Mollusc mortuaries

This photo may not seem very spectacular, but there’s more information in it than you might suppose. If you are a bit of a beach detective (or intertidal itinerant), you can get an idea of what’s in or near the area and gauge the health and biodiversity of the local ecosystem.

Where have you all come from?

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Memories of a dust storm

Rebecca recently posted about the tremendous dust storm that Broken Hill, western NSW, got in September 2009. While she was in the midst of it, we on the east coast 1500 kilometres (930 miles) away got a pretty impressive share of that topsoil. When I was a kid in country South Australia, we had our share of dust storms coming down from the desert to the north. I remember my mum shutting up the house whenever she saw the sky go brown, to keep out as much dust as possible. You could see a gigantic brown wall in the distance, coming fast. Afterwards, it was a sweep-fest.

I’d never experienced anything like that here before,  though. The photos below show increasing dust in the air. We didn’t get the black-out Rebecca experienced in Broken Hill, but it was eerie nevertheless.

The normally blue sky is masked by outback dust

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Carnivorous eggs

Isn’t the English language wonderful in its ambiguity? It’s not the eggs that are carnivorous but the mollusc that laid these eggs. According to the good folks at the Queensland Museum, it’s a predatory marine snail and most likely to be  one of the murex snail group (family Muricidae), possibly Lepsiella hanleyi or Morula marginalba (the mulberry whelk, photo further down), or even one of the cone snail family (Conidae), Conus papilliferus.

Egg cases under a rock in a rock pool

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The wonderful wobbegong

Here’s a wobbegong I saw at Woody Head recently. Queensland has five species, and we tend to get the same fish as them, due to similar subtropical water conditions. I’m not sure which one this is.

Wobbegongs are mostly harmless – would rather run than fight, like most animals – but may give a nasty bite if frightened enough. I’ve startled a couple (and vice versa) while snorkelling. They look much bigger underwater than they really are! They tend to rest under ledges, head in, during the day and come out to feed at night. The skin has pretty patterns, hence the common name of carpet shark.

Head not in the sand, but under a ledge - tail of a resting wobbegong

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A couple of Lord Howe marine creatures

Since Lord Howe Island is surrounded by tropical waters, there are the usual goodies – tropical fish in and around beautiful coral reefs. I saw several lion fish (swimming serenely perhaps because of their poisonous spines – don’t touch!), turtles, and small brightly coloured fish that nipped me (sharp teeth!) when I snorkelled over their territories – annoying and interesting at the same time.

My friends Linda and Peter took these photos on Lord Howe  last September of a Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineus) …

Spanish dancer on Lord Howe Island, photo by Peter Scharf

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Yes, it’s a nudibranch!

I’m used to thinking of nudibranchs as small (except for Spanish dancers), brightly coloured, soft creatures. Here’s one that breaks the mould. One of our US visitors, Mike from Alaska, found this creature in a shallow pool on the rock platform at Woody Head on Saturday when we were doing show-and-tell on the rock platform. It was about 14 cm long, and its surface was hard, leathery and knobbly. (Our other visitor, Rich, has put the photos of his trip here.)

Atagema spongiosa

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Poor bandicoot

I’m sorry not to have a photo of a happy, healthy bandicoot to share, but they come out at night and run away quickly, so no luck there.

However, while showing two US visitors around last weekend, we came across a roadkill and had to show them this native they might not otherwise see.

Roadkill bandicoot

It’s probably the long-nosed bandicoot (Perameles nasuta).  It is so sad to see such little bodies on the road. They have no road sense and no chance. Sigh.

Lord Howe Island birds (part 1)

Thanks to Peter and Linda for their photos.

According to Simpson and Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Lord Howe and nearby Ball’s Pyramid lie “570 km off the eastern coast of New South Wales: latitude 31 degrees 33′ S; longitude 159 degree 05′ E. … The island is about 11 km long and up to 2.8 km wide; total land area is about 1455 hectares. … The island is subtropical and of submarine volcanic origin. Balls Pyramid, a volcanic stack or spire, rises to 551 m and is 23 km to the SE”.

Marker showing distances and directions of Lord Howe from other places

Because the island is a long way from any large mass of land (Australia is the closest), there are a lot of vagrant birds – Simpson and Day’s 1996 checklist for Lord Howe has 99 species listed as vagrants (Simpson and Day glossary: ‘a bird found in an area that is not its usual habitat, having strayed there by mistake, e.g. through disorientation, or by adverse winds’) – albatross, petrels, shearwaters, cormorants, sandpipers, spoonbills and others. There are three regular visitors (Australasian gannet, cattle egret and swamp harrier);  five irregular visitors (eastern curlew, Latham’s snipe, red-necked stint, shining bronze-cuckoo, long-tailed koel); and only four endemics (not found anywhere else, living and breeding on the island – the woodhen, Tricholimnas sylvestris; Lord Howe white-eye, Zosterops tephropleura; and Lord Howe currawong, Strepera graculina crissalis).

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Lovely Lord Howe

My friends Peter and Linda went to Lord Howe last year, and reminded me that I should get back there soon. They’ve kindly given me permission to use their photos.

‘Lovely’ doesn’t quite do it justice, but I would run out of superlatives if I even started trying to describe Lord Howe Island. I’ve been there a couple of times, and it’s probably my favourite of all the places I’ve been.  It’s certainly paradise for the natural history junkie, but not for the archaeologist – no evidence of ancient human settlement has been found.

It is incredibly photogenic – the cliché ‘jewel in the Pacific’ fits well. The two mountains at the south end (below) are Mt Lidgbird (left, 777 metres; 2,549 feet) and Mt Gower (right, 875 m; 2,871 feet). They are remnants of a volcano.

Lord Howe beaches, mountains and lagoons

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