Friday, April 3, 2009

Time for Closure

My brother-in-law Ralph suggested that my blog needed closure. So here is my final post about this terrific experience! For those of you that want to see the "Reader's Digest" version, I've posted on the Patagonia company blog, The Cleanest Line,

I've returned to my desk job now, and have gotten into the swing of things. It took about a week to get reacquainted with my projects, but due to the fact that everything was so capably handled by my co-workers, I had no fires to put out when I got back. It is still hard to believe I was given an opportunity to work overseas while maintaining my job here. What a brilliant way to share resources with small environmental groups.

Thanks for reading and I hope I didn't lose any of you along the way...:)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now the FUN begins!

God of the Sea, Tangaroa

My silly camper van, parked under a giant marlin.

After I finished my internship, I treated myself to a 10-day road trip in New Zealand. I rented a funky camper van, a 1991 Toyota Hiace with 174,000 kilometers on it and a SWEET custom paint job, and hit the road. I initially stopped in Auckland to visit with some friends who live there, then set out on a counter-clockwise drive around the northern tip of the North Island.

The weather did not always cooperate, and my first day out of Auckland was tricky, getting used to the van and dealing with a windy rainstorm. But I got the hang of it, just kept the speed down and the music turned up high. Found an excellent country station for part of the ride! Then the weather cleared up, at least for a couple of days.

Most of my stops were coastal, and some campgrounds were right on the water. This was a treat, and due to the fact that summer was coming to a close and the kids were back in school, I was always able to score an excellent campsite. Matauri Bay was one of those spots and I camped right next to the sand. Up on a hill overlooking the bay was a memorial site to the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship that was bombed in Auckland Harbor. There were beautiful views of the islands beyond. That day was gorgeous, but the next morning the rain started again. I decided I could either hang out in the van in the campground all day, or go for a drive. I chose the latter, and made my longest trek of the journey, all the way to the northernmost tip of the island, Cape Reinga. There was an amazing confluence of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean there, and you could see the crosshatching of the waves coming from two different directions.

From there I headed back down the west coast, made a few stops, but found the best looking waves and perfect conditions at Baylys Beach, where there was not a surfboard to be found! Drat! The next morning it was stormy again so I continued down the coast, making tracks towards Auckland again. Piha Beach was also stormy conditions and I heeded the signage about the undertow and large surf and enjoyed the ocean from the safety of the beach.

Hard to believe this trip is coming to a close and I enjoyed every minute of it. Except, perhaps, the mosquitoes! They really enjoyed having me around, but the feeling was NOT mutual! I was able to rig some screens in my van windows so I could have fresh air in the evenings. I’m ready to be done living out of a Freightliner and look forward to getting reacquainted with my life in Ventura.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fishing Line Collection Bins

You’ve seen the tangled mess that happens when fishing line goes awry. Unfortunately, many fishermen leave this behind or don’t dispose of it properly. There is a program that started in Florida that Jen has adopted with Moreton Bay Coastcare that attempts to manage this problem.

The bins are simple and easily created from PVC pipe and joints. There is, of course, “Some Assembly Required!” Jen got a grant and approval from the local council to make up seven of these collection bins and have them put up at various fishing sites in the local area. I had the pipe lengths cut to size for me at the hardware store, so all it involved was the gluing process and stickers. The bottom fitting has a screw-on cap that can be removed for emptying out the contents.

Once they are out in the field, the hope is that the fishing line will indeed get deposited in them, and hopefully not cans of beer, bait bags or worse...We are planning on drilling a small hole in the top of each one so that a rod can be used to push any contents out that might be jammed. They also need a drill hole in the bottom for any water that collects to easily drain.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Moreton Island

Enjoyed a fun day trip to Moreton Island today. Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in Australia, behind Fraser and Stradbroke islands. Yes, made entirely of sand with the exception of a small volcanic outcropping on the northern end of the island, which was the original landform. Over time, sand traveling down the coast got hung up on this outcrop, and eventually formed the island as it is now. It was a treat to see this environmental area that is now almost entirely preserved as a national park. It has huge stands of eucalyptus and casuarina trees and quite a bit if wildlife. We saw dolphins, turtles, manta rays, oystercatchers, terns, kites, cormorants, a sea eagle and I saw (from way up a cliff with my binoculars) a large grey shape underwater…hmmm…it never broke the surface but…luckily we didn’t go swimming in the ocean due to the riptides and frequency of sharks in the area. That was fine with me after my viewing!

