Endemic New Zealand Birds

I was recently in New Zealand teaching a month long Sea Kayaking course.

 Fredrik Norrsell
Paddling in Pelorus Sound. © Fredrik Norrsell

We had an amazing opportunity to stop at Motuara Island, were we got to see several endemic and endangered birds.

 Fredrik Norrsell
A charismatic South Island Robin. © Fredrik Norrsell

New Zealand Robins are tame and charismatic birds, often chasing insects in the duff by your feet.

 Fredrik Norrsell
Bellbird coming down to drink. © Fredrik Norrsell

Bellbirds are known for their beautiful song, and on the predator free Motuara Island the bird song was almost deafening. It really highlighted how human impact and introduced predators have decimated birdlife on the mainland of New Zealand.

 Fredrik Norrsell
Yellow-crownd Parakeet. © Fredrik Norrsell

It was delightful to see the Kakariki (Yellow-crowned parakeet) again. A few years ago I caught a glimpse of it on Stewart Island. To watch numerous of them coming to drink and bathe was an amazing experience.

 Fredrik Norrsell
South Island Saddleback taking a bath. © Fredrik Norrsell

We even got to see the critically endangered South Island Saddleback. Pretty sure I even saw a few juveniles. Thanks to hard work by DOC and volunteers it is slowly making a comeback. The population is estimated at 700 individuals up from the original 36 birds that was rescued in 1964.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

I was all ready to go out to photograph the aurora again, but got distracted by this little fellow, sitting on a branch outside the front door. I have known for years that Saw-whet Owls live in the neighborhood, but this was the first time I actually saw one.

Aurora Surprise

When I woke up at about 4:30 am I was amazed by the aurora outside the bedroom window. At first I was reluctant to get out of the warm bed, but once I got my camera assembled and outside, I was truly mesmerized by what I saw.

The weather forecast had been for partly-mostly cloudy skies, and the Aurora forecast wasn’t predicting something big either. Most of the time the Aurora is to the north behind Arkose Ridge, which rises 4000 feet above our house.

My first exposure was from the deck looking south towards the moonlit Chugach mountains. Living remotely in a cabin in a off-grid neighborhood, means that I have to deal with minimal light pollution.  In the first exposure though, you can see the distracting city lights of Palmer, and how the cloud reflects it red glow.

 Fredrik Norrsell

Exposure for auroras can be a bit tricky at first, because the intensity of the light can change quickly. Manual exposure, wide open (f/2.8) at 6-10 seconds at ISO 4500, is often my initial guess. A quick glance at the histogram or the display will tell you how to adjust. Once I have a good base exposure, I keep watching the aurora as it fades in and out and constantly adjust my exposure accordingly.

 Fredrik Norrsell

Last night the Aurora was extremely active quickly moving across the sky, and varying in light intensity. I wanted to “freeze” the motion, so I kept pushing my exposure shorter and shorter to better capture the wonderful moving rays, with my shortest exposures as low as 0.5 second at ISO 9000. It also had very quick pulses of light that I was incapable of capturing (a future video challenge). They were so fast that I could barely discern them with my eyes.

I finally made it back inside 2 hours later, with numb fingers and quite chilled. Tonight I plan to be packed up, well-dressed and ready in case the Aurora comes back.

Sierra de San Francisco

Just finished two amazing mule packing trips into the UNESCO World Heritage site, Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco. The terrain is immensely rugged but the local mules were great, and sturdy on their feet. That said, I mostly walked with my camera while Nancy rode.

 Fredrik Norrsell

The impressive rock paintings are located on overhangs in the canyons.

 Fredrik Norrsell

A few of the more famous sites have board walks once you scramble up the loose rocky trails to the actual site, but we preferred the natural sites that hadn’t been altered. More photos are located at http://store.norrsell.com/Travel/Mexico/Mule-Trip-Baja-2015

 Fredrik Norrsell

A few sites are accessible  during day-trips, but  most sites requires a multi-day mule trip. I would highly recommend our friend Trudi with Saddling South for help for putting together a trip in the area.

 

Wild Food Recipe

What a great dinner! We had a few requests for the recipe of our: “Fresh caught shrimp, baked rockfish and beach pea salad.”

First catch and clean a rockfish, then bake it over your camp stove in a big frypan. Season with salt, black pepper and stuff the belly with beach loveage.

