The Last 12 months

It’s nearly a year since my last post which was about the carnage caused on the river bed by introduced mammals and a couple of native predators that have found the white-man’s impact on the environment to their advantage. My silence has in part been that I’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other for over a year. In part too because I’ve been side-tracked into contributing to iNaturalist both as an observer and, because I don’t think one should just take without giving back (or forward), I’ve been aiding with identifications where I can. Also I don’t have internet at home anymore so posting takes a while and there’s the blogs that I follow to keep up with. I often take a run of photos thinking that’ll be a good story but for the reasons above plus just being plain dog tired never get around to doing anything with it. Well here’s a potted rundown on some highlights from the last 12 months.

In 2021, late snow

found a komako hanging out in the Cooks Strait kowhai

While moving house for a job to the south, prompted deep dives into the freezer for fruit Continue reading

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Down by the river – follow up

In the post Down by the river, I mentioned the impact of weeds, encroachment and river engineering. In the last 2 years there have been 2 major flood events causing millions of damage to property and infrastructure, From where I sit, most of that damage is down to greed, hubris and poor decisions such as blocking the South Branch of the Rangitata in order to turn that riverbed into dairy pasture complete with milking platforms. There’s a link at the end of this introduction to a mostly good article on the issues facing braided rivers.

The Upper Rangitata has not had a lot of interference and remains largely weed free, here in normal flow and bank to bank. Not quite the same place and very different lenses. It’s the same shelterbelt in both photos.

This article discusses the problem and has some very graphic photography that illustrates all three

Just looking at the images and their captions will give a much better idea of what it’s all about than I could do. But before you do, something to keep in mind is that the braided rivers can have 80 or 90% of their normal water flow occurring out of sight in the gravels under the river and floodplain. In fact several of these rivers have sections where at normal flows all of the water is flowing under the bed. That’s without considering all the water flowing down through the aquifers that underlie all of the Canterbury Plains. There’s a question toward the end of the article about how braided rivers should be defined in law, because the definition for a river from English Law doesn’t fit, perhaps it could be the width of area occupied from True Left to True Right when 90% of the flow is on the surface? Just a thought.

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Down by the River

It’s murder down by the river.  There are three species of endemic bird that only breed on the braided riverbeds of NZ.  Pre-european they could be found on the riverbeds from Hawke’s Bay to Bluff but they are becoming increasingly restricted to Canterbury and Otago.  They’re being hit on four fronts, loss of habitat (weeds, agricultural encroachment and river engineering), altered riverflows (dams and irrigation out-takes), introduced mammalian predators and an imbalance with natural predators having boomed in a flow on from pastoralism.  A fifth factor, climate change, is potentially causing earlier snow melt with big floods that take out all but the earliest nests.  If chicks are big enough they can survive big floods.

Kahu, Harrier hawks are one natural predator but the worst, mainly because they share the breeding habitat and are in plague proportions, are black-backed gulls.

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Lockdown Again!

So we’re back in lockdown as with the previous nationwide lockdown the government decided to “Go early and go hard” apparently there has been a fair bit of shtick coming our for locking down with just one community case of the D variant. a number that has now risen to 210 and over 8000 contacts. This article kind-of sums up how I feel on the subject but I do think they should be relaxing on the S. Is. soon as there are no cases down here. The article mentions that we’re behind most other developed nations for vaccinations but as I recall there was a decision to delay community vaccination when vaccines were in short supply, as other countries needed them more. That’s changed and I’ll be getting my 2nd Pfizer jab on Tuesday, I’ve never had a flu jab, preferring to ride it out, but this one’s a no brainer, as are tetanus and polio.

Last lockdown, I was exhausted and was gearing up to a few weeks of just doing things at home when the lockdown started, so it really didn’t affect me that much, and since then (at least in the South Island) it’s been pretty much situation normal, people have even got back into the habit of greeting with hand shakes and hugs.

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Wet Snow

Now I know it has been a long time since I’ve posted and I won’t bore you with the details, but lets see if I can get back to it.

