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Hix goes tropical........ again - Tokelau

Discussion in 'Tokelau' started by Hix, 28 Aug 2012.

  1. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    NOTE: This continues on from the http://www.zoochat.com/1814/hix-goes-tropical-again-samoa-pt-286331/ thread. This thread picks up the story after 30 hours on board the PB Matua cargo ship.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Day 1 - Wednesday, 22nd August

    I woke early in the morning to find we were not far from Fakaofo, the southernmost of the atolls. Shortly after 7am the large flat-bottomed aluminium dinghy (or barge) set out from shore to the ship. All of Tokelau's atolls are surrounded by reefs, outside the reefs the water is too deep for anchors, so there is no way for the cargo ship to get to the concrete wharf. So each atoll has a barge that goes out to meet the ship and passengers and cargo are transferred that way. It took three hours for the operation to be complete, with several trips from the barge. From Fakaofo it only took another three hours to get to Nukunonu, arriving about two in the afternoon.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/fakaofo-286970/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/fakaofo-286971/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/barge-its-way-out-meet-boat-286972/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/unloading-cargo-286973/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/barge-returning-fakaofo-286974/

    Feeling better, I had spent this time in the lounge watching the TV (the bunkbed by this time was hurting my back, and my internal organs had been jostled and settled so much they weren't happy either). First on the TV was a crusades movie about the battle for Jerusalem - lots of people getting skewered on swords, beheaded, set on fire etc. Then a French movie about the three musketeers - more skewering of people and hangings. This was followed by a Thai movie about a small village in Siam three hundred years ago about to be attacked by a marauding band of 1,000 thieves, when three friends in 2006 slip through a time portal (in their car) and helped the village defeat the bad guys. More blood and guts, swords, firearms, bows and arrows, people on fire etc.

    The next movie was B-Grade American movie from the 1980s - Golden Temple Amazons. Lots of topless women running around the jungle. This was turned off after five minutes because "there were children watching". Apparently dismemberment is OK for kids, but bouncing boobies are not.

    Around this time we arrived at Nukunonu, which was my stop. I went downstairs to pack my few things into my little backpack, straighten up my bunk, finish my drink and make sure I'd left nothing behind. As I went back upstairs to await the barge I heard the unmistakably dulcet tones of David Attenborough - walking into the lounge I found they had put on an episode from Blue Planet. I'd sat through several hours of crap and they put on the good stuff just as I was getting off!

    I jumped onto the barge with a number of other people getting off here too and was soon standing on solid ground (a relief, too). Then I had to wait for my suitcases which had to travel as cargo. They would be loaded onto the barge with all the other items coming ashore - stems of bananas, boxes of apples, 50 crates of beer, 20 crates of Scotch Whisky, bags of carrots, onions, cabbages, lettuces, UHT Milk, tins of spaghetti, and baked beans, boxes of eggs, plastic food containers, pots, pans and cutlery, corrugated tin, plastic pipes, two chest freezers and dozens of other unlabeled boxes and building materials. Plus several suitcases, bags, boxes and woven mats. Unfortunately, my bags arrived on the last trip, and Customs and Immigration had gone home by the time it got to shore at 5:30pm.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/nukunonu-village-286976/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/pb-matua-286978/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/disembarking-pb-matua-286977/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/barge-heading-nukunonu-286975/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/wharf-286981/

    On my arrival I was met by Pio, one of the government workers I'd been in email contact with, and he had some bad news for me: the two hotels were all full. Some solar specialists and their families had arrived on the previous boat and had occupied all available rooms. This was a blow, because I had nowhere to stay. But Pio had taken care of that - I would stay with his cousin, Mika. Mika had actually just come up on the boat with me from Samoa - he'd been one of the people I'd seen outside sleeping on deck in the rain. I learnt later that he had been throwing up which is why he stayed topside. And he was very happy to have me stay at his house. With his mother. Not quite what I was after, but I didn't have much choice.

    While waiting, I wandered onto the shallows of the reef to see if there was anything of interest. The reef appeared more bereft of life than what I'm used to seeing, but I did see a few fish, sea cucumbers, shells, crabs and an octopus (which I would have missed if he hadn't squirted ink when I walked past).

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/view-reef-286979/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/octopus-286990/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/octopus-286989/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/octopus-286988/


    It had been raining in Fakaofo but now the sun had come out and was beating down strongly. Even though there was a breeze it was still very humid. So I was pretty sweaty by the time I met Mika's mum, Maliana. Who doesn't speak English. But she's a lovely lady who smiles and laughs a lot. Especially at me, for some reason.

    After unpacking I went for a walk around the little island (or motu, as they are called) looking for seabirds and good snorkelling sites, arriving back at sunset and just in time for dinner. My first sunset in Tokelau was obscured by clouds on the horizon, but hopefully I would see a better one in the next two weeks.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/sunset-over-nukunonu-286980/

    With darkness came some insects - and the geckos. I spent a few minutes photographing some of the beetles that were in the house, and a beautiful green moth with translucent wings before dinner was ready.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/moth-286986/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/asian-house-gecko-hemidactylus-frenatus-286985/

    Dinner was interesting. A piece of fried trevally (which was very nice), a large piece of boiled taro and a boiled banana in coconut milk. And Mika also had a piece of the fish that still had the head and tail attached. Mika had lots of questions for me and I found answering them when there was a pectoral fin sticking out of his mouth a bit of a challenge in concentration. I ate all the fish and banana, but only got half way through the taro. Mika said we have vegetables tomorrow night.


    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 34 taken, 0 deleted.

    NOTE: In case the last few paragraphs have given a false impression, let me be perfectly clear: I am incredibly privileged to be staying with a local family, and humbled that they would take in a stranger without question simply because he has nowhere else to stay. While I would prefer a hotel - for a variety of reasons, imposing on people's privacy and daily routines being one of them - I will certainly make the most of my stay with Mika and his mother and hope they don't mind too much my returning soaking wet several times each day, or lazing around the house at midday when it's too hot to think.
     
    Last edited: 28 Aug 2012
  2. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 2 - Thursday, 23rd August

    Sunrise was at 6:30am, and I was up at 6:45, but Mika and his mother had already been up for a while. Mika had left before dawn to feed the pigs at the other end of the island (all the village pigs are kept together, and Mika has 16 of them), and Maliana was outside with a traditional broom made of palm-frond stems, sweeping the gravel. So I spent half-an-hour or so in the front garden and on the nearby bridge trying to photograph all the birds flying overhead - predominantly White Terns, but a number of Black and Brown Noddys too, with the occasional frigatebird and Red-tailed Tropicbirds. Unfortunately, I forgot to change the camera settings (it was set for underwater shots with a strobe) and I'd taken several dozen shots before I realised this and corrected it. But despite this, and several attempts at adjusting settings, and taking more than 200 shots, none was in focus. The birds were just moving too fast, and by the timer I got focus and pressed the shutter button, they had travelled a few metres and were soft again. Out of 211 photos, I kept only 38 that were close to being sharp.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/white-tern-gygis-alba-287019/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/white-terns-gygis-alba-287015/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/brown-noddy-anous-stolidus-287013/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/frigatebird-fregata-ariel-287012/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/frigatebird-fregata-ariel-287011/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/red-tailed-tropicbird-phaethon-rubricauda-287006/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/redtailed-tropicbirds-phaethon-rubricauda-287007/

    After breakfast (frankfurts and crepes), I hunted down the local Internet provider and purchased some online time, and also bought some Coke from the store (fresh water is limited and valuable, plus what comes out of the tap has to be boiled before drinking, so Coke would be a suitable substitute - at least I think it's suitable; who cares what my doctor and dentist think?).

    Afterwards I went snorkelling at a few sites taking my new underwater pocket camera with me (Canon D20). Having wandered the reef-flats for a little while on the afternoon previously I had seen no fish except a few blennies, and I'd been told that fish life was not as plentiful inshore as it was elsewhere in the Pacific. My plan was to check out a few sites in the lagoon and reef, and see what I could find. The Canon D20 also has an inbuilt GPS so it can accurately record the Longitude and Latitude of each site, if I need it (but doesn't record it if you're underwater).

