Posts Tagged ‘flying fish’

Fiji to Vanuatu

May 29, 2014

The Pacific ocean is that clear blue that dreams are made of; mile after mile of life-giving saline. We saw very little rubbish as we made our way from Fiji to the long archipelago of Vanuatu. The magnificent Tahitian petrel, so elegant in its wheeling black (chocolate, really) and white, passed us by without a glance.

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Tahitian petrel – photo courtesy of Heritage Expeditions

Wedge-tailed shearwaters and masked boobies made an occasional appearance and sometimes, in the distance, a finned hump of a passing cetacean was caught in the lens of binocular or camera. The flying fish provided by far the most fascinating entertainment. They ranged in size from 1-2 cm to ten times that size and their colours were many and various. Steve N G Howell is an expert on these amazing “butterflies of the sea” and Steve just happened to be with us. The mile after mile of blue ocean passed remarkably quickly, as we waited for “smurfs” or “raspberry wings” or “double harlequins” to make their appearance. Capturing them on camera was another matter… Steve’s book “The Amazing World of Flyingfish” will be out in July.

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My best attempt, compared to Steve Howell’s…

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Most amazing were the flying squid, captured beautifully on this picture of Steve’s, but really hard to distinguish, as they moved so quickly.

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After a spectacular sunset and a visit by hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, feeding nearby, we retired for a last night at sea before Vanuatu.  Once again, my observational powers were found wanting at Bird Club that night, when I realised the number of bird and cetacean species I just hadn’t seen…

Our arrival in Port Vila was marked by a trip to the market and the spotting of a few birds in the port area, like an Emerald Dove, foraging in the rubbish.

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Photo courtesy of Heritage Expeditions.

We spent a delicious afternoon on Lelepa Island, snorkelling over wonderful coral.

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Photos courtesy of Heritage Expeditions.

A group of wood swallows ignored our reluctant departure, back to the Spirit of Enderby for another magnificent dinner.

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Birding the Pacific

May 15, 2014

I am wiser now and definitely in need of a better pair of binoculars. The men with long lenses called them “bins”.  I was immensely impressed by the real birders on this trip, who were totally dedicated and on the job day and night it seemed. I was also very impressed by the young couple who were experts on cetaceans. I was reminded constantly that my background was in a lab full of small, disposable test tubes and automatic pipettes. My observational skills need considerable improvement, but luckily people remained patient with this bumbling reproductive cell biologist with the small bins…

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The Expedition turned out to be remarkably successful biologically, with recordings of 96 species of bird, including the Fijian petrel and the Vanuatu petrel, plus three types of Monarch (birds not butterflies…), 10 species of marine mammal and 30 species of flying fish. Yes – I learned a huge amount about flying fish and spent hours trying, largely unsuccessfully, to photograph them as they took off out of the way of the Spirit of Enderby’s prow.

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By far the best thing I gained over the 16 days on the blue blue blue Pacific Ocean, was a renewed sense of wonder and awe at our world and an optimism that there are still wild, unknown parts of this planet where life just goes on evolving and developing.  I met wonderful people on tiny islands, saw young children totally at home in deep water in a dugout canoe, swam off the ship in the deep Pacific, walked the jungle and waded through mangrove swamps, in search of small, shy birds that apparently hadn’t been seen for years. And when we found them (and we found all of them on the list it seemed), I experienced a sense of total satisfaction that I’ve never felt before.  It was the perfect way to start retirement and will take me a while to describe, bit by bit. Bear with me then, over the next few weeks.

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