Category Archives: Birds

Birds, squirrels, and a monkey in New Delhi

With a couple of free days in New Delhi, and having already visited many of the tourist sites on a previous visit this time was pretty laid-back, relaxing before I went to a conference. But first I have to check out the wildlife!

I left my hotel (and will write a blog about all my various and diverse accommodations I used in India later) and went to Lodi Gardens. My Uber driver got lost despite his GPS and when he dropped me off said ‘I was here last weekend and you will see black swans whites swans – they are beautiful.’  I had not imagined what sort of birds or animals I would see in New Delhi so assumed the swans were left over from colonial days.

Here are the photos of the birds and creatures I saw:

. . . as you can see, not a swan in sight!

Away from Lodhi Park I also saw one monkey, and a gaggle of geese at the cricket grounds at a private school.

hiding out only metres from my hotel

Taking a canoe ride with the ferryman … birds and an elephant

Had a short ride with a ferryman yesterday. We picked up a couple of women and on my return to the landing spot saw an elephant leave the river side Hindu Temple. Here’s a photos – sorry I didn’t take any on my phone and the internet is too slow for uploading so once again you’ll need t wait until I’m back in NZ and can blog about birds and elephant and potters and weavers all near The Pimenta here in Kerala.

The Godwits have landed!

The very first feathered signs of spring arriving have landed in my old home city. Along with the daffodils, the godwits have landed in Christchurch (New Zealand) – arriving from the Alaskan Arctic Tundra where they raise their young.

Christchurch (and a few other places in New Zealand) is where they escape the Alaskan winter and have a summer holiday while feeding up large, building up their weight and strength before heading north again to reproduce.

godwits coming into land on the beach side the Avon-Heathcote estuary

So, in a few months, this annual, epic journey by some 80-thousand Eastern Bar-tailed godwits will migrate back to their breeding grounds.

the sand dunes are alive with bird watchers saying farewell

Their journey – of 11,500 kilometres – usually takes about six days! Its nonstop when they head south while heading north they have a few stopovers in Asia

Christchurch locals farewell them from our shores and when they return the bells peal out to welcome them back to their summer feeding grounds here on the Ihutai/Avon-Heathcote estuary such a short distance the centre of our city.

My lessons from a stolen camera

Home for a week it’s now time for my first blog about my five weeks of travel in Mongolia and Malaysia.

But first, I have to talk about lessons learned.

With a travelling alone, with someone else, or in a group, it’s important to be equally careful despite the circumstances.

I’m not sure I did this while in Mongolia.

Many years ago, I recall my daughter saying, when she joined me to spend a month in Turkey, ‘how on earth do you get around the world on your own without looking at maps or street signs?’ It seems that after nine months of solo travel as soon as I was with her I had abdicated all responsibility for where we were going!

I had not even noticed I’d done so. Perhaps I did something similar at the beginning of this trip.

Flying into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on my last day, I had my camera stolen.

As you photographers know, I didn’t really care about the camera but was, initially, devastated to lose irreplaceable photos. I wasn’t angry at the thief – but could not believe that after all these years of untroubled, no drama, no insurance claims  travel, I had somehow let my guard down. People don’t steal without opportunities and I obviously, somehow, had provided an opportunity to someone.

The next three hours were a comedy as I tried to report the loss to the local police:  not because I thought I’d get my camera back, but knew I needed some sort of evidence for my insurance company. So, two different police stations, a ride in two different police vehicles, and strange three-way conversations between me, a non-english speaking detective, and someone on the phone who spoke a little English!

I’m glad Judy was with me :):)

During this time, we saw one police officer change trousers in the corner of the room, while another put his shoes and socks on; during our second journey in a police jeep, we pulled up while the police officer-driver spoke to a group of people who seemed to be trading out of the back of their cars – and was apparently telling them to move on. They argued back and the loudspeaker conversation lasted a few minutes high excitement for two travellers just trying to report a missing, stolen camera.

I never got a report! The only evidence I have is this – written in my diary by policeman number one under instructions from english-speaker number one! I think is says the time and places things happened – and I’m not sure how the insurance company will accept that as proof.

I could add more about those three hours, but this blog is about lessons learned, so here they are:

  • backup your photos daily – no excuses, tired or not, back them up
  • if for some reason this is not possible, have many memory cards and change them often

Memories of my photos have not disappeared, just the physical copy of them!

I can clearly ‘see’ the photo I took of a horseman driving his horses up a slope. As soon as I had taken the photo I announced ‘OMG, that is the photo of the day.’ And it was. Drama, action, atmosphere, flying dust, great composition. However, the photo I do have of that scene was one taken seconds beforehand in which I put up on Facebook as I wanted to save my ‘fabulous’ one for an article.

