23 May 2015

Birds of New Zealand: part 4

I am not a twitcher – they have lists of birds and do anything, go anywhere at the drop of a hat to add to the ever-increasing list of birds they’ve spotted, to the point of being obsessive and often to the detriment of the birds they’re trying to see – but I am becoming much more serious about and dedicated to bird watching.

Naturally enough that also means my collection of bird photos continues to grow apace, which also means it’s about time I posted another blog about some of our wonderful New Zealand birds (my three previous blogs on the subject can be seen here and here and here).

This post covers a rather eclectic selection of birds, in this case based on the Western Springs location where I photographed them (though some photos were taken in other places on other days).

Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)
Called the parson bird by the early European immigrants to New Zealand, presumably because of the resemblance of the white tufts of feathers at the front of its neck to a priest’s clerical collar, the tui is anything but pious. In fact, it has a habit of imbibing so much nectar from blossoming trees that it becomes quite intoxicated and sings uproariously. Its song is one of its most endearing qualities, highly variable, pleasingly melodic but also including a comprehensive vocabulary of clicks, creaks, cackles and groans.

Beautifully plumaged in shades ranging from iridescent greens and blues through dark browns to an inky black, the tui has quite a distinctive flight pattern, with louder flapping than most other birds due to its relatively short wide wings. Chances are, then, that you’ll hear the tui before you see it.

Left: tui. Right: New Zealand pigeon.

New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)
Our native pigeon, also known by its Maori name kererū, may be a plump critter but, in the breeding season, its aerial displays can be spectacular, flying high, swooping fearlessly earthwards, then stalling and pulling swiftly up before a potentially fatal impact with treetops or the ground. I presume female pigeons are suitably impressed!

With feathers of metallic green and a crisp clean white, with red eyes and red feet, New Zealand pigeons are essential to our forest environment. By feasting on the fruit of forest trees and shrubs, then flying around pooping a lot, they ensure the seeds of those trees and shrubs are widely dispersed. Sadly, though illegal, humans have been known to feast on the pigeon, meaning its numbers are not as high as they once were.

Male brown teal

Brown teal (Anas chlorotis)
The brown teal is listed ‘at risk’ so I consider myself very lucky to have seen this little beauty. Once widespread throughout New Zealand, the brown teal is now mostly confined to the northern parts of the North Island because of the predations of introduced species like rats and stoats and the loss of their habitat. You can read more about efforts to conserve these pretty little creatures on brownteal.com.  

When you get the opportunity, it’s an easy bird to identify – it’s slightly smaller than a mallard and predominantly dark brown. At breeding time, the male has a distinctive iridescent green sheen on the back of his head, as you can see in the photo at right.

Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata)
According to my bird guide, the paradise shelduck is ‘highly sexually dimorphic’ – for the uninitiated, that’s not some kind of kinky fetish; it just means the male and female look very different, as you can see from the photos below. It’s a large duck, somewhere between the size of a mallard and a goose.

The paradise shelduck’s Maori name, pūtangitangi, gives a clue to the sound of its distinctive and incessant calls: ‘pū’ means the ‘origin of’ and tangi is ‘to weep’ or ‘to utter a plaintive cry’. The chicks aren’t quite so maudlin though and cheep like any other duckling. And, as you can see from the photos here, they are extremely cute little bundles of fluff.

Paradise shelduck chick at various stages of development

Paradise shelduck: female at left and male at right

Black swan (Cygnus atratus)
Many people think of the black swan as an Australian bird – it is, after all, both are the state symbol and the state emblem of Western Australia. However, scientists have discovered that the black swan was present here in New Zealand at the time of first human settlement, but had been hunted to extinction by the time Europeans first arried. In the 1860s, they were deliberately reintroduced from Australia and, judging by how quickly the local population grew, they may, at the same time, also have re-colonised New Zealand naturally – flown or been blown across the ditch from Australia.