The ferry ride over in the morning was great, made complete with excellent coffee, served in a ceramic mug, not a disposable cup! The ferry also brings over your vehicles, and our group was in a 14-seater 4-wheel drive monstrosity that did not get stuck once! This is a key point, because there are no sealed roads on the island, and once again…this is a SAND island! The roads were tricky at best, and I was glad I was not driving.

The first stop was for sand tobogganing! This was done on a piece of masonite about the size of a snowboard but wider, down a huge sand dune on your belly! The trick was to try not to scream as you picked up speed, because the sand would fly into your mouth! I was crunching sand for the rest of the morning. Next we cruised the beach, saw dolphins and beautiful shorebirds, and stopped at the lighthouse for a view check. That’s when I saw the large grey shape…

There is an amazing fresh water lagoon called Blue Lagoon, where we had a swim in the afternoon after lunch. Then back to the ferry for the ride home. It was a treat to see an untouched piece of landscape in this very developed region of Queensland. Reminded me of our own Channel Islands. They are how the California mainland must have been hundreds of years ago. It is important that they have preserved Moreton Island, because the other three sand islands in the area have all been developed or mined.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Silly Lorikeets and Random Observations

My favorite bird to view has been the Rainbow Lorikeet. (They are known around here as “Lorries,” as per usual with the Australian custom of shortening a word and adding a “y” on the end, for instance “Brisbane” becomes “Brizzy,” pictures become “pickies,” biscuits become “bickies.”) I was lucky enough to see a few Lorries up close and personal at a friend’s feeder. They are beautiful birds, but very noisy. During the day they travel in pairs and are very bossy about their feeding areas. You can hear them all day long, chattering and carrying on up in the trees.

When I was in Noosa a few weeks ago, I was amazed by the large evening feeding groups. They massed in the trees by the river in such huge noisy flocks that you honestly could not hear yourself think. There must have been thousands of them, flying speedily around and chatting in the trees. If they weren’t so beautiful you might despise them! They are also early risers, so don't plan on sleeping in when they are in the neighborhood.

Random Observations

Jen has been kind enough to coach me while I’ve driven her car around the area, giving me some important “coached” practice for when I rent the camper van in New Zealand next month. Driving on the left side of the road is indeed challenging but Jen keeps me on top of the situations. What throws me off the most is that the turn indicator is where the windshield wipers usually are…so I’m constantly turning on the wipers instead of the indicator! This always happens when approaching a 2-lane roundabout. Makes Jen crazy!

What’s also funny is when you’re walking down the street and see someone drive by with a passenger in the front seat, seated on the left hand side where our driver’s seat would be. This person might be staring out the side window, have their hands behind their head, or have their head thrown back in laughter. Your first impression is “Hey, how can you DRIVE with no hands on the wheel? Pay attention!!!” Then you realize that it is a passenger. Oops.

You have to be aware while riding the bike around here, that the rear brake is on your left handlebar, not your right like it is at home. Watch out for those quick stops!

Here’s a good one that my pals in Creative Services will appreciate: You know how when a document you are trying to print is mistakenly set up as an “A4” size and the laser printer refuses to print it, and it spins and spins until someone cancels the job and resizes the sheet to “letter” size? Well, I have the exact opposite problem with the printer here! Most docs are automatically set up as “letter” size, but the paper in the tray is “A4,” so my jobs get rejected unless I change the page set up.

Besides that, the people are nice, the beer is cold and the work I've been doing is rewarding. Just have to watch those windshield wipers!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

World Wetlands Day Celebration, Day 2

We had a great day yesterday, and hope our Japanese friends did too. We took them on a walk to the bird hide in the morning before it got too hot but the tide was high so no wading birds were around.

The rest of the day was spent getting the booth ready and enjoying some good music. The festival was well attended and had a variety of acts, including aborigine dancers, Polynesian dancers, a couple of insane stilt-walkers and several excellent musical acts. The booth subject-matter varied from a dog poo composting system to recycling to water usage to bat care. And, of course, wetlands and shorebirds.

