Thames School of Mines

Having driven past the sign advertising the Thames School of Mines many times recently we finally got curious about what a school of mines actually is. Turns out it was the school where people went to qualify for one of many tickets needed to undertake mining operations in the 1800's. One of those fascinatingly unusual things you find off the beaten track

Part of the collection of hundreds of samples of the many different kinds of rocks that are found in New Zealand. Mining students needed to learn many of these

Of course one of the things they had to learn was what gold actually looks like (its the gold coloured flecks in these rocks)
There are other unusual rocks in the collection. These rocks (gizzard stones) would have been in the gizzard of an extinct moa to help it grind up the plants it ate. Moa apparently selected the hardest rocks before swallowing them.

And who would have thought (let alone had the time) to carve a 30 centimetre tall model of London's Tower Bridge from Kauri Gum (amber)??

The famed wooden rose - deformed roots of trees caused by infestation by a parasitic plant. This plant is now rare, partly because people used to look for it and cut out the root and remove the parasite by boiling. Wood rose (Dactylanthus taylori) is now thought to be extinct in the Coromandel, but it is so inconspicuous that some plants are likely to still be present, particularly where possums are regularly controlled such as at Moehau

Further info on the NZ Historic Places website here

Yogyakarta's new bird market

We've recently returned from a few days holiday in Yogyakarta after working with Indonesian scientists at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriensis in Bogor (near Jakarta).

For a challenge I visited Pasar Ngasem Baru/ New Bird Market armed only with a wide-angle 16-35mm lens. Using a wide-angle lens means you have to get up close a personal with whatever you're photographing. People definitely know you're taking their photograph as you're often only 2-3 feet away and sometimes less than 1 foot away!

They do things differently in Indonesia - like dyeing their chickens different colours!

The number and diversity of birds on sale is staggering - this is shop 12 of about 60. All selling birds and wildlife.

 Many of the cages are highly decorated.

 And of course all these birds need to be fed!

Some stall holders are very friendly - this man asked for me to take a photo of his son and him during their lunch break.

One surprise was this man - patiently hand-making individually-numbered coloured aluminium rings that are slid onto the bird's legs so that they can be identified.

In Indonesia it is considered lucky to own wildlife, particularly a bird that sings loudly and most larger towns have a bird market. The birds are mostly caught in the wild and come from throughout Indonesia. This white-rumped shama is still common in parts of Indonesia, but not on the main island of Java as most are caught by bird trappers. The bird trade is one of the major reasons for many of Indonesia's birds being evaluated as at risk of extinction. For sale in this market was a subspecies of the endangered red and blue lory which is only found on the Talaud Islands - 2240 kilometres away! Scientists sometimes use the bird species they find in the local market as a guide to which rare birds occur in the surrounding area.

Having to get up so close to people to take photos was great fun - even if they obviously thought you were a bit strange. It did lead to interesting conversations carried out in a mix of broken Bahasa Indonesia from me and broken English from them!

And in case you're wondering why it is called the new bird market - the old bird market was situated next to the food market, but was moved by the government following the bird flu outbreak. Tourists still turn up a the old site looking slightly bewildered by the lack of birds!

We also took the opportunity to visit the famed Borobodur temple. From a distance it looks like a large pile of rocks on a lawn:

But on closer inspection it is an intricate maze of carvings and stonework:

Temples are a feature of village life throughout Indonesia and they're frequently used by local children as a playground and sports field:

a few shots

Been pretty busy, but here are some photos I've taken recently.

We had a holiday in Singapore. In the Little India area are several gold markets packed even at this time of night (10pm) with Indian people negotiating for shows of wealth. There are no prices on any of the pieces, just the weight of the piece - its all by negotiation. I didn't know if I'd be allowed to take a photograph with all that gold, but thought someone would start yelling if they didn't like it.

Also in Little India are very large sari shops. I found these mannequins somehow an eerie way of displaying the expensive outfits

 Singapore is a shrine to shopping and consumerism, some of it taken to 'unusual' extremes such as this sheep in a christmas display

 I've also been playing around with taking photographs out of helicopters:

We went chasing rare plants in the Ahukawakawa Swamp nestled between Mt Taranaki and the eroded volcanic cone of the Pouakai Range

On the way back we passed through Patea, the home of my favourite memorial: the concrete Aotea waka (canoe) and concrete Maori paddlers. I remember this from long car trips when we were kids. It didn't mean we were close to anywhere, but it was something to look at.

Some people might remember the Patea Maori Club and Delvinius Prime's hit song Poi E

I'm an individual (part I)

It's the time of the year here in Thames (the migratory bird capital of NZ) when flocks of oystercatchers (these are South Island pied oystercatcher, or SIPO to their human friends) start moving up from their South Island homes. Later in the year, when winter hits down South, there will be huge flocks using the Firth of Thames estuary, together with wrybill, pied and black stilts. I've got a few plans being hatched photograph-wise to capture this spectacle - watch this space. But in the meantime this flock of about 200 was enough reason to start practicing.

About the photograph: first you need to know a bit about oystercatchers - during high tide they get crammed onto the beach between the rising tide and the houses behind. This is useful when you want to get a "crowd' shot. This was taken hand-held using Canon's 100 mm f2.8L macro lens (who says you have to use a lens for what its designed for) at ISO200 and f11. To add foreground interest I waded into the sea and waited for a small wave to give an interesting shape. (I also got badly bitten by sea lice - invertebrates that are known to strip the flesh in a matter of hours from fish caught in nets).

