Happy Chinese New Year – but roosters, beware of danger ahead

Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy, and 新年快乐

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Rooster captured on film by children’s author Barbara Else

It’s not long until the Chinese New Year (28th January 2017) will be celebrated – this year it’s the year of the rooster. I am a rooster.

And, oh no! I have just found out that when it’s the year of your Chinese birth zodiac sign it’s never a good year for you. That fortune in all aspects of your (my) life will not be very good and therefore, we roosters should be careful during 2017 – it’s a fire rooster year.

Apparently 1945 was a wood rooster so maybe I’m safe from a bad year. Also, just so you know a wood rooster is ‘energetic, overconfident, tender and unstable’ I of course, couldn’t comment!

http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/rooster.htm

It seems to bring myself good luck in this zodiac year of my birth I need to wear red so will check my wardrobe – I don’t think I have a lot of red although my winter coat is full-length and red, so covers me completely so I’m ok for winter

Red of course is one of the luckiest colours in Chinese culture, standing for prosperity, loyalty, success, and happiness. Apparently, it can also drive away bad luck and evil spirits.

Research tells me I can wear red belts, socks, shoes, or other red clothes. Apparently red underwear is highly recommended but another ‘rule’ that we roosters need to pay attention to, or the red won’t ward off bad luck, is I cannot buy red underwear for myself.

Now you know what I need for gifts this year!

One good thing, as well as wearing red, I also need to wear Jade accessories–  so will be wearing more pounamu (NZ Greenstone/Jade) and that’s easy for me.

However, it gets even more complicated, it also seems I need to adjust my furniture and dwellings to face east “to get Tai Sui behind them”.

All I can say is crikey,  Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy and 新年快乐

 

 

Swimming with Florida’s manatee (dugong)

It’s satisfying ticking off a bucket list item: swimming with manatee – tick.

With two Florida locals, and three from Mexico, I cruise some Florida canals looking for a 600-kg creature (1322.77 lb). Sirenia are large marine herbivores and are also called sea cows, manatee, dugong and for sailors, mermaids.  It’s not the right season, but a few are permanent residents. We are looking for a fat needle in a large, watery haystack.

The canals are beautiful with expensive real estate and living at the water’s edge are a few ordinary working folks among the rich and famous including John Travolta who has a holiday home here.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge looks after this part of Kings Bay and many locals object to their speed, and other, restrictions. DJ, our young Captain, calls out to a young guy in a hire boat to slow down, to obey the speed limit – he did, but maybe just until we were out of sight.

Manatees, which lack blubber which allows whales tolerate the cold, have a near-perfect winter refuge here as many of the springs produce large quantities of warm (22 c) water.  We’re told that the locals in this de-facto manatee capital of the USA can, from November to March, walk out their doors and see dozens of them swimming or sleeping in the canals.

We pass a boat, with its passengers in the water watching this relative of elephants, but DJ moves on and later, just when I decide my bucket list will not be ticked today, we find a manatee floating on the water like a great grey blimp beside a private jetty.

I’m so excited. The only other manatee I’d seen was in a Disney park many years ago – wildlife in the wild is always different!

“She’s due to pop” our skipper says. It seems no-one has ever seen a birth and a local university has offered $US10, 000 for a video of the event. I immediately check my camera’s video setting, wriggle into a wet suit, then with mask and snorkel on, slip off the back of the boat.

For some reason the water’s very dark at this time of the year which suits the manatee as they can sink and be out of sight quickly.

Keeping well back from this pregnant cow I’m thrilled to be in the water with her. We’d learnt they needed warmth from the sun and her back was out of the water catching sun rays.

Although only a few feet away, the murky water made her hard to see clearly. I just float and admire her while sending mental ‘I love you’, and ‘we won’t hurt you’ messages. We stay in the water for about ten minutes and she’s motionless the whole time. As we get back into the boat she glides slowly into the middle of the canal and I miss her lifting her nostrils to breathe before sinking.

Our boat moves away slowly, heading for the Three Sisters Springs where, in season, photos are taken of the manatees resting in the clear, warm water. It was photos such as them that had put the manatee on my to-experience bucket list.

Once again we slide off the back of the boat, swim past two cruise boats moored between us and the entrance to the springs, then past the barrier that stops boats entering. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop canoes and kayaks and I keep to the edge as many of the boats seem to have passengers who have little control over their direction.

The water is much clearer here and I see how easy it would be to watch them underwater: a reminder that bucket lists sometimes need to be time specific.