The irony in the whole thing was that the port of Brisbane was a major sponsor of this event, although the recent port extension is one of the biggest annihilators of the wetlands of them all! (With the exception, perhaps, of the airport and motorway extensions…those groups were not represented.) Well at least the port does their best to retain a spot of wetlands and bird habitat near their giant workings however the real problem lies in the silt that comes from the dredging they’ve done. But all in all, the day was a success and I enjoyed being part of it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

World Wetlands Day Celebration, Day 1

We held a working bee today, and did some bushcare (well…weeding!) at Nudgee Beach, in preparation for the World Wetlands Day music festival being held there tomorrow. While we were working, a hike, bike ride and kayak tour was going on nearby. Tomorrow’s festivities will include the arrival of our Japanese visitors from the Yatsu-Higata wetlands near Tokyo Bay. (See Feb. 2 post for info on our sister wetland in Japan.) They are coming to commemorate World Wetlands Day with us here in Brisbane, and part of their day is a walk around the wetland boardwalk at Nudgee Beach. We cleared out trash and weeds so that their impression of their sister wetland is a good one. We had a nice turnout, happy weeders pictured above with our spoils. Typically, for “environmental” weeding, you remove only flowers and seeds, to prevent reseeding, and leave the spent plants to break down into mulch, but in this case we were doing more of an “esthetic” weeding, and didn’t want to leave piles of wilted weeds hanging around. We also had a go at the trash that had floated in on the tide and removed what we could. Trouble is, more will float in from the next high tide! Oh well, you do what you can. I swear, every single thing was plastic.

The highlight of my morning came while I was weeding my “favorite” invasive species, Mile-a-Minute. I uncovered the mother of all root systems, pictured above. They are easy to dig out at this particular site due to the sandy soil. I got busy with it and unearthed what is probably a 5-year-old root system. It was worth the effort.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy World Wetlands Day!

Today is World Wetlands Day, which marks the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on Feb. 2, 1971. WWD was first celebrated in 1997, in order to raise public awareness of the value of our wetlands and to promote their conservation and care. Wetlands provide habitat for animals and plants, help control flooding and improve water quality by filtering and purifying pollutants and other materials. This year’s theme is “Upstream – Downstream: Wetlands Connect Us All.”

Locally, the Brisbane City Council is putting on several events next weekend to raise awareness of our wetlands. On Saturday, there’s “Paddle, Pedal and Paws” (as you can probably guess, this is a bike ride, kayak paddle and dog-walk event, all held separately…so it is not a triathlon). We will be holding a working bee that morning, where we’ll do our best to eradicate non-native plants around the boardwalk at the beach site.

Sunday is a music festival at nearby Nudgee Beach, We will be sharing a booth there with another local group, the Queensland Wader Study Group. We’ve been helping them with their displays on migratory birds. I’ve enjoyed learning about the wading birds in the Moreton Bay area that fly between here and Japan for breeding and feeding. We have a “sister” wetland in Japan called Yatsu Higata. This is an amazing habitat, because within the Tokyo Bay, pretty much all of the wetlands have been filled in with the exception of this 1km x 400m area, which is completely surrounded by city and freeway. A freeway ramp actually soars over part of the remaining wetland! It is enclosed on all four sides by concrete walls, just like a giant swimming pool. However, the tidal flats, composed of mud and sand, remain and it is flushed with the tides daily by two channels that connect it to Tokyo Bay. (To give you perspective of how much of the wetland is gone, this wetland used to be a part of Tokyo it is 2km away!) Here’s a link to Yatsu Higata’s site for more info: The migration map above shows some of the distances these birds travel, all the way to the top of the globe! I’ve also included a pic of the Black Winged Stilt, great legs! (Thanks to Wikipedia for this excellent photo.) This is one of the shorebirds that migrates back and forth between here and Japan. Shorebirds that have been flagged here in the Moreton Bay area have been seen in Yatsu Higata, and vice versa. With wetlands disappearing at an alarming rate, every square mile is critically important, even if it is in the form of a giant man-made pool.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bat Boys Become Bat Men

