Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:00

Lord Howe Island - Part 2 Featured

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 GJS2702-as-Smart-Object-1Photographing the birds
Learn how to shoot in manual mode, as you will be taking a lot of flight shots where the birds exposure measurement will not change, but the backgrounds will.

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Lord Howe Woodhen
Not Australia's best looking bird, but one of the rarest. There are supposed to be about 360 birds now on the island. We found them near the airport and on the walk to "The Clear Place". One of the recommended spots is near Little Island, however they were hiding during our visit. They are now spread right across the island with defined territories, so spend a little time and you will encounter this species. They didn't seem too fussed with my presence, so it was possible to get very close without too much bother.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds
Get yourself to Malabar and the northern cliffs. The main issues I found shooting these birds were their tendency to be most active as sun reached its apex. I made the mistake of getting to the site just after sunrise. What a waste of time. The lazy buggers don't stretch their wings until the sun is well and truly up. Another problem I found is that these birds tend to stay below the top of the cliffs. A bit like taking a portrait of the back of someone's head. Still every now and again a bird would come up and thrill you with a fly over. They were also seen at other spots around the coast and on the way to Balls Pyramid, though never close enough for a good image. Afternoon shooting was better for activity and light. Apparently during the period of my visit there was at least one bird nesting in the open on the Goat Cave track . It was possible to see nesting birds on the small cliffside platforms at Malabar, however they usually snuggled under the vegetation obscuring views. Be aware that Malabar was named after a feather collector who fell to his death at this spot.

 

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Black-winged Petrels
I found the best spot for these to be the north eastern end of Neds Beach. Late afternoon is a good time to photograph them as the pairs carried out synchronised flying about the cliff. With the late afternoon sun I was able to position myself on the rocks and capture these wonderful birds as they flew around the point. They are easily seen elsewhere, however their quick flight made them difficult subjects at other locations. You often heard them calling before you saw them.

Sooty Terns
These birds are apparently nesting in more places on the island than in the past. Two spots to get up close were the northern end of both North Beach and Blinky Beach. Lots of immature birds were easily seen on these beaches. An early morning session at Blinky photographing these birds was great fun. It's far easier to get to Blinky Beach, as its only a 10 min bike ride from the main settlement area, They are in big numbers so shouldn't be difficult to find. There were also a few nesting birds on the eastern end of Neds Beach.

White Tern
These are the iconic island species that nest in the Norfolk pines along Lagoon Road. They are easy to find, though not necessarily easy to photograph as their nesting and roosting location puts them in a setting where the perches are ugly, the backgrounds busy and the light variable. It's not impossible, it just takes some planning, a few visits and good light. Flight shots are easier as the birds are easy to capture as they fly about adjacent to the pine trees along Lagoon Road. Morning is probably better.

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Masked Booby
I was really looking forward to photographing these birds, however getting close was to prove difficult as their breeding areas on the Admiralty Islands and Mutton Bird Point were not accessible. The lookout at Mutton Bird Point was at least 50 metres from the nearest nesting bird. Still, a place worth visiting. It was possible to get a shot at Malabar as they returned to their nest sites in the late afternoon. Though how close they would come would depend on the weather conditions and their destination.

Black Noddy
There were two spots to photograph these. However the northern end of North Bay presents the best opportunity as the birds were present roosting in the open on the beach and rocky point. Apart from the pines at North Beach they have also recently started nesting in small numbers in the Norfolk pines near the boat sheds along Lagoon Road. I found these birds to be very curious and had them circling close while walking along North Beach. This made them good subjects for flight shots.

Common Noddy
Seen in the same places as the Black Noddy. Blinky and North Beach were the best spots. There were also a few that followed the boat around Balls Pyramid.

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Birds seen with Jack Schick

White-bellied Storm Petrel
Jack Shick uses burley, which is needed to bring these bird in. Like my experience with other Storm-petrels, getting head on shots proved difficult. Plenty of bum shots as these ballerinas skipped across the water.

Kermadec Petrel
Never seen in big numbers, even though Balls Pyramid is a breeding site. Small numbers were encountered on both boat trips with numbers increasing as we approached Balls Pyramid. Make sure you know how to identify them as they can be easily lost amongst the numerous shearwaters.

Grey Ternlet
A bird that we only saw, as we approached Balls Pyramid. When at the Pyramid they were common and could be seen nesting. A couple followed the boat as we left Balls Pyramid.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Often seen off the coast. An experience worth having is watching these birds return to, or leave their burrows. Neds Beach is one of the more accessible spots to see this.

Silvereye
Common at all the bush/woodland sites we visited. Seemed to occupy a few more habitat niches than our local birds. Very active. Easy to approach when busily feeding.

Golden Whistler
Common, often heard rather than seen. A bird sang every morning outside our apartment.

Pied Currawong
Again often heard in the vegetated areas of the Island, photographed along Lagoon Road.

Emerald Dove
Commonly seen around the settled areas. I saw it on every visit to the "Top Shop". Much easier to approach than the mainland version. Most mornings a dove along with silvereyes were seen feeding in the tree adjacent to our apartment.

