Sunday, July 28, 2013

Week Ending 28 July

It doesn't feel like we've done an awful lot this week and I haven't kept any rough notes to jog my memory so be warned. What follows is a random and probably uninteresting list of what I recall from the past week.

* Lots of birding. The first was an ill -founded trip to a lake. Sadly the land around it was incredibly boggy and even in boots we couldn't make it to the shore. We did see lots of dotterels as we attempted to get closer to the shore but we couldn't really stand still to observe them since we were in danger of sinking! We'll return in spring when the number and variety of birds should be higher anyway and it will hopefully be drier! Second was a much more successful trip to a wetland. We just took a very relaxed stroll and spend a lot of time closely observing the cormorants and herons fishing and hunting. We also saw plenty of kingfishers - first time we've seen more than one at a time! Today we we visited an estuary north of town. Just a relaxed gentle walk and we were treated to a spectacular flying and fishing display by some terns - including one species I had never seen before (but Miss 12 had). We also fitted in a trip to the cygnets. They are moulting their down feathers at the moment and looking a little scruffy as a result. Their beaks are showing tinges of pink that will eventually darken to red and you can see patches of black on their bodies.

* Miss 12 made a post to the class blog for her on line bird class. She received some positive feedback from the teacher and some of the other students which was good. Hopefully - despite the technical issues that still plague us - this class will provide some bird-related interaction with kids her age. The local junior naturalists club is too young for her, while the average age of the ornithologists club (based on the one trip we've done with them so far) is considerably older!

* Mr 15 spend three afternoons volunteering at the museum helping with their school holiday programme.  He was working with the 4-7 year olds, and seemed to really enjoy the experience.

*There's been a lot of reading, cooking and game playing plus outdoor work ( moving and stacking firewood).

*The online homeschool planning course that I'm doing has been a little more useful to me this week and I'm starting to get re-enthused with new ideas, which is definitely a  good thing.

* Miss 12 had her first serious trampoline competition of the year. It was her first time competing in the 13-14 age group and her one and only chance to qualify for the National Championships later this year since she was still out injured for the previous qualifying events. While she wasn't pleased with her performance (she is very hard on herself) she came a very respectable 4th and easily exceeded the minimum qualifying score. So a good end to the week.

* Probably the best news was that dh's appeal against the decision to not fund surgery for his knee has been successful and the surgeon had a cancellation so he'll get the operation in a couple of weeks time. He's really looking forward to being able to walk pain-free again.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Week ending 21 July

This was one of those weeks where, without any real effort or intent on my part, we had a fun, focused week of learning - all around the theme of  (no surprises here) - birds!

The first event was supposed to be a walk with members of the local ornithological society - we've just joined after discovering they are a lot more child friendly than I'd been led to believe following a previous enquiry. Sadly that was cancelled. Not sure why but there was possibly flooding on the track we'd  have walked. Miss 12 had requested a trip to the local wildlife park so we spent the day there instead. Despite being a little chilly we had a great day - saw lots of animals and learnt a lot about how how everyday actions can help or hinder conservation efforts.

Hand feeding the giraffes was a definite highlight.

The zebra was another favourite. She came up really close to us, even pressing her snout through the wires, while ignoring or retreating from other visitors. Miss 12 was entranced. The otters seemed entranced to see us - until they realised we weren't their keeper bringing food. The black and white lemurs weren't camera friendly and sat with their backs to us most of the time. No such problems with the ostrich or the meerkats though!

Tigers, cheetahs, spider monkeys (huddled together against the cold) and gibbons (we wouldn't want them as neighbours - their booming is incredibly loud!) were other highlights.

But, being us, we spent lots and lots of time in the walk-through aviaries. Even though we've seen many (but not all) of the species in the wild, the more confined space of the aviary, plus the fact that the birds are more accustomed to humans, meant observation and photography was a lot easier.

The bellbird (on the left) was incredibly friendly. We've seen plenty in the wild but they've never come so close. The blue duck is one of our many endangered species but can be found in high country rivers. We plan to go looking over the summer. We laughed at the spiky hairstyle of this kereru. Tui (far right) are master mimics and vocalists - no doubt helped by the fact that they have two voice boxes.

 Kea are mischievous mountain parrots. I love their plumage. Normally you can walk through their aviary at any time but right now the youngest bird (he has the yellow features on his face) is going through a troubled teen stage. He apparently likes to land on people's heads, grab and rip their bags etc so public access to the aviary is restricted to a couple of times per day when the keepers are present. Miss 12 was a little disappointed that he was relatively well behaved when we were there - although he did seem fascinated by my red bag.