Another photo I specifically remember was of the setting sun and wonderful light on the hills around the Chinggis Khan horse statue and camp, ‘I could live with that photo on my wall’, were my thoughts, but of course, because I hadn’t backed up my photos, it too remains in my mind and nowhere else.

So, the only photos I have of my trip to Mongolia are ones I took on my phone and my tablet, as well as a few I’d posted on Facebook and Instagram.

Luckily the woman I was travelling with has shared all her photos with me and, for much of the next month, gave me her camera to use – while she used my small, waterproof one. Naturally, any photos I use of hers I’ll credit to her.

NOTE: these few ARE my photos:)

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

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

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!

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



A travel writer tries to blend in with birders!

I can’t even say I’m a cuckoo in this international nest – after all, a cuckoo is at least another bird – I feel like a completely alien species. I’ve read the Steve Braunias book ‘How to Watch a Bird’ so was sure I was well-prepared. It soon became obvious – I’m out of my depth.

It first became clear on the bus from Gujarat‘s Ahmedabad airport where, in the middle of the night, I meet a Welsh couple who have written a best-seller bird book and a South African birder, all presenters at this gathering – they’re talking a different language to me.


Hours later, after a slow, bumpy trip, I’m checked into the Jamnagar hotel as “Vikitoria from Ukraine” then, after less than three hours sleep, at breakfast it becomes even clearer that I’m an imposter.

Steve says birders are passionate people and I start to see what he means. Beside most settings, along with the coffee, fruit, cereal and curry, was a piece of equipment. Olive green or black, obviously well-used, some with sticky-tape repairs, are huge binoculars. I’m pleased my little opera-type glasses are still in my suitcase – I don’t want to be outed so early. Telescopes and tripods lean against tables, chairs and walls. As I eat, a bird call fills the air: one of my table companions answers his phone, the bird stops singing. It seems a birders accessory is a bird call ringtone. My phone has the factory setting ring, it confirms my out-of-my-depth-ness: I come clean.

I tell everyone I meet I’m a kiwi, ‘quite likely the only person here named after a bird’. I also confess to not being a birder but a travel writer, there by invitation to cover the Global Bird Watchers Conference. Some 500 people have ‘flocked together’, as the conference title declares, in Gujarat, India, a mostly vegetarian, low-alcohol use state and birthplace of Gandhi, for some bird talk. I wonder, do they, will they, also twitter or tweet?


Evidently bird watching is not only one of the biggest hobbies in the world; it seems avitourism is a niche activity among, often well-heeled, travellers. Sadly, as bird watching increases, the numbers of many birds are declining and soon presenters are telling us “we have not been able to halt the decline of bio-diversity”.

It seems twitching, a subset of birding – rather like train-spotting – raced around the world in a godwit-like migration. Birders, like trainspotters, are often obsessively ticking off, or creating lists. Most of the enthusiasts attending the conference know their exact place on the life-list ranking; a list of birdwatchers showing the number of species of birds they have seen during their lifetime. It appears there are over 9,000 bird species and according to the website Surfbirds, many have seen many more than 7,000 of those feathered creatures.

I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat's Chief Minister)
I breakfast with Narenda Modi (then Gujarat’s Chief Minister)

I decide to tick off the birds I see, and appoint Alan, a travel writer, photographer and birder – as my go-to-person to identify birds in my photos. No longer will they be ‘a large black and white bird with pink legs and tail’ or one with ‘a cute hairstyle’, The first Indian bird I learn to name by its long v-shaped tail is a black drongo. No-one but me thought that was funny: it seems its only we down-unders who use the term ‘drongo’ for dim-witted and which I was now feeling.

While everyone seems supportive of each other in this particular flock there is no doubt birding is a competitive sport with people, or teams, trying to spot large numbers of species within a specified time. Others compete by attempting to increase their life, annual, national, or county list. No-one asks me about my status – after all, I’ve only just started ticking the bird book I’ve been given. They smile indulgently at me, a virgin twitcher: I’m slipping over to the ‘other side’ but I don’t know their language.

Travel writers learning to be birders
Travel writers learning to be birders … note the bird dog!

I overhear conversations about someone being ‘gripped’: it seems it has nothing to do with groping or being grabbed but being first to ‘tick’ a bird on a trip, especially a ‘lifer’ or a ‘mega-tick’. Evidently some of these people are not cooing doves, but hawks. Rivalry can sometimes mean they intentionally ‘grip’ a fellow birder with deliberate misinformation, or even scaring the bird away – I have a lot to learn!

