Monday 30 November 2015

Ball's Pyramid

Sitting 23km to the South East of Lord Howe Island is Ball's Pyramid.  This is tower of rock is the worlds tallest volcanic stack in the world.  The stack is about 560m tall, but only 300m wide at the widest part - Ball's Blade may have been a better name!

We had the good fortune to visit the Pyramid on a very calm day - 'we get about half a dozen days like this a year' our boatman claimed.  This calmness was not a disappointment to me, as I have had a number of near death experiences with sea-sickness and small boats in the past!

It has been pointed out to me Ball's Pyramid does rather look like a witches hat bursting out of the sea, and the truth of the matter is that it does look rather 'other worldly'.  If I had seen it in a number of recent films I think I would have assumed it was a CGI image!

All in all it's a remarkable place and it was well worth the extra time it took to get there and get back.

Apart from being a remarkable chunk of rock, the Pyramid is home to the last know wild population of a giant stick insect that once once found on Lord Howe and for a long time was considered extinct.   Clearly, any form of survey of the island would be as much of a mountaineering experience as it would be a biological one - I'd love the chance the visit, but my climbing days seem very much in the past.

You can find more shots from around the World at Our World Tuesday.  SM

Thursday 26 November 2015

Bottlenosed Dolphin

While I was on a boat trip around Lord Howe Island, we had a brief visit from this Bottlenosed Dolphin.  It seemed to have a wonderful ability to be on the opposite side of the boat to me at all times, so I only got one burst of pictures.

Still, I rather like them, especially the first one.

And yes, the water really was that colour!  And there was not a cloud in the sky either!!

You can find more pictures of animals from around the world over at Saturday Critters.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday 174 - Woodhen

If you are looking at one of these birds, you will know exactly where you are in the world.

The Woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris) is endemic to Lord Howe Island, which means it occurs nowhere else on Earth.  In fact, for a time it looked like it might end up not existing anywhere at all, and go the same way as the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. In 1980 only 15 individuals of this species could be found, living on the high plateau and steep slopes of Mount Gower.  This species had been driven to the edge of extinction by a familiar combination of conditions; direct predation for food by humans, introduced cats and pigs.  While the humans had ceased ceased eating he Woodhen for food, the same could not be said for the cats and and pigs which continued to eat the eggs, young and adults of this species.

It was only the steepness and remoteness of the top of Mt. Gower that allowed them to hang on there.  Thankfully, help was on its way.  A highly successful breeding scheme and a program to remove the cats and pigs has allowed the population of Woodhens to grow - and it is now stable at around 300 individuals.  This is probably nowhere near as abundant as it once was, but at least the immediate danger of extinction seems to have passed.

Flightless rails like this were once found on most Pacific Islands, and it is thought that most became extinct before they were found by western science.

As an evolutionary strategy, flightlessness makes sense on islands with few or no predators, but once that situation changes it becomes a recipe for extinction.  The Woodhen is flightless, about the size of a small chicken, tastes good (this is not based on primary research!) and will come to investigate any strange noises that occur in their territory - including clapping and bagging sticks on trees.

So, with a stick in hand to make a noise, early settlers of Lord Howe Island were able to lure this bird from the bushes and hit it on the head with remarkable ease.  They must have thought it was too good to be true - which of course it was, and soon the bird became rare.  Thankfully, they are now relatively easy to see - all you have to do is get to Lord Howe Island in the first place!

The first set of pictures with two Woodhens were taken on the summit plateau of Mt. Gower, in what would have been better weather for swimming than photography.  These birds were very tame and were wandering about at our feet as we eat lunch.  These are older birds.  You can tell this because of the pale patch behind the eyes.  They are also 'known' birds as they have bands.

These are two different birds, and they are both young un-banded birds.  This is of course very good news, as it means that the Woodhens are still doing what comes naturally!

The first of this last series contains my 'trade mark' plant obstruction, and I think this is perfect for a bird that tends to hide in the bushes - well, until you clap your hands anyway!

Remarkable to think that this combination of 4 birds accounts for more than 1% of the entire world population of this bird!

Now it's over to you - click the blue button and off you go - and this week I should be able to visit your blogs in a more timely manner. SM

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Lord Howe Island - looking south

As you may have noticed I have not been out and about in blogland very much over the last couple of weeks.  This was due to me being on a small island - smaller than many farms I think - in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Australia.

Lord Howe Island is an old volcanic island, formed by a 'hot spot' of volcanic activity in much the same way as Hawaii was formed.  It's about two and a bit hours by plane from Sydney - and may well  be the most 'middle of nowhere' place I have ever been.  It also happens to be one of the most remarkable places I have ever been.  There will be a reasonable (read 'large') number of Lord Howe Island posts on this blog in the next few weeks!

