Nature Watch NZ – The Praying Mantis


We have continued to be fascinated by the Praying Mantis which seem to enjoy our hospitality. Lots of folk we have met dislike them with a vengeance and find them creepy and unnerving. I have to admit that the way they rock and watch can make you feel a little uncomfortable if you study them for long. They have big bulgy eyes on a little triangular head perched on a long neck which makes them look a bit like a bald, inscrutable ascetic monk. (I think its the praying bit that makes me think of a monk!) But they are also quite comical in the way they wobble along on their long legs. We have noted two distinctall good things must come to a end.... shapes of Mantid – one is quite long, straight and flat, the other has a more rounded body and seems to bend more in the middle. We have looked on some websites to try and find out what the difference is – is one male and one female? Are they different species? No definitive answer though. There are apparently two types of Praying Mantis in New Zealand – the New Zealand Praying Mantis and the South African Praying Mantis, but according to the sites we have looked at the only real difference is that the NZ one has a distinctive blue marking

getting a bit chewy now...

behind the front leg. Also the NZ one sits on top of leaves whereas the SA one

hangs beneath them. We haven’t spotted any with blue markings and since most of them we see are hanging from our ceiling or sitting on the table or the shelves we have no idea of their leaf preferences. They are supposed to eat aphids though so worth encouraging them. Anyway – the reason why I started writing tonight is to tell you the tale of our misplaced kindness to our friends the Praying Mantis and the dreadful repercussions that ensued.Look Mum - no head!

Earlier this evening one of the flat, long bodied variety flew on to my knee and so Nigel decided to put it outside, as he went out he spotted another PM of the fatter bodied variety on the window by the door so he kindly put them together. Since our curiosity had been aroused about the different shapes we looked at the websites and then went to look at our PMs to see if they had the blue markings on the fore legs. Imagine our horror when we found the long, flat bodied one in the jaws of the fatter bellied one! Too late for rescue we got the camera out and proceeded to document it’s demise! Attached are some of the photos – if anyone can shed any light onto the reasons for the different shapes please let us know! It may be, of course, that the flat bodied one is the male and the other the female, who is enjoying her post coital snackette!!

mmm - delicious!  What\'s for pudding?

Only the wings to go

The last vestiges

and she ate it all up!

A Weekend Fishing

Well the term is over and it is time for some relaxation. We hadn’t planned to go away this weekend but when Rob and Lorraine phoned to see if we wanted to go up to their caravan we thought it was too good an offer to miss. Nigel decided to stay at home so the boys and I went up on Friday and came back Monday.

I had planned to get away sharpish on Friday as Lachlan’s school finished at 1.15 because it was the end of term and also because the V8 Supercars were in town. We had a letter from the Primary School saying that, as parents we should make the appropriate decision about whether to pick our children up early from school on Friday because of the V8s, as traffic was expected to be a problem. I suppose it also gave parents a get out clause if they wanted to take their children to see the V8s, which I guess many parents did as the school playground was definitely quieter than normal at 3pm! However, Lachlan was invited to go to the V8s with his friend Lachlan and his Mum (though I found out later that Lachlan’s Mum didn’t in fact take them – I’m sure this will be the first of many half truths I will be subjected to as the Mother of a teenage boy!)) and some other friends. So he was under strict instructions to be back by 5pm and did pretty well as he arrived pedalling hard up the driveway at 5.10pm! I think he rather enjoyed the independence of being able to go off with his friends to such a big event and was really buzzing when he got back.

Rob and Lorraine’s caravan is at a small place called Otauto Bay just north of Coromandel Town.
View Map

The journey went remarkably smoothly – the boys watched The Pirates of the Caribbean on the DVD player as I negotiated the steep, winding, coast hugging roads north of Thames by turns dazzled by headlights behind me or blinded by those ahead! On occasions being taken unawares by the sharpness of the bends as a yawning abyss loomed! However, just one toilet stop and a false alarm sick stop for Aonghas and we arrived safely three hours later. The last section is on an untarmacced section of road so it is a tad bumpy and when we got to the Motor camp I was a bit unsure of exactly where to find Rob and Lorraine (especially since the notes I had from Nigel actually had the wrong place name on!) – no cell phone coverage so I left the boys in the car to scout around the Motor camp until I found them!