    The first site I chose was in the lagoon. The village of Nukunonu is on two islands, separated by a very shallow channel which is usually only a few inches deep. For the few vehicles in the village (three trucks, a van, a forklift, a few motorcycles and a half dozen quad bikes) a concrete bridge had been constructed over the channel. Mika's house is right next to the channel, so I followed it down to the lagoon and went in from there.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/channel-lagoon-end-287173/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/channel-heading-toward-reef-flat-taken-287172/

    Having dived and snorkelled in Niue for the last few years, I've become rather spoilt. Niue's water is nice and warm, very clear (visibility of 50 metres or more), and generally there's nobody else around. This lagoon met two of those pleasant conditions, being even warmer than Niue, and with only around 300 people on Nukunonu I had the privacy I was after, but the visibility in the lagoon was only 10 metres. I'm guessing this is because of all the sand. However, I found plenty of fish around the coral heads and pinnacles around the shoreline. After about 40 minutes, and sighting at least 30 different fish species and a large green turtle, I left the lagoon and followed the channel down to the reef on the outer, seaward side of the island.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/lagoon-site-1-a-287171/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/lagoon-fish-286999/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/green-turtle-chelonia-mydas-287000/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/doublebar-goatfish-parpeneus-crassilabrus-287001/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/spotfin-squirrelfish-neoniphon-sammara-287043/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/princess-damsel-pomacetrus-vaiuli-287038/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blacktail-snapper-lutjanus-fulva-287037/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/convict-surgeonfish-acanthurus-triostegus-287041/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/snowflake-eel-echidna-nebulosa-287024/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/lagoon-triggerfish-rhinecanthus-aculeatus-287029/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/view-reef-286979/

    High tide had occurred a few hours previously, but the reef was still covered in water although only just deep enough for snorkelling. I sighted about a dozen different species, some which I hadn't seen in the lagoon. Although visibility was again about 10 metres close to shore, it got to 20 metres closer to the reef edge. After spending 25 minutes here and 10 in the murky water where the channel emptied onto the reef, I made my way down to the wharf where we had disembarked the day before. The channel here was deeper and headed straight out to the outer reef edge. Again, a variety of species I hadn't seen at the other sites. As the tide was going out, the current was much stronger the closer to the reef edge I got, so I abandoned my plan to see the reef-face and made my way back to the wharf.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/peppered-moray-gymnothorax-picta-287002/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/cowrie-287003/

    By now it was midday and quite hot, so I returned to the house to transfer my photos onto my laptop and start identifying and labelling, and spend some time on the internet (I hadn't been on ZooChat for what seemed like an eternity, but was only three days in reality).

    By evening the skin on the back of my calves was beginning to feel tight and I remembered I hadn't put on any sunblock before going snorkelling, a sin I am always guilty of whenever I'm in the tropics. Growing up in Sydney I've never really needed it, so I forget to put in on when I'm away. Luckily it wasn't a bad burn.

    Dinner that night was rice and chicken, with some cooked leaves from a tree in Mika's backyard. I don't know what the tree is, nor does Mika know it's English or botanical name, but it tasted a bit like cooked Bok Choy. Mika didn't have any dinner, as he had a 'business meeting' later that night with some friends, and when he left he took with him a couple of bottles of Scotch and several cans of Coke.

    I had a quiet night reading and working on the computer. Mika's 'business meeting' - which sounded like it was held on the reef-flat - was a bit louder.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 437 taken, 264 later deleted.
     
    Last edited: 29 Aug 2012
  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    20,633
    Location:
    MIA (Missing In Asia)
    coke is a diuretic, so actually it is a very poor substitute for water because it dehydrates you rather than the opposite.
     
  4. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Yes, I know that. But it tastes so much better than water.

    :p

    Hix
     
  5. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 3 - Friday 24th August

    Early in the morning I decided to try again for photos of the seabirds, this time setting the camera to the "Sports" setting, which automatically sets shutter, aperture, ISO and focus. It's good when learning photography, but it has limitations I don't like for wildlife photography, so I rarely use it anymore. But after yesterdays appalling attempts, I thought it worth a try.

    The main birds flying over the village are White Terns. These birds are precision fliers, often three or more flying in formation, wheeling on the breezes and zipping between the trees expertly. The only time they make any sound is when landing in the pandanus or coconut palms, when they make a squabbling noise. Following these guys with a lens is easy at distance, but damn near impossible to fill the frame and get a perfect shot.

    Black and Brown Noddys appear periodically, usually alone but sometimes in pairs, and generally flying in a straight line. They can also be quite quick but the challenge is to get the top of their head in shot. Both these noddys have white crowns, so if a bird flies above you the only thing you'll get is a brown underside that could belong to a number of species. Noddys need to be photographed from a side-on perspective.

    Largest of all are the frigatebirds. So far I haven't yet seen one flap their wings. They just glide slowly on the breeze, looking for a meal to steal. I've seen three each morning, not common but not rare either.

    Finally there are the Red-tailed Tropicbirds. I saw five on the first morning but none since. They are comparatively noisy on the wing, chortling to each other while on the wing, which makes it easy to tell when they are around as all the other species are silent in flight.

    Using the 'Sports' setting gave some better results - I took 145 shots of which 99 were eventually deleted. The photos I kept were not perfect, but better than the previous efforts. I'll try something else tomorrow.

    All these photos were taken from Mika's front yard, back landing, or the bridge over the channel between the lagoon and reef. There are many other islands in the atoll, all uninhabited, and some have large breeding colonies of these seabirds. Other species are known to occur here too, and so I'm keen to get out to some of these islands. As the lagoon is 8km across, I'll need someone with a boat.

    Because I was waiting for low tide, which wasn't happening until the afternoon, I spent much of the day around the house working on the computer, and took some photos of island life around the house. At one point I saw Mariana making a hat out of coconut fronds - not the green mature fronds that you see tourists from Fiji and Tonga wearing, but the young shoots that are stripped and then soaked in water before being dried in the sun. I waved my camera at her and asked if I could take a photograph. After a bit of nervous laughter she agreed. That night Mika asked me to post it on Facebook so her family living overseas can see it.

    Around 3:00pm I headed down to the Lagoon with my cameras and spent almost two-and-a-half hours snorkelling and photographing. Then I headed over to the Reef and looked for some rockpools - I found in Niue that shallow, self-contained rockpools can be good for getting close-ups of smaller fish - but none on Nukunonu were self-contained, and each time I lay down in one, the fish swam somewhere else.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blue-damsel-pomacentrus-pavo-287181/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/juvenile-checkerboard-wrasse-halichoeres-hortulanus-287176/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/redbanded-wrasse-stethojulis-bandanensis-287177/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/citron-butterflyfish-chaetodon-citrinellus-287175/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/sabre-squirellfish-sargocentron-spiniferum-287190/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/juvenile-achilles-tang-acanthurus-achilles-287191/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/regal-angelfish-pygoplites-diacanthus-287194/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/striped-bristletooth-ctenochaetus-striatus-287205/

    I returned home at dusk while the sun set behind a wall of cumulus on the horizon - again. I had taken 285 underwater photos, of which 144 were later deleted. I should point out that of the 141 I kept, I would normally have deleted a lot of them too, but I kept a lot of substandard photos just as a record of the species at that site. A couple of photos were very disheartening: one of a Brushtail Tang and another of a Princess Damsel. In the whole time I only saw one individual of each species, so getting a good shot was a goal. In each case I got a couple of soft focus shots, but I also got a perfect sharp shot of each but when I took the photo some other fish swam through the photo - a bristletooth for the tang and butterflyfish for the damsel!

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/brushtail-tang-zebrasoma-scopas-striped-bristletooth-287182/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/princess-damsel-citron-butterflyfish-287039/

    After a dinner of mince and rice Mika went out to a disco, he invited me but I was too stuffed to go dancing. I should have gone to experience island life, but stayed up until midnight downloading and deleting photos instead. At one point I went outside with my headlamp, spotlighting for geckos. I found a few but right in the tops of the trees. I also spied a White Tern and a Black Noddy roosting in palm trees, and managed to get a few photos of them. Seeing a green eye-shine down on the reef I headed down only to find a cat, but at one of the pools in the channel I got some photos of Convict Surgeonfish in their pyjamas (fish often change colour at night when they sleep) and a squirrelfish.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/brown-tern-night-anous-stolidus-287046/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/white-tern-roosting-night-gygis-alba-287208/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/convict-surgeonfish-acanthurus-triostegus-its-pyjamas-287047/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/spotfin-squirrelfish-neoniphon-sammara-its-pyjamas-287209/

    Mika returned a little after midnight and said we would be travelling by boat to some of the other motu (islands) tomorrow, because he needs more food for the pigs. This will be an opportunity for me to try and find some seabird colonies (hopefully nesting) and snorkel in other parts of the lagoon (the lagoon around the village, while having a healthy fish population, also has rubbish - bottles, tyres, corrugated metal, the odd door, and assorted metal paraphernalia).