This is a bit of a map to show you where it is.

The south end of the island is dominated by two large mountains - Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower  - with Mount Gower being the highest at 875 m.  Thats only about 100 m lower than the highest point in England, and given that Mt. Gower starts at sea level its a decent days walk!  (More on that to follow)
View to Mt. Gower across the lagoon
First evening on Lord Howe - cloud over both Mountains

Morning over Mt. Lidgbird (LHS) and Mt. Gower (RHS)

View of Mountains from Settlement Beach 
View of Mountains from Malabar Hill 
 The pair of mountains are tall enough to form their own weather - and lenses of cloud can often been seen sitting on the tops of the peaks.

In case you had not noticed, this is a pretty special place!

You can find more images from around the world at Our World Tuesday.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Back from the Pacific

Greetings - I am back from my adventure on Lord Howe Island.  Now, all I have to do is deal with about 2000 images and a large number of emails and I will be back on an even keel.

Lord Howe Island is about 2 hours by plane off the east coast of Australia - and it's total area is much smaller than many farms!  It really does have a wonderful sense of isolation.

Just to get things started - and to set the tone of the tidal wave of natural images that will flow from this trip, here is some video of fish feeding in the shallows of Ned's Beach.  This is not wholly natural as the fish have been fed here for ages - but it does give you a good idea of what the place is like.

Normal service may take a while to restart, and I feel I few late nights at the computer coming on!

Cheers SM

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday 173 - Victorian Waders

Summer is wader time in SE Australia - huge numbers of waders migrate back to Australia from their breeding grounds in the Northern Hemisphere.  This movement of birds across the seasons messes with the the idea of 'summer' and 'winter' plumage as I understood it as a kid.  In reality, the birds are summer pretty much the whole year though - so calling the plumage 'breeding' and 'non-breeding' makes more sense.

It's always good to see birds here that have retained some breeding plumage as they come south, or produce some before they fly north.  At present there is a bit of excitement here as there is a Ruff in near breeding plumage on one of our local wetlands - although I have not been able to find it!

The birds this week are three of our most common waders - Red-Necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  I was once told that the best way to start identifying waders with confidence in Victoria is to start with these 3 species - because they will be what you see most of the time.  And once you can identify these with a bit of confidence it becomes much easier to spot birds which are not from these species - I'm very far from being an expert, but I think this was good advice.

Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper 
Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper
Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper 
Red-Necked Stint
Red-Necked Stint 
Red-Necked Stint
Red-Necked Stint
Red-Necked Stint
You will notice that none of these birds is showing so much as a hint of their breeding plumage - but they still look good!

I will be in the middle of a great adventure when this post pops up on my blog - and I have no idea if I will have internet access or not (probably not!) - so please link up as normal and know that I will catch up with visits as soon as possible.  So, click the blue button and off you go!

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday 172 - Eastern Spinebill

This week I bring you yet more birds from those blue flowers in the garden of the house in the Otway Hills.  I think sitting on that balcony waiting for the birds must have been one of my more productive bursts of bird photography.

This weeks bird is an Eastern Spinebill.  This is another honey-eater type of bird, but with its fine curved bill and distinctive chest pattern, it's pretty much unmistakable as an adult bird.  Although classed as a common bird I still enjoy watching them a great deal - in some ways I think that they are the closest we have in Australia to Hummingbirds.

These birds are about 16 cm long and have a call that reminds me of a rapidly spinning wheel that needs some oil!  - a series of very rapid squeaks!  I number of years ago I was lucky enough to band a couple of these birds, and they look even better in the hand than in the bush.

I was glad a got an image of the bird in hovering to feed, as that is when they are at their most hummingbird like!

Now, its over to you - click the blue button and off you go.

Today is the first day of a 10 day adventure for me - I will be pretty well off the grid, so I may not be able to reply to comments for a while.  WBW will appear next week courtesy of the 'schedule' feature - and then I will catch up when I get back.  Cheers SM

Friday 6 November 2015

Another Silver sky

I was out on Port Phillip Bay on the weekend.  I was trying to catch a few fish - and at least this time I was able to put some food on my families table as a result.  Not a lot of food I have to admit, but sea-fresh fish is still sea-fresh fish!

As ever, the presence of a fishing boat attracted so seabirds - no albatross this time, just lots of Silver Gulls and a few Gannets passing by.

I can't resist the 'in flight' shot opportunity that comes of having gulls hanging in the air behind the boat.  And a few well timed pieces of fish bait added to the excitement.

So, here are some Silver Gulls and an early summer blue sky.

I find the acrobatics and strangely determined looks of these birds constantly fascinating.

You can find more skies at Sky Watch Friday and more animals at Saturday Critters.  SM