Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:00

Lord Howe Island - Part 1 Featured

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 GJS4442-as-Smart-Object-1Day 1 Lagoon Road and Malabar Departed Sydney 7.00 am, arrived Lord How Island 8.50 am. Before we had even got off the plane, numerous Pacific Golden Plovers were spotted along the edge of the runway.

Then as we pulled to a stop at the terminal, a Lord Howe Wood Hen darted for cover into some bushes, a good start. What a special place, the scenery that greets you is awe inspiring.


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After settling into our accommodation at Somerset Apartments we started exploring the settled parts of the Island. Wilson's bike hire is closed on Saturdays, so it would be exploring on foot. It was only a short time before I reached for the camera to photograph the numerous White Terns that were nesting in the pine trees along Lagoon Road. Some were perched really low with their chicks, however this didn't necessarily mean an easy photograph as the light was generally dappled and the backgrounds busy. I decided that the nested White Tern images would be a work in progress, with plenty of return trips as they were so accessible. During this excursion we saw most of the land birds to be seen on Lord Howe including; Silvereye, Emerald Dove, Pied Currawong, Golden Whistler, Blackbird and Buff-banded Rail.
At about 3pm we started the walk to Malabar Hill, this track starts in Kentia Forest above Ned's Beach, before crossing an open paddock to the ridge that takes you to the top of the cliffs. At an elevation of approx 200m Malabar gives commanding views over the Admiralty Islands to the north and Lord Howe as it stretches south. The main reason for taking this rather strenuous climb was to photograph the Red-tailed Tropicbirds. We were not disappointed as they were in good numbers, soaring around the cliffs. We spent a couple of hours happily photographing these birds along with the occasional Black-winged Petrels that seemed to delight in a game of chasing. It was getting on, so we headed along the cliff line to Kim's lookout where we saw the first of many Masked Boobies as they headed home to their east coast roosts. The light was by now fading fast so it was a quick decent down the Memorial Track to Old Settlement Beach and home.

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 Day 2 The Lagoon and Little Island
Another partly cloudy day. Up with the sun and down to the Lagoon to photograph the White Terns in flight. These birds were mainly flying around in pairs in synchronised flight. They were often joined by more birds. Their flight was quick and unpredictable, so it was a challenging and enjoyable experience. We were now able to pick up our hire bikes and snorkel sets. Then off to the monthly community markets to meet a few of the locals. As expected there were not a lot of stalls, however it was a good place to check out, or purchase the work of a few of the local photographers, including our own Jack Shick. The wind was up so we decided to go for a snorkel in the Lagoon rather than the less sheltered Ned's Beach. A quick swim from the beach and we were amongst the coral. There was plenty of colourful fish and coral to be seen.
After lunch and a siesta it was on the bikes and south towards the majestic twin mountains. This afternoon walk was an easy ramble along the coast to Little Island and the start of the Mount Gower Track. This walk was for the landscape rather than any target species. On the return bike ride we could see plenty of birds flying above Blinky Beach.Hhowever because of wind and light direction it was not worth getting the camera out.

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Day 3 Monday – Blinky Beach, North Beach and Mt Eliza

Woke up to clear skies so quickly headed south to Blinky Beach to take advantage of the light and wind direction. Just as I was about to turn off the road for the beach I spotted a lone Woodhen. A quick dismount and I was happily photographing Lord Howe's special bird. After that productive 5 minutes it was time to get some flight shots of the Sooty Terns that were nesting along the northern end of the beach. A very enjoyable hour was spent with these delightful birds as they circled and hovered above the sand dunes.
After a snorkel at Ned's Beach and a bit of a rest it was time to tackle North Beach and Mount Eliza. The climb via the memorial track to North Beach was the most demanding walk I tackled. By the time I got to North Bay, high cloud had moved in, making the light less than favourable. However there were nesting Black Noddies, along with Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies at the northern end of the beach that needed photographing. A slow and careful approach got me as close as I needed to be to get full frame shots of these three species. It was a fantastic experience to have the various species fly close to check me out as I lay on the sand.
Mount Eliza was beckoning so on and up I went. I probably got ¾ of the way up before progress was halted by the Sooty Terns nesting on the track. Though disappointed that I couldn't reach the top of the hill the terns needed to be left undisturbed and good views could still be had looking south with North Beach in the foreground. The walk back to base in fading light revealed Bar-tailed Godwits, Ruddy Turnstones, a White-faced Heron feeding at the water's edge and a Sacred Kingfisher hunting along the creek.

