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Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

June 5 is Arbor Day, a world-wide celebration of trees. If you read our About page, you’d know by now that Josie’s favourite outdoor place is “trees”! They are fabulous – I have so many happy memories from my childhood sitting up in the branches reading books (I was tomboy and a bookworm and this was a great way to combine the two!)

Arbor Day coincides quite nicely with the winter planting season in Aotearoa and lots of community groups are busily putting plants in the ground in parks around the city. Stu has been industrious in the wasteland railway reserve out our back fence, replacing the oxalis weed with lovely grasses and flaxes that will hopefully attract lizards.

On Arbor Day itself  I’ll be helping to plant two trees in the grounds of Josie’s preschool; the start of their very own shape forest. It’s never too early to introduce children to the wonder of trees – even an infant can enjoy lying on a rug looking up at the canopy as sun dabbles through the leaves. Perhaps wait til Spring to try that out but in the meantime, creating a shape forest seemed a great preschool concept to try out!

Josie and Rimu tree

Josie and a rimu tree

What grows in a shape forest?

Five-finger / puahou has leaves like my hands

Five-finger

Five finger / puahou has leaves like my ….

hands.

… hands!

Putaputaweta has flowers shaped like stars

Putaputaweta; Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

Putaputaweta
photo courtesy Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com

Broadleaf – kapuka has shiny oval leaves while kowhai has tiny oval leaves

Broadleaf - photo courtesy Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

Broadleaf – kapuka has shiny oval leaves

Lots of trees have oval-shaped fruits – like miro and tawa

Miro also has leaves like a feather

Miro photo courtesy Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

Miro has feather-shaped leaves
Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com

Lancewood’s leaves are like a spiky sword

Fierce lancewood, Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com.

Fierce lancewood, Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com.

Cabbage tree is not shaped like a cabbage!

Nikau trees are like big umbrellas turned inside-out!

Nikau palms.

Nikau palm

Some trees have leaves shaped like hearts…kawakawa-pepper tree and shrubby tororaro

Kawakawa leaf.

Kawakawa has a heart-shaped leaf

Muenlenbeckia astonii.

Shrubby tororaro

We ‘heart’ trees!

Josie hearts trees.

Josie ‘hearts’ trees

Hand tree

Tree art – Josie’s five-finger tree

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Egg-hunts for Easter? That’s so old hat. Instead, Josie (a.k.a Super ladybug) and I have decided to go on a backyard bug-hunt.

Super ladybug.

Super ladybug a.k.a. Josie!

We’ve had some lovely bug close encounters just recently. It’s that wonderful time of year when we are harvesting our autumn crops, cutting back shrubs and trees ready for winter, and as we do so, we are uncovering some cool critters.

Like this amazing praying mantis that we found on the basil! He was pretty feisty, boxing at us with all his might, which just showed off the wonderful blue spots on the insides of his legs that identified him as New Zealand’s native mantis.

NZ praying mantis.

Josie meets a praying mantis

And our swan plants that we planted this summer are still producing crops of Monarch – this one landed on Josie’s knee to dry its wings! I haven’t quite convinced myself to plant onga onga nettle though – I know it’s a favourite of red admirals but it seems slightly bizarre to plant tree nettle in a home garden!

Josie and Monarch.

Josie and Monarch.

That is of course the best way to welcome insects – plant up your garden with plants that insects like.  Butterflies are attracted by lots of nectar and so like plants with flowers to rest and land on. The NZbutterfly website has some detailed fact sheets about each species of butterfly and what plants they like. Bees also like lots of nectar and they are pretty handy for pollinating flowers.  Native shrubs like Olearia, hebes, shrubby tororaro, and pittosporums like kōhūhu and tarata / lemonwood are all favourites of insects.

red admiral.

Red admiral

Of course anyone with a compost heap and vege garden would welcome worms as they help with important jobs like aerating the soil. Areas of long grass or hedges become refuges for insects to over-winter in and a good layer of mulch or leaf litter on the garden will also encourage insects.