Not much time to look around as it was quite late so we had a drink and headed to bed. The Motor Camp backs directly on to the shore and there is a short walk on to the beach to get to the shower block – a pleasant walk in the middle of the night! We woke to a beautiful morning and a lovely view across the bay but it was too windy to go fishing on the boat. Lorraine treated us to a cooked breakfast – scrummy – and then we packed up a picnic and headed along the coast to go fishing off the rocks. The road is pretty rough in places and hugs the coast so there are some spots where there is very little to separate the edge of the car from oblivion! We stopped at a pretty little bay called Fantail Bay but we had no luck fishing – there were quite

a few white horses on the sea and the lines kept getting caught in the seaweed so eventually we gave up and tried again a bit further along the coast. Still no joy so we had lunch and went back to watch the V8s on tele in the caravan! Rob’s nephew Nick races in the V8s so we spent our time trying to spot his car amongst the many speeding flashes on the screen! He came 11th in his race which I gather is ok for him – he generally comes around 12th or 13th. Later that evening as the sun went down over the bay we had another go at fishing off the wharf -Aonghas caught a couple of tiddlers and Lachlan nearly had the catch of the weekend but … it got away! Rob got quite excited as Lachlan’s rod bent under the strain of a big fish but it disappeared under the wharf, lost the hook and swam away to freedom!

Next day Rob woke us up early to say that the sea was a bit calmer and did we want to go out on the boat – the answer was a resounding yes from the boys – I’ve never known them get up and dressed so quickly on a cold, very early morning! I have to admit to being quite excited myself as I have rarely been out on a motor boat! We packed up some provisions, made sure we had plenty of layers on, and off we went out to sea! Well not very far – we were within sight of land the whole time but it was quite bouncy as we picked up speed – quite exhilarating! Rob stopped the boat at a seemingly random spot but he appeared to have a reason for his choice – years of experience I guess! It looked promising when Aonghas got a bite 30 seconds after putting his line in the water! A snapper, but a bit small so back it went into the sea! A couple of minutes later he got another one and this was a decent size! But it seemed our optimism was short lived as it was a good half hour before Ernie caught another and that was too small as well! We continued to bob up and down on the water as the sun warmed us up but the fish just weren’t biting. Ernie and Aonghas had a few more nibbles and the bait was taken a few times but otherwise nothing. Rob decided to move a bit further along and let Lachlan have a go at driving! He was in his element – we chugged along for a bit going round in circles until Rob explained about how to fix on a point to aim for and then he cracked it! I even started to relax a bit and then Rob thought it was safe enough to crank the speed up a bit, and there we were racing along with my 13 year old son at the helm!!! Sorry Lachlan, but I was a bit nervous! The new fishing site was no better – Ernie bagged a Gurnard but the wind started to pick up and the waves started to toss us around a bit so Rob decided that we should call it a day. We all got a bit damp on the way back as Rob speeded along and the spray came over the boat but it was great fun. Aonghas was reluctant to hold his first fish – “it’s disgusting – all slimy!” but eventually plucked up courage to have his picture taken! Lorraine cooked our meagre haul for a snack before tea and it was delicious – even Aonghas enjoyed it! That was the end of fishing for the weekend – typically the wind dropped on Monday morning when we had packed up to go home but, hey, that’s life! The boys really enjoyed their go at fishing and are dead keen to go back – they even wanted to buy fishing rods on the way home! We had a lovely time in Otauto, heaps of thanks to Rob and Lorraine for putting up with us and especially Rob for all his patience with two exciteable and (sometimes restless) boys!

The first term over!

Well the boys have made it through to the end of their first term at school. Lachlan seems to be coasting quite a bit and finding the standard of the work easier than in the UK. Of course he doesn’t mind not having much homework because he finishes everything in class but has intimated that he finds some of his lessons boring because he isn’t really challenged. He is also still quite disorganised – lost his school planner already so doesn’t write anything down (not that he used it anyway!) Whilst he doesn’t have much to remember it’s not a problem but he isn’t getting into the habit of using a planner for when he will have more to remember. (Sorry QES but the good habits he was encouraged to have there have just gone out of the window now there is no pressure from school here!) There is a Parents’ evening after the holidays so we will address those issues then! It may just be the case that the first term is slow because all the students are new and have just come from the different Middle Schools. However having started to study the French scheme of work in readiness for my new job I think it’s more the case that the standard here is just lower than in the UK! There has also been quite a lot of discussion in the staffroom about the low standard of the NCEAs, (external National Exams) which were introduced/revamped relatively recently, being too easy. The idea being that everyone succeeds and so has higher self esteem – where have I heard that before?! The reality, of course being that most kids find them too easy, aren’t challenged and so just doss around in class because they know they can gain credits without putting themselves out too much! Balance is a wonderful thing! That, of course is a crassly simplistic explanation of a complicated educational ethos but one that, I think, has some merit.