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 Day 4 Neds Beach and Balls Pyramid
Awoke to another mainly sunny day. Headed down to the lagoon to continue my White Tern project. For some reason they weren't as active this morning. There was hardly any wind today, so Ned's Beach was calling. The tide was high and there was a little current running which made for a moderately challenging snorkel. Still the fish and coral were worth every minute.
At 2 00pm we boarded Jack Shick's boat along with Ian Hutton, the Island naturalist for a trip around the Island and out to Balls Pyramid. The coastal scenery and Admiralty Islands were spectacular as we headed north around the Island and then along the eastern coast to Balls Pyramid. The Tropicbirds, Sooty Terns, Masked Boobies, Noddies and Black-winged Petrels were all seen as we made our way. A stop just off Roach Island gave good views of hundreds of nesting Masked Boobies, pity you couldn't land. A brief view of a little shearwater and a couple of brief encounters with a Kermadec Petrel were the highlights as we headed south in open water. About ¾ of the way to the Pyramid Jack stopped and put out some burley. We were soon joined by numerous flesh-footed Shearwaters and at least a dozen White-bellied Storm Petrels. On to the magnificent rock. Wow! Ball's Pryramid has to be seen up close to appreciate the scale and grandeur. There were sea birds a plenty. Now I had a chance to get up close to the Grey Ternlets that had so far eluded me. They along with a few Common Noddies followed the boat for a short while as we headed back to Lord Howe. The return trip was uneventful bird wise, however the scenery as we headed north up the western side of the Island past Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird was breathtaking.
Back to base to freshen up then down to Neds Beach to photograph the scenery and the Black-winged Petrels as they wheeled around the cliffs at the eastern end of the Beach. These birds must have been having great fun as they chased each other and synchronised their flight.

Day 5 The Clear Place, Mutton Bird Point and Ned's Beach

It rained overnight, however we woke to clear skies.
Made our way to 'The Clear Place" for a view of the east coast looking south. Then down to Middle Beach for a brief stroll. More Silvereyes, Woodhens and Golden Whistlers, on this easy walk.
After lunch and it was off to Mutton Bird Point and the nesting Masked Boobies. The direct easy route is closed due to a land slip (4 years old) , however it is still possible to get there via Rocky Run. The minute we arrived at the viewing platform overlooking the point, so did a rain shower. We could see Masked Booby chicks and parents scattered about the grassy hillsides of Mutton bird Point, as it stretched out before us. While at the lookout a continual parade of birds glided past, including Tropicbirds, Black-winged Petrels and Noddies. Unfortunately no boobies came close during our 30 minute visit. Also the light was never great. Access beyond the lookout is not possible so you'll need a big lens to get good shots of the nesting Boobies.
After dinner and 30 minutes after sunset we visited Ned's Beach to witness the Shearwaters return to the nest hollows. They were never in big numbers as they returned, but rather a constant flow of birds gliding, crashing, then scurrying to their hollows.

Day 6 Transit Hill and Malarbar
Another mainly sunny start to the day, like every other day showers are predicted.
Today's stroll was to the top of Transit Hill. Compared to most of the other walks this was a relatively easy incline. On top we were rewarded with 360 degree views of the island. While on the bike ride back to base we witnessed nature at it's rawest when we saw a Currawong attack a lone White Tern chick. I'm not sure if it's true but a local told me that they don't feed on the chicks, but just kill them. We were spared the grizzly end when a passing car scared off the Currawong.
In the afternoon we had another session with the Tropicbirds at Malabar. My fitness must have been improving as the climb didn't seem too bad today. The light was good, however it was still a struggle to come up with good eye level or above images of the birds, as they predominantly kept below the top of the cliffs. I wonder if this is different when the wind and thermals are more favourable? The other explanation is that, as the birds are nesting on the cliffs they are too busy feeding and looking after the young to be flying about for the fun of it. Though a great number of birds seemed to be taking part in what looked like courtship displays.

Day 7 Malabar and Balls Pyramid

Another stroll (3rd) to Malabar Hill and the Tropicbirds. This time early morning to see if the birds were more active. This proved to be an almost complete waste of time as the birds didn't seem to be interested in flying and certainly not above the cliff line. It was becoming obvious that these birds become more active the closer to mid day, pity about the light.
Another well deserved siesta, then aboard Garry's (Beachcomber) boat to Balls Pyramid. A very bumpy ride out, thankfully a lot calmer around the rock and on the return trip. Surprisingly no one lost their lunch. Unlike Jack and Ian, Garry only has a basic bird knowledge and does not use burley. However we still had a very enjoyable time. The time not spent putting out burley was instead spent around Balls Pyramid, allowing us to improve our bird images. A number of Kermadec Petrels, Grey Ternlets, Shearwaters and Noddies came by for the photo shoot, no new birds. The only hiccup on the return trip was an unexpected heavy rain shower that soaked us just before reaching base.

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Day 8 Blinky Beach and North Bay
Another early morning bike trip to Blinky Beach to photograph the Sooty Terns. Unfortunately not much wind so it was a quick visit. I couldn't resist another go at the White Terns along Lagoon Road. Never did come away with an image of a roosting, or nesting bird that I was happy with. Back to base then a quick visit to Ned's Beach for what might be a final look.
Took the Turtle tour to North Bay. A very tourist thing to do, but worth it as Anthony the guide had already helped us out with some useful information about the island and he proved be an excellent guide. We snorkeled at a couple of points in North Bay that provided the best views we had of the coral and fish. We also got a tour of the beach to see the roosting/nesting birds.

Day 9 Home

Fly back to Sydney and home.

In part 2, I will cover; Photographing the birds, accommodation, getting there, food, hire, activities and the people, plus anything else that I can think of that might be useful.

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