Appropriately enough, the black swan’s Latin name atratus means ‘to be clothed in black for mourning’. Perhaps that’s why some people believe it to be a harbinger of bad luck. Personally, I think the swan dressed all in black is a very stylish and elegant-looking bird.

Much of the information about these birds came from my much-thumbed copy of Paul Scofield and Brent Stephenson, Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2013.

Black swan, adult at left, cygnets feeding at right

21 May 2015

Lost at Sea

In the course of researching family history you often uncover tragedy and sadness. This is one of those stories.

My second cousin three times removed, Martin Hodgetts Bust, was born on 9 August 1884 in England, in the small Lincolnshire village of Winterton. On his father’s side, Martin came from farming stock – in fact, the Bust family had been farming in various parts of Lincolnshire since the sixteenth century. Martin’s grandfather Henry was a farmer of 600-odd acres, a substantial holding in the mid 1800s, and his father Frederic was an agricultural engineer. Frederic and his brother Joseph were noted for inventing, manufacturing and selling agricultural machinery, and held several patents for chaff-cutting and ensilage-making machines.

A watercolour of Winterton by C. M. Gunnell, 1992.
Martin’s mother Sallie had been born in India, where her father was a tea planter, though Martin never knew grandfather Hodgetts – he had died in India in 1860, aged just 38. In fact, Martin never met any of his grandparents as all four had died before he was born.

Martin’s parents, Frederic Bust and Sallie Hodgetts were married in 1879 in Bridlington, Yorkshire, Sallie’s hometown, but made their home in Park Street, Winterton. Martin had two older siblings: his brother Frederic was born in 1881 and his sister Millicent was born in 1882, and the family’s domestic servant Betsy Barr also lived with them in their Winterton home.

Sadly, tragedy struck the Bust family soon after Martin was born. He never had the chance to get to know his father as Frederic Bust died in June 1885 when he was only 31 and Martin was not quite 10 months old. Without her husband’s income and with three children under five years old, it would have been difficult for Sally to cope, even though I’m sure she had help from both her husband’s and her own family.

Without his brother to assist with the agricultural business, Martin’s uncle Joseph found things tough going so put the agricultural business up for sale in 1887 and decided to make a life for himself in America. Sallie and her children would have gained some benefit from the sale of the business but that wouldn’t have kept the family in food and lodgings for long. It’s no surprise then to find that, at the time of the 1891 census, both Martin and his sister Millicent were boarding with sisters Frances and Florence Robinson in Sallie’s hometown of Bridlington, in Yorkshire. The Robinson women were teachers so I assume this was how the children received at least part of their education, though Martin also attended Grammar School in Driffield. 

HMS Conway. Image by Flapdragon. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMSConway1.jpg#/media/File:HMSConway1.jpg

In September 1898, shortly after celebrating his fourteenth birthday, Martin started a new life in Liverpool. He had been enrolled at HMS Conway, a naval training ship moored off Rock Ferry Pier on the river Mersey. Founded in 1859 by the Mercantile Marine Service Association as a means of training seaman for the Merchant Navy, HMS Conway, during Martin’s time at the school, was actually the former Rodney-class ship HMS Nile. She was a full-rigged wooden battleship, with a beam of 54ft 5in and 205ft 6in long at the gun deck, and was home to about 250 cadets at any one time.

National School Admission Registers & Log-books 1870-1914, School name: HMS Conway training ship,
Archive reference D/CON/13/12, Liverpool Maritime Museum

Though it would have been a very different life from farming, Martin seems to have excelled as a seaman cadet, receiving more comments of ‘very good’ than just ‘good’ in his training record book. The cadets would have been excited in July 1899 by the visit of the Duke of York, later King George V, who presented prizes to the top cadets and delivered a speech on the qualities essential to success in seamanship, ‘truthfulness, obedience and zeal’. Sadly for Martin, 1999 was also tainted with personal tragedy, as his mother Sallie died in March that year, in Winterton, aged just 48.

