Down South

6:30 am on Monday the 17th of November. Its pouring rain out (after a beautiful warm Wellington weekend) and I am up sipping coffee preparing for my departure. In two days I will be headed south to the Auckland Islands in the sub-Antarctic region of New Zealand. This will be my first stint of field work since arriving here and I am very excited, not just to get away from my computer and into the wilds of NZ, but also to get my hands on some live albatrosses. All I have dealt with lately are dead seabirds killed in fishing operations. This should be more uplifting.


The Auckland Islands are at about 51 degrees south. We will have a 2 day sail down to the islands from Bluff, the coastal town at the southern tip of mainland NZ. auckland-islands-overview


We will be on the sailing vessel Tiama, a 50-foot steel ketch, purpose built for research in the sub-Antarctic region. Looks like a pretty sweet boat. You can check it out here:


We will also live on this boat for a month while we stay at the Auckland Islands. We will anchor up in a protected harbor and take the dingy to shore each morning and hike up the mountain to the albatross colony. auckland-islands-close-up I am looking forward to this since I have not been on a sailboat since leaving our beautiful Russamee behind. Plus, this means warm showers and a warm, dry bunk after long days outside in the elements.


We will mainly be working with white-capped albatrosses at a colony on the SW cape of the main Auckland Island. wca-adults-and-chick We will be putting GPS and satellite tracking tags on these birds for them to fly around with during their foraging trips and track where they go. We will also visit Disappointment Island where only ~10-15 people have ever been – mostly shipwrecked. This is a highly protected island by the Department of Conservation, full of endemic flora and fauna. Here we will also be working with white-capped albatrosses and a couple other rare seabirds. We will also get to hike up to the top of Adams Islands (very steep long climb, I hear) for a day of banding wandering albatross chicks (the largest of all seabirds) img_0269. Here we will put metal numbered bands on the legs of chicks that will stay with them for life so we can track who they are, where the came from, and when they come and go.


All of this will be new field experiences for me and I am very excited. I am of course taking my camera and a new video camera so you can expect lots of visual images of the trip when I get back. I only wish I could bring my Todd and Mango along but they will be having their own adventures. Todd has multiple trips planned for work (including out to the Chatham Islands) and Mango has a few different home stays ahead of her.


I am currently reading a book about a shipwreck at the Auckland Islands – a famous story about the Grafton and her stranded crew. While this may seem a bit ominous, it has given me a good sense of the islands and terrain. Plus, if we do get shipwrecked, I’ll know how to survive. Hoping that this does not happen, I’ll be in touch in late December!


Oh, just posted on the Radio New Zealand website: an interview with me and David Thompson, my supervisor, about the work we have been doing on white-capped albatrosses and fisheries. Listen here (about 15 minutes long): aft-20081117-1547-Environment_Story-048.mp3


My Fellow Americans…

Citizens of my homeland, I being this post discussing politics. I know you all are insanely immersed in political B.S., satire, nightmares and confusion. So, I want to brighten your day by informing you that the US of A is not the only country drowning in political scandals and election rhetoric. In this country I now reside, New Zealand which I envisioned as a utopia of sorts nine months ago, has both scandal and election in its midst. With the national election on the horizon (in November, coincidentally enough) it seems a fellow named Winston Peters, who has been in parliament here for 20+ years, has supposedly been taking money meant for his party funds and putting it in his own bank account (or something like that). Well, the media is all over it and parliament hearings have been held and revisited, yet he continues to deny the allegations profusely despite the mounting evidence. Still, Peters remains in office. Sound familiar? So, it seems New Zealand has political scandal of its own, and if it were calculated out per capita, New Zealand may even have MORE scandal than the USA! Well, maybe not (I am not about to do that math) but the point is that the USA is not alone, which was somewhat heartening for me, a proud-but-lately-ashamed-American-Patriot, to realize.


Onto more personal matters. Spring is showing its head here with lovely, LOVELY, days. As I’ve heard many Wellingtonians say, ‘You just can’t beat Wellington on a nice day’. I have to agree. It can be a cracker! (they use this phrase here on the weather reports to describe good weather ahead). As with spring anywhere, any glimpse of summer brings a vision of winter. But Spring is coming and I can feel it! Day light savings even past already! It’s light til 8pm. Sweet as! Todd and I escaped Wellington on a beautiful weekend a couple of weeks ago to Taupo, a town on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, formed when a volcano exploded years ago. About a 5 hour drive north from here, it’s in the middle of the North Island. Todd was in a 12 hour mountain bike race with others from GNS (his work place).  In a team of 5, they rotated laps around an 8km loop. Started at 10:30am, went to 10:30pm. Pretty fun for him.  For me? I drank vodka and grapefruit juice all day, walked mango through some amazing bush, and took photos. Not bad. The next day, Todd, Mango and I tramped a beautiful 12km path around the lake with crisp views of the volcanoes. We all loved it, especially our exhausted puppy dog!  More cool volcano  and weekend photos here:

(ADEMDOM: Todd now has a broken rib, inflicted while mountain biking. Not in this race but last week while on a night ride through some rugged bush. Apparently he fell off a 2 meter drop and jammed his handle bars into his ribs. The bruise/cuts look terrible. His wincing is awful. But, he’s heeling up ok. I my mind, it was only a matter of time before he came limping home with a mountain bike injury… let’s hope nothing worse is ahead.)


Ok, I’ll close with something practical (for lack of a better word, but I am going with the ‘P’ theme here). I have started gardening. Me, who has never had, but always wanted, a garden, am now gardening! We have a small plot – a good thing – which I am dabbling in. I like to call it ‘testing the coloration of my thumb’. I began weeding the nightmare plot. Although painful on my back, this was the mindless, easy part. Then, after tilling, composting, and bedding the soil, I planted veggies: lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and snow peas. I also started some seeds inside our house (which are just starting to sprout!) because its too early to plant there outside: tomatoes, capsicums (kiwi for peppers), zucchini, basil, and coriander (kiwi for cilantro). I have to say my garden looks much better now , but we’ll see if anything actually grows to produce edible food! I’m so anxious I check it everyday. Already something is munching on my spinach! The only thing that is really doing well (besides the rampant peas). We think its snails/slugs. So, I set a trap for them tonight based on a tip from fellow Wellington gardeners: I buried cups in the soil up to the rim and filled them with beer. Yes, beer! Apparently, snails/slugs are attracted to beer, climb in and drown. I cannot bear to poison them, but somehow drowning in beer seems ok to me. Maybe they’ll be too drunk to notice? I’ll let you know if this NZ folklore works…

South Africa photos

Journey through South Africa with me:


First we visit Robben Island and see where Nelson Mandela was held. Then we are off to Hermanas where we sight southern right whales leaping for joy (or who knows why). Then the famed ‘Garden Route’ along the beautiful southern coast of South Africa where we tramp around the Robberg Peninsula. Then we drive through the Panorama Route to see a canyon, potholes, Africans and a monkey!


If you want experience the photo highlights from our safari in the Sabi Sand region (just west of Kruger), check ‘em out:


This includes giraffes and sunset, elephant troops at our watering hole taking a mud bath, lions and leopards fighting over a freshly killed impala, funny looking birds, striped zebra (imagine that!), and more. Enjoy!

Just another day

I know, I know. It’s been a while since my last post. What can I say? I’ve been busy. Well, that and, in all honesty, life in New Zealand is just life, except with a few twists that make me smile and remember I am half a world away from home. Things have been good, normal, highlighted by a weekend trip to Hawkes Bay with Todd and Mango. This is wine country of New Zealand. A wonderful getaway where we hit a few wineries, ate yummy food, walked Mango in new places, and learned what a ‘reserve’ wine is. Wanna know? A reserve wine is from the first press of the grapes. The rest of the wines (the cheaper ones) are made from the next press (or presses) of the grapes so have more flavor of the skin and tannins. Interesting, huh? Well, for us winos it is. I guess it may be important to mention at this point that my beverage diet consists of coffee, water, and wine. In that order. On a daily basis. Pretty predictable. Here’s my favorite photos from our weekend in Hawkes Bay.


Mango loves those sheep!

Check out more fun photos from our weekend away here:

My other big trip was off to South Africa – yes, again! Another conference in Cape Town. This time an international meeting on Albatrosses and Petrels. It was a good conference, small and full of interesting talks. Unfortunately, I was sick. Sick sick. Thankfully I spoke on the first day of the conference because I just went downhill after that. Finally my fever broke and I stopped coughing, shivering and sniffling. Just in time to head off on holiday with my parents. We drove along the Garden Route, the southern coast of South Africa. Did some lovely hiking and spied about 25 southern right whales jumping for their lives. Amazing. Then it was off on Safari in the Sabi Sands region near Kruger. An experience full of breathtaking surprises and beautiful sights. Yes, I took tons of photos which I am now weeding through. I will post them as soon as they are ready. But, as a teaser, here ya go:

