Of a dog, a car, and seabirds

Mango remains in jail (quarantine) and our car-less days are over. We are now the proud owners of a 1995 Subaru Legacy. Seems we traded in the Black Stallion (my old Subaru Forrester) for something like a Gray Iguana . She looks pretty rough on the outside but she moves swift and steady. Pretty comfy too. We got a bargain on this one and with a few fix ups she is my chariot for the hour and 15 minute drive to see Mango. I am sure she will also come in handy for exploring the NZ wilds and driving Mango where she may need to go . Oh, and yes, Todd has taken advantage of our modern-day transport option on those cold, wet days we’ve had recently. We are full-on into winter here. Not too cold but cold enough, windy enough and wet enough to make it unpleasant. Not to mention the fact that daylight is limited. I ride to and from work in the dark! Depressing. But in 3 weeks days will start getting longer. Not for you all up there above the equator though. You are just entering that sunny phase. It’s very hard for me to comprehend June and July as being winter. Just can’t get my brain to accept that one.


Anyway, visits with Mango are sweet, but somber as I ache to take her home with me. Everyone said this time would go by fast. I wanted to believe them but they lied. This has been the slowest 2 weeks of my time in NZ. Seems like the next 2 weeks will be even longer. When I visit, we are so excited to see each other. I lay blankets down on the cold, cement floor and we snuggle down. Mango rolls on her back and I give her belly rubs that seem to put her in a trance. She nuzzles me and we cuddle and chat. She naps and I read a bit of my book. Saying good-bye is hard. Mango now understands that I am coming back but she gives me those desperate eyes when its time to go. Then I hear her bark a few times when I am headed to the car. Just to remind me she’s there and waiting for me. I leave with a heavy heart. Then I drive back to Wellington through the NZ countryside composed of mountainous views, coastal islands, and an array of farm animals. Cows galore, sheep aplenty, scattered deer, a few ostriches, goats grazing, elk looking things, and elegant horses under their winter blankets. Highlights have been spying a cow mounting another, goats headed butting, and watching the fat, furry sheep waddle around in their woolly winter coats.


To get my mind off Mango’s misery, I managed to escape to Kaikoura, a little town in the south island. I read someone’s description of Kaikoura as the “Serengeti of the oceans”, due to the year-round plethora of whales, dolphins, and seabirds. I am not sure this is true. Possibly a “Serengeti of marine megafauna” but I am sure a coral reef biologist would disagree with the first statement. Anyway, we ventured to this seaside town about a third of the way down the east coast of the south island so that David and I could present some of our work at a seabird conference. This was my first completely seabird talk and I was a bit nervous. I still do not consider seabirds my expertise, so it was good to give this talk at a small, laid back conference. I was well received and I think I fooled most people into thinking I was a seabird geek. To further convince my feather, frenzied friends, Todd and I opted out of a whale watch in favor of an albatross encounter. Considering our combined decade of time floating in small boats around blubbery mammals, we chose to get close and personal with some large, LARGE, birds.


It was an absolutely beautiful day for a boat ride: sunny, flat calm, and snow capped mountains shimmering in the background. When the boat first came to a stop we were suddenly surrounded by cape pigeons (members of the petrel family)  and a variety of albatrosses including white-capped albatrosses. This species is important because this is the bird I am currently agonizing over trying to figure out why it goes where it goes. We also saw the slightly smaller Buller’s albatross , black-browed albatross , and the southern giant Petrel . Todd and I were remarking on how big the white-capped albatrosses were when in flew, and landed with a ungraceful splash, a bird beyond bird size imagination: a wandering albatross . It dwarfed the white-capped. I mean it made the white-capped look like a gull . The wandering albatross was not nearly as beautiful as the white-capped with its gleaming white head, sharp black eye-liner and pale yellow beak tip. The Buller’s albatross is also stunning with its dramatic yellow beak with a black line through the middle. The boat dangled a glob of frozen fish liver off the stern which the seabirds horded around and squawked at each other furiously for ownership . But one wandering albatross controlled the human gift of chum. Over all the other birds, this one wandering albatross alternated pecking at the liver lump and squawking and clapping its beak in warning to the surrounding birds . But, then the wandering was out-done: A southern Royal albatross glided into our midst. Only slightly bigger, but looking very hungry, it managed to snatched the final ball of gooey, liver goo . Quite a little show. But, more then this, it was simply amazing to be within 2 feet of these birds. They flew over our heads, a hard swoosh beating on our ears and moving our hair, landing slightly less gracefully with a skid on the water’s surface . Looking eye to eye with these giants of the ocean air made me wonder what they thought of me. Surely they longed for another hand-out, but I longed for one of them to speak up and tell me where they go so I could finish up my data analysis. Ha! The trip was capped off with a fun sighting of a New Zealand Fur Seal beating a large octopus on the surface to rip its arms off for easier consumption . Again and again the fur seal approached the octopus from below, burst through the surface with its prey in mouth and whipped it down, ripping off pieces and gulping them down . Sweet as! And, I could not help myself I guess, on our way back to the dock I spied a blow in the distance which our captain obligingly approached. It was a humpback cruising its way north. So, we had some blubber action on the day after all.


We had our first “bach” experience in Kaikoura as we stayed in a house overlooking the sea and mountains with David and his wife and kids . It was a fun weekend, especially watching David’s son, Keir, jump all over Todd, hanging on his every limb, imploring “Toddie, Toddie, I love you!” Pretty humorous . Todd and I escaped his fan club with walks through town and around the peninsula. I have actually been to Kaikoura before. Fifteen years ago I visited this town with my parents and experienced the sperm whale and dusky dolphin bonanza who swim in the deep canyons just offshore. Despite being a relatively small town, and by US standards still not very touristy, things had changed. Even I could tell. Many more coffee shops, clothing stores, art galleries, tour guides, and tourists . And, I am certain, only more growth is on its beautiful horizon . We wrapped up our stay with a nice walk around the peninsula that jets out into the Pacific: cows on cliffs, mooooo-ing at the spectacular view.


The trip home was punctuated with laughter at this wonderful kiwi-sight:


More photos of our trip to Kaikoura can be seen here: http://flickr.com/photos/23078002@N04/sets/72157605429781681/



One response to “Of a dog, a car, and seabirds

  1. you sound like a bird expert to me.
    it haaaas been a long 2 weeks, but you’re a stellar mamma to mango.
    this all looks beautiful.
    i send you huge hug.

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