While we crass travel-writers are looking at people, food, or lions, searching for stories, the birders have their bins – as I’ve learnt to call binoculars – trained on a spot in the distance, or pointing skywards.

One of the experts, American Ben King tells me birding is not usually a fatal disease but “it’s even worse than an addiction – it’s an obsession”. He also tells me some amateurs go bird-watching in white tops, ‘the very worst colour’. Two hours later I glance down and realise I’m wearing the offending colour.

My companions recount tales of birdwatchers who spent their lives trying to see most of the world’s bird species. They rarely died in bed. One spent her family inheritance travelling the world before dying in a road accident in Madagascar; another, who was leading a bird tour, was killed by a tiger; and yet another was killed in an air-crash in Ecuador. Clearly, these so-called ‘bird nerds’ don’t lead boring lives!

The Welsh couple I met on the bus, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, gave up their jobs and sold their home for a year-long twitching trip, resulting in a book “The Biggest Twitch”.

It’s interesting to be surrounded by this flock of mostly interesting, sometimes obsessive, people from all over the world, keen to see Gujarat’s resident and migrant birds. It’s obvious more and more bird tours will arrive there, and around the world, for twitchers to add to their many lists.

Ted Floyd, American Birding Association, says in his blog, “Birding is “just” a hobby, I realize. It’s mere sport, some would say, or avocation. Yes, but it’s also a lifestyle, a way of life. Birding brings out the best in us, imagine if there were far more birders. Imagine if birding were to catch on in a huge way in, say, Israel and Palestine. Imagine if everyone in Washington and Tehran were birders. No harm could come of that. In all likelihood, it would do a world of good.’ I wonder.

I finally meet ‘Vikitoria from Ukraine’. She is young, blonde, and gorgeous: I tick off some 100 birds but it seems I’m just a ‘dude’ – a casual birder who prefers pleasant surroundings and nice weather.

Khijadia bird sanctuary. Gujarat
Khijadia bird sanctuary. Gujarat

Punting from historic boatsheds

Historic boatsheds
Historic boat sheds

In 1850 swamp covered the beginnings of Christchurch and settlers had to walk through bog to get home after the market. Those early British settlers must have been sorely disillusioned when they first saw the soggy land which was to be their home on the other side of the world.

Between 1000 and 1500, Maori (who had arrived here from the Pacific) had a settlement in this area, called Puari. It stretched east from the Otakaro River and was home to around 800 Waitaha people who gathered eels, whitebait, native trout, ducks, and flounder.

The Deans family renamed the river to Avvon – after a small Scottish river near their old home – later the spelling was changed to Avon by the new settlers who had followed the Scottish brothers. Now, the bog long drained, every weekend Cantabrians (we who live in Canterbury, New Zealand) and tourists go boating on the same river.

use punting xtra (7)web

The centre of this fun is of course the historic Antigua Boat Sheds. One of many boat sheds which were established along the river in the 1870s/80s. Many generations of locals have spent time messing around in boats hired from them and, I too learnt to row in the gentle waters of this spring fed river.

The Antigua boat-sheds were built by a couple of boat builders and it is one of Christchurch’s oldest buildings. Open all year, and with a cafe full of home-cooked food attached, it makes a great setting for all sorts of events – from weddings and cocktail parties to children’s parties- as well as a family fun day in the park.

use punting (2)web

As well as canoes and paddle boats for hire and you can also have  Welcome Aboard punt you upstream, through the beauty of the botanic gardens, – perhaps even sipping champagne or tucking into a hamper of food which is optional. I once again enjoyed relaxing on a punt during my time in Christchurch earlier this year – it was as delightful as ever.

use welcome aboardwebThanks to Welcome Aboard for your hospitality on the punts, gondola,caterpillar, and trams.


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Birds bathing in spring waters

use bird bathtime

It’s fun to sit and watch some common birds bathing in a natural spring beside the Avon River in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens (New Zealand)

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And if you prefer to slowdown your viewing . . .

Wellington sanctuary has 500 year vision to save species

Zealandia is a sanctuary  with a difference:  it has a vision for 500 years – its goal,  to restore  this Wellington valley to its pre- human state. It’s twenty years into the plan!

Only minutes  from the centre of New Zealand’s capital,  and parliament buildings,  it’s a great place  to spend a few hours,  a day  or, take an evening guided walk to check out New Zealand  wildlife  flora and fauna.  I spent a couple of hours there  2 days ago  and here just a few of the many photos I took. (search in this blog for other Zealandia posts I’ve written)

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