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 457 taken, 277 deleted.
     
    Last edited: 30 Aug 2012
  6. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 4 - Saturday, 25th August

    My sleep was interrupted by a violent rainstorm, hammering down on the tin roof at around 3:30am, but it only lasted ten minutes, and by the time I had woken the sky was clear and the sun just peeping over the atoll edge.

    Early every morning Mika leaves to feed the pigs, and this morning I was up early enough to join him. I had a vague idea of where the pigs were and I thought he walked to them in the mornings, but I was mistaken. We caught the truck. It stopped through the village and a few more people got on with their buckets until there was more than a dozen people in the back, all with at least two white buckets filled with water and food. The truck took us to the far end of the island - about two kilometres distant, too far to walk with buckets full of water - to Pig City (at least, that's what I call it).

    A large rectangular concrete wall a metre-an-a-half in height was the perimeter wall, and within wood and wire fences separated the individual pens. As the truck drove alongside the wall it stopped at various points so people could jump off at their pens. I could see another truck already there, presumably having picked up people from the other end of the village. Standing on the wall the food was thrown in - Mika had brought some banana leaves this morning as well as leftover rice from last night's dinner - and then going into the pens to pour the water into concrete bowls, which the pigs greedily lapped up. Five minutes later the truck came back around, we got on, and it drove us back again.

    Between the village and Pig City was several hundred metres of forest (and what appears to be the local rubbish dump) and I decided to come back and explore it further on foot at some later date.

    Soon afterwards Mika said we were going out to one of the other motu (islands) in the afternoon, we'd be leaving at noon and wouldn't be back until sunset. So I started getting my cameras ready, as well as my snorkelling gear.

    At midday we walked down the road to the Mayor's House, as he would be taking us out. He was already planning on going fishing so we were just tagging along. Many of the villagers have their own aluminium dinghy and outboards, especially those on the lagoon side of the village. We rolled his boat on logs to get it into the water, and then set out in a northerly direction past the village and, after an hour, we arrived at the north-westerly motu, Te Fakanava.

    The mayor dropped us off on the beach, made up of broken coral and a few shells, and then headed back to a reef-flat just south of the motu to fish. Mika headed off into the forest to collect coconuts, and I headed off looking for birds. Ten feet into the trees and I found plenty - Black Noddys mainly, and lots of them nesting. There appeared to be only a few plants dominating this motu - Coconut palms being the main tree, but also pandanus, two or three other trees, Birds Nest ferns and another type of Pteris fern.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/lagoon-beach-te-fakanava-island-287733/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/birds-nest-tree-ferns-287730/

    The Noddy nests were all about seven metres or higher, and although I considered climbing nearby trees to try and get a more horizontal view (or even a downward view), there wasn't a tree around that looked safe to climb. Plus, in order to fit my SLR Camera in its underwater housing I have to remove the neckstrap, and I'd left the strap behind in the village - climbing a tree with one hand holding a heavy camera just wasn't going to work. Twenty years ago I would have given it a try, but I'm just too old for that now. So I contented myself with photos from the ground.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/black-noddy-nest-anous-minutus-287427/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/black-noddy-nest-anous-minutus-287428/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/black-noddy-anous-minutus-287430/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/balck-noddy-anous-minutus-287426/

    There was a tree with large leaves and a black trunk that the birds seemed to prefer - I counted 17 nests in one of these trees. These trees did not grow together like palms and pandanus do, but were about 5 metres apart. There were also Noddy nests in some pandanus, but not as many. The black-trunk tree was a stouter, more hardwood type tree which provided stable nest sites, the pandanus has a habit of moving in the wind. Some brave Noddys even had built nests on the top of palm fronds, not near the edge of the island but in the middle of the forest where the winds are less.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/black-noddy-nests-anous-minutus-287429/

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/white-tern-gygis-alba-287431/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/white-tern-gygis-alba-287425/

    I spent twenty minutes here photographing the Noddys, and the few white terns that came in to rest on the branches. Looked for Tern nests but found none. Returning to the beach I headed to one end of the island to look at the reef-flat and sighted a couple of Reef Herons - one white and one gray - and a dozen more Noddys. Mika appeared from the forest with some coconuts and with his machete cut the top of one for me.

    I've had coconut juice from the coconut in the past, and I find it OK, but not much tastier than water. This coconut, however, tasted very sweet, almost like drinking a lychee. Cool and very refreshing I drank the entire contents while Mika decided where-else he was going to collect.

    I decided it was time to hit the lagoon and see what fish I could spy. From the shore I could see the shallow sandy areas as they are a beautiful turquoise colour. The deeper water was a darker blue, and rocks and coral pinnacles tended to be a browny-shade of blue. The beach I was on curved around a little and there appeared to be some rocks or coral in the shallows at one end, but for the most part the water got deeper about ten metres from shore.

    Although the beach was made up of broken coral, underwater the substrate was coral sand, and in the shallows the water was very cloudy, just like the lagoon in the village. But once it got deeper the visibility improved, and twenty metres from shore the bottom had angled away sharply down to about five metres. There wasn't much to see in the shallows - and seeing it was a problem due to the cloudiness - but straight ahead in the deeper water where the coral pinnacles, the tops of some only a few inches below the surface. The visibility at the top was more like thirty metres, but at the bottom it was reduced to fifteen due to the sand. There were a dozen or more pinnacles, and I investigating most of them at length. Red-breasted Wrasses were very curious and would not only swim right up to me, but followed me around. Some Bluefin Trevally did exactly the same thing before swimming off again.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/redbreasted-wrasse-cheilinus-fasciatus-287437/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/bluefin-trevally-caranx-melampygus-287447/

    I spent over three hours snorkelling in the water of this bay, the pinnacles furthest out -around 80 metres from shore - were in seven or eight metres of water, so diving down to the bottom to photograph some little fish was a little challenging to say the least (after spending thirty years photographing things on land and in the air, doing it underwater presents many, many different challenges. But that's the subject of a completely different thread.)

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/two-tone-dartfish-ptereleotris-evides-287416/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/redfin-butterflyfish-chaetodon-lunulatus-287413/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/dotted-butterflyfish-chaetodon-semeion-287414/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/humbugs-dascyllus-aruensis-287421/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/humbug-damsel-dascyllus-aruensis-287420/

    Highlights of this afternoon were Blacktip Reef Shark that sped off as soon as it saw me, a Giant Moray that was disappearing into a pinnacle (I became aware of its presence by a number of soldierfish suddenly swimming out of a hole in panic, and saw the last half of the moray entering through another hole), a school of several hundred fusiliers that suddenly surrounded me and then swam off as one, before my camera could focus, a couple of very large triggerfishes, and a Mimic Surgeonfish. This last one was interesting because I hadn't seen any adult Mimics. The adult is a dark browny colour with some red, while the juveniles are completely different and mimic a local species. In different parts of their range the juveniles mimic different species. Over a large part of the Pacific the species they mimic is the Lemonpeel Angelfish, a bright yellow species with a blue ring around the eyes and a blue mark on the gill cover. The Mimic Surgeons are virtually identical - the only real difference is that angelfish have a spine on the gill cover, and the Surgeon does not. As the Mimic gets older it changes colour to the adult form and it's body shape changes to that of a surgeonfish. But the one I saw had changed its body shape, but not the colour. And not only did a get a decent shot of the mimic, but one with a Lemonpeel Angel too!

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blacktipped-reef-shark-carcharhinus-melanopterus-287442/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/mimic-surgeonfish-left-lemonpeel-angelfish-right-287422/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/mimic-surgeonfish-juvenile-acanthurus-pyroferus-287423/

    After three hours I tore myself away from this wonderland and, grabbing my pack, headed south towards the reef-flat where the Mayor was fishing with a number of other people. Mika had been there for a while and was sitting with some other fisherman processing a pile of Moorish Idols. Apparently a school had swum into the nets and about three dozen had been caught. There is a small body organ which can't be eaten, so this was being removed and discarded before the catch was divided up. For me, the Moorish Idol is one of the most beautiful of fish, and for most people it is the typical coral reef fish, so it was a little disheartening to see. But they will all be eaten, and apparently are excellent barbecued.

