Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Farewell to all that

Killing time before this afternoon's flight to Dallas and then on across the Pacific, so here are some more Marty pics.

I said that I hadn't covered the shopping; well two days ago we went to the huge array of factory outlets at San Marcos, up the road towards Austen. More clothes and shoe shops than you could shake a stick at, but as far as Marty was concerned the rides in the mall outside were far more satisfying.

This was the first, outside Eddie Bauer.

The horse was the second favourite.
He liked to watch his reflection in the window.

But this was the real favourite, even though the rotors didn't go round.

And Auntie Joanne hired a special car trolley!

After all that a boy needs some quiet time.
The iPad has been a godsend.

He has had more outdoor experiences, however. Hardberger Park is just up the road, with pleasant strolls through the oak woods.

Hardberger Park trail.
The park is new and very popular.

Sometimes there are squirrels in the trees.

And his US passport arrived, so to celebrate we had a flag-planting ceremony

Marty, Oliver and Jac.

And now we head for the airport. See you next time, San Antonio.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What we did in Texas

Well, that should probably read "What Marty did in Texas", because when you're with a two year old he tends to dominate the schedule. But that's fine, except perhaps that we're not getting enough exercise to balance the intake of all that fine food.

So what did we do?

We went to the swings a lot. These were at Orsinger Park and popular with many small folk. And we found out just where to find the black squirrel.

This was a playground within Uncle John's gated community.

We ate at the diner. This was at California Pizza Kitchen and they provided good stuff for kids.

We drank some good ol' Texas beer. (Hold on, that must have been me).

We discovered stuff in the bush. He much preferred to be off the track.

There are probably bitey things out there, but Marty likes to turn over every log and rock. No idea where he gets that from.

We found some lovely deer statues at Huebner Oaks shopping plaza. There's a whole series of them, leaping along the pathways.

We went to Starbucks. It was Marty's first Starbucks, and he dressed for the occasion.

We went to Enchanted Rock State Park, where the trees were all turning and the wind blew their leaves down in clouds.

We found a Texas BBQ. Recognise the shape? We're about 14 bars up and bit to the right. Actually all fires in the open are strictly banned since this part of the country has been in serious drought for a couple of years.

We went "fishing" in the Frog Pond at Enchanted Rock. Marty is prepared to "fish" in any body of standing water.

We found a lovely little stream at Enchanted Rock, clear water over pink granite gravel. Marty said "This is the best water in the world".

We played in Auntie Joanne's back yard with Oliver the cat. The cat adopted us as we walked home one evening, and Joanne (who already has two inside cats) couldn't bear to part with him. The box came from Amazon with his outdoor cat igloo (in "Mouse Grey").

We went out for breakfast tacos on San Pedro.

And that little summary has missed all the shopping......

Jean and I return to Tasmania in a few days, but Marty's Texan adventure goes on for another three weeks. So much more to come.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Texas Again

Here we are back in Texas again, almost exactly two years since we were here caring for Marty when he was just three months old. We're here to join in the celebrations for the wedding of Lorena Havill (one of Jac's colleagues, and the person who sent us that wonderful "edible arrangement": see Oct 2009) to Cullen Jones, who we also met back then.

Everyone loves a wedding.

And we are, of course, part of the support team for Master Marty Richardson, aka The Whirlwind, who seems set to steal the show, though I'm pleased to say that he is still at an age where he is blissfully unaware of the attention that he attracts.

Marty fishing at Brackenridge Park.
The goldfish in Uncle John's pond have been getting a hard time.

The journey here was pretty painless, considering that it involved a direct flight from Sydney to Dallas, and it was certainly a pleasure to arrive in Dallas rather than Los Angeles. Marty slept for many hours, and coped with the rest, apart from some demands to "go outside now?".

The wedding and its associated social events passed off very well. The ceremony was held outdoors in Brackenridge Park, which worked well for Marty and several other kids who were there, since not only was there water and ducks, but also a small train!

Brackenridge Park train.
Marty was wide-eyed at the suggestion he could ride it.

The bride, with friends and relations.

Jo reading a poem.
And making everyone cry.

Marty and the Pinata.
Papier mache effigies of the happy couple, full of sweets. The kids were invited to beat them with a stick until they burst. That's how they do it here!

We are here for three weeks, so there is every chance of another blog post or two before we return home.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Leopard Seal!

Jean and I were at Boat Harbour for a few days last week, and while on our usual evening bird-spotting walk round the beach we spotted a seal on the rocks close to the car park. At first I thought it was a washed-up carcass, but when it stretched and yawned I rejected that hypothesis. The large head and very impressive array of teeth immediately suggested a Leopard Seal, a predator of penguins in the Antarctic that turns up in Tasmanian waters occasionally.

Young Leopard Seal at Boat Harbour.
Sound asleep!

Still sleeping.
It woke and displayed teeth, but the camera card was full!

We didn't interfere that night, but when it was still there the next morning and in full view of the car park, I thought it wise to call Parks and Wildlife. To my disappointment they didn't turn up with blue lights flashing, but simply referred me to the head office in Hobart. They asked for a picture (quite easily done: ah, the technology), confirmed my identification, suggested that it was a young animal (a mere 125 kg or so) and thought that it would be gone quite soon. And it was, after the next tide.

Such excitement.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Howe's that?

Another episode in this year of travels (and it's not over yet).

Last week we were lucky enough to visit beautiful Lord Howe Island along with five students from Rosny College who were the winners of the Envirothon competition, run by The Bookend Trust. The students were there to enjoy themselves, learn about the island and help Jenn Lavers, a biologist who works on the local seabirds. We were there....... well, to help, and to visit a place that Jean and I have wanted to see for a long time.

