Friday, December 30, 2011

As Time Rolls Along

 After catching up on the nature pictures I figured I would post some more of the other day to day shots that have accumulated in the last months.

(Tyler Roberts)

10th of December Eclipse (Tyler Roberts)

Adriana's killer Orange poundcake (Adriana Weil)

Wicked Camper Van (Adriana Weil)

Not a bad place to work. (Kirk Gastrich)

Monkey Mia Sunset (Adriana Weil)

Eat your heart out Danny Larusso.

Snorkeling Duboit (AnnaRose Adams)

Thanksgiving apple pie, researcher style.  Thanks for the artistic direction Fanny. (picture and pie by Tyler Roberts)

Shifting around the trailer while Kirk supervises.

These last pictures are from our little trip out to Guichenault Point, Francois Peron National Park.  One of the best and most memorable days from our time here together.

Panorama on the cliff at Guichenault (Chriss Mull, stitched together by Tyler Roberts) 

Guichenault Cliff (Chris Mull)

 The second time I've been leaning over the side of a boat directly over a Tiger Shark. Almost the same picture. (Chris Mull)

This is the one from earlier. (Simon Allan)

Blowfish anchored at Guichenault. (Kirk Gastrich)

(AnnaRose Adams) 

Adriana and Fanny working on their boat model careers. (Kirk Gastrich)

Camp Guichenault (Tyler Roberts)

(Chris Mull)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blue Lagoon Pearls

The town of Denham originated as a pearling town.  The people were fishermen or pearl hunters and farmers.  It has now become more of an access point to Shark Bay and the surrounding sites such as Monkey Mia, Francois Peron National Park, Steep Point, Hamelin Pool Stromatolites, etc...  With ecotourism now being the main draw of the area and with the focus of Denham shifting to accommodate, the pearl farmers are glad to host tours of their property and introduce people to the work that they do.  A couple weeks ago I went on a tour out to the most successful and well run pearl farm of Shark Bay, Blue Lagoon Pearls.  It is run by the Morgan family who has been responsible for much of the innovation in their field.

During the tour I was fascinated to learn just how technical the process of growing a pearl is and the amount of investment it requires.  It takes years for an oyster to produce a single pearl and even then there is no guaranty that it will meet the standards.  The pearls they grow at Blue Lagoon Pearls range from white to green to red to blue to black and everything in between.  After giving us a short lesson in oyster anatomy our tour guide even offered us all a small slice of the revered oyster meat.  It was quite delicious but I would never pay the sometimes $600/kilogram price for it.  I am far from their target customer and not much of an admirer of jewelry in general but those pearls were beautiful.  The sheen and dancing light you see in them is just short of hypnotic much like staring into the glowing coals of campfire at night.

Robbie Morgan showing us a Black Oyster (Fanny Vessaz)

One of the original inventions from Blue Lagoon Pearls (Fanny Vessaz)

Gemini Pearl (Fanny Vessaz)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Land Creatures

I keep posting pictures of the amazing underwater life of Shark Bay but have yet to show everything that we see on land as well.  Many people know Australia for its countless numbers of excessively poisoness creatures such as the funnel-web spider, the blue-ringed octopus, and the box jellyfish which have the ability to kill or incapacitate with a single bite or sting.  These are the famous ones, the illusive subject of people's fear and often their reason for second guessing a potential vacation down to this otherwise remarkable country.  As you might guess, the stories are exaggerated and the animals are generally far less common than it would seem.  In fact they are almost always rarities if they occur at all in a given area.  There is much more to be seen and in such a variety.

(Kirk Gastrich)

(Adriana Weil)

One Fancy Beetle (Adriana Weil)

Just above the head there is a beautiful blue stripe.


A Social Huntsman Spider (Adriana Weil)
I have always had a special place in my heart for spiders.  I am not sure why but in Ecuador I chose to study social spiders.  In animal behavior class I chose to do a report on the web building habits of the Hobo Spider in Oregon, and if you have not noticed before the name of this blog is Woven Threads which mainly refers to my attempt at weaving together the random ideas and strands of thought that run through my head but it has another obvious connection to the world of spiders.

It is only in retrospect that I have noticed this pattern.  Here in Australia they have many dangerous and fascinating spiders.  The Huntsman Spider is not particularly dangerous, though it is large and aggressive.  I have had to help a few people out by ridding their sleeping quarters of the beasts now and I have to say I quite enjoyed it.  It is fun for me to watch and think about their actions.  Why do they do what they do?  What drives the choices that make?