Touching protected wild animals, as our captain had suggested we could (none of us did) would never be allowed in many countries, and it’s this ‘swim with manatee’ activity that has conservationists, boaters, some residents, politicians and tour operators arguing over the future of the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversee all wildlife refuge areas and, manage the manatee population too.

In the video shown before we boarded, we were told ‘don’t disturb resting manatees; don’t block them when they are leaving the roped-off areas (where people are forbidden) and don’t touch.’

Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, believes the situation at Crystal River is harassment of the manatees, and is “in direct violation of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.” He advocates stricter rules including requiring swimmers to “stop a body length away from manatees” so they are free to interact, or not, with people. “The majority of the dive shops are trying to do a good job” Rose says, and “If they want to be responsible and protect the privilege they have, which is so unique, then fine. If not, the swim-with program should go.”

Some years ago, in Florida, I’d bought a Wyland (marine artist) print of a manatee and baby and now I’ve seen one – without a baby, so no ten thousand dollars for me.  With its fat, flat, wrinkled face and sensory whiskers, the manatee looks rather like an overweight dolphin or small whale despite not being related to either.

Vulnerable to extinction, the population in this state is under 5000 and it seems that without stronger conservation efforts, these gentle creatures will be consigned to legend status along with the mermaids.

Like New Zealand’s flightless birds, the manatee evolved in an environment with abundant food and no predators.  Now vulnerable, its survival depends on locals and tourists being willing to share its home. If you are travelling in Florida, November is Manatee Awareness month and when you are most likely to see them.

 

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Gujarat: salt plains, wild ass, and I hope we’re not lost!

 

Although it’s a few years since I visited the huge Little Rann of Kutch (staying at The Royal Safari Camp when it was 18 months old) my memories of staying there are still vivid and I often tell people to put Gujarat on their bucket-list.

We enter the ‘camp’ through a traditional red arch and into the facilities by huge one hundred-year old doors. Among some of the fabulous pieces of furniture is a carved wooden chest which, when I ask, I’m told “this is a family heirloom. It was carved from one piece of wood: my father-in-law gave it to us.” Still having my hand-written notes and notebooks is a great resource!

It's a harsh life for these people
It’s a harsh life for these people

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Covering nearly 5000 sq. km, the Little Rann of Kutch is a unique landscape and includes an official Sanctuary to the beautiful wild ass. Related to the zebra, this is the world’s last population of these ass.

Believed to once been a shallow sea, we take a tour of the bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which evidently transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains and is considered to be a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In the monsoon, it gets flooded for about a month. With no, or little, vegetation, except on the fringes, the ground-cover which requires little water, is dominated by short-living plants.

The land is so arid, I hope we’re not lost!

Jon records a piece to camera
Jon records a piece to camera

 

Note: it was while we were here that fellow travel writer Jon Haggins got the tittle for his book, Chasing Wild Ass

 

Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat
Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat

Until I went to Gujarat, India, I did not realise how big birding was in the world – as well as birding blogs, see a blog I wrote about Desert Coursers  the resort at Zainabad, Gujarat, India where I stayed a few days.

Photos of rural scenery: Middle of the North Island, New Zealand

Near Palmerston North.

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Come for a drive in the countryside with me. April 2016. Dairy farm … grass fed stock

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Toi toi

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Ponga

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Windfarm

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Sheep farm

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Old homestead

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I meet sheep on the road

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Down into the valley

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Cattle look tiny

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Self evident

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Rural mail boxes

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Old shearing shed and yards

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Green swampland. Vital to the region.

Driving in New Zealand – tips

Driving in another country is often fraught with issues: driving in New Zealand is no different.

Think about it, you are in another country, in a rental car, possibly driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, there are few motorways, the dual carriageway roads are often narrow and winding, you round a corner – and this is what you see!

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Now what!?

Slow down, and if there is a vehicle ahead of you, right in front of the sheep like in this photo, you are lucky, get close in behind it and tailgate slowly through the mob of sheep.

If there is no vehicle for you to follow keep to the left and drive very, very, slowly: the farmer will no doubt get his dogs to move the sheep to the right and out of your way.

However, if the sheep are moving towards you, in other words travelling in the opposite direction to you, once again keep left, and drive very slowly – although I would suggest you just stop on the left, wind down the windows, grab your camera, and enjoy the quiet and smells of the country while being engulfed by a flock of sheep.