    Across the reef-flat, which is over 500 metres wide at this point, is a single channel a metre or so wide, which runs from the lagoon to the ocean. A net is strung by the fisherman across this channel and when fish swim through the channel they get caught. Over on the reef edge several other fisherman were fishing with rods and reel.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/fishermen-287731/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1820/fishermen-net-287732/

    As it was now 5:30pm we decided to start the hour long ride back, so we piled into the Mayors boat and took off, arriving just after sunset. Mika gave the mayor some of the coconuts he'd collected, and the Mayor gave him a fish, a Sweetlip, which we had for dinner with rice. Divided into three equal portions, Mika took the head, Maliana had the tail, and I had the middle, complete with body organs. Although I had used knife and fork at meals, I had to use my fingers for the fish in order to remove all the bones and scales. But it was delicious!

    After dinner I transferred all my photos onto my laptop, had a quick look at them, logged onto the net for half an hour, and then had an early night ('cause I was pretty buggered from all the snorkelling).

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 471 taken, 211 deleted.

    Note: I have attached two photos below relevant to this post, but that I feel should not be posted in the main galleries. The second for obvious reasons.
     

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    Last edited: 31 Aug 2012
  7. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

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    Day 5 - Sunday, August 26

    In my younger years religion had often been a problem for me. When I was young I dutifully went to Sunday School every week with my mother and sister, and occasionally with one of my mother's best friends joining us. IN my early teens I was started down the road of Confirmation, but partway through I decided that I couldn't accept most of what they were saying because there was no way to prove the claims being made by the Bible. So dropped out.

    My mother was disappointed, and so was her best friend. When asked why, I honestly answered "I don't believe. It doesn't make sense, I need proof" which would often start people yelling at me and getting upset. But I've never responded to peer pressure, even when the peers are family, and while my parents accepted the fact their oldest son was not going to turn out quite the way they planned, my sister went on to greater things in the Church. She got confirmed, she started teaching small kids at Sunday School, and a few years later joined a Church-based group of like-minded teens called 'Cell' and once a week they would meet at one of the members homes and discuss how God had affected their lives that week. When it was time for the meeting to be at our house, my sister would try to have me confined to my bedroom while they met in the living room at the other end of the house - apparently I was an undesirable influence. Or maybe she was afraid I would deliberately try and disrupt their discussions. The truth was, I was happy for them to believe in whatever they wanted, as long as they were happy to let me believe what I wanted. But my sister still wasn't happy with my position and would often try and bait me into discussions "Don't you feel guilty not believing in God?" etc, and my responses, while being honest (along the lines of "No. I don't think there is a God. But if I'm wrong and there is, won't he love me anyway?") only infuriated her. She eventually married an Anglican Minister and, with maturity, has come to accept my atheist attitude and we don't fight over religion anymore.

    And so I was dreading Sunday in Nukunonu. I had heard that all Tokelauans are religious and all go to Church on Sundays. Atafu and Fakaofo are also fairly strict about what you can and can't do on Sundays, and non-believers are frowned upon. Luckily, I had heard, Nukunonu was a bit more laid back. For months I had been pondering the question, what will I do if I am invited to church on Sunday - do I politely inform them of my views and possibly offend them, or do I graciously accept in order to keep the peace, and spend a few hours trying not to fall asleep? As it happened, I did both.

    It was raining when I woke, raining quite heavily, and there was a very strong wind blowing the raindrops sideways, so much so that I adjusted the angle of the louvres in my room to allow the breeze through but keep the rain out. But like so many rainstorms I've seen in Tokelau it lasted ten or fifteen minutes and then stopped and the sun came out.

    Maliana, Mika's mother, is a devout Catholic and goes to Church for two hours every day. Mika only goes to Mass on Sundays (twice). After having a shower - and I think she might only shower once a week - Maliana put on her best clothes and headed off to Mass, and Mika left a little while later in his best lava-lava and wearing a shirt with buttons. Neither asked me to come, probably because Mika had asked about my views previously and I had mentioned I was atheist.

    It was actually cooler to sit on the front porch than inside the house, so I sat there reading my book and watching everyone walk by. And everyone was dressed in nice clothes. Wearing shirts with buttons. And some women with hats. And then, after the passersby stopped passing by and I figured everyone was at the Church, I got a stupid idea. Nobody had tried to force me into going, but they might appreciate the gesture if I went anyway.

    I went inside and put on my best black jeans, and found a shirt with buttons I hadn't worn yet. I knew my hair was a mess, and Mika doesn't have a mirror (he doesn't need one as he has dreadlocks, and his mother has short hair), so I used the reverse camera on my iPad to do my hair. I have a black jacket I wear when travelling, but hadn't used it since arriving in Samoa because it's so damn hot and humid, and I donned the jacket as I left the house. And, for the first time in many, many years, I went to church of my own accord, and for the first ever, I went in thongs (flip-flops). What was more surprising was that, of my own volition, I was doing the very thing I had been dreading for some months.

    As I walked down the empty roads towards the church I decided to just slip into the back of the church, stay for half-an-hour or so, and then discreetly leave. I figured some locals would see me, and it would get around that I had attended, even for a short while. I should have brought my camera, I thought. But my iPhone is in my jacket pocket, I may be able to seriptitiously sneak a couple of shots without anyone seeing.

    As I walked up the side of the church toward the back door I could see that some side doors had been opened to let the breeze through. Some people near the doors saw me, smiled, nudged the people beside them and pointed at me. Either my intentions were having the effect I was after, or they were laughing at the idiot wearing a jacket and jeans in this climate.

    At the back of the church the congregation had spilled out onto the atrium, so I wasn't going to be able to sit anywhere, but could stand with some of the other men at the back and look through the doors at the proceedings. Sitting on a woven mat in the doorway was an old lady dressed in white finery with her three grandchildren, the eldest of whom appeared about ten years old and was wearing his best shirt - a bright green collared t-shirt with the brand of Samoan hardware company emblazoned across the back. The three kids turned to stare and smile at me, then went back to annoying each other the way kids do when they are bored, prompting Grandma to periodically reach over and give them a half-hearted slap and a few hushed words to keep them quiet. Which would work for about thirty seconds.

    When I arrived the choir, in resplendent attire, had just got up and danced to a Samoan hymn that was playing . When it finished the pastor read from the Bible and then talked about whatever it was he'd just read. This was all in Samoan (or Tokelauan) so I had no idea what was being discussed. Before I knew it, it was over. The pastor, barefoot, was walking toward the back of the hall, some cross bearers were carrying a tall staff with a cross atop before him, and the congregation started to spill out the side doors. I'd been there all of twenty minutes. As the sun was stronger now, I decided to head back to the house asap and get into something a bit more sensible. I couldn't see Maliana but hoped maybe she had seen me. Mika saw me as I was arriving back at the house and was impressed - apparently I own the only jacket in the islands - and he apologised for not telling me when Mass started. We briefly discussed why I went and my views, and he seemed to accept that. His mother, Maliana, is a lovely lady, always laughing and smiling, and as I'm really unable to do much else, I thought going to church might make her happier. Thinking about it later, it could be construed that I didn't go for the right purpose - to praise God - but I actually went for selfish reasons (to better facilitate acceptance in the community). That maybe true, but is a debate for another time.

    A few minutes later Mika jumped on the truck to feed the pigs - apparently Sunday is the only day they don't get fed at the crack of dawn. He returned half-an-hour later to start cooking Sunday lunch, which appears to be an important-ish meal. Today we were eating the Moorish idols caught the day before. Because he helped in popping out their pancreas on the reef-flat, Mika had been given 14 of them and he started a fire amongst some old coconut husks and shells, and when the fire died down and there was just coals and embers, he threw the fishes on top cooking them for about five minutes on each side.
    I was given three Idols, with some boiled rice and half a boiled banana. Mika showed me how to eat the fish, which could only be done with your fingers, and I thanked all those years I spent studying at the Kentucky Fried Academy. The meat was delicious, although the skin could not be eaten because it was too rough. But the fish hadn't been gutted.

