Te Anau: amidst tourists and birds

Te Anau is a small town of barely 2,000 inhabitants situated at the edge of New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park. It is erected along the shores of Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in New Zealand and largest in Australasia by freshwater volume, and overlooked by Jackson Peaks (1622m), the Kepler Mountains and, further north, by the Murchinson Range.

Life in Te Anau revolves almost exclusively around tourism, which means only Europeans, Asians and North Americans will cross your path in summertime. Indeed, Te Anau is a popular base to access the hyped Milford and Doubtful Sounds by boat, as well as the Routeburn and Hollyford hiking trails by road. Float plane and heli-tours also daily take off from the lake for an aerial exploration of the fjords. But the most remarkable local attraction is the Kepler Track, a 67 km alpine hiking loop that ranks among New Zealand’s nine Great Walks and attracts many hikers from overseas.  Continue reading

Fishing lesson at the canal

Grey herons are excellent fishers. Until now, I only knew this from the many photos I had seen of these birds holding large fishes in their long grey-orange bill. Today, I finally got to see a heron fish with my own eyes. One of them welcomed me on a captivating 2-hour fishing lesson Continue reading

Oceans of plastic

THE INEFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF PLASTIC WASTE

You may first want to read How we filled the oceans with plastic in just over 60 years for some context about plastic waste.


The standard for the rational management of plastics and other materials through their life cycle is the concept of waste hierarchy. Loosely implemented by Western countries over the past forty years, it has led to more or less sustainable outcomes in Europe and the United States.

Lansink Ladder (1979)

B, C and D are waste recovery operations. According to the European Court of Justice, the “principal objective [of waste recovery] is that the waste serve a useful purpose in replacing other materials which would have had to be used for that purpose, thereby conserving natural resources” (Abfall Service AG, C-6/00, 2002, known as the “ASA” case). This is also the definition of the 2008 Waste Framework directive (see below).

The waste hierarchy concept was first formulated in Europe by the 1975 Waste Framework Directive (75/442/EEC), which encouraged the “reduction of quantities of certain wastes, the treatment of waste for its recycling and re-use, the recovery of raw materials and/or the production of energy from certain waste”. Refined by The Netherlands in 1979, the waste hierarchy became known as the Lansink Ladder, which ranked waste management options from the most to the least desirable for the environment.

Today, the sustainable logic that inspired the waste hierarchy and Lansink Ladder makes sense from an environmental and resource-efficiency perspective. Continue reading

Oceans of Plastic

HOW WE FILLED THE OCEANS WITH PLASTIC IN JUST OVER 60 YEARS

“Man-made items of debris are now found in marine habitats throughout the world, from the poles to the equator, from shorelines and estuaries to remote areas of the high seas, and from the sea surface to the ocean floor.”

Impacts of Marine Debris on Biodiversity, UNEP Report, 2012

Seabirds lead a precarious existence. Their marine habitats worldwide are littered with so much plastic waste that they often mistake plastic for food. Scientists recently estimated that by now 90% of all individual seabirds have ingested plastic debris, compared to only 5% in 1960Continue reading

Chicks that can’t fly

Each spring the bird realm is enriched by new avian lives. Watching hatchlings grow into nestlings grow into fledglings is fascinating. Spectacular changes rush the newborns into adulthood, and before they can realize it, they are on their own. The young we sight are those who were lucky and strong enough to survive the harsh stages of their early existence. The toll of those who perish at the hand of natural or man-made evils goes mostly unnoticed.

During my short time observing breeding great and blue tits (a few nests in the springs of 2014-2015) I noticed a recurrent evil: some young’s unability to fly despite seemingly healthy, functional wings. It is absolutely normal for fledglings of many bird species to leave the nest before they can fly, a skill they acquire within days. However, when this unability persists, in stark contrast with the development of the rest of the brood, it becomes a disability and jeopardizes the chick’s survival.

Most great and blue tits I saw fledge could fly immediately or within a few hours from leaving the nest. Encountering individuals lacking this essential character 5, 7, even 10 days later therefore called my attention and I thought it worthwhile recording.


(1) LIVELY & HUNGRY / Bayreuth, Germany – June 2015

I was busy when the blue tit nestlings raised in a natural tree cavity next to my building fledged. From my window, I heard them Continue reading