Martin graduated from HMS Conway in July 1900 and must immediately have gone to sea, as he was not in England when the 1901 census was taken on 31 March. I have only been able to find the name of one ship Martin served on, though I do know that by the end of 1903, he was qualified to serve as a Second Mate on a foreign-going ship, as witnessed by these two Certificates of Competency dated 29 December 1903 and 3 July 1907.

In May 1907 Martin is shown sailing, as a passenger rather than crew, on the Mary Isabel from Hokianga in New Zealand to Sydney, Australia. Perhaps he had been visiting members of his extended family, who were then living in Auckland, before beginning his next posting.

Soon after reaching Sydney, Martin joined the crew of the Hartfield. She was an iron-hulled British sailing ship, 261.7ft long and 39.3ft wide, with a gross tonnage of 1866.5 tons. Built in 1884 in Whitehaven, in the English county of Cumberland, the Hartfield had been thoroughly overhauled while in London during December 1906-January 1907 and was classed A1 by Lloyd’s. In January 1907 she left London bound for Sydney, carrying a general cargo, then loaded a cargo of coal and sailed for Valparaiso, in Chile, where she arrived about 21 August 1907 after a very stormy passage. The coal was discharged in Valparaiso and the Hartfield then took on 1030 tons of sand ballast in preparation for a voyage to Tacoma, Washington, where a cargo of wheat awaited her.

Hartfield. Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, www.sfpl.org/sfphotos

The Hartfield departed Valparaiso for Tacoma on 25 October 1907 with a crew of 22, including Second Mate Martin Bust, and was never seen again.

The only clues as to the fate of the ship came from the lighthouse keeper at St Estevan Point on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. In a letter to the Agent of the Marine and Fisheries Department he reported that  

when he was at Hesquiat on 22nd December, 1907, he began a search along the coast and continued it up to the 6th January, 1908. He had found two life belts, some hardwood cabin fittings, and a miniature life buoy, upon which latter appeared the words "Hartfield," Liverpool. Beyond this there is nothing to show what became of this vessel. At the time this man wrote it had been blowing a hurricane from the south and south-west, so whether she was blown on shore or whether the cargo shifted and she capsized there is no evidence.

The loss of the ship was widely reported in newspapers around the world in January 1908 and that may be how Martin’s family came to know of his death. He was just 23 years of age. 

I imagine it was his sister Millicent who was most saddened by his loss and it was probably she who arranged for the commemorative plaque that can still be found on the wall of the south aisle in All Saints' Church, in Martin’s home town of Winterton. It reads simply, ‘In memory of Martin Hodgetts Bust. Born August 9 1884. Lost at sea December 1907.’ 

Left: All Saints' Church, Winterton. Image by David Wright. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_Saints_Church_Winterton.jpg. Right: Image from church website: lincoln.ourchurchweb.org.uk/winterton

19 May 2015

Auckland sculpture: Birds and Boats

New Zealand is famous for its birds. Not only is it known by ornithologists as the seabird capital of the world, it is also home to many forest birds that are unique to this island nation because of its lengthy period of isolation from the world’s other continental land masses.

Being an island nation, New Zealand is also a boatie’s paradise. Before aeroplanes, shipping was the only means of connection with the rest of the world and, indeed, in the early days of the colony, the only method of transport around the country. These days, shipping remains an important industry, and pleasure boating has become one of our favourite pastimes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that both birds and boats provide important inspiration for New Zealand artists and craftspeople and, as I’ve walked the streets of its biggest city, Auckland, I’ve discovered several magnificent examples of this inspiration. 

Neil Dawson, Birds and Boats, 2013   
Appropriately titled, Birds and Boats, Neil Dawson’s circular sculpture is suspended from a marble wall in the foyer of the ANZ Tower in lower Albert Street, in central city Auckland. My photos give no indication of size but, at 3100mm x 3100mm x 600mm and made of painted steel, it’s a substantial piece and has presence. If you look closely, you can see that the sculpture is made of small origami-like sailboats and its curved shapes are reminiscent of ocean waves.

