Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two unusual birds in the southwestern United States

Montezuma quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae)

This male bird was photographed in Chiricahua National Monument in southern Arizona.  We were excited to see a family of quail on the side of Lookout Mountain.  Montezuma quail has a very limited range in the USA: in parts of southern Arizona, southern New Mexico and western Texas.  This secretive quail is declining in numbers, possibly because it is very sensitive to overgrazing.  It feeds on bulbs and tubers growing underground, in dense grassland and scrub country at higher elevations.  Because the bulbs provide a source of moisture, even in dry conditions, this quail is not dependent on free water so occupies arid habitats.  However, it appears to need summer rains as a cue for breeding.

Elegant trogon (Trogon elegans)

The elegant trogon occurs in very limited areas of southern Arizona, in canyons of oak and sycamore.  This female bird was photographed in Cave Creek, in southern Arizona.  I was very pleased to see it early one morning, as it flew towards us.  Females are less easy to spot than the male birds, which have a characteristic call.  The male bird is colourful, with a bright orange-red breast and metallic dark green head.  Elegant trogons that breed in Arizona migrate to Mexico for the winter.  Although the elegant trogon has a very limited distribution in the USA, it is relatively common in Mexico and as far south as Costa Rica.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Photographing the Commonplace

Female House Sparrow

I remember a photograph that I saw in an exhibition some years ago that made a great impression on me.  It was a close-up image of a male blackbird.  Blackbirds are so commonplace that usually no one will take the trouble to point a camera in their direction.  The photographer had chosen an angle that shed new light on a familiar subject and produced a memorable image.

Male House Sparrow

I cannot pretend that I have the imagination and creativity to emulate the photographer whose image I recall, but I was moved to grab a few images of the familiar house sparrow last week on a visit to Orana Park, our local wildlife park.  While we ate our lunch, watching the giraffes in the background, these little sparrows hovered expectantly awaiting the inevitable dropped crumbs.  We are careful eaters, so they soon moved off to another table occupied by several young children, but not before I had their likeness in my camera.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


I love photographing squirrels, and intend to write more about them later.  For the moment, I am posting images of three very different squirrels: a tree squirrel, a ground squirrel, and a chipmunk.  Marmots and prairie dogs are also ‘squirrels’, and more closely related to ground squirrels than are tree squirrels.

This tree squirrel is a Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), which has been feeding on pinecones in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. 

The ground squirrel pictured here is a thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), which inhabits the prairie country of the central United States.  It hides the entrance to its burrow by taking the excavated soil away, and tamping down the disturbed area around the entrance.

This little Uinta chipmunk (Tamias umbrinus) was photographed in the pine forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Uinta chipmunks are unusual in that they often nest in trees, rather than on the ground like other chipmunks.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clay Cliffs

Just pictures this week.  I have been away on a photography field trip, and then to a convention, so there was not a lot of time to add material here.  The field trip was to Otematata, in the Mackenzie Country, one of my favourite areas of New Zealand.  One fine sunny morning we visited the Clay Cliffs, near Omarama, and here are some of the pictures from that morning.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Northland Kauri Forest

Forest Canopy
Kauri trees (Agathis australis) are conifers in the family Araucariaceae, which grow very large.  They can be more than 50 m tall, develop a girth up to 16 m, and live for more than 2000 years.  The genus Agathis includes other kauri trees from Australia, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Kauri tree

Kauri, Agathis australis

New Zealand kauris were heavily exploited for their timber and their gum in the past so they are far less common now.  Fortunately, there are many small areas of forest habitat in the north of New Zealand where kauri is regenerating well, across much of its original range.  These regenerating groves of trees are commonly found on steep ridges and hillsides.

Kauri bark and gum

Kauri trees have distinctive greyish-coloured bark, with a ‘hammer’ mark texture caused by  flaking pieces of bark.  There are both male and female trees, which produce cones of different kinds.  Male cones fall to the ground once they have released their pollen, while female cones take 3 years to mature, turning from bright green to reddish brown.  Once mature, they release their seeds.

Green kauri cone

Kauri trees produce a sticky gum, or resin that oozes from their bark, leaves and cones, fills in holes or damaged areas, and then hardens.  This protects the trees from disease, and allows them to grow to a very old age.  Kauri gum used to have high commercial value, mainly for use as a varnish.  Gum diggers extracted the gum from swamps and soils where kauri trees had grown in earlier times; dropping branches, and eventually falling to the ground and becoming covered by debris.

Forest remnant in Whangarei

 Many other trees grow in kauri forest.  Some are large, some small, and many of them are restricted to northern parts of the country, including tanekaka, or celery pine (Phyllocladus trichomanoides) pictured here.  The tree fern is another common feature of these forest areas.

