Dancing, feasting, and goodbyes

This weekend was the MEDANZ (Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand) yearly meeting. Unfortunately our information packet went missing for awhile before hand, so Tam registered for classes late, and only got into one. But it does sound like 90-minutes of learning how to adopt Bollywood choreography to middle eastern dance was a hoot.

Saturday night what the Yalla! show. Troupes from all over the country performed. I enjoyed the show for its variety. There were all sorts of wacky fusion pieces, from south-pacific to a latin-american fan-dance, and another flamenco-like one. (I find two solid hours of cabaret style to get boring eventually.)

Sunday evening was the Hafla, with food and more dancing. Sunday night was also our chance to say goodbye to Stephanie, who left Monday to head back to LA after two years here in NZ. We were all very sad to see her go. We also wonder how long before LA drives her nuts and she longs for the calm coolness of Wellington once more.

It turned out Stephanie was not the only one departing on Monday. Helene, the woman who loaned us her possum traps and gave us basic skinning and tanning instructions, was off to a new job- a a professional rat catcher. I think her official title is something like “apprentice pest control officer.” That will be quite a carrer change, as she will now be living in huts on deserted off-shore islands, working with others to shoot, poison and trap predator species to try and save the native wildlife. Pretty cool, and right up her alley. She commented that when we see her next, she should be wearing a lovely possum-fur jacket. 🙂

Just some pics

For Cathy M, the hydrangea behind the kitchen. It’s more pink this year; isn’t that interesting ? We didn’t put any lime down or anything. It had no pink at all last year.

We went across the valley to the new block the Germans are moving into. (The one with the massive zig-zag driveway.) We’d intended to just head up and snap some pics, because we really wanted to see what our place looks like from the other side of the valley (we’d asked permission earlier), but they were actually there planting some trees, so we chatted for a while. They have a nikau palm in one of their gullies ! How cool ! We poked around underneath and scavenged some of last year’s seeds, though they are likely all rotted, you never know. And we got some pics of our place:

And back on our side, some pics of the blond boy (the grey one wouldn’t hold still !):

Kapiti Island

First, some background. New Zealand, as most of y’all know, is one of those places that got isolated enough, early enough, that things eveolved a little differently — flightless birds and so on. In fact, NZ separated from Gondwana before mammals evolved, which is why there weren’t any (except for a couple of bats) until people brought them. (What did the owls eat, if there were no mice ? The mouse-sized bugs of course.) A lot of this fabulous wildlife has already been wiped out, and a lot more of it is very nearly gone. It’s easy to understand how flightless birds could have gotten eaten to extinction by cats, rats, dogs, weasels, possums, etc., but plenty of the now-extinct-or-extremely-rare birds fly perfectly well, but have the unfortunate habit of nesting on the ground (even the native hawks and falcons nest on the ground), or worse, in holes in trees. (Weasels, ferrets, and stoats are genetically predisposed to slither down holes looking for something to eat. If you want to trap one, you put the trap in a bit of pipe — you don’t even have to bait it.)

Anyway, part of the effort to keep some of these birds around involves scrubbing all the predators off the outlying islands, and shifting what’s left of the birds there. (Did you know that a weasel can swim three kilometers ?) One of those islands, Kapiti, is just up the coast from us. They only let so many visitors onto the island at a time, so you have to get a permit, which are often sold out months in advance. Stephanie, who wanted to go before she leaves for the US in a few days (wah!), got us all tickets.

After confirming the weather isn’t absolutely horrid, you show up at the ferry — which in this case is a pair of boats on trailers at the local boat club. Those who’ve been following the blog from way back might remember our trip around the coast over in the Wairarapa, through the little town where all the fishing boats are pulled up onto the beach with bulldozers. That’s what you do if you don’t have a pier. So after getting our bags checked for hitchhiking rats, we climbed aboard the boat, the bulldozer dipped the trailer into the water, and off we went.

It was about ten minutes out to the island & as you can see the weather was somewhat gray and blustery.

There was a speil from a DOC fellow that took about a half an hour (and he was talking really fast, too) covering the geology and history of the island, as well as the various birds we could expect to see or look for., and then off we went.

I should note at this point that while many of these birds are rare, they are hardly what you would call elusive:

The first one on the left there is kereru, the wood pigeon, the second largest pigeon in the world (the blue crowned pigeon of New Guinea is bigger). Those live OK on the mainland as well, and are critical for the propagation of a host of NZ plants and trees, being the only bird big enough to swallow the larger seeds. They’ll give you a heart attack if one happens to explode unexpectedly out of a bush nearby. The next three are of the kaka, a parrot relative to the South Island alpine kea, and certainly as curious. And the last two are of the weka, which I can’t help but think of as a sort of poor man’s kiwi, in that they are brown ovoid flightless birds that poke around in the dead leaves looking for bugs, and yet they are diurnal and not nearly as rare, so you can actually see them. These will happily snatch food out of your hands when you’re not paying attention and I’e heard stories of people camping in various wild places discovering that weka had gotten into their food while they slept and eaten everything. Stephanie had to rescue an unattented backpack at the visitor’s shelter from a weka that was industriously attempting to drag open the zippers.

