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Why is it...?

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Northern NZ dotterel
Welcome to my first ever blog entry.

Blogging is a new departure for me. My motivation in writing a blog is not just to go on about the latest wonderful images I've created - although I reserve the right to do that occasionally! I mainly wanted to create a space to talk about some of the aspects of photography and art that I'm most passionate about. I had intended this first entry to be a 'think piece' about photography as a fine art form, and why it is that some people - artists and collectors alike - don't see photography as a valid art form.

But you will have to wait for that one - I'm going to start with a bit of a rant, instead; and it's a rant about attitudes and thoughtlessness.

Annie and I have just come home after a lovely, relaxing few days away in the Coromandel. The weather has been amazing, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to take great images, and some interesting conversations with art galleries about my work. Without a doubt though, the highlight has been timing our visit to coincide with the nesting season for the New Zealand dotterel. Every walk along a beach has been rewarded with good opportunities to see these beautiful birds, including at least one clutch of 3 chicks. I came back with a card full of images after just a few hours wandering up and down the shoreline at Whangamata. The image above shows just how handsome the dotterel is - well worth investing a few hours of my life to photograph!

These little characters are amazing and are really rare; they are only found in NZ and DOC estimates there’s only around 1700 left. Over autumn and winter, they mostly live in our estuaries and can be harder to see, but throughout spring and early summer they move to nesting sites on our shorelines, often on beaches where we humans like to go and play.

And there’s the problem; a dotterel’s nest is basically just a patch of sand with some seaweed round it, just above the high tide line. Not the most secure place to lay eggs. They are incredibly vulnerable – to storms, predators or even just a high spring tide. DOC also lists a number of other, less obvious threats, including:
  • Careless feet – it’s really easy to not see a nest and crush eggs. This is why DOC carefully puts fences and signs around nesting sites.
  • Uncontrolled dogs – they can easily kill chicks, or just by running through nest sites damage the eggs.
  • Disturbing the adults often enough, whether it’s people or dogs, causes the eggs to overheat meaning they don’t hatch.

Every beach where we saw dotterels had clear, visible signs asking people to keep dogs on leads, away from nesting areas, and to stay out of the fenced areas. Pretty simple really – and not asking a lot. So we were dismayed to see a minority ignoring this simple advice; from the man stepping over the fences so carefully placed by DOC to collect driftwood for a bonfire, to the mum and kids letting the puppy run loose along the beach, gleefully running straight through nesting sites and chasing the adults away from their nests. Have we found the reason there’s so few of these birds around, we wondered?

Why is it seemingly so hard for us to value what we already have? OK, I live in a city; so perhaps for me there’s something of a novelty value when I get to see wildlife up-close and in beautiful surroundings. I can’t help but treasure that experience, as it pushes so many of my buttons, and that’s before I get my camera out!

That’s obviously not the case for everyone though. Maybe I am missing something, but there doesn’t seem to be any need to act thoughtlessly in order to enjoy our lives. As a nation we say we value our clean green image that last year helped to bring in nearly $14 billion in tourism. I find that hard to reconcile with a mind-set that can’t be bothered to read a sign and walk a few metres further up the beach to collect firewood, or remember to put a dog on a lead for part of its walk. Come on people, even if you don't value our wildlife as highly as some, surely you can respect a sign for a few months of the year?

I hate being ‘that person’ that gets on a soap-box and tells other people what to do. We shouldn’t have to get upset with people for being thoughtless. But why is it that when we did ask a couple of people to be more careful, their reactions ranged from quietly shameful (‘oh, I didn’t know that’s what it was’ – yeah right) to assertively defensive (‘alright, keep your hair on’)?

Could it be a guilty conscience perhaps …?