LHI is nearly two hours flying time east of Sydney in a Dash 8 aircraft, which is how Jean and I got there. The students came more slowly in a smaller chartered plane from Hobart, with a couple of intermediate stops.

QantasLink Dash 8 at Lord Howe airstrip.
We were in Row 1 both ways!

The charter plane arrives at Lord Howe.
Head winds on the way, and on the way back.

The island is about 11 km long and nowhere much more than two kilometres wide. The west side is sheltered by the southern-most coral reef in the world, and the south end is dominated by two volcanic mountain peaks, Mounts Gower and Lidgbird, that attract the eye wherever you go. There are 300-odd residents, and tourist numbers are capped at 400 visitors at any time. About 20 km of roads support more bicycles than cars and the speed limit is 25 km/hr. It's a very pleasant environment.

The lagoon, the settlement and Mts Lidgbird and Gower.

The Admiralty Islands, from the north end of Lord Howe.

Birds everywhere, including many of these White Terns.
Definitely in my top ten most beautiful birds.

Main Street, Lord Howe.
So many cars!

Neds Beach dive hire.
No one there, just write your name and put the money in the box.

Lagoon boat.
This one took us snorkelling, and to see the turtles.

We stayed at Pinetrees, a lodge run by families that go back six generations on the island. They fed us superb food, obligingly (but slowly) drove us around in their minibus and packed a huge barbecue for our day out on the south end of the island. September is early in the season, but the weather was kind with blue skies and sun all week until the day we left.

Our unit at Pinetrees.

These hibiscus were to welcome us.

Ah, the food!
Fish every night, and this sushi table on Monday.

We walked the beaches and forests, watched birds, snorkelled in the lagoon, watched turtles through a glass-bottomed boat, watched the shearwaters come into their rookeries at dusk, and fed the huge fish at Ned's Beach.

The students at North Beach.
Needless to say, they had a great time.

Little Shearwater chick.

Big boy: a Providence Petrel chick.
Probably bigger than its parents at this stage.

Wonderful snorkelling, but a bit cool.

A glimpse through the glass-bottomed boat.

Feeding the fish at Neds Beach.
Hundreds of mullet, and huge kingfish.

Green Turtle, through the glass-bottomed boat.

Getting down and dirty.
Dissecting shearwaters, looking for ingested plastic.

Wrangling live shearwaters.
Handle with care: they bite!

Flesh-footed Shearwater.
Just landed and very approachable.

But the students were also there to take part in some research, so they helped to catch and weigh shearwaters, counted sprouting palm seedlings, dissected some dead seabirds to check for plastics in the stomachs, and we did our environmental bit by spending an afternoon pulling weeds in the forest.

Perhaps the two outstanding events were a boat trip around Ball's Pyramid, and the climb to the summit of Mt Gower. Ball's Pyramid is a 550 m sea stack that rises sheer out of the sea south of LHI. It's home to huge numbers of sooty terns, petrels, ternlets and other sea birds, also the "tree lobster", a sort of huge stick insect that was eliminated from LHI in the 1930s when rats finally arrived, but it (literally) clings on in weather-beaten scrub on the Pyramid. There's a plan to remove the rats from the main island, and if that is achieved the tree lobster will return!

Leaving for Ball's Pyramid.

Our destination, 23 km away, as we travel along the eastern shore of LHI.

Island legend, Jack, a relaxed helmsman.
This man has climbed Mt Gower over 1500 times!

Ball's Pyramid, 550 m high.

Approaching Mt Gower.
The summit is behind there somewhere.

Homeward across the lagoon.

We had perfect windless weather for the four hour boat trip. Since it was limited to 8 passengers, the rest of the group, including Jeannie, got a flight in the charter plane around the Pyramid and then back between the main island's twin peaks.

The charter plane, with Jeannie aboard, circles Ball's Pyramid.
Thanks to Ian Hutton for the photo.

All week I had been looking at Mt Gower (875 m) and wondering whether my knees would get me to the top. I knew that some sections required ropes, and from sea level some parts of the climb looked very steep and very exposed. It is only possible to climb the mountain with a guide and we were very ably led by Ian Hutton, a naturalist resident on the island who assured me that there would be very regular stops to look at interesting plants, and the view.

Ian Hutton, island naturalist, who enhanced our visit hugely.

7.30 am, at the start of the Mt Gower climb.
The first challenge was the upper strip of green under the cliffs.

The ledge was quite wide, and the ropes were a comfort.

Rounding the corner into Erskine Valley.
The mist cleared before we got up there.

Mt Lidgbird from the ridge up Mt Gower.
Not the steepest bit.

A long way down.
Ball's Pyramid in the distance.

The start of one of the steeper sections.

We made it!
The summit of Mt Gower.

The camera is pointing straight down!
On the way back down. Oh my knees.

In the event the climb was tough, but achievable. Going up was a grunt, and I was relieved to find that the steep sections were sheltered by the forest, so I wasn't hanging out over the Pacific Ocean. Coming down was harder and I suffered from Gower's Thighs for a couple days afterwards. But it was well worth the climb to see the cloud forest on the summit plateau and the views of the island. We also provided entertainment for many of the endemic currawongs who appeared wherever we stopped, sitting in the trees within arm's reach and eyeing our lunches.

Crafty currawong.
Another LHI endemic.

It's a wonderful island, and a conservation success story. All the cats, goats and pigs that once did so much harm have been removed, and if they can get rid of the rats several species can be re-introduced. The iconic species is the Lord Howe woodhen, a flightless rail that was down to 40-odd individuals confined to the summit of Mt Gower in the 1970s, but which is now so well recovered that you can meet them poking about (very tame) anywhere on the island.

Niall and Vicki and the Traveling Bears, on Transit Hill.

Now I just have to work out how we can afford to go back.