We saw a few other birds as well, including cheeky little black robins with white breasts, and the rarest of the honeyeaters, the stitchbirds, that make a soft purring sound like a sewing machine. A real treat was this one:

This is the takahe, a flightless relative of the pukeko. They thought these were extinct for a while, but found a population in a remote corner of the South Island. There are something like 260 of them today, of which 14 of them live on Kapiti.

Better even than seeing some of these birds was hearing them. We got on the island around 9am, and though it can’t have been comparable to the dawn chorus, there was still an incredible amount of birdsong. Bellbirds and kakariki, the red-crowned parakeet, and of course a whole host of birds we didn’t recognize. We’d been reading settlers’ stories about how deafening the birdsong was in the bush, when the bird populations on the mainlands were still high, but you don’t get that now — most of our morning chorus at the farm is from English songbirds (and, lately, a trio of magpies). The real treat, and the highlight of the trip for me, was hearing the kokako. The kokako is one of the “wattle” birds, like the extinct huia and the also-very-endangered saddleback, that only exist in NZ. There are only about 1800 of them, and those are the North Island ones — the South Island ones they think are probably extinct now. Anyway, it has the most amazing song, kind of like someone playing short experimental notes on a harmonica — it’s quite loud and carrying and the way it echoed through the green misty wood was mysterious and haunting. Very, very cool.

Stephanie had brought a friend from work, Sandy, and the four of us climbed up to the top of the island (even though they both had colds), from which we could see absolutely nothing at all, as the cloud deck had lowered and all you could see was white. We had lunch, fending off a mooching weka, and trooped back down. By this time the birds had mostly gone silent, apart from the tuis.

The pick-up was exciting, as the weather had gotten worse and the strait was pretty choppy. The boat lowered the gangplank and backed up waterline, but the current and choppy waves would drag it along the beach, so you had to be quick and jump on. As it was, we only got half of us on before the driver had to pull away and swing around for another try. Apparently, if the weather is so bad they can’t pick you up, then you get to spend the night in the guest house on the island.

Stephanie and Sandy stopped by the farm on the way back into town, to see the crias.

Boys will be boys… even when they're not

I came across an unexpected spectacle of camelid behavior this morning. I was heading out for the 10:30 “is anyone giving birth” check, and over in the riding arena Jim was busily orgling and chasing Galadriel around. He tried to mount her a few times, but she was not interested. Jim is a wether, and was snipped years ago. In the past we had seen him doing the flehmen behavior, where the head is held upright after sniffing the dung pile, which is an intact-male behavior, but todays events were quite unexpected!

I guess he was getting into the “I am the alpha male” role a bit much, and started trying to use bits he doesn’t have any more. I moved the three wethers to another adjacent paddock. Looks like we are split into two herds for the forseeable future. We knew a split was inevitable for management reasons, we just thought we had another 6 months before it became necessary.

He probably started the behavior now because Galadriel gave birth three weeks ago, so is probably now fertile again. Until this time all the girls have been pregnant. The fact that he never made any such advances on Victoria can be taken as further proof that she is pregnant, or she just frightened the poor not-a-boy away.

Wild Kingdom

If you watch them enough, you really do get to understand them. At least, at the most basic obvious, level. Some things are cross-species. For example, yesterday:

Little Grey Cria: Runsandrunsandrunsandruns around the hills, around the other alpacas, around the people, around the hills. Prances a bit. Pauses, Does it all again.

Little Fawn Cria (the Blond Boy): Tries to remember which one is his mommy. It’s either Concetta or Cariboo. Settles on Concetta.

Jim: Stands on top of a hillock. The thought balloon over his head says, “Here is the Majestic Alpha Male, proudly guarding his herd from his hilltop lookout. The females are suckling, so he must be alert for all threats, especially the wily Mini-pumas…” Strikes a pose.

LGC: runsandrunsandrunsandruns around the hills, around the other alpacas, around the people, around the hills. Comes to check out the people. Experimentally chases Blond Boy.

BB: campers a few strides, then picks his way bemusedly back to Mom.

Jim: Tears hell-bent for leather from the top of the hillock, to the top of another hillock. Strikes a pose.

LGC: runsandrunsandrunsandruns around the hills, around the other alpacas, around the people, runs up onto Jim’s hill. Oops.

Jim: Backs his ears at LGC.

LGC: runsandrunsandrunsandruns….well, you get the idea.

Jim: Tears back and forth between one hill and the other and the riding arena, scattering the wethers for good measure as he goes, pausing to pose on each hilltop.