These red crowned and yellow crowned parakeets were easy to track through the aviary. If the flashes of red and yellow didn't give them away their calls did.

As well as viewing the animals we took the opportunity  to talk to the keepers about qualifications and experience needed to get a job there. Miss 12 was pleased to learn that she could volunteer - but disappointed that she'd have to wait until she was 15.

The second bird related event was Miss 12's first online class.  She's taking this summer bird class via Currclick. We didn't attend live since it starts at 3am our time and the small benefits of attending live versus watching the recording don't make getting up in the middle of the night worthwhile. I'm not sure how I feel about the class yet. Basically it is a PowerPoint presentation then a series of videos. I felt the PowerPoint was too fact dense in places- almost jargonish -  without a lot of extra explanation which I think could have aided understanding. We could have found the videos ourselves online - but then again we probably wouldn't have. We had a few technical difficulties as well, mainly with things lagging.  That said the class did inspire interest in the topic - birds-of-paradise  - and I noticed research and reading inspired by the class so that is definitely a good thing. I'm hoping the opportunity for interaction with classmates and teacher via the class blog will be positive and make up for my reservations. And we are debating getting up at 3am and attending live next week as an experiment to see if it improves the technical side of things.

Our third bird activity was watching the video The Big Year. A friend recommended it to me at the start of the year when he realised Miss 12 was a keen birder but I couldn't find it and then forgot about it. This week I discovered it on the shelf at the video store. Quite a nice little film about some fairly serious birders and a competition to see who can spot the most birds in a calendar year. The plot provided some good opportunities to talk about values, making good decisions, what's really important in life, ethical behaviour plus the sort of birders we want to be (those who do it for the enjoyment  rather than as a competitive pursuit). And,  it convinced Miss 12 and me that we are not devoted enough birders to ever attempt helicopter rides to see snowcocks, small plane rides to Attu ... or even trips on rough seas to view seabirds. We are a bit wimpy that way!

Fourth was the opportunity to join local birders conducting an annual wader survey at a nearby lake. Beginners were welcome and paired with more experienced birders. The woman we were paired with certainly knew her stuff, and where to track down certain species of bird on the section of lake and surrounds that we were assigned. Lots of mad careening down very muddy farm tracks (where we feared getting stuck - glad we were in her car and not ours), pulling over and stopping suddenly on the wrong side of the road (we were on back roads with not a lot of traffic) when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She was amazing at identifying birds in the air - something Miss 12 and I are still working on. So we picked up lots of tips, got introduced to some good birding locations and saw over 30 species including four that were new to us. I'm pretty sure we'll be doing more activities with this group in the future.

Miss 12 also worked on the bird bath that has been an ongoing project for weeks and weeks now.  More waiting than work though. Dh was keen to help her with the construction - the glue involved was definitely an adult job! Sadly he has been really busy and hasn't had the time for anything other than work so construction time has been limited. But finally it was all assembled and ready for painting. Nothing fancy - just utilising old house paint that was lying around. We also constructed another couple of feeders to hang up around our yard. It is always interesting to observe which species prefer which type of food and from which feeder. The postcard exchange was also ongoing with four or five cards going each way. The favourite card received was  an Indigo Flycatcher from Malaysia.

In non-bird related activities we celebrated a major birthday. My oldest is now 21! Not entirely sure where the years have gone. Looking back at his baby photos I still can't believe the hospital let us take him home - we look so young and inexperienced in the photos! Having him turn 21 gives me an opportunity to look back fondly on my 21st. I was just a few months into my first "real" job, living in a new city. A guy I'd been friends with for a few months flew into town and took me out to to dinner at one of the swankiest restaurants in town. Pretty impressive for a first date - especially considering he was still a student on a limited budget at the time. Maybe not so surprising that we were engaged within the year and will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 18 months.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week ending 14 July

The week got off to a fun start. Miss 12 wanted to go and play a full round of Gap Golf - a series of mini golf courses dotted around the city on various empty lots that are still awaiting redevelopment. Mr 15 planned to join us but sadly the clubs they had were not suitable for left-handers so he decided to take photos while Miss 12 and I played. While we're not the world's best mini golfers we had a fabulous morning.

To get the ball in the hole at the top it was meant to go through the road cone. Ours kept ricocheting off the board and into the lot next door where there was a  coffee cart with outdoor tables. We felt the construction workers on break would have been safer if they'd kept their hard hats on!

This hole was meant to be par 6. We're not confessing  how many shots we took!

Early in the week she was busy revising and editing her photo-essay on the central city.  Later in the week she spent a bit of time writing and sending out postcards. Hopefully our mailbox will be full of bird cards in the next week or two. She has also spent a lot of time watching bird videos via YouTube and checking out some live cams - especially the puffin burrow now the chick has hatched.

