In October Canterbury’s rural firefighters tested their skills and strengths in the Rural Firefighter Challenge, set against the stunning Castle Hill basin.Continue Reading...
By Lizzy Sutcliffe
British conservationist, photographer and presenter (and all-round good-guy), Mark Carwardine, is once again in New Zealand undertaking a whistle-stop tour of some of the best wildlife attractions the country has to offer.
Well-known for inspiring the sexual advances of another conservation hero – Sirocco the Kakapo – Mark is here to put New Zealand on the map as a wildlife destination for tourists coming from the UK.
I caught up with him this week when he was in Akaroa to meet and photograph our very own Hector’s dolphins.
Meeting at DOC’s Akaroa Field Base in miserable southerly weather, the day did not appear to brim with photography opportunities. Mark, Area Manager Bryan Jensen, Ranger (and boat captain) Derek Cox and myself all set out through the clouds and surf to the head of Akaroa Harbour to see if we could find the, often elusive, dolphins – and we were not disappointed.
As the sea became rougher, the dolphins flocked to visit the only boat game enough to be out in the conditions. Groups of between two and six Hector’s would surf the waves as they rolled towards us, ducking under the boat at the last minute and then turn around to repeat their fun.
Frustratingly, despite this brilliant display, it appeared the weather was not going to be so cooperative and driving rain soon set in making photography near-impossible.
Thrilled by the antics of these rare dolphins but thwarted by the southerly, we were forced to head back to shore where we said goodbye to Mark who’s next stop was Wilderness Lodge in Arthur’s Pass to meet more friendly New Zealand locals – kea.
It was a pleasure to help Mark with his project and hear his conservation stories. For those of you not already doing so, I would recommend you catch up with the latest news from his travels by following him on Twitter.
*Mark took this photo of Hector’s dolphins in better weather on Sunday when he went out with Black Cat Cruises. We were sad to hear from him that there were several jet skis getting far too close to the dolphins and not complying with the guideline for sharing our coasts with marine mammals. Please make sure you don’t take advantage of our friendly marine mammals and let them come to you.
Warren Chinn, our invertebrate ecologist in Canterbury Conservancy, was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to the Kermadec Islands last month. The 20-day expedition, led by Dr Tom Trnski, marine curator at Auckland Museum, aimed to explore the remote islands for new species. Warren filed this report on his return…
…We tend to form mental pictures of new places based on prior knowledge, other people’s comments, pictures, maps and to a large extent, imagination of ‘how it should be’.
My mental image of the Kermadecs was a scene of romantically isolated semi-tropical lost worlds, the stuff of Joseph Banks and La Peruse. Sea sickness immediately erased such nonsense within hours of leaving Tauranga.
Our first sighting of the Kermadec group was L’Esperance Rock, a mutilated knuckle of basalt erupting from the heaving ocean. It was better than my imagination – a good start.
We steamed past as it was too rough to land and over the following days three more islands in the chain slowly came into view, these were; Cheeseman, Curtis and Macauley.
Each island seemed to me like a massive billboard in the ocean, with an explicit natural history message: “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?” Followed by two smaller messages: “when did this happen?”, and “what lives here and from where?”
We anchored near Raoul Island, where I landed on the Meyer Island group with (the very erstwhile) Peter de Lange.
The Meyer islands are steep-sided, clad in a dry, friable soil that is shot through with Petrel burrows. An equal number of birds fill the sky, forming a constant blizzard of flapping and diving.
Here was another ecological message: This is what mainland coastal New Zealand would have been like prior to our arrival and the introduction of mammalian predators. These Islands are a nature reserve of the highest value and this is clearly why – they are well-insulated.
The insect fauna on the small islands comprised big headed ants, flies, crickets, leaf hoppers and small moths. Spiders were common and small in size, which probably reflects their arrival on the islands by ballooning, that is, travelling through the air on filaments of silk. Centipedes and millipedes were also present, along with mites and silverfish.
The next week I spent four days on Raoul Island, a proper volcano with a crater lake. After a lovely evening with the DOC staff and volunteers, I tramped over to Denham Bay to collect invertebrates there. Here I set up a malaise trap and collected numerous moths, flies and even spiders.
The most interesting find was a large wolf spider, Geolycosa tongatabuensis, a species that occurs from Tonga to Northland. These spiders represent the invertebrate situation on the Kermadecs, the fauna is composed of a mixture of pacific island and northern New Zealand elements, which makes sense biogeographically.
It is clear that cyclones, drift wood, ocean currents and air systems all carry invertebrates within and between land masses in this part of the globe.
We left Raoul Island and anchored at Macauley Island. Here Peter and I spent two nights. The foot travel was difficult as moving through the chest-high Kermadec fern and Cyperus grass was like step-plugging in deep snow.
However, I collected more crickets, moths, beetles and spiders. I even saw a yellow admiral butterfly but was unable to catch it. Butterflies no doubt get blown to these islands frequently so there will always be some present.
We then steamed to Cheeseman and Curtis Islands. These two are active hotspots on the earth’s surface and this was obvious by the smoke coming from Curtis Island.
We landed on Cheeseman; a strange, almost lunar landscape. The most exciting find was Senecio kermadecensis – a plant endemic to the island – which had Peter very excited. I collected spiders, flies, beetles and crickets.
Our last landing was L’Esperance Rock which was a little hair-raising. A steep pile of volcanic rubble best describes this Island.
However I found two species of pseudoscorpion, numerous crickets and another wolf spider species on the rock. The pseudoscorpions probably got onto the rock via birds, as they are flightless and wouldn’t survive on flotsam. L’Esperance Rock was the very last place I expected to find pseudoscorpions, so there it is; reality was more creative than my imagination.
You can find out more by visiting the expedition pages on the Auckland Museum website.