    "in the front here" Mika showed me 'is where all the shits is. We eat it like this: put on some salt, then gets some rice, and then the shits" and he spooned the whole lot into his mouth. I should point out he was not talking specifically about the rectum, but the term 'shits' referred to the entire digestive tract and a few other organs as well.
    I did the same, salt, rice, spoon and ate a mouthful from my first fish. Mika and his mother watched me intently and then asked what I thought.

    "The pigs can have my shits" I said, and they both laughed uproariously.

    So I picked all the meat off the fish as best I could. Maliana picked her's apart with skill and left little mess (whereas my plate looked like something out of a slasher film), and Mika noisily sucked the meat, juice and shits from every last bone of his fishes.

    Out of respect for the village's reverence for Sunday, I didn't go snorkelling that day. As it was, I has so many photos from the day before it took me much of the day to sort and label them. And I spent some time doing Sudokus and reading my book. Maliana and Mika spent a good part of the day sleeping, and the village was much quieter than usual with only the sounds of the plovers, terns, chickens and ocean to be heard.

    Dinner that night was chicken and rice, and Moorish idol for those who wanted one. After dinner Maliana went into her room and put on her TV. A very old TV, with a broken volume control, so people on the next island can clearly hear the broadcast. This is a satellite feed and Maliana enjoys watching, what I can only assume to be, a Samoan soap opera. And periodically I could hear her giggling at it.

    Later that night, when I decided I would snorkel the channel near the wharf at low tide the next day, I realised I had a blister on my lower lip, a burn. Probably from being in the sun too long, or possibly from a piece of hot Moorish Idol skin. Or maybe I had gone to church for selfish reasons and He had decided to smite me.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 2 taken, 0 deleted.
     
  8. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
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    6,003
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    Sydney
    Interlude

    While recording my day-to-day goings on in Tokelau, I have just realised that I haven't given any background for why I'm here.

    Firstly, I'd heard about Tokelau in South Pacific travel guides, and it also gets mentioned in Niue from time-to-time. The last year I met a scientist from the Australian National University who had just returned from Nukunonu with 500 spiders she had collected for her research. We got to talking and corresponding by email. She planned to return this year and I was going to tag along, and so I booked my holidays for all of July and August (as she wasn't sure when she would go). Unfortunately, she couldn't get any funding to return this year, so I decided to visit myself.

    Several months ago I started doing some research, particularly on the wildlife. I'd bought a book written by a New Zealander who'd lived in Atafu for two years which detailed Tokelau's history and culture. I went through all my wildlife books for the region to see if they mentioned anything, and I scoured the internet for information and papers on the islands and its wildlife.

    But when it comes to the fauna, very little information exists. Surprisingly in this day and age, much of it was published 30 years ago or earlier. A biologist from New Zealand's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research named Kasimierz Wodzicki visited the islands on a number of occasions in the 1960's as part of his work, and he authored or co-authored a few papers on the wildlife. The only mammal on the islands, apart from Homo sapiens and their pet pigs and cats, is the Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans) which is a problem because they gnaw at young coconuts which successfully kills them. Wodzicki visited the islands several times to investigate the problem.

    The book "A Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia" by Dick Watling (a Fijian biologist), and published in 2004, lists 22 species that are either present year round or annual migrants, plus a few others that are vagrants. Apart from this, the other scientific papers on birds of Tokelau were last published in 1968 and 1970.

    There is a single paper in 1970 describing the lizard species of Tokelau, and one a few years later (of which I have been unable to get a copy) that makes a few additions to original list of seven species. Papers written in 1984, 1991 and 1995 specifically on skinks found in the region mention Tokelau and the species found there. And a paper from 1983 discusses the marine turtles of Tokelau, and the natives customs regarding eating them. I even found a paper from 1979 on the Land Crabs of Tokelau.

    I thought there would be plenty of information around concerning the fish found here, as fishing is an important part of the lives of the locals (and Tokelau allows other nations to fish its waters, for a fee). And fish biologists have criss-crossed all the world's oceans looking for new species, so I thought I would at least find a checklist of the species recorded here. I found no checklist. Experts I've spoken to could find nothing. I was really surprised.

    I did find some related information, though. In the 1980's and 90's, to improve fish catch, the South Pacific Commission first organised a Master Fisherman to visit the islands to assess the situation and make recommendations, and then later he returned to make FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) for the three atolls. These papers did not list any species. Fisheries reports were published in 1958 and 1979 by different authors, mainly looking at the commercial options of food-fish and the cultivation of Black-lipped Pearls and Trochus shells, and the possibility of Sea Turtle farming. The 1958 paper by van Pel included a "List of Fish Recorded in the Tokelau Islands" as an appendix, but his list of 75 fish is virtually useless as only ten species have scientific names (well nine, but there's only one Moorish Idol species so it doesn't really need the binomen). Also, he only visited Atafu and Fakaofo. The second paper from 1971 lists only six species of fish in its discussion.

    Apart from papers I found on the internet two lists of fishes of Tokelau, one at fishbase.com, and the other and fishwise.com, both almost identical - the first listed 110 species, the second 108. However, a closer look at these lists shows that the majority of species listed are commercial pelagic species, the majority belonging to the snapper, emperor, tuna, shark and trevally families. I emailed Fishbase to ask about their source material but received no response. Each list had only one butterflyfish (a bannerfish) and one angelfish (Centropyge bicolor) named, neither lists any Goatfish, Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Damsels or Wrasses (or Moorish Idol) and I couldn't imagine a coral reef without at least a few of those species being present.

    A month before leaving for Samoa I came across a couple of recent papers. One was a reconstruction of fish catches up to 2009, but only looked at commercial species again, but the second paper was a little different. A pair of ethnobiologists/archaeologists visited Atafu to learn about Tokelauan fishing lore and culture. At the end of the paper is a list of fish found in Atafu, compiled by listings from the 1986 Tokelauan Dictionary and showing the locals "colour drawings and photographs” from a couple of books. The books, it turns out, were "Marine Fishes of Southeast Asia" and "Sea Fishes of Japan". Actual fish were not collected. As a result, the list at the end of the paper has several errors (mainly typos) and includes things like the Philippine Angelfish, which is not found in the Central Pacific.

    After all this research I got the idea that by recording the fish I saw in Nukunonu, I might actually be doing something worthwhile (even if it's just the production of a preliminary checklist). Which is why I've been concentrating so much on the fish while I've been here (the photos I've uploaded to ZooChat - and Facebook - are, I believe, the first photographic records of the species found around this atoll).

    :p

    Hix
     
    Last edited: 31 Aug 2012
  9. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Posts:
    4,249
    Location:
    California, USA
    I'm really enjoying your travel narrative Hix. It sounds like you are doing some very worthwhile science in documenting the fauna of Tokelau while (hopefully) enjoying your self also.
     
  10. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
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    Posts:
    4,684
    Location:
    Melbourne, Aust (ex. NZ)
    This is such a great read Hix, informative and interesting, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    I especially like the irony of the term 'cell'. :D

    I can see lists of birds of Tokelau on wikipedia, would you be able to list the reptiles at some stage? Thanks.
     
  11. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Sydney
    Thanks for the comments guys, I was worried that I might be boring people with a lot of non-zoological stuff, and going on and on and on......

    ZooBoy: There are several lists around for birds, but they generally include the vagrants as well, and things that 'should' be here. For some interesting, if dated, reading go to Welcome | Notornis and Southern Bird and type Tokelau into the publication search, you'll find a couple of papers from the 60's in there.

    As for the reptiles, I still don't know them all myself.

    Green, Hawksbill and, rarely, Leatherback turtles are known from here.

    Hemidactylus frenatus
    Gehyra oceanica
    Cryptoblepharus boutoni
    Emoia adspersa
    Emoia cyanura
    Emoia nigra
    Lipinia noctua
    Lepidodactylus lugubris


    There may be others, and I'm sure about the latest classsification of Emoia, as they seem to be a very complex complex of complexes.

    There are also sea-snakes periodically seen here, but no-one here knows what kind.

    :p

    Hix
     
  12. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 6 - Monday, August 27

    The two lagoon sites I had been to were both sandy, and the water was appropriately cloudy. In my brief visit to the Wharf Channel I had found the water less cloudy the further from shore I was, which made sense as we were heading for the reef edge and open ocean. After the current I felt a few days before, I had decided to visit just after low tide when the tide was coming in, as the current should be going the other way. However, like most assumptions I make, I was wrong. Very wrong.