We sadly dropped off our bat babies (well, they are technically juveniles!) at the bat crèche, which is a French word that translates to day care or “care of other’s young offspring provided by animals.” The set up there great, this huge aviary that housed several bat moms and their babies, along with other juveniles roughly the same age as our boys, about two to three months old. There were two species, the black (Baldrick) and grey (Boris). It was funny how they hung with their own species once they were in the aviary! At top is a pic of Boris and one of his new friends, he looked a little nervous (that’s him on the left, I had to zoom in on his teeny toe band to see his number) but we trust the fact that bats are social and will figure it all out. It has been incredible to watch what their instinct tells them to do. For instance, when they grab a piece of fruit out of their food bowl, they quickly move away from the source and hide it with their wing so that some other bat doesn’t come along and grab it. That is something that a human bat careperson couldn’t possibly teach them!

It had become tricky to house these guys, as they had started flying and would launch from where they were hanging and land on you. (Usually, this was accompanied by a spot of pee! Gee, thanks!) I started wearing my long-sleeved work shirt around the house for exactly this reason. We knew the time had come for them to go, but this did not make it any easier.

The lower, outdoor pic is the colony from where Baldrick was originally rescued. This is one of the largest bat colonies I’ve seen, but they are difficult to photograph with my little camera. You get the point, hopefully, of the amount of bats “hanging around.” Click on the photo for a larger view. This was only a small portion of the larger group. At sunset, they stream off in a long black swarm in search of blossoms and fruit. They have been known to travel quite a distance, and sometimes spend the night where they’ve gone foraging.

Currently enjoying a 3-day weekend for Australia Day tomorrow. End of summer and the kids go back to school on Tuesday!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama-mania Down Under

It has been interesting to see the reaction to our recent presidential election while living here. The headlines and opinion pages have been filled with comments and observations that are eye-opening and spot on. It turns out the rest of the world is just as interested in the next president as we are! I know of several other folks over here that also got up at 2:30am local time to tune into the inauguration. Although we taped it here, Jennifer still got up with me to watch it happening live, along with the bats, who were very excited that someone else in the house was being nocturnal. See Baldrick in the foreground of the TV this morning!

I had the pleasure of speaking on Skype to my whole family, pictured here, as they gathered to watch the event in Fairfax along with a 6' Obama cut out of cardboard. It was fun to share the experience with my family back home.

I am super excited about the prospects of the future and proud once again to admit I’m an American when I’m overseas.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Public Art

As I’ve cruised around Brisbane and environs, I’ve noticed some really amazing public art. I found this wonderful ceramic piece, above top, near the beach here in Shorncliffe. You’d have to see it in person to really appreciate it, but it represents many of the shorebirds and underwater critters found in the local Moreton Bay area. Keep in mind this is a ceramic collage, not just a painting!

I also found these beautiful metal sculptures made from junkyard rejects. (Well, kangaroos welded from “found” junkyard objects might not be considered “beautiful” to all, but at minimum, they are really well executed!) I came across them the other evening while downtown, and went back for a little filming in daylight. See attached short movie for the whole family.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bushcare Redux

Here’s a little “before” and “after” from some bushcare we did today at Cabbage Tree Creek. (According to Jen, bushcare is actually “weeding…cunningly disguised!”) While we were busy working today, Jen called me over, asking if I wanted a “challenge.” I said, “Sure, bring it on!” She showed me a sad, smothered Lily Pilly tree (I just LOVE the names here!) that was completely hidden by Asparagus Fern, Balloon Vine and Mile-a-Minute, see above left. I got after it, not really believing that there actually was a tree under there. After about twenty minutes of serious hacking and hauling, I uncovered a nice little tree, above right! You can also see the pile of the vines I removed in the lower pic.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Defining Selflessness

I’m pictured here with my new friend and boss, Jennifer Singfield. Jen and her husband Chris, have been kind enough to host and house me since I’ve been here, and this has made my commute to Jen’s home office a very easy one! (Right across the hall!)

Jen’s environmentalism started ten years ago, when her kids were in high school. She began with water quality monitoring at the local Cabbage Tree Creek, and was not pleased with what she found. This led her to become intimately acquainted and involved with the local wetlands, estuaries and mangroves in the area around her home in Shorncliffe. Because these areas are a filter, of sorts, they play a big role in the quality of the ocean into which they drain.