Aonghas is enjoying school (though claims he doesn’t as always!) and he is positively challenged. A balance does seem to be achieved in the Primary School although if we had any complaints it would be that he has too much homework! He certainly has a more structured program than Lachlan and spends more time “studying” at home. They have a program called “Have a BALL” (Be a Life Learner). They have a grid of activities that they should do over a two week period which include maths, spellings and reading, as you would expect, but also has activities that involve the whole family in an attempt to encourage parents to take some responsibility for their children’s progress and also to create a healthy work-life balance. Activities include doing a 10 minute task to help out in the house each day (fine by me!), playing a game with a family member, trying out a new activity, relaxing (he’s good at that one!), doing some exercise, using a computer to do research work and so on. All activities which you would expect to do in your everyday life. In theory the children do the activities at their own level but Aonghas does get quite anxious and thinks he has to complete everything so we have had some tears!

The two week blocks tend to be topic related and obviously linked to the topics they are doing in school so last time all the work was to do with birds as they have just had a trip to Maungatautari. For example, there was some research to do about how fantails build their nests, they had to draw a bird and write some notes about their chosen bird, they had a poem as a stimulus and had to write a similar poem about a bird of their choice – all that on top of 10 minutes reading everyday, learning spellings and maths activities! Quite a lot of work and in fact there was some discussion in the playground from other parents about how much there was and how much time parents as well as children were having to spend doing it. Aonghas is quite bright and relatively well motivated – surprisingly! He comes home most evenings and gets his maths book out to complete his maths, though he is less keen on writing activities. We also have time to sit with him but families where the children are less bright or who have little brothers and sisters and parents don’t have the time to sit with them are finding the whole program quite onerous and stressful. Anyway, they have a break over the holidays – all the activities on the homework sheet are just having fun, eating healthily, helping round the house, and doing physical activities to challenge themselves. We can cope with all of those! One of them is to climb your nearest mountain so hopefully we will get out this weekend and do that! We have a few to choose from!

I mentioned Aonghas’ school trip to Maungatautari – Maunga is the Maori word for mountain. Aonghas was delighted that I could accompany him and his class – he has always wanted me to come on school trips and I never could before because I was working full time. Maungatautari is a forested volcanic cone which unfortunately over the last 200 hundred years or so since the European settlers arrived has been decimated of it’s native species – both plants and birds. This is a huge problem all over NZ. The threatened native populations of NZ are mainly ground dwelling birds such as the Kiwi which had no predators until the early settlers introduced rabbits, and then stoats, weasels (to control the rabbits), mice, rats, possums, goats etc. The trees were felled, especially the Kauri, for building which inevitably affected other species in the bush. Anyway the upshot of it is that the Department of Conservation has created an Ecological Island at Maungatautari. It is an amazingly ambitious project to clear the area of all mammalian pests and predators (non-native species) and to encourage native species such as the kiwi and other birds as well as regenerating a healthy diversity of fauna and flora in the forest. To that end they have erected a predator proof fence around the whole area and spent years tracking and trapping all the predators from within the area so that they now are pretty certain there are no predators left. In the last couple of years they have introduced several pairs of kiwi as well as other birds and just this year a kiwi chick hatched. The fence really is impressive – there is a space like a sort of no mans land either side of the fence so that creatures can’t use the tree branches as bridges and there is an alarm system in place in case the fence is breached by, for instance, a tree falling.

We had a lovely time – there were 5 parents as well as two teachers so we had responsibility for a group of 4 children each and of course Aonghas was in my group which he was thrilled about. We met a volunteer from the Maungatautari Trust who told us all about the aims of the project and then took us up to the fence and explained how it worked. The children had already done some work on the project in class so knew some of the information which meant that they didn’t have to take in too much at once and were able to ask really good questions and answer her questions too. We then walked through the forest and tried to keep the children quiet enough to hear the birds! We spotted lots of the predator tracking boxes – these are placed every 20 metres or so throughout the forest so that they can make an accurate survey of what is around. Even though they are pretty certain hey have eradicated the pests they continue the survey to make sure none get in. Just yesterday there was news that on a similar ecological island in the Hauraki Gulf a predator has killed some birds so vigilance is vital. There are Weta houses dotted around the forest too which gave us an opportunity to see these normally nocturnal spiders.

The best part of the walk was when we were entertained by a very cheeky little Fantail. These are delightful wee birds which flit around from branch to branch, chirping as they go and this one led us a real dance! I’ve included a short video I shot on our camera – not very high spec and definitely not professional quality but hopefully you can get an idea of what we saw.

