28 October, 1998

October 28, 1998

Still in Kiwiland!

It's a rainy day here in Christchurch. That's a good thing since the east side of the island is underdoing a very severe drought. The weather is not good for birding or photography but I've done so much driving over the last week that I had already decided not to go out again today. I've already shot a lot of film (23 rolls) so I need to go into Christchurch to replenish my supply.


Yesterday I went to Arthur's Pass again trying to find several endemic New Zealand birds that I hadn't seen yet. (Endemic means it is found only in that location.) I stopped at every shingly river looking for a bizarre shorebird whose bill is bent sideways (the wrybill) but couldn't find it. I stopped at every rushing mountain stream in search of the rare Blue Duck (there are only about 650 of them in the world), but couldn't find any. I even went for a long walk along a rushing gushing river that someone had seen one on recently but had no luck. I went on several woodland walks trying to find tuis, yellow-heads, riflemen, and brown creepers, but only found the brown creepers (different from our brown creeper in USA). However the long trip was still worth it. As before, the mountain scenery was spectacular. It was raining and the snow was melting so waterfalls were cascading out of every snowfield and down every little gorge.

The rivers were roaring furiously. I was very careful not to step on any slippery rocks; sliding into the river would surely have drowned me. If you want to see pictures of the scenery look in Elissa Elliott's journal entries for Friday the 23rd. Betty Trummel's journal has photos that you will find interesting too.

On my first visit to the Pass I only had 2 fleeting glimpses of the entertaining parrot called the kea. Today I spent about 1 hour with a group of 6 of them at an overlook above the viaduct/road construction in Otira Gorge. These birds have the most amazingly hooked beak, much more hooked than your typical parrot. The first one I watched was using his beak to pry rocks up out of the ground, I guess in search of bugs. Some keas will supposedly use these ominous hooks to kill (and eat) sick sheep. It was this reputation that almost led to their extinction as people killed them to protect their sheep. Now any problem-birds are captured and relocated. When I went around a bunch of bushes to look down into the gorge the keas mobbed my car. When I returned they were hopping all over it. I am glad I was only out of sight for a couple minutes because these birds are notorious for ripping anything rubber off the car--windshield wipers, door-trim. etc. One was chewing on my tire, and with that long hooked beak I worried that it might have caused some damage. But no worries; all was ok. (Their destructive tendencies are so well know here in New Zealand that there is even a humorous TV ad in which keas totally destroy a car while a family is out on a picnic.)

Another great thing I did yesterday was walking in the fantastic woods up near the Pass. The woods here look like a fantasy-land in which there should be gnomes hiding behind rocks and fallen logs. There is lush green moss covering everything--rocks, fallen logs, tree trunks, gnarly tree limbs, the ground. I wasn't really expecting gnomes but I was kind of hoping that the nocturnal kiwi might make a rare daytime appearance on this dark rainy day. But no success. The kiwi is another rare bird endemic to New Zealand. It has no wings so it frequently falls prey to introduced predators. The island had no large predators until man arrived. It is only active at night and its nostrils, located at the tip of its long beak, are used to smell out and probe for its prey of earthworms.

Question to think about: Why are there so many endemic species on islands like New Zealand?


I have had breakfast twice now with an engineer/geophysicist who is staying at the same hotel as I am. His name is Ken Griffiths and he is involved in the SOAR program (which you can read about on the internet at http://www.ig.utexas.edu/research/projects/soar/soar. html) His group will be flying over the ice sheets from Siple Dome base using a variety of remote-sensing equipment to find out about the glaciology and geology of the area. They will be using laser equipment to chart the surface features of the ice (accurate to less than .5 meter), gravitometers and magnetometers to determine what kind of rocks are below the ice, and ice-penetrating radar to determine ice thickness and geological landform shapes below the ice. One thing that struck my interest in our conversations was that ice core studies in Greenland and Antarctica seem to be indicating that there have been times in the ancient history of Earth that the climate changed several degrees dramatically in a period of years, perhaps less than a decade. What could have caused such rapid changes? Their remote-sensing studies suggest that there are some volcanoes under the ice. If these volcanoes were to erupt simultaneously could that melt enough of the ice to cause these climate changes? That is one theory. They have also found that some of the glaciers in Antarctica are moving at the rate of tens of meters a year instead of the more normal rate of centimeters a year. What is fueling this rapid motion? Could it be activity from these sub-ice volcanoes?

Well that's all for now.

Noho ora mai (Maori for "Remain in good health")

I hope to be in Antarctica tomorrow.

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