeworlds and both in need of the reverence for life.
With thanks to the Aorangi Restoration Trust
© Angi Buettner 2012

More things:
Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of reverence for life 
Aorangi Restoration driven by community — Department of Conservation media release
Key Native Ecosystem Program
Putangirua Pinnacles — Aorangi Forest Park
Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand — Shipwrecks
The Guardian — Tiger population of India facing ‘total disaster’ due to tourism ban

Friends, not slaves (John Bradshaw)

August 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

“[…] dogs are expected to be much better controlled than they used to be. There has never been a shortage of experts telling owners how to take charge of their dogs. When I took on my second dog, a Labrador/Airedale terrier cross named Ivan, I was determined that he would be better behaved than Alexis. I decided I ought to find out something about training but was then shocked to discover the approach adopted by the trainers of the day, such as Barbara Woodhouse, who seemed to see the dog as something that needed to be dominated at all times. This simply didn’t make sense to me—the whole point of having dogs as pets was for them to become friends, not slaves.”
— From John Bradshaw, 2010,
Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behaviour Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.

John Bradshaw is writing about dog training in the 1980s. But this idea of our pet dogs needing to be dominated at all times, because they are lurking in the corners of our houses waiting for our weak moments just to jump in and dominate us, is still one of the ideas governing a lot of dog training today. Just look at the still popular Cesar Millan. Or take for example Jan Fennell, self-proclaimed dog listener, who insists (and I mean really insists) that we must absolutely be the pack leaders with our dogs. Otherwise they’ll take over. All her protocols are geared towards so-called pack leadership. Her technique is based on ‘communicating’ with our dogs according to wolf pack principles. No mentioning that dogs are not wolves, nor have been domesticated from wolves by humans. Also no mentioning that we humans are usually not all that good at communicating within an extremely complex communication system of another species. ‘Dog language’ consists of visual, vocal, olfactory and probably many other signals. Most of us are not skilled ethologists, and we struggle understanding our dog’s body language most of the time, let alone ‘speaking’ it ourselves.

Whether Jan Fennell promotes a scientifically outdated model of dog behaviour matters, because the old “dominance” model of dog behaviour more often than not goes together with using (physical) punishment methods in training. Fennell does not promote physical punishment at all, but her work still supports a misunderstood idea of dominance. That kind of thinking will have consequences in how we behave towards our pet dogs. If nothing else, it makes us misunderstand so much of what our dogs are actually signalling — to their owners, to other humans, and to other dogs — and what they are trying to tell us. After reading her books I felt brainwashed. You must do this. You absolutely must not do that. Never. Trying to be with, let alone train, my puppy became a constant test of my “dog leadership” skills. But I’m not a dog. This approach of basing dog training on dominance is a shame. In Fennell’s case it’s a shame because the starting point of her method—how to train dogs and communicate with them in such a way so that they want to be with us and work with us—is so important.

Oh, and by the way, Alexis, Bradshaw’s dog mentioned in the quote above, was a Labrador/Jack Russell cross, and, in the author’s own words, a roamer, interested in the opposite sex. Bradshaw dedicated his book to Alexis, a “Real Dog”. One that had more freedoms than most dogs have today in our often overly controlled world, increasingly fearful of all animals and characterised by a stronger and stronger urge to control all things “nature”.

Writing about this quote from John Bradshaw’s book Dog Sense reminded me of a dog I saw on North Stradbroke Island many years back. It was a little black Staffie x, mangy and with a jandal threaded through his collar. He looked so sad and you could feel it so strongly, the image still sticks with me today. Back then I made a memory sketch of him.

Weekly photo challenge: growth

August 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Baby green tree frog. This little fella surprised me when I was about to cycle off. He’s got a fair bit of growing to do to reach his adult 4 inches. And hopefully he’ll make it close to the 16 years that Australian Green Tree Frogs can live.
Pomona, Qld, Australia.

This week’s photo challenge of The Daily Post at WordPress.com is growth.

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