Fantails are quite tame and have been known to come in to people’s houses. This is the poem that Aonghas wrote for his homework (with some parental help – but not much!) about the Fantail.

I’m a little nosey native with a big showy tail

See if you can follow my trail

Spot me in your garden, the park or the bush

I’m never still, always in a rush.

Hopping from twig to twig, flitting all around

My black and white stripy tail bobs up and down.

I love to follow visitors, tell them all I know

Scratching under my wing and squeaking as I go.

WHAT AM I?

Wooden Tower MaungatautariIn the middle of the bush there is a wooden tower which the kids had been talking about the whole trip and it didn’t disappoint. It is a huge structure which is pretty impressive, it sways in the wind and as it is wood it also creaks but the view from the top is stunning. You can look down on the birds’ nests and the crowns of the trees and we had a great view of a couple of very fat looking Wood Pigeons. Unfortunately the sway of the tower added to the number of children running round the top platform and the distance means that the photos are not the sharpest but you get an idea.

If you ask Aonghas and half the kids what the highlight of the trip was though they would say it was that one of the buses broke down on the way back and they got to play on the playground whilst they waited for it to be fixed!

…..the one that got away!

Report from Aonghas

Last weekend we went to the caravan and we went fishing. On the first day we went fishing on the rocks and no one caught anything. Then on the same day we went fishing at night on the wharf and I caught two little fish but no one else caught anything. The fish were too small so we threw them back in the sea. The next morning very early we went fishing in the boat and I caught two Snappers and Ernie caught a Snapper and a Gurnard but only one of my Snapper and Ernieโ€™s Gurnard were big enough to keep. We ate them for tea and they were scrummy. When we came back on the boat Mum took a picture of me with my fish and I had to hold it โ€“ it felt disgusting – all slimy!

Balloons over Waikato and an unforgiving rugby pitch

A couple of things to report today apart from the news that it looks like the weather is finally going to break. A trough of low pressure is coming in from the Tasman Sea and the temperature has already dropped, the sky has darkened and the rain is on it’s way.

This week saw Aonghas’ first rugby ttaining at Marist Rugby Club. He is in Grade 9 Gold team and he seemed to enjoy his first session –dust bowl rugby certainly held his own, and was one of the fastest on the pitch so hewas quite pleased with himself. Lachlan has been doing pre-season training at school for a couple of weeks now but it has mainly been fitness work. However they had a pre-season friendly match against a South Auckland team who were bigger and faster than them on Saturday morning. The result was predictable but, in fact, they held their own for the first half and have the makings of a good team. There are several players who have not played rugby before or only played a little bit so the team looked a bit hesitant at times when players didn’t know what to do in set pieces. They were reluctant to meet the tackles (understandably so – I wouldn’t either!!) which meant that the South Auckland lads (mainly Islanders and Maoris) got a chance to get up a head of steam so were almost unstoppable. Lachlan, as usual, was to be seen hanging onto their legs as they charged down to the try line. He managedtackle monster! to make quite a few try saving tackles and his coach was quite impressed with him. In terms of ability the teams were quite evenly matched but bulk, pace and fitness certainly won out in the end. All the lads were battered and bruised afterwards – the pitch was bone dry and as hard as hard, photos show the dust rising as they ran – another reason not to want to go to ground! The rain will be welcome! After the match we went back to the school for some refreshment. This isn’t a usual thing but as the team had come down from Auckland – 2 hours away – we felt it was important to feed them! I helped serving the food and along with the other Mums who helped was amazed at the politeness of all the boys. Lots of thank yous, no pushing and shoving – they were all a credit to their schools and parents.

Over the last few days Hamilton has played host to a “floating” of hot air balloons. (what is the collective noun for hot air balloons?) It is an annual event and balloons come from all over the world – this year there was Darth Vader from Belgium! We didn’t catch much of the ballooning earlier in the week – they do all sorts of activities but nearly all start at 6.00am or happen during the school day! Most of the events occur at Innes Common by Hamilton Lake (Rotoroa) However, on Saturday evening the “Night Glow” was held at the University so we wandered up to see what it was all about. Amazing! We didn’t have the best viewing position as we were round the side but the show was pretty spectacular nonetheless. As the sun went down and the moon came up and darkness fell the balloonists were busy inflating the balloons. As we watched we noticed more balloons – they seemed to be really close together and almost jostling for space – snuggling up against each other as they swelled. It reminded me of dough rising when you’ve put the bread buns too close together and they don’t have space to expand! The balloons lit up in time to the music – some of the choreography seemed a bit random but on the whole it was well done. There was a sort of space age theme due to the presence of Darth Vader I think, but lots of appropriate and popular music for the theme which got the crowd involved. Once the balloons had done their bit it was time for the pyrotechnicians. The wonderfully choreographed firework display, with a clear sky as a backdrop, was quite stunning. Managed to get a few pictures and there are more on flickr. though they are never as good as the real thing!