    Low tide was, I estimated, around 10:00am, and at 9:30 I went into the village to buy some more internet time. I took my pocket camera with me and took some photos of the buildings, church etc. Walking back past the Wharf I checked the tide was low and looking over the edge I could see Convict Surgeonfish, Sergeants and Threadfin Butterflyfish swimming below me. And then I saw a large shape swim into view only five metres away - a Blacktip Reef Shark almost two metres long. It swam around the channel for a few minutes before swimming over the reef in only two feet of water, its dorsal fin and upper tail lobe sticking out of the water.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blacktip-reef-shark-carcharhinus-melanopterus-287872/

    About an hour later I was back with all my camera and snorkelling gear. As there is no dive facilities in Tokelau I have no option but to snorkel. And I take three cameras when I snorkel - my DSLR in an underwater housing with a 100mm Macro lens, my pocket underwater camera for the wide shots, and a GoPro on a chest harness recording movies for the whole time (this way, when I look back at it later I can record fishes I didn't get to photograph, and it accurately records how long I was in the water). It's a bit of a handful but not too much trouble. I also wear a weightbelt with three kilos in weights - in the last decade or so my waistline has expanded and if I want to swim down to the bottom it takes an enormous effort, and as soon as I stop kicking I pop back to the surface like the proverbial cork. The weightbelt allows me to swim down without too much effort, and when I stop kicking I rise slowly to the surface. I can also hold onto a rock at depth to try and get a photo, without too much trouble.

    I slipped into the water and started to swim down the channel. Under the barge, in the sandy waters, I could just make out the tail of the Reef Shark as it swam away, and I never saw it again. Further down the channel the visibility improved, but was still only six or seven metres. And then I came upon the fish. Sitting in the middle of the channel were at least 20 Cornetfish at 30 large surgeonfish, and it was the surgeons I was interested in. They were black, with a white ring around the tail, and I couldn't identify them. The water did not allow me to distinguish any other features, so I needed to get close, but they weren't having any of that. Surprisingly, there was an outwards current tugging at me. As I drifted along it got stronger, so I swam up over the reef where it was calmer and looked for fish there. Sighting a sandperch (my first for Tokelau) I spent a few minutes trying to get a good photo of it, then swimming elsewhere on the reef to see if there was anything else of interest.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/school-cornetfish-287890/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/cornetfish-fistularia-commersoni-287873/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/cornetfish-fistularia-commersoni-287879/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/cornetfish-fistularia-commersoni-287880/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/spotted-sandperch-parapercis-millepunctata-287886/

    After a short while I swam back to the channel and found the outward current a little stronger, and I realised what was happening. Like so many reef-flats, the sea-edge is a little higher than the rest. As the waves break over the edge and onto the flats, much of the water can't go back the way it came so, following the path of least resistance, it flows sideways to the channel, and then out to the ocean. Both sides of the channel had opposing currents coming in, and where the channel emptied into the ocean I could see the surface of the water was very turbulent.

    On the side of the channel at one place was a large rock, and I found that by placing my feet on the rock and leaning back slightly I could stay stationary despite the current. Until I tried to take a photo - the heavy camera would upset my balance and the current would remove one foot from the rock, then the other and I would have to swim back to reposition myself again. At one point I swam into the middle of the channel to get some shots of the cornetfish: swimming down to the bottom of the channel I went to grab a rock to hold onto and as I reached for it, the surface of the rock swam away - a flounder! Perfectly camouflaged it was a little tricky to photograph, because I could see it OK, but in the camera's viewfinder it just vanished.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/panther-flounder-bothus-pantherinus-287881/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/bicolor-parrotfish-cetoscarus-bicolor-287876/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/citron-butterflyfish-chaetodon-citrinellus-287878/

    Swimming back to the edge of the channel I saw a wrasse I wanted to photograph, so grabbed a rock on the reef surface to steady myself against the current. Grabbing rocks is always a little risky, as you never know what's underneath it or inside the hole you put your finger into, so I often slip my finger into any concavity on the surface that is deep enough for my purpose. This rock I grabbed had two holes in the top and I stuck my forefinger in one and my thumb in the other. As I framed the wrasse, something moved against my thumb in the hole, and I immediately let go of the rock in fright. Then, laughing at myself, I stood up on the reef and noticed that standing up the waves and current weren't a problem at all, as the water was only a little more than knee-deep.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blackspot-sergeant-abudefduf-sordidus-287877/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/crab-287874/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/goby-287882/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/red-ribbon-wrasse-thalassoma-quinquevittatum-287885/

    Although I didn't realise it at the time, I was beginning to get overconfident. The current, which felt like it would drag me all the way to Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu a thousand miles to the west, could be toyed with by staying away from the area where the channel met the ocean, by kicking hard against the current, and by standing up on the reef. But I forgot the tide was coming in.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/whitespotted-surgeonfish-acanthurus-guttatus-287889/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/vagabond-butterflyfish-chaetodon-vagabundus-287888/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/ornagespine-unicornfish-naso-lituratus-287884/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/goldsaddle-goatfish-parupeneus-cyclostomus-287883/

    A little while later, while over the reef-flat but near the edge of the channel, I found myself kicking like buggery and getting absolutely nowhere. The current was very strong and even though I was kicking for all I was worth (and paddling with my free hand, the one without the camera), I was matching the current and not making headway. Time to stand up, I thought.

    I reached down and removed one of my fins and put my foot down on the reef surface and stood up, only to find it immediately pulled out from under me. I also noticed the water was now chest deep. As I was sucked toward the ocean along the side of the channel I kicked hard and tried to paddle while holding the one fin, which was useless as the fin ended up as a drag on my hand. "F**k," I thought "that was a big mistake" and immediately put my fin back on, the few seconds to do this causing me to be dragged about ten or fifteen metres closer to the ocean. Kicking as hard as I could, and even trying to swim using my right hand holding my cameras (which didn't work as the cameras weighed about 3 kilos and it was an enormous effort to get them into the air), I was still going backwards, but only very slowly. I was out of the channel and over the reef-flat, but it wasn't any easier. To make matters worse, waves were breaking over my snorkel and filling it with water, and with all the heavy breathing I was doing, the only way to clear the snorkel was to lift my head and snorkel clear out of the water and let it drain, a movement that slowed my progress even further. Looking towards the shore I could see I was a looong way from safety, and there was nobody visible who might see I was in distress.

    I never even thought about the weightbelt. While dumping it would mean I was more buoyant, it would be a little less weight I had to propel through the water, and it could have made a difference. But I forgot I had it on.

    And then, over to my left, I saw a decent-sized staghorn coral head. As a diver we're taught not to touch coral unless absolutely necessary as it is easily damaged but I thought this was absolutely necessary, if only I could get to it. Some more frantic kicking and as I eventually was able to grab the coral head I thought I saw an Arc-eye Hawkfish within it swim away. I hadn't seen any Hawkfishes yet, so this would have been exciting under normal conditions. It was a sense of relief when my fingers touched the hard branches of the coral and I stopped kicking, confident in the fact that my fingers could hold on against the current. It could have been fire coral for all I cared, I wasn't letting go.

    Although it felt like several minutes, looking back at the GoPro video I can say that it wasn't. From the time I removed my fin (and replace it a few seconds later) to the time I reached the coral was only 85 seconds, and it doesn't look anywhere near as scary on video as it actually was. But it's an 85 seconds I won't forget in a hurry.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/no-idea-what-yet-287887/

    After only 30 seconds of hanging on and breathing deeply I decided to try and swim for some more coral a few feet away. So I kicked hard and reached the coral and held on again for a few more seconds. And so I moved away from the ocean and, metre by metre, closer to shore. The problem was none of these corals was as big as the first, so holding on meant my snorkel filled with water whenever a wave came by. It was a challenge. When I was halfway to shore and well away from the channel I stood up. The water was waist deep and although the current was weak, I chose to leave my fins where they were on my feet and I walked backwards into shore, not removing them until I was out of the water.