Next, find a good shrimping spot, catch a handful of shrimp, boil for a few minutes in salt water and serve.

Third, take a walk and collect the following for the salad: Shelled beach peas, sour dock (otherwise known as mountain sorrel), wild violet leaves, twisted stalk leaves, or whatever greens you happen to have (chopped fine). Add the following from your extensive kayaking spice kit, a tiny bit of red onion, sesame oil, crystallized ginger and lime juice to taste.

Fourth, collect a handful of hedgehog mushrooms during your walk, sauté them in oil and season with salt, pepper and rosemary.

Note: Beach peas can be plentiful and easy to pick, although shelling them requires a zen approach to time. They can contain small amounts of toxins that accumulate, but are considered safe to eat occasionally.

Wild Food

What makes this so special?

With a variety of light-weight, compact, delicious, camping foods available, why would a person choose to paddle around eating weeds?

 Fredrik Norrsell
Stir-fry with wild mushrooms and greens cooking over a fire.

At times I ask myself the same. Wilderness time is so precious in our busy lives. Wouldn’t I rather go for a hike than sit under a tarp cleaning mounds of beach greens?

These kinds of trips aren’t lightweight. We don’t have to pack all that food, but the space is more than occupied by fishing gear, shrimp pots, collecting bag etc. It isn’t less expensive, compared to the cost of kayaks, and paddling jackets, food is cheap and the things we do bring, spices, and oil, and condiments, add up quickly.

While I relish the sweet illusion that by gathering your own food, this kind of life could go on indefinitely, we are still linked to the money economy more than I would like to admit. Summer will end all to soon. The colors will change. The bounty will disappear.

 Fredrik Norrsell
Pink Salmon entering a spawning stream.

I do feel healthier out here. Is it outdoor exercise, or a diet, low in carbohydrates and sugars, closer to what our ancestors ate, that makes me feel more alive?

 Fredrik Norrsell
Dinner with rock fish, shrimp, wild weeds, and mushrooms.

Mostly I enjoy that looking for food makes me notice things in greater detail. Is that a mushroom with true gills or little flat topped diverging ridges? Gulls are sitting on the water in a perfect line, maybe marking an upwelling current and good fishing.

 Fredrik Norrsell
Salmon leaping high onto the air.

Catching a gorgeous silver salmon or finding a blueberry patch dripping with grape size berries, I am in awe the earths abundance. Being surrounded by baby animals, catching a glimpse of a sea otter pup peaking out from it’s mothers arms, or a duo of humpback whales passing in unison, I feel a sense of optimism for the earth. Their is an abundance here. We are intimately linked to the world around us is in a most basic way. And as Fredrik says, “There is something deep inside of us that longs to gather food.”

 Fredrik Norrsell
Nancy Pfeiffer picking blueberries.

Text by Nancy Pfeiffer – more stories and recipes to come.

Wild Food Trip

We had a very successful 25-day sea kayaking trip on Prince William Sound paddling from Cordova to Chenega, living off the land and harvesting our food along the way.

 Fredrik Norrsell
A nice collection of fresh harvest, watermelon berries, chanterelles, blueberries and chitons.
 Fredrik Norrsell
Nancy Pfeiffer paddling in front of the Chugach Mountains.

Will post more about the trip soon, meanwhile check out this article about our trip last year, which was published in Adventure Kayaker Magazine. http://www.rapidmedia.com/ak/adventurekayakmag_fall15

Porcupine Caribou Herd

I’m back from guiding a trip in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for Arctic Wild which provided incredible support for the clients and me so that we could find the Porcupine Caribou Herd out on the coastal plain. But first we found an incredible rich birdlife. Next to our tents we had this amazing Ruddy Turnstone.FNO_052431

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It had a nest with two eggs, out in the middle of the coastal plain. This photograph with a wide-angle lens captures the space that surrounds it.

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Finding a large herd of Caribou wasn’t an easy task as they roamed across the plain. But one evening at about midnight we found a group with several thousand Caribou. Yes -they are out there as tiny dots.

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The next day we found them again after a challenging river crossing and 2 mile walk across the wet tundra of sedge grasses.

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There group spread out for over a mile grazing on the sedge grass, I estimate that there were 20-thousand Caribou, but who knows. I couldn’t count that far, among the constantly moving herd of Caribou.

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A curious calf came up to inspect us with its mom in tow. Only a few weeks old they were running across the tundra at amazing speeds.