Other birds seen during my visit
Blackbird, Purple Swamphen, Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, White-faced Heron, Bar-tailed Godwit, Welcome Swallow, Sacred Kingfisher, Whimbrel, Nankeen Kestrel, Magpie Lark, Buff-banded Rail, Masked Lapwing.

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Photographic Equipment Taken
Due to weight restrictions (14kg checked in luggage, 7kg hand luggage) on the flight some preparation is required to get all the gear on the Island. Apart from the fact that all the target birds were going to be present, my visit during summer meant I could take light weight clothing.
I took the 500mm and the D800+grip on board the plane in a strong but lightweight backpack. The rest of the gear was spread between my checked in luggage and my wife's large handbag.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm, Nikon 12-24mm, Nikon 70-300mm, 1.4 & 1.7 Teleconverters, Netbook, DB900 flash, memory cards, battery chargers, LED Torch i-Touch, 18watt speaker, better beamer.
On the return trip we were weighed along with all our luggage before boarding.

The Landscape
Truly a breath taking place, that will not disappoint. Apart from climbing the various hills to get a view, some of the nicest landscapes are along the coast. One of my favourites was the view from the Island wharf.

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Map Provided by OpenStreetMap

Walks
Bring your walking shoes.
Make sure you get a copy of the "Exploring Lord Howe Island" brochure from the information centre when you arrive. This brochure contains useful information on all the walks, along with an easy to follow map. Visit this site on the web and download the walks map pdf
http://www.lordhoweisland.info/walking.htm
There are a few flat walks, however Lord Howe is predominantly hilly, if not mountainous, so expect to raise a sweat if you want to get to all the birding and landscape photography spots. Overall the tracks are well maintained, however a 4 year old slip has the direct route to Mutton Bird Point closed. Check with a local before attempting a trip to Mutton Bird Point.
If you want to climb/walk to the top of Mount Gower you must go with a guide. You will need to be fit to complete this 8 hour walk.
Even though we saw plenty of people around the settlement area, once we got out on tracks we hardly saw anyone.

Bikes
There is only 11 km of road on the Island; however the attractions are at opposite ends, so I would highly recommend hiring a bike to get to the start of the various walking tracks.
We hired our bikes for approx $8/day from Wilsons in Lagoon Road (closed on Saturdays). They are good quality bikes and the staff are helpful. Some of the accommodations also provide bikes for their guests.
Cars are available for hire, however unless you have a mobility problem, not worth the cost.

Getting to Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island is 700 km northeast of Sydney.
Only QantasLink flies to Lord Howe Island. You can fly from Sydney, Port Macquarie and Brisbane. The cost of air fares is very high and don't expect to see any special deals.

Accommodation
A maximum of 400 guests are allowed on the Island at any one time. There are about 30 different accommodation choices. Most are expensive by mainland standards. We stayed at Somerset Apartments which are very conveniently located between Neds Beach and the Lagoon. The rooms are clean, with all the basic needs covered. The staff were really helpful and friendly. Rates for all the accommodation options vary considerably between peak and off season. Just remember when your target birds are about.
Many of the web sites that deal with Lord Howe Island recommend that you book your airfares and accommodation together due to the limited number of beds. A number of travel agents provide package deals that are worth checking out. I also think that you may be able to find a good deal if you are prepared to do your own investigation.

Food
There are plenty of restaurants on the island of various quality. From reports their charges are generally comparable to Sydney. Takeaway is limited and times are restricted, so not a good option except maybe for lunch.
There are three places to buy groceries/meat/fruit. We found the biggest range and best prices at Joy's Shop. Thompsons had takeaway and was convenient. The Top Shop (closed on Sat) had the best range of fruit, veg and meat.
We planned to be out every day until after sunset photographing, so getting back to catch the courtesy bus to a restaurant was not an option. However with a bit of planning we managed to eat well without eating out. Even using food purchased from Joy's we would have saved hundreds of dollars. Our apartment did have a microwave, toaster and electric frying pan. Taking breakfast cereal and some packet meals would keep costs down.

Snorkeling/diving/swmming
The world's most southern coral reefs are a spectacular attraction for both divers and snorkelers.
You can hire Snorkelling gear from a few places including Wilsons. There a number of excellent areas to snorkel including Neds Beach, the Lagoon, Settlement Beach and North Bay. At all these locations it is possible to easily reach the coral from the beach. I would recommend taking a guided snorkel with one of the operators as they obviously have the local knowledge and will be able to take you to the best locations that you would struggle to find on your own. Given our need to be out early and late for photography we found late morning and early afternoon a great time for snorkelling.

Fishing
Not one of my things, however a very popular pastime with heaps of operators offering fishing trips.

The people
We found the locals to be generally very friendly and helpful. The tour operators were happy to recommend a competitor if they couldn't deliver a particular service.
The people at the information centre were very helpful. It is closed on Saturdays, however the museum (same place) is open. The museum cafe is a good spot for a coffee and snack at a very reasonable price.
Regardless where you are on Lord Howe you will struggle to find a crowd. I can't ever remember more than ten people being at Neds Beach during our many visits.

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