Tally Howe!

On Sunday I’m off on my fourth trip to Lord Howe Island World Heritage Area. I thought I wouldn’t go again after my third trip – there are too many other places to explore – but when a citizen science trip came on my radar, I couldn’t resist. It’s in conjunction with the Australian Geographic Society and the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO.

Painting displayed on Lord Howe; unknown artist

Painting displayed on Lord Howe Island; unknown artist

The Pinetrees (the lodge where I’m staying) website says:

The Australian Geographic Expedition is for ‘citizen scientists’ to work with scientists from Australian Geographic, the CSIRO and the Lord Howe Island Board. With expert support, people with a good level of fitness (i.e walk 5 km in 1.5 hours and be steady footed in steep mountain terrain) and interest in conservation (i.e. you don’t need any scientific training!) can help discover insect species, which are thought to be extinct, or close to extinct. Many species remain undescribed or unrecorded since 1978, so the expedition stands to make a significant contribution to conservation on Lord Howe Island.

You don’t need any special expertise to go on citizen science trips – just enthusiasm and the ability to pay the money. You pay your own way to get there; food, accommodation and a donation to the research are included in the fee. It’s great to get a different view from what you’d experience as a ‘normal’ tourist and meet like-minded people, too.

Earthwatch is another volunteer organisation that can take you worldwide as well as in Australia, and covers a lot of research areas. Curious Traveller took me to Tassie earlier in the year to help with Tassie devil research, and will take me in November to Maria Island in Tassie to help with hooded plover research (there are still places available on that one if you’re interested).

On Lord Howe, we’ll be out in the forest every day collecting insects. The one with the most media coverage is probably the ‘land lobster’, which I wrote about here. If you click on ‘Lord Howe Island’ in the tag cloud at right, you’ll find my other posts on Lord Howe. Much of each afternoon will be free time, so I’ll be off to the museum, or snorkelling with the turtles, or taking photos of critters in rock pools, or walking the beaches, or sipping a beer at the bar, or …

I’ll really looking forward to this trip and I’ll tell you all about it after I get back!

Spring low tide at Flat Rock

The rock pools at Flat Rock have been covered in sand for a few months, but gradually the sand is clearing and seaweeds and algae (with associated fauna) are coming back. The lowest tides of the spring give a good opportunity to go further out on the platform than usual.

Here’s a nudibranch I’d not seen before, although they are apparently common – Sebadoris fragilis. They grow up to 12 cm and this one was about 8 cm long. (IDs courtesy of Nudibranchs of the Sunshine Coast).

Discodoris fragilis

Discodoris fragilis

discodoris-fragilis_2 discodoris-fragilis_3

There was only one Discodoris fragilis, but over a dozen Plocamopherus imperialis – breeding time? They can grow up to 10 cm, but this one wouldn’t have reached 2 cm.

Plocamopherus imperialis

Plocamopherus imperialis


plocamopherus-imperialis_6red-and-orange-nudibranch-at-flat-rock-2Also common is Rostanga arbutus, max. size 1 cm. It’s tiny.

Rostanga arbutus

Rostanga arbutus

Below is possibly Kaloplocamus acutus – if it is, it’s way off the 6 cm length of adults. This one might have been 1 cm.

Kaloplocamus acutus

Kaloplocamus acutus?

It was definitely breeding season for the limpets …

Limpet egg masses

Limpet egg masses (white circles)

… and the cartrut shell (Dicathais orbita). The egg cases are yellow when ‘fresh’ and go purple after a while. (The purple cases below are in front of and separate from the yellow cases behind.)


Cartruts in the process of laying eggs

cartrut-eggs_1 cartrut-eggs_2This live shell (possibly Cabestana lampas) is common, but I saw only one …

Cabestana lampas

Cabestana lampas

Note the 'eye stalks' and syphon

Note the ‘eye stalks’ and siphon (left); photo by Andrew

Black feather duster worm …


We saw three small sharks resting in the crevices, but it was impossible to get decent shots because the water was rippling through fast. One was a clearly a wobbegong but the other two were different.

There were over a dozen sea hares, perhaps in preparation for mating, too. They form mating chains, one behind the other.

Aplysia dactylomela

Aplysia dactylomela

aplysia_2A lot of birds were resting on the platform. It annoys the heck out of me when people allow their dogs to run free there – no dogs are meant to be on the platform, and only dogs on leashes on the beach. The migrating seabirds need rest and refuelling.

A pair of beach stone-curlews (Esacus magnirostris, aka beach thick knees because that’s what they have) flew quickly past, crying their curious call. It was the first time I’d seen this species in the wild.

Beach stone curlews

Beach stone curlews

Beach stone curlews

This is either the grey-tailed (Heteroscelus incanus) or the wandering (Heteroscelus brevipes) tattler. The grey-tailed is more common.


Tattler; photo by Andrew

I think the birds below are sandpipers, but there are a lot that look alike and I haven’t worked out how to distinguish them yet. Any ideas appreciated.