A week ago our particular part of Canterbury had the first settling of snow in what feels like FOREVER! It started in the usual way, i.e. to remind us that only English plums think it’s warm enough for spring

I grew hopeful as the settling started in earnest

and then the flakes started joining hands to form big soft saucers

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Conserving the plants of eastern South Island limestone, Nga tipu o te pakeho

Just released Conserving the plants of eastern South Island limestone, Nga tipu o te pakeho, by Peter Heenan and Geoffrey Rogers is a free to download publication on the conservation of specialised limestone flora of the eastern South Island (Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago), also available as a stunning wee A5 field book. The first 50 pages outline the geology, evolution/history of these calcicole (limestone loving) plants, the challenges they face and the threats which are bringing many to the brink of extinction.  This is followed by 74 fact sheets (2 pages each) for each of the specialist limestone plants known from the eastern South Island.  27 of these plants are yet to be described and formally named, for now they have intriguing tagnames like Craspedia “Awahokomo” (a woollyhead) and Myosotis “Waipara” (a forget-me-not).  A nice touch is the inclusion of a couple of paintings by Nelson artist and former South Marlborough Threatened Plant Botanist, Cathy Jones, one being Limestone violet and Limestone angelica instantly recognisable for the few in the know of this special place.

Here are a few sample pages of personal favourites, click on the photo to see it at a readable scale.


Click this link to download Nga tipu o to pakeho and then ‘Download full-text pdf’.  For a hard copy contact , there’s a cost for P&P of $5.50 within NZ

Nga tipu o te pakeho, was preceded in 2018 by a relatively technical document written for the Department of Conservation, also by Geoff and Peter along with Shannel Courtney, providing an overview of the situation for limestone plants at a national level.  ‘Science for Conservation 331. The calcicolous vascular flora of New Zealand Life forms, taxonomy, biogeography and conservation status‘.  Which is available for download from the Dept’s publications page here, and for the fact conscious, I’ve included the abstract.


This report describes the life forms, taxonomic status, geological biogeography and conservation status of 152 calcicolous taxa in New Zealand, 91 (60%) of which have been formally named. Of the remaining 61 unnamed taxa, 26 are raised in this study with supporting voucher specimens. This is the first endeavour to describe the calcicolous vascular flora of New Zealand which, at 5.6% of the estimated total New Zealand vascular flora, is substantially greater than previously thought. Most calcicoles (91%) are confined to the South Island, with only 13 taxa occurring in the North Island, and 95% of the calcicoles are endemic to regionally-confined geological units, with a richness bias towards units located in West Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury. In addition, 73% have total habitat areas of < ̄10 ha, likely as a result of adaptation to persistent, isolated, differentiated terrains that provided non-forest habitat throughout the numerous climatic cycles of the Pleistocene. In total, 71 (47%) of the calcicolous taxa are ranked as Data Deficient or Threatened (cf. 14% of the entire flora), 43 (29%) of which are ranked as Nationally Critical. However, 33 (46%) currently receive no form of conservation management. Together, our measures of taxonomic resolution and extinction risk argue for this being a particularly under recognised and threatened flora and ecosystem.

Click to access Conserving-the-plants-of-eastern-South-Island-limestone-Nga-tipu-o-te-pakeho.pdf

On a personal level, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of these plants and in these outstanding landscapes, which I would hope everyone can appreciate for their sheer awesomeness.

Nga tipu o to pakeho author Geoff Rogers walks through the Sawcut Gorge in Marlborough

Here’s a few pics and observations from working with ‘the plants belonging to limestone’ in the last 20 years.

Surveying the Chalk Range

On a southern part of the Chalk Range with the Chalk Range speargrass p56

for the Chalk Range cress (Pachycladon fasciarum, p160)

Pachycladon fasciarum, Chalk Range cress

Dave Barker and I, carried a roll of weldmesh onto the crest of the range to install some experimental cages.


