Sunday, September 14, 2014

Week Ending 14 September 2014

This week has been so busy my head is spinning (and I'm really sick of driving) - but it has been full of such good stuff that a spinning head is a small price to pay!

Miss 13 and I took a road trip early in the week. Our goal was to spot a hoary-headed grebe. Miss 19 laughs at the name and think it sounds like something from Harry Potter - the sort of creature Hagrid would raise! In actual fact it is a an Australian bird - a rare vagrant to New Zealand, with no sightings reported this century. So when reliable reports came in last month of three hoary-headed grebes at a lake several hours north of here we were tempted. It took a while to sort our car issues and settle on a suitable date but we finally made it this week. After a four hour drive we arrived at the lake - and waited and scanned and waited and searched and waited and looked - and had no success.


We spent hours standing on this viewing platform, scanning across the water and among the willows.

After three hours we gave up and drove for another hour in search of a black kite - a bird of prey. It's also a rare vagrant but there has been one living in the area for several years. However, partly hampered by a poor map and missing road signs, we had no luck finding the area. We drove back to the lake and spent another hour looking but still no luck. Feeling rather dejected we opted to spend the night nearby. Bright and early the following morning (and armed with better maps and directions) we headed back to look for the black kite. And within 30 minutes we were rewarded with a great view as it flew up the valley and passed right in front of us. Forty five minutes later and we were back at the lake - searching from one vantage point, then moving and looking from another. After an hour we were finally rewarded when one of the grebes appeared from among the willows and swam right in front of the viewing platform before disappearing into the willows on the other side of the viewing platform. Magical - and such a relief!


Apart from the birding there was the incidental learning - wind turbines (which we knew a little about but hadn't actually seen before), wind machines on vineyards (we saw them and wondered what they were for - did some research when we got home and discovered they prevent frost damaging the grapes) and sharing some family stories are a few of the discussions I remember.

I remember travelling up this way as a child and this bridge was a highlight. Trains went over the top row and cars used to travel on the bottom row. I have fond memories of my Dad parked on the side of the road waiting for a train before driving over. The thrill (and the noise) of driving over a bridge with a train right over head!


Mr 16 completed the final classroom module of his Mountain Safety Course and then spent the weekend on a two night tramp. Last time he went tramping in this area was three years ago and he slipped during a river crossing, breaking two bones in one arm. Thankfully this tramp was a lot less eventful.

Miss 13 attended the third module of her Gymsports leadership course. Apparently there has been a major miscommunication. All the participants were supposed to be do over 30 hours of coaching alongside a mentor during the year - except the organiser of the first session forgot to tell them or their clubs! I foresee much busyness in the remainder of the year squeezing in the required number of coaching hours.

The saga of our ongoing earthquake repairs dragged on and took an interesting turn this week. Our repairs were "completed" at the end of 2011 except they were not satisfactory. As part of the process to get the repairs repaired, asbestos testing was carried out. Minor amounts were found but in a solid state which is safe so we were not expecting anything to happen. This week insurance sent contractors again and they now recommend removing and replacing all the wall linings which have asbestos. This will involve us moving out for a week or two while the work is done. Time will tell whether or not the insurance bureaucracy agrees to the contractors' recommendations. It would be good to have the asbestos removed but the hassle of finding and relocating to temporary accommodation would not be enjoyable at all.

Miss 13 and I also attended our regular monthly bird ramble this week. A lovely morning on the estuary and some views of bar-tailed godwits which are starting to return from their summer in the Arctic.

In amongst all this we managed to get through a surprising amount of  bookwork. We finished the Merry Wives of Windsor - and then I ordered Oxford School Shakespeare versions of the rest of the plays we'll be reading! Even though Shakespeare is freely available online, we decided the Oxford series really helps with our comprehension so it was worth paying for. While we are waiting for those to arrive we've started rereading several of the Little House books in preparation for an online course which begins in a little over a week. Our Irish history course was really interesting, this week focusing on what it was like to fight. As a trained historian I really like the way this course encourages students to interact with a wide variety of primary sources. The joys of the Internet mean we can sit at our computer in New Zealand and read words written by men who fought in a conflict across the world nearly one hundred years ago.  Our other online history course  - A Brief History of Humankind - continues to be thought provoking - with this week's lecture looking at why the agricultural revolution could be considered history's biggest fraud. With a national election next weekend Miss 13 and I also spent some time focussing on our political system. This may turn into a whole course on law, economics and politics or it may remain a brief, topical interlude. In science we finished a unit on ecology and started one on classification.



We'll be watering these lettuces with various mixtures of water and vinegar to learn about the impact of acid rain.
A dichotomous key was one of the things we covered in science this week.




Mr 16 worked on an economics essay on the pros and cons of a capital gains tax, finished a unit on optics in physics, and learnt about data creation, description and presentation in statistics. He also started reading To Rule the Waves, a history of the British Navy and how it shaped the modern world.

Over the weekend we watched the first episode in a new tv series by one of our favourite cooks. Looking forward to getting my hands on the book and getting re-inspired in the kitchen as a result.

The sight and scent of the first freesias of the season in my garden were another highlight of my week.


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