I've started doing an online course designed to help plan an amazing homeschool semester. I had high hopes it would help me get out of my funk of a couple of weeks ago since  I've previously read, and got a lot out of, a book written by the course facilitator. Sadly, I'm pretty disappointed so far. It looks like large chunks of the course won't be relevant to me. But I'll hang in and hope that I can make the latter sections work for me.

In the meantime I'm looking forward to next week. Miss 12 and I have got a couple of exciting things planned (hope the weather cooperates) and someone in the family has a significant birthday to celebrate.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Christchurch City: Two Years On

Miss 12 has been working on this photo essay for a couple of weeks now. It evolved out of a simple idea - to mark Camera Day  (29 June) by taking a walk through our city centre, taking photos as we went. I thought it deserved a slightly wider audience than immediate family so here it is.


On February 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 earthquake. One hundred and eighty five people died, mainly in the collapse of two buildings; the Canterbury Television  (CTV) building , where 115 people died,  and the Pyne Gould Corporation building, where 18 people lost their lives. Significant damage had already been caused in an earlier 7.1 magnitude quake, which occurred on September 4, 2010, at 4:35 am. Two further earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.0 struck in 2011 - one in June and the other in December.  There have been thousands of other quakes as well - more than four thousand quakes greater than magnitude 3 since September 2010. That's a lot of shaking and it has all caused devastating damage, especially in the city centre and some of the eastern suburbs. Out of respect for the residents still living in  challenging conditions, we decided not to take photos in the suburbs.

More than two years on, and signs of the earthquake damage and deconstruction are everywhere. One example is this plinth on which a statue of  Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott used to rest. Scott had used Christchurch and the surrounding area as his training base. His statue was thrown off the plinth in the February earthquake and was saved from destruction only by the grass surrounding it. The statue is awaiting repair.

Prior to the earthquakes, if you had walked around the central city you would have seen men in suits, tall office blocks, plenty of cars on the roads and other normal sights. Now, if you take the time to walk around, you are likely to see construction workers in hi-viz vests and hard hats, cranes demolishing buildings, construction signs and containers propping up compromised walls. And road works - they're everywhere!

Many buildings  suffered structural damage and have since been demolished, leaving piles of rubble, mounds of tangled metal and numerous empty lots.

But there are also many signs that Christchurch is progressing forwards. In some of the empty lots, an organization called Gap Filler has been doing just that – filling the gaps in with creative projects.
One is Gap Golf, a series of mini golf courses spread around the city in empty lots. Some of the holes are really hard but it's a lot of fun.

Another is Community Chess, an outdoor chess board where you can come along and play. 

Yet a third is the book exchange, an old  fridge filled with books. You can put a book in for someone else to select, and choose one yourself to take home.  

Gap Filler has also given newly-exposed blank walls a makeover.

The Christchurch City Council has also been making an effort to bring people back into the central city. One of their transitional projects is the outdoor reading room, just across the road from the site of the proposed new central library. It is composed of some giant furniture covered with fake grass - two chairs, a sofa and a coffee table.

All the grey lots and piles of rubble make the central city empty and dull. This doesn't really fit in with. Christchurch's nickname - the Garden City. Thankfully organisations like Greening the Rubble have given some of the sites a makeover, planting many small gardens.



As a result of all the demolished buildings there aren't many buildings left in the city centre for business to operate out of and it could be years before they are permanently replaced. In the meantime creative temporary solutions have sprung up around the city. The Re:Start Container Mall is a mall made out of shipping containers. While more permanent buildings are being built this may take some time, so companies can relocate their business in the mall in the meanwhile. 

Another great project is the Pallet Pavilion, a temporary events venue made out of pallets. To cover the costs of keeping it running, some people have “brought” a pallet. The money goes into the pavilion’s upkeep, and the person gets to have their name painted on one of the pallets. 

One wall of the Pallet Pavilion with the stage in front.

While these new, temporary initiatives are great, it's also nice to have some existing buildings fully restored and re-opened. Last month the mall on New Regent Street  - built in the 1930s in the Spanish Mission style - was opened to the public for the first time since the quakes. Just last week, the Registry building was the first in the Arts Centre to be restored. There is still a lot more work to be done before the whole Arts Centre is restored.

The New Regent Street Boutiques

The Registry Building

Restoration in progress on the Arts Centre

The Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral is Christchurch's most iconic building. It was badly hit in the February quake, and there is raging debate over whether it is possible to restore it, or whether to demolish it entirely. In the meantime, Christchurch's Transitional "Cardboard" Cathedral is being constructed. Its completion is an exciting prospect for the people of Christchurch.