Because the numerous goats


are probably the biggest, immediate, threat facing this plant at the current time.

goat browsed Chalk Range cress

More recently I was privileged to join Nelson botanists and one of the authors, (Geoff) onto Ben More  and into Isolation Creek.


Ben More is a prominent (1200m) hill cloaked in native tussock


that crests onto an escarpment

Artist and botanist Cathy Jones inspects the Ben More escarpment

home to the forget-me-not (Myosotis arnoldii, p150),


amongst other cool plants


Down in Isolation Creek


The stunning canyon is decorated by the equally stunning Mathew’s harebell (Wahlenbergia mathewsii, p206)  along with a host of other calcicolous plants.

Botanist Shannel Courtney inspects Wahlenbergia mathewsii in Isolation Creek


Tengawai escarpment, crevices, the habitat of two endemic and other rare plants have been taken over by exotic plants following nutrient enrichment.

Altitude, scale and isolation do a lot to protect the flora of places like Isolation Creek but the bulk of the special species are found in small, fragmented landscapes such as the Tengawai escarpment.

Here the future for the plants is gloomy at best.  Farming pressures have seen the covering shrubby vegetation sprayed off and the escarpment fertilised and oversown.  Whether deliberate or accidental doesn’t really matter, the deed is done, and the calcicoles over much of the escarpment are dead and gone displaced by a thin scurf of  ryegrass, clover and weeds, it will take radical changes in management to turn the tide on habitat loss here. On at least one section goats are farmed, they in turn camp on the escarpment resulting in additional nutrients that filter down the crevices boosting the weeds that dislocate the unique calcicoles like the endemic Tengawai buttercup (Ranunculus callianthus, p178)

Limestone angelica (Gingidia enysii, p142)

Limestone geranium (Geranium socolatum, p140)

and the endemic Manahune gentian (Gentianella calcis ssp. manahune, p134) not pictured in this post.

The Tengawai story is repeated to some degree at most of the sites where limestone outcrops across both islands. Economic pressures, ignorance of the values present in farmed sites and the general encroachment of exotic plants, with grazing by exotic animals, combine to create a unique flora under pressure of extinction.

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Sometimes the air tastes of campfire and

Sometimes there’s a haze way out in the west

Sometimes the sun is cloaked in red

As Australia burns

There’s a tragedy unfolding 1200 miles to the north west as forest fires engulf large swathes of eastern Australia from Queensland to Victoria.  In big events like the infamous Ash Wednesday Fires, NZ has a few days of haze and fiery sunset/sunrise and it’s all over.  This is the first time I can remember it going on for over a month and it looks set to continue for weeks more.

This feed from 6 Dec demonstrates the nature of the problem, gum trees burn like napalm, and the fires cover vast areas (NSW map at the bottom of the article).

I thought this breakdown of how Australian bushfires start was interesting.  It’s probably similar in other western countries.

pie chart copied from above source


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Black Friday

I know it’s not the 13th but the 15th will have to do because today the sky fell in.  I’ve been temporarily occupying a desk in one of Christchurch’s new glass towers and around early afternoon the street below was full of cop cars, all sirens and lights, dashing in different directions, a scene fit for the Keystone Cops.  It took a while for the news to filter through, and soon after our building was locked down, no one in or out.  All of this is just context.

Today at around 1.30pm, two mosques were attacked.  At one, 41 men, women and children were killed, at the other 7, and one of the 48 wounded has now died in hospital.  4 people are in custody and one has been charged.

Right now instinct tells me to keep my head down, but to do nothing is in a sense to be complicit to this outrage, instead I’ll tell you that I’m shocked, deeply saddened and angry at the perpetrators.  In the morning I’ll be looking into what I can do in a more concrete way for this sector of our community.

Walking across town through streets that are normally buzzing on a Friday evening, but now emptied out by the lock down, even the gulls seemed subdued.

But it gave me time to think about how I feel about the days events. I’m not just angry at the perpetrators, I’m angry too at that extremely minor, minority of outspoken neo-nazi, white supremacist, bootboy, skinhead scumbags, of which Christchurch seems to have more than its fair share, who are complicit because of their views and openly expressed hatred for anyone not like them. This is not the NZ I’m used to,  it’s not our way, even for bigots, to express hatred with such an act of violence.  As the PM said we have “no place here” for the perpetrators of this act of terrorism.