So, to find out how insect-friendly our garden really is, we decided to see what else we could find. On the Department of Conservation website we found instructions on how to make two really cool traps to catch insects.

And to keep ourselves busy while waiting for our traps to catch something, we had a go at an inside insect hunt as well.

We made some rainbow rice, thanks to this great recipe from happy hooligans.

Bugs hiding in rainbow rice.

The bugs are hiding in rainbow rice!

I buried the bugs in the rice and then Josie “hunted” them down. Josie was so funny – she carefully uncovered by random scattering of insects, and then carefully placed them in lines – one line per rainbow stripe. Then she covered them back up again! She has a wonderful sense of order.

Happy entomologist.

Josie is a happy entomologist - even if she can't say the word!

I thought William would be too old for this activity but no, he was right into it as well. His approach was to pull all the bugs out, smooth the rice down with the back of a spoon. He then placed the bugs on top of the rice, grouping them by colour – which he then said was camouflage!

William uncovers the bugs.

William on the hunt for bugs

Anyway, we can’t wait ‘til Easter Sunday to check our potato traps – let the bug hunt begin!

Colour-coded camo bugs.

Colour-coded camo bugs as sorted by William.

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When I was fourteen I wanted to be like Don Merton. He’d gone to offshore islands and saved a black robin from the brink of extinction. He was my eco-hero and I wanted to grow up just like him.

Well these days I’m more likely to write about eco-heroes than be one, but I can see the same love of nature growing in my son; (most likely because that’s what he’s been exposed to!)

Darwin aged 7; source www.darwinday.org

Charles Darwin

Today is World Darwin Day – a global celebration of science and reason on the birthday of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin was one of the first eco-heroes. He travelled the world documenting life and coming up with all sorts of wonderful ideas like ‘evolution’ and the ‘origin of the species’. He visited New Zealand in December 1835 – apparently he didn’t think much of it!

Both Don Merton and Charles Darwin did great things. But they were also both kids once. Even famous people wanted to grow up to be someone someday. And if your son or daughter would like to grow up to be a famous naturalist, here are my ten top tips on how to help them get there!

1. Go on an adventure travelling on a Beagle. 

Not the dog! Charles Darwin visited New Zealand in 1835 travelling on a ship called “The Beagle”. Your Beagle could be your child’s bike or scooter, or the family car if you are going on a big adventure with the whole family. The point is – go somewhere and see something new!

2. Observe the natural world around you

Go into the bush or the beach with a camera and notebook and record things you see: animal life, plants, stones and dirt, traces left behind by people. If your child is old enough, let them have the camera to record the things that most interest them.

Robin spotting; photo S Mankelow.

Making friends with a South Island robin

3. Teach them to respect the natural world

Encourage them to stop, sit quietly and let birds come to you. Teach them to recognise the things birds and other animals do if they don’t like how close you are getting. It can be dangerous for both of you so make sure your visit doesn’t cause them distress. A good rule of thumb for marine animals is ten metres.

4. Study living things; noticing the little details.

Does this leaf have a jagged edge or a smooth one? Does that bird have a sharp beak? Encourage your children to draw them and name the parts.

5. Start a nature journal

Put all the photos you’ve taken, their drawings, stories and notes all in one book. It becomes a great record of your experiences together and something to refer to later.

William writing in his journal; photo S Mankelow.

William records his experience with the robin in his journal

6. Encourage them to ask lots of questions

Why does that tree grow like that? Why is this leaf furry? Why does that bird’s beak bend? Tell them it’s OK to drive their parents and teachers mad with questions! But then, help them find the answers …

7. Read lots of books about nature

Use what you learn when you go outside to understand what’s around you. Take books with you into the wild so you can identify things you see. Andrew Crowe’s life-size guide books are great for this.

8. Get familiar with some new big words and ideas like ‘evolution’, ‘adaption’, ‘habitat’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Find out what they mean and then look around you to find examples in the natural world.