The front of ChristChurch Cathedral. The steeple toppled over in the February quake.

The Cardboard Cathedral's front.

A close-up of the long cardboard rolls used in the Cathedral

While Christchurch is moving forwards, we will never forget the people who died. A sobering sight is the 185 Chairs memorial. On 185 square meters of lawn there are 185 different chairs, symbolizing the people who died. Fresh flowers are still always arranged on the fence surrounding the CTV site, where the most people lost their lives. A more permanent memorial is being planned.

The city centre is very different from what it was before the earthquakes. While it will never be the same again there are many exciting new features with plenty more to come.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Week ending 7 July

It’s been a good week this week – apart from Blogger somehow deleting last week’s post that is. All that remains is an earlier draft and the comments I received on it. If it wasn’t for the comments I would think I hadn’t published it at all. I’ll have to see if my technical support aka Mr 15 can resurrect it. If not I'll have to try and remember what we did.  I hope it isn't my turn for the problems Theresa had but I fear it might be. This is my second take at drafting this - the first version totally vanished.

Earlier in the week Miss 12 read in the newspaper that a rare bird had been seen at a lake not too far from town. Apparently there are only a couple of  sightings  reported nationally each year. So, we set out a couple of days later – hoping that the mechanic had successfully fixed the problems the car had earlier in the week since I didn't fancy being stranded. We drove to the far end of the lake and slowly made our way back, pulling over to stop at every vantage point we could find. Finally, we saw a group of white birds and thought we spotted “our” bird among them – but they were too far from shore to make a positive identification, even with binoculars. Our frustration was eased when the group flew closer to shore and we were confident we’d found our quarry – until the bird got closer and turned side on. Turned out it was a Royal Spoonbill – a beautiful bird but not the one we’d come to see. So back into the car , more driving and stopping. Finally we were able to make an accurate identification,  but the bird was still too far out for photos and for good viewing. Then it flew off so we drove around the lake in pursuit. Several stops and more pursuits later Miss 12 and I pulled into a viewing lay-by which was full of road workers taking a break. Mr 15 was following on foot but we’d had to run back and retrieve the unlocked car from where we’d left  it. The road guys watched with amusement as we leaped out of the car and sprinted stealthily  (we wanted to get there quickly but we didn’t want to scare it off either) to the lake shore, binoculars at the ready. Success! We’d found our bird! Then disaster as the guys, break obviously over, started up their trucks and other machines and headed back to the job, scaring off the bird. Mr 15 and his camera were still coming through the shrubbery and he hadn’t yet got a decent photo. Fortunately the bird circled back and landed very close to where we were so we got some good viewing and a few photos . 

The bird in question. A Little Egret  similar to but slightly smaller than the White Heron we saw in April.

All in all a great day. We identified 29 different species  and found a few areas to explore at a future date.
On the way home we stopped in to check out the cygnets. It was amazing how much they'd grown in nearly two weeks.

Mr 15 spotted this Kereru (Native Wood Pigeon)

The cygnets are now eight weeks old.

Miss 12 received three new bird postcard this week. The card from Belarus showed a hoopoe, which has very cool head feathers. An owl (we think a Eurasian Eagle Owl) came from the Ukraine and a card with a mystery bird from the Czech Republic. Our challenge for the week is to identify the mystery bird! Combining birds and postcards is working well right now.  I  might rejoin a more homeschooled focused postcard exchange group we were active in a few years ago - maybe try and get cards of birds from all 50 states.

The four postcards we've received in the last two weeks.

Continuing with the bird theme, this was the week of the annual Garden Bird Survey. Our hour's viewing yielded seven species. There's not a lot of variety in our backyard but we did see three chaffinches which was a surprise. We can't recall seeing them on our section before.

Miss 12 and I  spent some time learning about Matariki this week. Matariki is a Maori new year celebration, heralded by the first rising of the Pleiades star cluster. We did a lot of reading and even got up before dawn in an attempt to see the stars for ourselves. Sadly, cloud has stopped us so far, but we’ll try again next week

The big achievement of the week was finishing colouring the mural of Munch's The Scream. It has certainly brightened our entrance way!

 The other main thing we've worked on is a photo essay on post-earthquake life. More technical difficulties (All the photos disappeared! -  Mr 15 has rescued some of them and we're hoping he can recover the rest.) have delayed this, but it should be finished tonight or tomorrow (minus some photos if they can't be recovered). There is always a sense of satisfaction in finishing a big project and Miss 12 is looking forward to finally completing this one.