This morning we thought we would make the effort to get up and watch the “hurdling” display!? Balloons jumping hurdles – well you just have to don’t you? So despite a late night last night we dragged ourselves out of bed, packed up some honey sandwiches, made a couple of flasks of tea, grabbed some blankets and the camera and headed out to Lake Rotoroa to see the final ballooning display. It was a lovely morning, as the darkness dissipated the sky turned a beautiful red and then blue. A few clouds but generally blue and still though cold. When we arrived we wondered why some people were going in the opposite direction to us but there seemed to be plenty of folk on the common and we could see the bright orange flares of the hot air balloon burners so we pressed on. Wandered around for a bit, Lachlan and Aonghas had a peer into a balloon basket whilst the owners explained what all the gadgets were for, noticed that some of the balloonists appeared to be packing things up and soon found out that the morning’s display had been cancelled because it was too windy! It didn’t seem that way on the ground but apparently up the in the sky it was, so that was that! What a disappointment! Getting up at 5.30am on a Sunday morning for nothing!!!! Oh well! Boys had a play in the playground, we took some photos of the Pukeko and then headed back home and spent the next five hours playing Monopoly – Dad won! Enough said!

Lachlan’s first NZ rugby match

Hi,

This is Lachlan writing for the Robertson blog about my first rugby match in NZ.

It was a pre-season friendly against a school from south Auckland. When we first saw the opposition we thought we were going to get smashed because they were really big and mean. Unfortunately we lost but it was our first match this year and it hurt! The ground was as hard as something really hard and I now have cuts and bruises everywhere L . My team played really well but got tired at the end and I think I made some good tackles. The holidays are coming up in a week so I canโ€™t wait! We had an after match feed back at the school (we played at Marist rugby club) and we had cake and lasagne J. It was a fun game and I enjoyed my first taste of rugby for a while. Looking forward to more matches now!

Tamahere Fire

On Saturday, the kids went out on their bikes in the park. At the back of 4 o’clock, they came in and said that there was a lot of smoke at the back of the park. Anne and I went out to look and there was a plume billowing up into the sky. It looked to be about a 1/2 mile away maybe to the left of Gus’s school. We were busy still sorting boxes in the garage and taking bits into the house. I noticed on the computer that my Twitter had popped up with a Tweet from a workmate to say that it was a cool-store at Tamahere that was on fire. This is 5kms (2 miles) from us and I went to take another look at the smoke.

Smoke plume as sun was setting

Smoke plume of Tamahere fire

Smoke plume of Tamahere fire

Smoke plume of Tamahere fire

It was billowing well up into the sky and flattening out at some altitude where there was some wind and being carried west. I took some photos of the plume and stuck them on Flickr.ย  Some of them have since appeared on a NZ TV website.

We caught up with some news later and the place was a cheese store which exploded just as the first firemen arrived to investigate an alarm. Several are seriously injured and one died overnight from his injuries. It’s a pretty devastating event to the community and I know that our friends in CRO would understand the enormity of this sacrifice.

The fire is still burning although should be out in the next 24 hours. It’s in a rural location with poor water supplies, not helped by the summer long drought that Waikato has been experiencing. The melted cheese, foam and water along with by-products from the burnt polystyrene insulation, refrigerant, etc also have the potential to mess up the environment and Environment Waikato have been working to prevent such a disaster.

Anne’s Birthday

It’s Anne’s birthday today and somehow she is still younger than me ๐Ÿ™‚

She is an April Fool baby and I don’t think that her Dad believed it when he was told that she was on her way!

AnneWe haven’t really had a chance to celebrate as we’ve both been working today. Then this evening we had to take Lachlan to register for his school rugby team. That was happening at the local rugby club that Gus will play for. Once kids get to secondary school they stop playing for clubs and just play for the school. We met some folks there and then had to rush back for a PTA meeting at Aonghas’s school. Anne’s been there ever since and the tea that I’ve cooked for her is slowly going soggy! I guess that the wine will still taste OK though ๐Ÿ™‚