Tanekaka, celery pine

Tanekaka, celery pine

Tree fern

Monday, April 7, 2014

Waipu Cove in Northland

Waipu Cove

After our long hike, we caught the bus back to Auckland and hired a car for a few days to explore some of the parts of Northland we had previously walked through.  One of our favourite spots had been Waipu Cove, where in November, fairy terns had been on their nests.  Although they had finished breeding by late March, we saw a few on the beach, with other terns, godwits and oystercatchers.  I shall return another time with my telephoto lens for some photographs of the birds.

Debris from cyclone


Kelp attached to rock

However, the beach was littered with debris from the recent cyclone.  We picked through a large array of shellfish, crabs and other sea creatures, some that we had never seen before.  There were many different seaweeds including kelp with large pieces of rock attached, evidence of the violence of the storm.

Dunes at Waipu Cove

We stayed at Waipu Cottages and Camping, which borders a nature reserve protecting a stretch of beach along with the lagoon of the Waipu River behind.  From our tent, it was a short walk across dunes to the beach.  Shags nested in the trees bordering the lagoon.

Waipu Cave

We drove inland one day to Waipu Cave, which has attractive formations near the entrance.  There is also a walkway that goes through forest to a viewpoint looking out over the sea.  It is a magnificent coastline.

Sunset from Waipu Cove

Monday, March 31, 2014

Te Araroa Trail (the long path)

The hi-vis vests were useful on the road sections

Auckland Airport to Te Kuiti  

Te Araroa officially opened a couple of years ago.  It is a walking trail of 3000 km from Cape Reinga, at the northern tip of the North Island, to Bluff, in the south of the South Island.  We walked the first 600 km, from Cape Reinga to Auckland, before the official opening, so this time, walking from Auckland to Te Kuiti, we found the route a little better marked, and slightly better known.  We left Auckland on 5 March, and arrived in Te Kuiti on 17 March, having spent a day with friends in Huntly, and a day and a half in Waitomo sitting out the rain associated with a tropical cyclone.

Hinua Falls

Repeater Shelter, Hinua Ranges

Repeater campground toilet dwarfed by kauri tree

Sunset at Repeater camp

The terrain is varied: the route follows walkways, tramping tracks, footpaths, stop banks and road margins.  Consistently it takes in the high points along the way, so a light pack is desirable to make the ups and downs a little easier. For this section through the Waikato we carried 5 days of dried food for when we needed to camp away from facilities.  However, the wilder sections were relatively short, so we spent a number of nights in or near small towns where we could buy real food.

Tree ferns, Hinua Ranges

Misty morning in Hinua Regional Park

Stream in Hinua Regional Park

I was only able to carry my pocket camera, the Olympus XZ1, and without the separate viewfinder that I accidentally left in the USA last year, I found it difficult to frame good images in bright light.  I carried the camera on the belt of my pack, but even so, I found it more of a chore to take photographs on this kind of trip, so I don’t have such a good set of images as I would like.  As usual, my favourites are generally those that I took either at the beginning or the end of the day when the light was best.  It also helped that I had shed my pack by then.  As my blog is about nature photography, I’ve mainly selected photographs of natural subjects.

Waikato River at Rangiriri, where we stayed the night in the pub

Bindweed flower on a damp morning

Sunrise from our camp, below Mt Pirongia

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coal Mining Controversy

Denniston Plateau, West Coast of South Island of New Zealand

Coal has been mined on the Denniston Plateau on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand since the mid 1870s.  Mostly, this was underground mining, so the recent the proposal for a large, open cast mine on part of the plateau has had environmentalists in uproar.  The controversy has sparked great interest in the unusual geology, flora and fauna of this isolated area at 600–700 metres above sea level.  The soils are poor, and the climate relatively harsh.  I visited the area recently with the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand, and was particularly impressed by the colourful rocks.

We saw a number of different birds, including this little fernbird (Megalurus punctatus).  Fernbirds have a distinctive short call, but are often difficult to see as they skulk in the shrubbery.  We were fortunate that a pair of them made brief forays out from the deeper parts of the bushes.

fernbird (Megalurus punctatus)

A popular place for my photography group to go for sunset photographs is Tauranga Bay, just south of Westport where we were staying.  I have to admit that these white fronted terns were disturbed by some of our photographers coming down onto the beach.  At least we didn’t have any dogs with us.  The beach glowed a deep, golden colour as the sun went down.

White fronted terns

Sunset at Tauranga Bay

On our way home, we stopped at the Irimahuwhero Point lookout, which, as usual, afforded spectacular views.  The mist added atmosphere on this occasion.  I spent a while finding a good foreground, as mostly the vegetation was tangled and messy.  This gap gave me what I was looking for.  It is good to have the luxury of time.  The light is often changing so fast that there is little time to fine-tune a composition.

View north from Irimahuwhero Point, Punakaiki