Mango’s instinct shines through

Sunday started out with a bummer but ended with a bang. On a lovely sunny morning I was preparing (mentally at least) for a soccer game when a text came through of a cancellation. What?!?! It’s a beauty out! We played last week in awful conditions. It was a mud bath. Really you can’t even call that a soccer game. More like mud ball.  It was awful. I would shoot the ball and it would go 5 feet before stopping in a mud pool. Very frustrating. So, I was more frustrated when our game this week was cancelled on a warm, sun-filled day. But Todd and I decided to make the most of it and take Mango on an adventure. Turned out to be a good one, including sheep. Read on…. (more muddy game photos here if interested: )


We piled in the car and drove to Karori, a suburb in the hills, about 20 minutes from us. We went for a great walk along the skyline trail which follows a ridge over and around Wellington. Great views of town, through the trees , out toward the sea, the south island in the distance, the harbor, neighborhoods nestled in hills . All very fine. Got to the top of a hill  for a drink, a lookout, a group photo , a belly rub , when the phone rang. David (my supervisor) on the line inviting us to Makara, about 20 minutes toward the west coast where they keep their horses. Todd had mountain bike riding plans so it was just me and Mango off to the farm. (Have I mentioned Todd got a bike? This is before  and this is after . Good Fun.) Anyway, off Mango and I went to the farm.


After getting permission from the farm owner for Mango to come onto the property, on-leash of course, she promptly met her first sheep ever . At nine-years old, my herding dog finally comes face to face with a sheep. Mango had a good sniff  and got very excited – tail in the air and few ruffs  – but I held the leash firm. It was time to scamper up the hillside to fetch the horses. David’s kids, Keir and Meeryn, were arguing over who could hold Mango’s leash. “Just take turns”, I said. A few minutes later, it happened. Mango saw a few sheep, the leash easily tore out of Meeryn’s hand and off she went. Herding 5, 10 then 20 sheep over the hillside. The leash bouncing and trailing behind. With a stunned and bemused look on my face, David turned to me and said, “Well, you said you always wondered what Mango would do if she found some sheep. Now you know.” True that.

  This photo is all I have to show for the event. Taken just prior to the break away. You can just barely see Mango bouncing away and the sheep starting to hurry off. After this shot, my camera went away and I was off, running through the muddy terrain trying to real in my Mango. Ten minutes later, Mango was at my side, firmly on a leash, and firmly pulling toward any sheep she could see. It was a great moment for me, to see my Mango in her element. She did well, I would say, not that I am a rancher or anything. In a short time she rounded up as many sheep as she could and pushed them along. Pretty fun to see. She was so proud too when she came back to me. As if to say to me, “Mom, I told you I could do it!” She remained focused the rest of the afternoon. From a distance. From behind a fence. Or two.






















Which would you rather?

Really, it’s a simple question:


Would you rather follow me to Christchurch for a week to attend the New Zealand and Australian Marine Sciences Conference, or go with Todd for an overnight trip to the Fiordland region (southwest corner of the south island)? Incidentally, the later includes a helicopter ride over Doubtful Sound. Let me put it another way: Here is my best photo from the week , and here is Todd’s . I reiterate, an easy decision.


The conference was not bad by any means. It was a good opportunity for me to hear what’s hot in marine science around Australasia. I thought the talks on aquaculture and marine bio-invasives (they call this biosecurity here) were really forward thinking and provocative. I found it interesting that the “scientist as an advocate” debate was raging over here too and ruffled some feathers at a few talks. Most of all I enjoyed hearing the talks by all the other people who work at NIWA. People I see daily and chat too, but only had a vague idea what they do. Now I really have a sense of the research these folk do and their skills. I also gave a talk which went ok but, again, it was especially good for my colleagues at NIWA to hear what I am working on besides “albatrosses”. Christchurch itself did not impress me too much. Quite different from Wellington. ChCh (that’s the handy kiwi abbreviation) was flat and cold. About 4 C (yes, using Celsius more and more). Brrrr! On my brief stroll around town I walked through 2 well-manicured parks  (parks in Wellington consist of trails through bush), saw 5 homeless people (that’s 5 times as many as I have every seen in Wellington), and walked past 8 churches  (no exaggeration here. I know where 3 churches are in all of Wellington). Plus, each night we went out for dinner and drinks, we were pushed out of closing bars by 10:00. Granted this was Monday thru Thursday nights (and we did find a couple cool places to hang out), but this would never happen in Wellington. I guess the big plus to ChCh is the close proximity to everything else on the south island: mountains, water, skiing, hiking, fiords, etc. But, despite being New Zealand’s second largest city with 400,000 (behind Auckland’s 1.3 million), it did not compare to Wellington.