9. Discover or invent something new

Why not draw a magical creature that lives in a special place? Think about its habitat (where it lives) – what would it need to survive?

10. Finally, the best way to become famous as a naturalist is to share your knowledge with others!

If you see rare birds like whio/blue duck encourage your child to write to DOC and explain that it helps their research. Maybe encourage them to start up their own research project at school. Join a club or support a trust like Kea Conservation Trust.

Robin; Photo S Mankelow.

South Island Robin

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We went to Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill) and we found:

1 – A rock bridge, a rock tunnel and a smiley face rock

Kura Tawhiti; photo S Mankelow

A smiley face

2 – A rock that looked like a dog

photo S Mankelow

Jamie spots a rock hound

3 – A rock that looked like a table and a rock that looked like a giant tooth

Kura Tawhiti; photo S Mankelow.

A giant's tooth

4 – A dinosaur’s footprint and a fern pattern

photo S Mankelow.

Fern patterns in stone

5 – Grasshoppers, spiders and rabbits; plants growing in stones, on stones and under stones and plants with fluffy seeds

photo S Mankelow.

Fluffy seeds

6 – Caves where people used to camp

photo Stuart Webb.

Cave

7 – Places where grown-ups couldn’t go

photo S Mankelow.

A place only fit for five-year-olds

8 – A giant’s bathtub and a giant’s armchair!

photo S Mankelow.

Three little people in a giant's armchair

9 – Lichen like splodges of white paint on the speckled rock

photo Stu Webb.

Lichen like paint splodges

10 – And … lots of fun places to climb, run and explore!

photo S Mankelow.

Running through the rocks at Kura Tawhiti

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Anyone who has driven between Christchurch and the West Coast has driven past the spectacular limestone battlements of Castle Hill – Kura Tāwhiti. For those of you who have never stopped – you should.

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

Sculptures of stone bridges and overhangs

Tomorrow, Waitangi Day, we are taking some friends to visit Kura Tawhiti for their first time.  To them, Waitangi Day is just another public holiday, a chance to get out of town. I’m hoping that a day at Kura Tāwhiti will change that for them.

Anyone who has visited Kura Tāwhiti will get a sense that this is a special place. It has drawn people in since people first walked these lands.  Early Māori left their stories here, marked on the stone and in the memories of their descendants.  Māori believe that all things have their own life force (mauri). Wandering through Kura Tāwhiti I can believe that too.

Kura Tāwhiti literally means “the treasure from a distant land”, referring to the kumara that was once cultivated in this region. Kura Tāwhiti was claimed by the Ngāi Tahu ancestor Tane Tiki, son of celebrated chief Tūāhuriri. The nearby mountains were famed for kakapo, and Tane Tiki wanted their soft skins and glowing green feathers for clothing to be worn by his daughter Hine Mihi. Stories like these link the landscape to the people – tangata whenua (people of the land).” (From DOC website)

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

The centre of Kura Tawhiti is like nature's ampitheatre

Under the Ngāi Tahu Treaty Settlement Act, Kura Tawhiti was given Tōpuni status, which is a legal recognition of the site’s importance to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. Tōpuni comes from the traditional custom of chiefs extending power and authority over areas or people by placing a cloak over them.

For some, Waitangi Day – the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 – is a day of protest and debate about its place and meaning in Aotearoa today. I prefer to celebrate it by sharing our beautiful country and all its many intricate layers of culture and meaning with friends.  To share in a sense of pride and belonging. Like the limestone rock that makes up the battlements of Kura Tawhiti, Aotearoa has a rich and varied history, pressed together by time to create something magical.

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

From Christchurch take highway 73 towards the West Coast. Kura Tawhiti is beside the highway in the Waimakariri Basin, about 80 minutes from Christchurch.

Kids in a hole; photo: Sarah Mankelow.

Adventure is crawling through a hole!

Coming up…

12 February – Darwin Day
http://darwinday.org/

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