It’s been a dark day, and there will be more to follow as the details come out.  I won’t like it, but I’m prepared to give up my ‘right’ to shoot pests and hunt for game if tougher gun laws can help prevent a repeat of this day, and I aim to support the victims in whatever ways are practical for me to do so.

Kia kaha, kia manawanui.

‘Be brave, be strong of heart’


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West Island: Part II Brisbane to Girraween

Brisbane to Girraween National Park via Boonah, Woodenbong, Tabulam and Tenterfield

We could have flown, bused or railed to Sydney but decided to take a few days, spending each night in a different National Park. I’d also decided that I didn’t want to travel the main roads. On Google Earth it looked like the old Pacific Highway was mostly through conjoined towns with the only breaks in the houses coming at coastal National Parks while the relatively new M1 coastal motorway takes a more inland route (good if you want to do the 11 – 12 hours drive in one sitting but that’s about it). Inland the New England Highway sweeps through the landscape in graceful curves bypassing features and an expectation of being pushed along by the other traffic – boring and frustrating I expect. So I found a compromise of winding but sealed roads to take us between the two main routes venturing onto the New England Highway occasionally and sadly the M1 from Newcastle to Sydney. Our route took us back and forth over the dividing range with the added bonus that for much of the journey altitude moderated temperatures down into the high 20’s (Celsius)


Heading south from Brisbane toward Ipswich

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistice WWI.  Today is the Centenary and I missed it! It had slipped my notice until the commemoration events hit today’s news, taking top spot in all the reporting.  But it’s not too late for those in the rest of the world to take part.

New Zealand events were all over the country with two minutes silence followed by an encouragement for people where ever they were to recreate the celebration sounds (horns, whistles, cheering etc. etc.).

I heard tell of another commemorative horse ride, but I couldn’t find any reference to it.  I did do posts on two rides a couple of years ago, here and here, and found that I’d missed another noteworthy horse event A YEAR AGO, the unveiling of Hamilton’s warhorse sculpture.


Warhorse sculpture by Matt Gauldie. Photo

To be a Mounted Rifle the soldier needed to bring his own horse from NZ, most of the men forming close bonds with their horses.  The sculpture depicts a Waikato horse searching for it’s fallen rider at Beersheba, a town near Gaza, taken by the Australian Light Horse on 31 October 1917.  First a major infantry engagement on the far side of the town, and to clear the way for the Australians, a 6 hour fight by the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury Brigades of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the First Australian Lighthorse Brigade, to take a fortified hill , Tel el Saba, overlooking the line of approach and  the town.

We can let the Australians have this one, a similar feat was achieved by the NZ forces at Ayun Kara on 14th November 1917



Earlier that year the Otago Mounted Rifle Brigade played a key role in the Battle of Messines, Belgium in the lead up to the Battle of Passchendaele.  Two British corp and the II ANZAC Corp would advance on Messines and the Otagos would charge through them to speed the advance and gather intelligence on enemy positions and movements.  In the event they made it 800m behind enemy lines before being forced to dismount by heavy fire.  A rather heroic painting by M. Gauldie, depicts the charge (part of which is shown here).  From 7 June to 9 June the NZ Division (just one of 9) suffered 3700 casualties.




In Christchurch, Cranmer Square has been decorated to portray Canterbury’s losses with 4389 crosses and 1 Star of David (see if you can find it).  The full article on the Christchurch City Council website can be found here:



Cranmer Sq, Christchurch, Armistice Day Centenary commemoration. Photo CCC

“In all, 103,000 New Zealanders served overseas during World War I from a population of 1.1 million. There were 59,500 casualties, with 18,200 dying and 41,300 wounded.”


Posted in ANZAC, art, Canterbury, Christchurch, Horses, Uncategorized | 2 Comments