As for Todd’s trip to the south island, I cannot not describe much beyond his stories (they pulled some tourists out of a ditch after they skidded off an icy patch in the road) and the photos . They flew to Queenstown and drove to Te Anau, where the helicopter awaited them. They had to fix a GPS up on a mountain side near Doubtful Sound. Then they drove toward Milford to fix some other stuff, all along passing beautiful sights of snowy mountains  and mirror lakes .


Now, it’s Monday and Todd is off again. This time to a small town about 4 hours north or here called Utiku. He is leading a build to monitor landslide activity. Not quite as an exotic location but Todd is sure seeing the country. Me? I am at home snuggling with my Mango to keep warm on these chilly July nights. Weird to hear, huh? Chilly and July in the same sentence? At least, I can notice the days getting longer here. I bet you all are too caught up in summer fun of beaches, kayaking, boating, sun bathing, etc. to notice your days getting any shorter. I am already thinking of our summer days ahead. Who’s coming to visit?


Lessons Learned

A few things I have learned in my first 6 months in New Zealand:


1) I’ve been eating a kiwi the wrong way my whole life! First off, they call them kiwifruit here, I guess to differentiate from the kiwi-human and the kiwi-bird. Anyway, my whole life I have delicately pealed and then sliced the delicious fruit in order to eat it. But, who knew that all you have to do is slice it in half and the spoon out the yummy goodness inside each half. And it’s so much fun this way too! Maybe, everyone else has known this trick and I’ve been in the dark but I now feel enlightened. If you do to now, then you’re welcome. Happy kiwi eating!


2)  It can be harder to bike downhill than uphill. Really it can be. It’s happened to me riding home from work. With a strong southerly pounding my face going downhill my legs burned to push me onward. With the wind at my back heading uphill, I barely had to work to get up to the top. I was baffled at this phenomenon, until I had to go uphill with the wind in my face, then I was just exasperated.


3)  How to drive like a kiwi. This is not just remembering to drive on the left. I have a mantra (‘drive on left, drive on left’) that takes care of this. But, New Zealand has a strange rule that does not exist anywhere else (not even Britain) that is very hard for me to get used to. I’ll switch this example around so that you non-British country drivers can understand. Imagine you’re driving along a 2 lane road. You want to turn right. Someone is coming the other direction who wants to turn left down that same road. You have to give way to that car! Light or no light, stop sign or no sign. It’s a crazy rule! And so hard to remember. Basically it backs cars up one way instead of the other. I don’t get it. I have managed the blinker-windshield wiper switch. I no longer put my windshield wipers on when I want to turn left/right. I now look over my left shoulder instead of my right when backing up. But, this one might take a while to sink in.


4) How to wash my face and not scald my skin. Faucet mixers have not really caught on here, which is unfortunate as far as I am concerned. Every sink I go to has 2 faucets, a hot and a cold, spread far apart in the sink. This means that you can either have freezing cold water or scalding hot water. Now that its winter I want to wash my face with warm water but this is a challenge. I know I could fill the basin with a mixture but, after soaping up, I need clean water to wash it off. So, I have learned to turn both facets on, cup my hands, catch a little cold water (cold must be first otherwise hands get scalded), then quickly switch to the hot water and mix to an appropriate temp. Not too much hot water though because it quickly counteracts the presence of the cold water. It’s a delicate balance. Takes practice. I need more practice, or some tougher skin. Which ever comes first.


5) If someone tells you they work on the third floor, go to the fourth floor. For some reason the ground floor does not count as a floor. It’s floor zero. Does that mean it does not exist? Like it’s in purgatory? Somewhere between the first floor and the basement? Anyway, I always have to be careful when I hike up stairs, adding one flight of stairs to whatever floor I am supposed to be headed to.


6) How to say hello in Japanese: Kornichiwa! Ok, maybe I should have and could have known this one before, but I didn’t and this is really just an excuse to show a picture of my best effort to look like a geisha.  My soccer club, Wellington United, had their mid-season function on Saturday night in the theme of the Beijing Olympics. Everyone came in teams and our team was Japan (who knows why). Todd dressed as a ninja and I posed as a geisha. All in all a pretty fun evening with lots of drinking, kiwi-style.



Finally, not a lesson but, I just have to throw in a few puppy pics. Look at the happy Mango! We had fun at the beach at Lyall Bay on Saturday morning. 



P.S. Did you watch the EURO finals? VIVA ESPANA! Spain played beautiful soccer. Really, that is my definition of beautiful footie: perfect team passing. Such a great game, great tourney and the best team won. Plus Torres scored in the winning goal in the finals so that says something about my lineage. Right?