    Completely exhausted, I walked back to Mika's house and had a shower to wash the salt water from me (and more importantly, from my cameras). My legs had some cuts and abrasions where I'd been dragged against rocks or coral, and my left knee was feeling rather sore. I noticed I had torn a thumbnail and all my other nails had ragged edges, most had scratches on the surface. But otherwise I was OK, just tired. I couldn't explain to Maliana what had happened, so I lay down and had a sleep for the afternoon.

    Later that evening when Mika returned from work he asked if I liked chicken liver. I'd never had it before, but I knew it was a delicacy for his mother. Apparently, it was to be dinner. Sensibly, knowing it's not to everybody's taste, Mika gave me a small piece to try with my rice and when I finished it he asked if I would like some more - he and Maliana had a small pile on each of their plates. I thanked him but explained that I probably needed to acquire a taste for it. "Would you like some tuna instead?" he asked. And so I had tuna with my rice, and Maliana put all her rice into her tea, drank the tea, then ate the rice. Apparently this gives it a better taste.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 291 taken, 181 deleted.
     
    Last edited: 31 Aug 2012
  13. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    20,633
    Location:
    MIA (Missing In Asia)
    don't worry about anyone who might be bored, just write for whoever will be interested. To hell with all the rest. That's my motto.

    And the post above: that's why I don't go in the ocean!!
     
  14. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    20,633
    Location:
    MIA (Missing In Asia)
    I'm probably interfering with a later post, but did you identify the surgeonfish? My guess would be Acanthurus blochii.
     
  15. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    I thought it might be A. blochii too, but I haven't been able to confirm it unfortunately.

    :p

    Hix
     
  16. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 7 - Tuesday 28th August

    It was raining in the morning, but the rain didn't last long. One of the things I've noticed in Tokelau is that you can have clear skies, suddenly have heavy rain, ten minutes later the skies are clear again and the sun is beating down with a vengeance. And so it was this morning.

    After experience the previous day I was going back to relative safety of the lagoon. Behind the government buildings in the lagoon is a reef that extends straight out into the lagoon for several hundred metres. My plan was to swim alongside the reef into deep water and see what I could find. I didn't get as far as I would have liked though, as one of the inhabitants interfered with my plans.

    Behind the buildings, right beside the reef, a dozen men were mixing and pouring concrete to make a seawall that would help protect the village when squalls and storm surges race across the lagoon. So if I got sucked into another current, there was someone I could wave at for help. Of course, there was no current in the lagoon.

    Upon entering the water I found the visibility to be quite low again due to all the sand (and the usual bits of metal and plastic discarded junk), but as I swam out along the reef the visibility increased somewhat, although it was still cloudy. I sighted a few species here I hadn't seen elsewhere, a school of Yellowfin Goatfish, Gold-lined Emperors, a school of halfbeaks (nightmare to photograph) and a White-spotted Puffer. All the other fish appeared to be pretty much the same as elsewhere.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/damsels-287907/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/spotfin-squirrelfish-lemonpeel-angelfish-287917/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/whitespotted-puffer-arothron-hispidus-287918/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/halfbeaks-287916/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/goldlined-emperors-gnathodentx-aurolineatus-287915/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/gregory-stegastes-spp-287920/

    After an hour or so I was about fifty metres from shore and had just snorkelled down four metres to try and photograph a butterflyfish, and gently floated to the surface. Looking around for something else I felt something brush against my forehead and looking up I saw a piece of red plastic string floating in the water. Instinctively I reached up and brushed it away from my head with my hand. Plastic junk lasts for ages in the sea and can be bad for wildlife if it's swallowed. I resumed my scanning of the reef for a photographic subject. But my forehead still itched, and now my finger itched too. Looking at the string again I noticed a second piece of red string, then a third and fourth. They were connected to the ends of a clear plastic bag, like drawstrings. And then I realised it was not junk floating in front of me, but a very large bell-shaped jellyfish with four rather nasty looking red tentacles. The itching on my head and finger became stinging pain, and I back-kicked away fron this little nightmare. All up it was probably a little over a foot long. Looking around I couldn't see any others, so I gave this a wide berth. I hoped it wasn't a close relative of the Australian Box Jellyfish, which has killed many people from its stings. It didn't have the same long tentacles of the Box, but eight inch tentacles were long enough. I poked my head out of the water to see how far I was from shore, so if I noticed the venom affecting my systems (muscles, breathing etc) I could call the workmen for help. The men were all at lunch and nowhere to be seen. So reluctantly, I swam back into shore, collected my things and headed home, had two Panadeine and went to bed.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/nasty-jellyfish-287910/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/nasty-jellyfish-287909/

    A rooster crowed outside my bedroom window at 4:30pm and woke me with a start - probably the one-legged chook I've seen around the house. I imagine he'll be dinner one day. With only one leg I don't know what he's got to crow about. The stinging on my forehead was still there, but only mild, yet on my finger it was quite painful and a few days later still left a red welt. I can only surmise that the tentacle originally brushed against my facemask and when hitting my forehead my hair got in the way, so the tentacle didn't make full contact with the skin. Until I put my hand up to brush it away.

    That evening over a dinner of fried parrotfish, Mika told me the boat that would take me back to Samoa was returning two day earlier than expected. While this was not unexpected - and I'm still not looking forward to the voyage - I'm looking forward to returning to civilisation. I really love the life on this island (or my blinkered view of it, at least), but I miss some of the basics: toilets with seats, bathrooms with doors, showers that don't involve you pouring freshwater from a tap over you in a bucket, a reliable supply of fresh water, a reasonable selection of foodstuffs, chocolate, coca cola, air conditioning etc. etc. I guess I'm a product of my own environment.

    Mika had moved his mattress out onto the veranda were it was cooler, and as we drank a Coke I observed that the moon was almost full. "Yes" said Mika, "and in a few days, so will the stream".

    The stream he was talking about was a channel that ran beside his house, connecting the lagoon to the reef-flat. At high tide the ocean never made it up the stream into the lagoon, but at low tide the lagoon drained onto the reef-flats. I presume the lagoon fills with water breaking over the flats on the eastern side of the atoll. I had investigated this stream on my first day, and found it shallow (only ankle depth), very slow running, and fairly narrow - in many places you could step over it without getting wet. But apparently, when the moon is full, the stream fills up from the lagoon. I hoped it would happen before the PB Matua returned to take me away.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 175 taken, 97 deleted.
     
  17. Newzooboy

    Newzooboy Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    21 Nov 2007
    Posts:
    565
    Location:
    Liss, Hampshire, UK
    Also loving your posts Hix - sounds like a real adventure! Looking forward to the next installment....
     
  18. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 8 - Wednesday, 29th August

    Another heavy rainstorm during the early hours of the morning, and I heard Mika cursing and scrambling madly to get his mattress and bedding back inside. It was still raining intermittently when I got up some hours later and, unlike other days, the sky was leaden with grey clouds. It rained off-and-on all day with virtually no sunshine.

    During a break in the rain I ventured onto the bridge and looked at the stream next to the house and saw it had expanded considerably, as Mika had predicted. And then a heavy shower sent me scurrying back inside.

    After spending all day inside working on the laptop I went for a stroll in the evening when it looked like the rain may have finished for the day. The stream beside the house was certainly swollen and the tide on the reef-flat was higher than I'd seen it. Walking south along the flat I sighted five Peppered Morays in about two minutes. Two of them were out of the water on the rocks wrapped around each other like mating pythons, but they separated and flung themselves in opposite directions when they saw me. Another large eel I saw was chasing a crab and was half out of the water.

    I continued on to the south end of the island (and saw another 3 Peppered Morays along the way) to where the reef-flat extends to the next motu about a kilometre away and can be walked at low tide. But now, apart from tops of some rocky bits in the middle, the whole area was under water as the lagoon emptied onto the reef-flat and then the ocean. Even though the ocean was at high tide and covering this area with waves, you could still see the water was heading the other way. Although it was hard to tell, there appeared to be some deepish pools and channels that looked like they could be promising for trapping fish at low tide and would be worth investigating.

    Heading back I passed a grove of coconut trees between the houses and heard Noddys squabbling so I had a further look and found at least three nests in the top of one of the trees (not a coconut palm).

    As it was dusk I went straight back to the house where Mika and Maliana were preparing dinner - parrotfish. Maliana had a secret recipe she was showing Mika for making a gravy which went very well with both the fish and the rice.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 35 taken, 8 deleted.
     