Chances are you will never have this happen again so why not just have fun.

For up-to-date and legal information about driving in New Zealand, and to make sure of your safety, please read this  and most of all remember to keep left – especially when turning at intersections.  Many of the trolleys at airports have notices to tell visitors ‘your journey will take longer than you think’ – take heed of this message!

This was the first flock of sheep I had met for years and years so I made the most of it by driving through, then stopping and have the sheep pass me as I stood at the back of my car, with my camera. Enjoy the shots I took.

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Bachelor Boys at Orana Park. The world’s largest primates, gorillas

Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand’s only open range zoo and as soon as I arrived I went to see ‘the boys’ – my main reason for visiting the park yet again. I have been visiting this park for many years, in fact my brother, Roger, helped with fundraising to get the park started. Some years after it started my father had to apologise for his lack of trust in the success of the project and he too loved visiting.

‘The boys’, as they are affectionately called, are three of the world’s largest primates, and Orana park is part of the international zoo based breeding program for Western Lowland gorillas: their role now is to house three of these critically endangered species. These bachelor boys are :Fataki, the silverback and half-brothers Fuzu and Mahali. (Fataki is a half-brother to Mahali too).

orana 2016-02-05 10.44.22They’re housed in the $6M Great Ape Centre – Orana’s most   ambitious project ever was completed in June 2015 just before the gorillas arrived. The habitat enables Orana to hold two species of critically endangered great apes (in separate habitats within the one complex) and the endangered Sumatran orang-utans will hopefully be transferred to Orana during 2016 – when I will return to Christchurch. Add it to your ‘bucket-list’ too.

Raising awareness on the plight of gorillas and orangutan is also a huge page of the park’s role although in the future Orana Wildlife Park hopefully may receive a breeding recommendation.

As you will possibly know threats to gorillas are primarily driven by lifestyle choices such as habitat loss due to coltan mining for electronic devices. Orana Wildlife Park has partnered with Re:Mobile, a New Zealand firm that recycles and re-markets mobile phones, reducing the demand for new handsets and the associated environmental impacts.

So, take any old mobile phone to the park when visiting and put it in the collection box so you too can help.

Orana, a registered charity, is a not-for-profit organisation, and raises 100% of funds for each new development and generating the required funds for the Great Ape Centre was a huge effort by them – well done to you all. See their website to see how you can help as a volunteer, adopt an animal, or donate.

I have more blogs to come about my recent day at Orana Park, but for now for some of my gorilla photos:

Keep up to date with the park and its inhabitants on Facebook … here is the boys shopping list.

Shopping list for vegetarians
Shopping list for vegetarians

NOTE: Many of the endangered animals at the Park do not belong to Orana Wildlife Trust but to the relevant breeding programme which makes decisions about which females are best bred with which males to ensure the most diverse gene pool possible in these captive populations. From time to time animals are moved between various zoos and parks to enhance the genetic diversity of their particular species.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

See heuse IMG_6616re for more of their conservation activities

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Alligators galore in Florida – birds too

With alligators galore, and many fabulous birds, for me this park is a must-visit on your Florida travels. I’m told, ‘where there is a lake or pond in Florida, assume a ‘gator lives there‘. Seems they can, and do, travel big distances overnight too!

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One of Florida’s natural attractions is the Myakka River State Park and recently I enjoyed a day there with Sarasota friends: it’s one of Florida’s largest and, evidently, most diverse parks. Developed in 1934 it has a scenic drive, many hiking trails, a board walk, horse and bike trails, plus the first USA canopy walk (2000).  Please add your favourite canopy walks to the comments.

It also claims to have two of the world’s largest airboats.

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While cruising on board the Myakka Maiden I was surprised to hear alligators making a sound – for some bizarre reason that was something I’d not expected.  It was an aspirated hissing noise and, according to the captain of the air-powered boat, is used as a warning to other ‘gators to ‘get out of my space.’

The hour-long boat tour was accompanied by interesting facts, figures and fun by the driver-captain as we gently explored the shallow grassy areas of the Upper Myakka Lake. The flowers bloom according to the clock – well the sun really – and we are told “at 2pm the lake will covered with yellow blooms’.  And bloom at two they did!

I’m well-recommending this boat tour!

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Heather by Mallory
Heather by Mallory

 

 

Nature being watched, and photographed, by the Kiwitravelwriter

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first bite
first bite: For the first time I alligator at the cafe:

 

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