The body of the wasp is about 2 inches long.
The other day when I was walking by the pool we noticed a large orange and black wasp wrestling with one of these Huntsman.  It turns out this wasp is called the Spider Hunting Wasp.  It searches out Huntsman Spiders and delivers them with a paralyzing sting.  It will then drag the spider to a burrow and burry it but not before laying a single egg on the spiders abdomen.  The egg hatches and then feeds on the spider until it ready to emerge.  Gruesome but spectacular.  The adult wasps are not even carnivorous.  They feed on the nectar of plants and their flowers.  Wasps are pretty cool too.

Red Back Spider, a close relative to the Black Widow. (Adriana Weil) 

The Birds of australia are an exciting bunch, from the tiny little Fairy Wrens that flit about in the bush to the Emu that plods its way along the roads.  There is a group of  either Collared Sparrowhawks or possibly Brown Goshawks that live right by our trailers.  Every day I hear them call kree-kree-kree and watch them chase the Galahs all around Monkey Mia.  The Welcome Swallows seem to stay pretty well away from that action and go about their business of catching insects on wing most of the day.  The Pelicans and Cormorants (called Shags in Australian) are all over the water.  Most people find them annoying and obtrusive but they can be quite interesting to watch.  

One of my favorite birds here is the Crested Tern.  There are several types of terns that we see each day but whenever I go down to the beach for a swim there is a little Crested Tern that sits on a post out in the water.  I like to swim out to it to get as close as I can and because the post sticks far enough out of the water the bird does not feel threatened by my presence.  I can move right up to it, the bird only a foot or two from my head.  I watch it and chat with it to keep it calm while it watches me and hopefully keeps a look out for any approaching sharks.  I can't get down to the beach every day but most days when I do there is a Crested Tern sitting on that post waiting.

Emu (Adriana Weil)

Emu chicks (Adriana Weil)

Galah (Adriana Weil)

Galahs (Adriana Weil)
Welcome Swallow (Fanny Vessaz)

Sparrowhawk and Galah (Adriana Weil)

Collared Sparrowhawks (Adriana Weil)

Australian Pelican

The lizards of this country are an interesting bunch.  There is an entire group called legless lizard which is exactly what the name implies.  They are not snakes though it would be easy to mistake them for such.  Down below I have put in a picture, though a bit blurry, of a skink called the Unpatterned Robust Slider which actually does have some vestigial legs.  They are little more than nubs helping the Slider to make its way along in the sandy terrain.  The only snake we have come across so far has been the Sea Snake.

Stubby Tail, Shingleback and Bobtail are all names for this Tiliqua rugosa

Sand Monitor (Fanny Vessaz)

(Fanny Vessaz)

Unpatterned Robust Slider (Adriana Weil)

Gecko (Adriana Weil)

Kangaroo (Adriana Weil)

A Warm Christmas?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Doesn't feel much like christmas as a chicago native in a tropical/desert climate, but oh well, I guess I will just have to make the best of it and go hang out on the beach with a santa hat on.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dolphins of Monkey Mia

This last week I have had a bit of time off due to the strong winds.  In the mornings I have been volunteering with the Monkey Mia Resort at their Dolphin feedings.  They feed 5 dolphins Nicky, Surprise, Puck, Piccolo and Shock.  Nicky has been coming to feeds since the 70's.  The feeding of "wild" dolphins is not really something I would normally condone but the regulation of it has gotten much better in recent years.  We do not want to domesticate these animals.

In the past when feeding was unregulated and people could feed the dolphins all day long as much as they wanted there were many complications.  When those dolphins would have calfs they would neglect their own offspring.  The calfs would never learn proper social behaviors and when they were old enough to leave their mothers they were often unable to form the necessary bonds with others and would often die from stress, starvation or predation.  In effect while the feedings have been going on the dolphins involved have not had successful reproduction.

More recently the Department of Environment and Conservation in Australia has taken control.  They have limited the amount of fish each dolphin gets per day in order to encourage them to move offshore and interact as they would naturally.  The effect has been just that.  Several of the regulars have now had calves and I must say that baby dolphins is pretty damn cute.

(Fanny Vessaz)

(Fanny Vessaz)

(Fanny Vessaz)

Adriana with some lucky and very happy little kids. (Fanny Vessaz)

Dolphin Volunteers (Fanny Vessaz)