  19. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Feb 2009
    Posts:
    6,254
    Location:
    Texas
    Hix, this has really become of the most enjoyable threads on the site. Thanks!
     
  20. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

    Joined:
    20 Oct 2008
    Posts:
    6,003
    Location:
    Sydney
    Day 9 - Thursday, 30th August

    We had run out of Coke. Not just us, the entire island. There was no Sprite either. None until the cargo ship returns next week. This would be a problem because the water (collected from the tap and boiled each morning by Mika) tasted very bland.

    "Come with me" he said early in the morning "I found something" and so we walked a few hundred metres away from the village to a house near the southern end of the island. Like virtually all the houses in Nukunonu it was made of concrete, the main living quarters were on the upper level, it had louvres for windows and the balcony had no railing. Out the back in a shed was one of Mika's cousins (on such a small island, everyone is related to everyone). They had a quick discussion in Tokelauan and Mika's cousin reached behind some boxes and pulled out a carton of pineapple flavoured Fanta. "Last one" he said handing it to Mika.

    "Want some chicken?" Mika asked me, pulling a leg out of a pot sitting on the table. "Yes, have some chicken" said Mika's cousin's wife, sitting on the floor. I accepted and, expecting it to be cold, I was surprised to find it still hot. And very tasty.

    "Is this KFC?" I asked, amazed that KFC could be in Tokelau.

    "No" said Mika's cousin "but very similar. Is it good?"

    "Yes, very, very good. you should start a franchise" and we all had a good laugh before returning home with the Fanta.

    A few days previously when I went with Mika to feed the pigs I noticed a lot of forest at the northern end of the island. I thought it would be good for birds so this morning I decided to head up and check it out.

    It was still cloudy and looked like it could rain again so I only took my compact waterproof camera with me, and it did rain a couple of times, but not heavily and I was able to shelter under trees until it stopped each time.

    I walked through the village and came to the school and the University of the South Pacific (which is comprised of about four or five buildings) and heard the kids reciting something in Tokelauan. Continuing on past the school I came to the Solar installation.

    Before the end of this year Tokelau will be the first country in the world to have all its electricity needs supplied by solar. An installation was completed last month in Fakaofo, and the installation in Nukunonu (the smallest of the three but still with more than 1000 solar panels) will be up and running in a couple of weeks. Then they head on to Atafu for nine weeks to set up there. I had a brief look at the installation before continuing on into the forest.

    I walked all the way down to the Pig City, and the only thing I saw or heard was a Pacific Golden Plover here and there. Disappointed, I took a photo of an old payphone someone had attached to a tree in a pig pen and headed back.

    Along the way there were a couple of religious monuments, in the middle of the nowhere, and I stopped to photograph them. Seeing a noddy fly below the canopy into a tree nearby I found a small nesting colony of noddys in a tall tree. I counted six nests (and one without a bird sitting on it) and half a dozen other birds just sitting in the tree, And all very quiet. Very different to the colony on Te Fakanava where there was constant squawking between birds. I also noticed several little skinks of the genus Emoia darting amongst the coconuts under the tree, and wished I had my good camera. I even considered climbing the tree, but quickly decided against it.

    On the way back I passed the rubbish dump. One of the many problems Tokelau faces is rubbish and what to do with it. Anything remotely edible gets fed to the pigs, so the rubbish dump is filled plastics, glass and metals (mainly). There were old rusted car bodies, generators, thousands of soft drink cans and empty beer bottles, dozens and dozens of empty 44 gallon drums, all rusting, and plastic rubbish everywhere. Right now it's not a problem in Nukunonu but in a few years it will be; the other atolls have similar issues and finding a solution is one of the government's main priorities.

    Returning past the school oval I passed the cemetery. Every grave had a white cross, and most had colourful material hanging from the cross - some actually had shirts with the horizontal cross piece going through the arms, other had necklaces hanging on it. Very few graves had a name associated with it. One mound had been covered in concrete with writing (in Tokelauan) written in by a finger when it was still wet. And one mound had been covered with a quilt, the edges held in place with heavy rocks.

    And then I saw something that had me puzzling for the rest of the day.

    The cargo vessel can't dock at the wharf because of the reef. Everything is loaded onto the barge and then manually unloaded from the barge by hand and put on the back of a truck. Yet there are trucks and vans on the island, and I asked Mika how you got a truck onto the island. I could see it being unloaded into the barge from the ship as the ship has a crane on board, but how would you get it off the barge?

    "We have a crane" Mika had said, and assumed he meant something they erected on the wharf specifically for this purpose.

    But just beside the cemetery I saw the crane (picture attached below). Now the question is, when the crane was brought out here, how did they get it off the barge?

    Back at the wharf I looked longingly at the open ocean, knowing there were lots more species for me to see and photograph. The problem was getting there. With the full moon the tides were higher and the waves breaking onto the reef face were larger and a bit more violent than when I arrived. I would have to settle for the reef-flats again. The lagoon was not an option - the wave action had stirred up a lot of sediment and made the water particularly milky around the shore.

    An hour later I headed out onto the reef-flat. It was around low tide so I put my gear down on a rock and walked out close to the reef edge but found nothing much of interest fishwise. I headed back, collected my gear and found some largish pools that were knee deep and snorkelled in them. I found a species I hadn't seen on the reef-flat before, but apart from a filefish and some acutejawed mullet, nothing new. I decided to head up toward the south of the island where I had been the night before.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/acute-jawed-mullet-neomyxis-leuciscus-287947/

    Compared to the previous evening it was quite different now the water was lower. I found an area that was kneedeep and laydown only to be pushed by the current from the lagoon. But it wasn't pushing me towards the ocean, it was pushing around the island onto the reef-flat, in a northerly direction. It wasn't too strong and I was fine with this. It was also great for the fish.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/whitecheek-surgeonfish-acanthurus-nigricans-287966/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/whitecheek-surgeonfish-acanthurus-nigricans-287966/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/lagoon-triggerfish-rhinecanthus-aculeatus-287962/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/ambon-toby-canthigaster-amboinensis-287961/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/orangeband-surgeonfish-acanthurus-olivaceus-287948/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/tan-faced-parrotfish-showing-beak-chlorurs-287958/

    I guess the current was bringing something with it the fish liked because I saw a lot of fish here, many of them facing into the current, but swimming just enough to remain in the same place. By putting a foot against a rock I could lie in the same place too and look at fish a metre away that were in the perfect position for photos. Once I'd done that I swam around a bit more and found a number of other species that I hadn't seen on the flats. At the end of the day, the number of species found on this reef-flat was 59, more than any other site except the lagoon beside Te Fakanava which had 63.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/damsel-287936/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/doublesaddle-butterflyfish-chaetodon-ulietensis-287938/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/damsel-287937/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/grouper-287940/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/blackspotted-puffer-arothron-nigropunctatus-287952/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/spotted-sandperch-parapercis-millepunctata-287954/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1821/redfin-butterflyfish-chaetodon-lunulatus-287953/

    When the memory card in my camera was full I decided to call it a day and headed back to Mika's place. By the time I got back I had been out for just over four hours (from 10:30 - 2:30) and I was glad to have a cold shower. I haven't mentioned it before, but by 'shower' I mean a small plastic bucket filled with water from a tap and poured over you.

    Later that afternoon while I was looking at my photos on my laptop the backs of knees started to feel sore and I realised, with horror, I had forgotten to apply sunblock that morning! I quickly rubbed some on but it was to no avail. The rest of me was fine, but the delicate skin at the back of the knee was screaming at me for much of the night.

    After dinner Mika had to go out. One of his cousins had dropped by with her daughter and she and I were talking. She was interested in why I was here, and when she found out I'd been to Niue she got very excited, because she had gone to University of the South Pacific's Niue campus in the early 1990's to learn teaching. So we talked about Niue, and I showed her some recent photos I'd taken that were on my laptop. A little while later she left and I worked on my computer until Maliana said she was going to bed. It was about 8:30pm, and the light from the main room shines indirectly into her room (there are no internal doors, so all the rooms are open, including the bathroom), so I decided to have an early night too, put my stuff away, turned out the lights and went to bed.

    My knees kept me awake for a while, and the light from the almost full moon shining through the window also kept me awake (we don't have curtains either). But with some more rain thundering down on the corrugated tin roof I eventually fell asleep.

    :p

    Hix

    Photo count for the day: 494 taken, 219 deleted.
     

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