Its been a while

Though it's been a while since the last post on here I have been busy with photographs. I've been editing about 150 images that are about to appear in a revision of Alan Mark's classic "alpine plants of NZ". I've also been fitting in a bit of plant photography that I plan to use in some plant books of my own. During a walk yesterday looking for NZ plants that I haven't photographed yet I was lucky enough to encounter this little guy - an Archey's frog (Leiopelma archeyi). I say lucky because this species has been hit hard by a fungus that is also decimating other frog populations around the globe. Archeys frog is now classified as Critically Endangered and noone really knows how many are left in the Coromandel Ranges and in Whareorino Forest - the only locations where they have ever been found. I'm particularly saddened about the decline in Archeys frog as I did some monitoring work on this species before the fungus invaded - back in 1998. Back then I found lots of Archeys frogs, some as small as the fingernail on your little finger. Now that we live in the Coromandel I've been keeping an eye open for these guys in all their usual haunts, but with no luck. Until yesterday

Anyway, a reintroduction to an old friend ....

Archeys frog, Coromandel Peninsula

About the photo: frogs are really difficult to photograph due to light reflecting off their moist skin. They're even more difficult to photograph when they're only the size of your top thumb joint and you're working alone! To photograph this frog I found a nice mossy boulder and arranged a fern leaf to add some depth to the background. Next on a tripod above and to camera left I balanced a flash with a diffuser to act as main light. A series of practice shots were used to set the light output from this main flash. Photo taken one handed with a 100mm macro lens on manual focus and f16 at 125th/sec and ISO 100. A ring-flash was hand-held low and to camera right to fill in the shadow on the side of the frog.


Sometimes it pays to have quirky photographs as part of your portfolio. Two recent image sales could best be described as for quirky images.

The first is of a dread-locked cricketer going out in the rain to bat in a losing game on the remote island nation of St Helena. This was sold for publication in that bible for cricket connoiseurs: Wisden. Those familiar with this publication know that it has very few photographs in its 1,500 pages devoted lovingly to the statistics of all first-class cricket throughout the world. It ws therefore a considerable compliment from them to request this image:

and here it is with Simon Green's accompanying article:

thanks to Wisden/Bloomsbury Publishing for use of page proof

My other example is based not so much around the quirky image, but a quirky name. A few years ago a botanist named Michael Heads erected the genus Hebejeebie for some, mainly alpine, plant species in New Zealand. This name was a play on combining the previous name for Hebe (the group of plants that used to include these species) and the presumed reaction from other botanists. BBC Wildlife Magazine liked this name and the only image they could find was mine of Hebejeebie trifida:
But it has to be said - not one of my best plant photos!

Botanists, being botanists, have since played around with the names for these plants and some now call this plant Veronica trifida and some call it Parahebe trifida while others still prefer Hebejeebie trifida!

How did the editors of these publications find these images? James Coyne from Wisden Googled "St Helena cricket" and my blog article (here) came up.

Wanda Sowry from BBC Wildlife Magazine also used Google searching for "Hebejeebie" and my image on the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network's website came up

Smoke and mirrors

A busy time recently editing images and photographing NZ plants (more on this later), but have still managed to get a (few) photos.

First the Ketetahi hotsprings on the flanks of Tongariro volcano in Tongariro National Park. This area is waahi tapu (sacred site) to local maori whose legend is that the demigod trickster Maui warmed himself here after stealing the secret of fire from the gods in Hawaiiki.

About the photo: As this is a sacred site, I could not get close. That, and the uninspiring partially overcast sky made it challenging to get a good photo. I used a moderately wide angle lens (Canon 24-105 f4 L @ 24mm) at f 16 to get the depth of focus from the nearby tussock grasses to the stream in the valley and up to the ridgeline, and underexposed by nearly 1 stop. I waited for a patch of sunlight to highlight the geothermal steam. Not a great shot, but not too bad given the conditions.

Next was a detail shot.

About the photo: this is taken from the same location as that above and using the same lens zoomed to 105mm. F 6.3 was used to add depth to the photo and to give the 1/500th sec shutter speed to freeze the billowing of the steam. What would be great would be to have something in there like a person in a red raincoat to give a sense of scale (they would be about as tall as my logo). You work with what you get . . .

After recovering from feeling a bit like spawning salmon after having to struggle against people walking the nearby Tongariro Alpine Crossing track in their hundreds (every day) we headed to Waihora Lagoon in Pureora State Forest in a large electrical storm - you gotta go that extra mile if you want your photos to stand out! Unfortunately the clouds weren't cooperating to give a great towering dark cloudbank backdrop, but I'm reasonably happy with the results . . .

About the photo: this is a panorama created from 9 overlapping images. A polarising filter was used to reduce the sheen on the water. The rain gave a gorgeously saturated green to the trees, but meant Fran had to hold a reflector over the camera to keep the camera dry (I left the umbrella in the car - doh!!).

And another perspective:

About the photo: this is a single shot taken while standing in the lake (maybe not a great idea as the lightning and thunder crackled and roared all around). A low viewpoint was used to bring attention to the water and a slow shutter speed (2 seconds) to add a haze over the water surface from the torrential rain. With the cloud backdrop I envisaged, this could have been an awesome shot. Next time.

Next post - babies or video. Yet to decide