Monday, 10 April 2017 turned out to be the usual magic day in the High Country at Glenariffe Station with a bluebird day in the forecast. A note from BJ and Mark the night before alerted me to the news that the Fish & Game folks were headed up the Rakaia River on Monday morning by helicopter to do a salmon count in Glenariffe's salmon spawning streams. That was enough to get me to bunk work, load up the car with camera gear and head up the Rakaia River Gorge. An added plus was the perfect weather was going to allow Mark to finish up his pasture management chores to drill grass seed and prepare another paddock with a controlled 'burn-off' so it can be re-seeded before Winter arrives in the coming months.
It was not long before I left the morning traffic of Christchurch behind in the dust and headed across the Canterbury Plains and back up the Rakaia Gorge into the heart of the Southern Alps to Glenariffe Station. It is a stunning trip in any weather. We have had some heavy rains in the previous week but the water fords were okay as water levels had dropped.
Every trip up the Gorge is different. On the way up, I encountered Glenariffe's neighbouring station moving their sheep mob up the road. I had a chance to chat to Chantelle Fisher who was driving the mob and she kindly honoured me with a wee portrait with her with her two working dogs while we waited for the mob to move on up the road. Chantelle was aware of our project and thought it was time to get some horse images as she is a horsewomen and friend of BJ's. So, I have marked that down on my "to do" list. I will look forward to this as I enjoy photographing horses in work and have done a bit photographing harness racing. (One minor claim I have was the opportunity to photograph actor Val Kilmer's horses on his ranch in New Mexico!). There is nothing like capturing the image of a horse in a full run.
Arrived around ten o'clock at Glenariffe Station in time for a coffee with BJ and Mark on the veranda. We were keeping our eyes and ears open for the sign of the Fish & Game helicopter's arrival to do a routine salmon count of Glenariffe's streams. Mark told the story about his father's work in rearing salmon at the station years ago. A fascinating history that I would love to record in more detail. Glenariffe works closely with Fish & Game to preserve the Glenariffe Stream and keep it pristine for the salmon. Mark is in the process of fencing the streams off from livestock for Fish & Game. A genuine partnership between farming and conservation interests.
We heard the clatter of the helicopter blades from across the broad Rakaia River valley and went down from the homestead to the ford on the Glenariffe Stream to await the flyover of the Fish & Game folks flown in by Christchurch Helicopters with Rob the pilot and Steve Terry the Fish & Game warden. They generously offered to take me up for a short flight over the homestead and Mark asked me to get an aerial shot of his John Deere tractor that was in the process of drilling the grass seed. Duty accomplished!
I could not figure out how they counted fish from the air but then as a photographer, I quickly noticed when you are on top of the stream, there is no reflection and a trained eye will pick up the finned critters!
The helicopter flew on up into the valley. We had a visit from one of Mark's rural suppliers so wee Ben and I checked on the family's pet sow and had a close look at the grass drill which was a piece of technology I had not seen. It took me back to my old Colorado ranch days of drilling wheat all day and all night but my equipment 50 years ago was by comparison a mechanical museum piece.
After a lunch of hogget chops and salad, Mark went off to begin the controlled burn-off on the flats between the streams. The local district council allows to burn-off excess crop waste on windless days and when fire restrictions are not in place (it had been very wet the week before). To get the best pictures, Mark sent me up a farm road on the terrace that overlooked the streams and the flats. While waiting for Mark to start the fires, I found his pet Scottish Highlanders in the brush and was able to grab a portrait before the shy critter rushed off in a huff.
The burn-off went off nicely and I made a number of images as fires took off and the smoke rose straight up including forming their own mini-tornadoes. Soon the paddocks were blackened. The next step when the weather allows it is to bring in the aerial crop sprayer to lay down fertilizer along with plantain and clover seed. The sheep are then then let into the paddock to 'till" the ground with their hooves and push the seed into the soil. Clever. No need for a tractor and a grass drill!
The day ended too quickly and it was time to head home to Christchurch before the sun set in the west. Of course, on the way home, I encountered another neighbour, Blackhill Station, moving what seemed like a few thousand ewes up the road. Always fun to just park the car and watch the dogs do their work.
An end to a perfect day.