Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday 175 - Red-Tailed Tropicbird

The Red-Tailed Tropicbird was the bird I was most looking forward to seeing on my recent trip to Lord Howe Island.  This magnificent bird is used a great deal in the publicity shots for the island, so I was keen to see one (or more) for myself.

I saw some of these birds on the second day I was there, during my climb up Mount Gower.  I think I was the only person in that group who became excited at the sight of these birds, which may be explained by the fact that the walk itself was pretty tough!

I got much better views later in the week, and I was once more very pleased to be in the digital age of photography.  Photographing moving, almost pure white birds against a bright blue sky was a bit of a challenge - and I got better results from my second set of efforts than the first!

I got great views of these birds doing their courtship flights where they circle around each other in the air.  I was also pointed in the direction of a bird that was nesting on the ground.  While this bird was determinedly hidden in bush, I was surprised at how big they were.

The bird has a rather short tail apart from the long red tail streamers that give the bird its common name.  This means the birds look a bit stubby in flight.  Their tendency to use their outstretched feet as air brakes also add a somewhat inelegant look to these birds - but they are wonderful to watch.

Their formal name - Phaethon rubricauda - means 'red-tailed shiner' and in bright light they live up to that name.

This post is a bit image heavy - they really are wonderful birds.  If I saw one bird that made the trip to LHI worth while it was this bird - and I saw many more as well!

I think you may get a better view of the pictures by clicking on one and having a look at them as a 'gallery.

Now it's your turn - click the blue button on off you go.

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