There is a patchwork of wetland and estuarine reserves in and around the north Brisbane area, but they are quickly being dug up and paved over for a number of things, such as the airport, port and motorway expansions. We had a good chuckle when the local golf course president, who touted himself as an environmentalist, came around to speak with Jen to try and gain her support. (He is losing several holes from his course due to the motorway expansion, and wants to replace it with a swath of the local wetlands.) He will in turn build a “wetlands course” to closely resemble the land he uses for his links. As I’m sure you can imagine, a “manufactured wetlands” went over like a lead balloon around here, and Jen let him know this in no uncertain terms. Poor guy, we let him give us his spiel, but it did nothing to sway Jen to support his “greening” of natural habitat.

It is truly an uphill struggle here, as Brisbane is gaining 1,000 new residents per week, and the infrastructure to support them paves over everything in its way. Jen works with a small group of tireless individuals who do their best to stay on top of what is planned and fight for what they have worked so hard to save. I try to remind her what she told me when I first got here, that you have to remember your victories, however small they might be, and try not to get frustrated by the defeats.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bushcare…it’s not what you think!

Have begun my work here this week, and today was our first day out in the field. However, around here, it is known as the “bush,” and we were doing what “bushcarers” in Australia do, which was removing non-native plants…a nice way to say “weeding!” See photo, there is a vine called Mile-a-Minute, and if left to its own devices, it will choke out the native trees and plants. It closely resembles Morninglory, and you would swear it actually grows a mile a minute! It is a problem at Dowse Lagoon, where my group regularly meets and weeds, and they keep it knocked back as best they can. This weeding is a thankless job, and you wonder if you are making progress. They have been working a patch for six years! But after visiting an area that is NOT regularly weeded, you can see the difference you make. The natives are important habitats for birds, bats and other wildlife so it is important to allow them to grow, and not let the invasive weeds take over and choke them out.

Besides that, I’ve been helping Jennifer with copy for their website and we’ve been making plans for some of my future projects while I’m here. Stay tuned for those.

I’ve gotten the bike all set up, however have already suffered two flats! One was probably due to an old tube, and the second one, well, you should have seen the screw I ran over! Oops! Lucky for me, neither of these flatted on the road, and instead I discovered them in the (relatively) cool comfort of the garage. Now maybe I’ve gotten all the flats out of the way for the rest of the trip. I hope so anyway!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ibis Abound

I thought I would take advantage of a clear day and take some pics of the area around here. I was able to capture an Ibis at work, checking around the picnic area for tidbits. I’m currently staying in Shorncliffe, a quiet little town right on Bramble Bay, which is a smaller bay within the larger Moreton Bay area. In about a week, I’ll be moving about seven miles up the road, and my commute will be along a flat bikeway which includes a trip across a bridge called the Hornibrook Bridge, which used to be the main thoroughfare. The bridge closed to traffic in 1979 with the opening of the adjacent Houghton Highway Bridge. Hornibrook is now strictly for pedestrians, bicyclists and recreational fishing.

Along the bikeway, I’ve seen some fine examples of Queensland architecture. The houses were built up on poles for ventilation, in addition to getting the house as far as possible from ground-dwelling termites! They also typically have wrap-around verandas and plenty of windows for cross-through ventilation. Corrugated iron roofs are common as well. It is funny how some of the places have been renovated with stucco and tile roofs…could be a beach town in California if you didn’t know better! I prefer the original architecture myself.

Getting ready to start work in earnest tomorrow with Jen and I’m looking forward to it. It has been nice to be “on holiday” for the week, but I’m ready to get things started.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Am I a Rain Magnet?

Not much going on at the moment, as the day has turned out to be rain, rain, rain. I’m sitting here with a bat on my lap, no worries. Comfortable and dry, watching it come down outside. Queensland has been suffering from drought conditions for the past ten years, so the rain is a welcome thing.

Reminds me of my trip here in 1988…I was in Brisbane for two months, and it rained nearly every day then too! Am I a rain magnet or what? It feels good, though, it has cooled the place off a bit.