Thursday, January 31, 2013

Moa - The life and death of New Zealand's legendary bird (Craig Potton $49.99) - Quinn Berrentson.

The Moa were the most unusual and unique family of birds that ever lived, a clan of feathered monsters that developed in isolation for many, many millions of years. They became extinct reasonably quickly after the arrival of the Maori, and were a distant memory by the time European explorers arrived. So the discovery and identification of their bones in the 1840s was a worldwide sensation, claimed by many to be the zoological find of the century. This book begins by recounting the story of discovery, which was characterised by an unbelievable amount of controversy and intrigue. Since then there has been an unbroken chain of new discoveries, culminating with intriguing revelations in recent years about the moa's biology, that have come to light through DNA testing and radio-dating. This is a fascinating and important book that richly recounts the life and death of our strangest bird. Packed with a fantastic range of illustrations, Moa fills an important gap in our natural history literature, a popular but serious book on this national icon.

Images discussed in the Interview

Richard Owen and his Moa Skeleton

An image created at the Dunedin Public Gardens with Otago students

Richard Owen

Julius von Haast

A tall tale of Moa hunting - From the Otago University Website:

In the beginning of 2009, I sat between a two-foot long drumstick and a giant eagle's claw and wrote a blog about them. It was great - and at that moment I realised this was the exact reason I had rather unexpectedly gone back to university, although I'd never have predicted there would be giant eagles involved. But that's the way it works, at least in my experience - things change fast and sometimes if you roll the dice there's no telling what interesting places you can find yourself.

The enormous "drumstick" was the actually the leg bone of a 700-year old moa, and in the same hangi pit archaeologists also found pieces of the largest bird of prey that ever lived - Haast's Eagle - a flying monster with a 3-metre wing span and claws the size of a tiger's.

I was there - Wairau Bar, near Blenheim - because of the course I was doing at the University of Otago. Re-enrolling at university at the age of 35, a decade and a half after leaving it the first time, was probably a surprise to many people who knew me, but I had a plan. Rather than being a bit of a strange age to go back to university, for me it was actually perfect timing. Why should education just be some kind of phase you go through when you're young and then grow out of, like puberty? There was a new course I wanted to do, my personal circumstances meant I could handle it financially (a bit tight, but some people spend more on TVs than the fees for my Masters degree), and I had a hunch it would prove to be a good investment in my career. So far so good - the future is a crazy unknown place, but I can already see the benefits, and I'm only half-way through.

I better explain, before this gets too complex and confusing, that I work in "media" - that is in the past I have worked in things like children's television, documentary making, photography and print. Quite diverse in a way, but with a lot of instability in the workforce I could see it might be wise to learn a few tricks, and add to my skill-base. The world is changing very fast, especially the media world, and continual learning is the only way to stay afloat in my opinion. Going back to Otago has given me time to stop and consider who I am and what I want to achieve, provided me with a positive environment to expand my mind and skills, and I've formed a whole new network of friends, classmates and world experts in my chosen field. Plus I got to see a giant eagle's snapped-off wing-bone and blog about it on the net.
Link to the story

Thursday, January 10, 2013