Pointer: Gets uppity. *Gargle!*

Jim: “Oh yeah?!” Chases Pointer right into the mob of grazing females and nips at his ears. Returns to his hilltop.

Victoria: If she had the appropriate physiognomy, she’d be pursing her lips, narrowing her eyes, and rolling up her sleeves. As it is, she jogs purposefully up to the top of Jim’s hill and proceeds to drive him right the heck down off of it. “It’s fine if you want to go stomping on the wethers,” she spits, “but you do not come crashing into me you square-assed banana-eared upstart!”

Jim: Slinks off the hill, cowed. “Crap. I must reassert my dominance!” Chases Pointer until he flips his tail up in submission, then chases him a bit more for good measure.

LGC: Finds Mom. “Mmmmm, supper!”

Turn, Turn, Turn

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but I recently became the owner of, not one, but *two* used spinning wheels:

I got them at the auction house (I only wanted one, but there were two in the lot, so I ended up with two) with the idea that I’d learn a bit about how fibre gets used, so that it’ll mean more when I’m feeling it on the animals. I mentioned this on the local SCA list, and before you could say Jim’s Your Llama Uncle, there was a Spin-In scheduled at our place.

My two, as you can see, are little upright jobbies, but Dayna has herself a lovely Sleeping Beauty-style one with the wheel on the side. She’s been spinning wth a drop spindle for yonks, but had been struggling to teach herself how to use her spiffy new wheel from a book & wasn’t having a lot of luck. Maggie, I believe I’ve mentioned before, is the crazy-mad chick who spins her own thread to sew with her hand-made needles. She spent the day using a satay skewer with a knob on the end (actually a very fine little drop-spindle) to turn a pile of white angora rabbit fur into soft, snow-white thread — but she also brought a very spiffy upright wheel to play with.
Jennifer, it turns out, is (or at least was, at one point, and may yet be again) the spinning wheel equivalent of a Boy Racer. She cut back to only one spinning wheel when she moved up from Christchurch, but it’s a big double-pedaled castle wheel (another like Sleeping Beauty) with a wacky screw-clutch mechanism to let you change gears & she told us all the ways you can “hot them up” with special oils and polymer drivebands and yadda yadda. Wow.

Anyway, so we sort of taught me to spin. The hard part is getting the pulling and pinching and feeding right. Jennifer very very generously let me mess up a wodge of her slivered (meaning, carded into a long strip) wool, and left me still more of it to practice on.

And then we ate chili. Which Stephen made for us, even though he wasn’t feeling well. Yay !


Concetta’s giving birth and I’m MISSING IT!!! ARGH>

Actually, has *given* birth. Got a phone call from Stephen — it’s a little fawn boy. Stephen says he’s been getting pictures — he’s just gone back out there now.



[Posted by Tamara, who forgot to check who she was logged in as…]

We’ve had several requests for more photos, so here ya go !

In the news department: Still no new crias. Amaya has been speyed, and has to wear one of those big dorky cone collars to keep her from licking her stitches. Azami caught a rabbit today ! If you look close in that last picture, the cria had a bit of grass (and clover, actually) in his mouth. He’s not due to be weaned for, oh, another six months, mind you, but everyone *else* was grazing, so he wandered around with them, chewing the same blade of grass over and over.

Farm Update

After several lovely clear crisp autumn days, it’s turned southerly again, though fortunately it’s mostly wind. For Readers Elsewhere who may not know, New Zealand has all of two native deciduous trees — which in combination with the return of the rains means that the colors of autumn in NZ are actually *green*. In the central and southern South Island, they do get the “Fall Colors” in the shelter belts of exotic poplar and the like, but up here there’s not a lot of change apart from the weather.

The weather has its own trickle-down effect, though: we got the first of what I assume will be this season’s parade of vagrant spiders in the living room (I think the kitten ate it), and Azami caught four mice in a single afternoon, probably from the old trailer the hay bales got moved into.

We haven’t gotten any more cria yet, but the one we’ve got is doing all the things you’d expect a young critter to do: scamper around, put everything into his mouth, and pester his elders. Here I can take a moment to explain that male alpacas (camelids in general) sort out their pecking order using assorted physical challenges, including chest-butting, neck wrestling, and nipping each other’s ankles. Young animals, of course, start practicing these games pretty early, usually on their age-mates, if they have them. The closest thing to age-mates the cria’s got at the moment are the two wethers, but they’re essentially teenagers at this point: both too young and too old to appreciate a baby. So you must savor the mental image of the leggy little ball of fluff valiantly butting and neck wrestling with his llama uncle Jim. Jim’s knees, rather. Jim is a very tolerant llama, is Jim.

Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the rest of the cria, waiting for the underfloor insulation we ordered, waiting for the kit shed to arrive, and trying to find time to plant the rest of the fruit trees.