Greer Twiss, Graftings, 2004 
These are just three of the ten bronze pieces that make up Greer Twiss’s work, Graftings. They fit perfectly into their surroundings in the lush fernery behind the massive glasshouses of the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain. At first glance, they look like real birds, easily recognisable to New Zealanders by their characteristic silhouettes and, for the benefit of overseas visitors, they come with tags inscribed with their common, Latin and Maori names.

Fred Graham, Kaitiaki, 2004
Fred Graham’s massive artwork (above) is also to be found in Auckland Domain, perched shoulder to shoulder with the trees planted on the hillside behind the museum. Although made of steel plate and presumably weighing a ton, its graceful fluid lines make it look as if this gigantic hawk really could fly. The artist notes that birds ‘were the original Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa, and the hawk has figured prominently in the oral traditions of Ngati Whatua and Tainui’. Whether intentional or coincidental, from a certain angle the hawk looks like its about to attack Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower

Brett Graham, Manu Tawhiowhio, 1996
Fred Graham’s son is also a hugely talented sculptor, as witnessed by this large abstract bird (right) that sits outside a building at Auckland University of Technology. Seven metres high and made of copper, wood and river stones, this bird speaks to the way ancient seafarers used migrating birds to guide them to foreign lands. Brett Graham’s skill lies in his ability to use simple forms and natural materials to create extremely powerful works of art.  

Paul Dibble, Waiting for Godot, 2013
The statue at the corner of Wellesley and Kitchener Streets appears continually to change. At first, Paul Dibble’s sculpture of a kereru (native wood pigeon), Woodpigeon on a Circle, was placed in this spot by the folks from the Gow Langsford Gallery to celebrate an exhibition by the artist in 2010. Later, it morphed into Waiting for Godot, (below left) a 2013 bronze of a kereru and an extinct huia. The first sculpture was almost 2.5 metres tall, the second one almost 3.7 metres high. Now both have disappeared. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next Paul Dibble exhibition at the Gow Langsford to see what bird will appear next.  

Paul Dibble, Voyager, 2002
The Voyager (above right) is another stunning piece by master sculptor Paul Dibble. Made of cast patinated bronze in November 2002, this piece sits outside Viaduct Point, at 125 Customs Street West in the central city. Its plaque reads ‘The Voyager acknowledges New Zealand’s long and on-going association with the sea. It stands at a site where fish were unloaded from trawlers for city processing.’

Charlotte Fisher, Arc, 2004
We’ve headed back to Auckland Domain again to check out CharlotteFisher’s contribution to our birds and boats theme. Sitting atop a tall column of granite, its wide bronze arc, a shape synonymous with boats, holds seven vertical shapes – seamen, perhaps? Or immigrants? It is an appropriate symbol for the voyages made by early explorers and settlers immigrating to these fertile shores.

Louise Purvis, Promise Boat, 2005
A short walk down the Centennial Walkway from Fisher’s artwork is Louise Purvis’s bardiglio marble and basalt piece, Promise Boat.  Stone and metal are this sculptor’s preferred materials and she manipulates them into delicate shapes that belie their weight and density. Here, Purvis acknowledges and celebrates the fact that ‘Images of boats are powerful signifiers for island nations, especially for Aotearoa New Zealand, where the land was discovered and rediscovered by many different navigators’.  

Artist unknown, Teddy Bear and Boat
Let’s finish on a whimsical note. This charming piece sits outside the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s offices at Westhaven Marina, and was commissioned by the family of Lawrence D. Nathan (1919-1987) to recognise his contribution as a successful businessman, a civic leader, a generous philanthropist and a passionate sailor. As a piece on the Distinctly Devonport website explains, Nathan ‘owned three classic yachts, Kotere, Iorangi and … Kahurangi (A30) which he owned for over thirty years and eventually sailed around the world’, hence the model boat with A30 on its sail. Nathan also had ‘a bit of a thing for teddy bears’, apparently. It’s a fun piece that kids young and old can enjoy and a delightful way to commemorate one Aucklander’s love of boats and the sea.