Bird Warfare, Rogue Waves and Port Moresby

Our visitor the following night was not a Booby this time but a petrel, which is much smaller and less intimidating than a Booby. Thus, I was able to adopt a new tactic with this one. It insisted on perching on the outboard engine, with its bum pointed inwards into the cockpit. Scaring it away was to no avail. It would circle the boat a few times and then return to exactly the same spot, in exactly the same orientation. But I’d noticed that it is possible, at night, to get very close to these birds indeed without them spooking and flying away. So close, in fact, that I was able to simply reach out, pick the thing up and re-locate it to what I thought was a mutually-acceptable perch. I put it on the port solar panels, which were raised out to the sides at the time and provided, I thought, a nice, firm, flat, large perching platform that would also be very easy to clean. Alas, it all went well until the first large wave rolled us over and the bird slid right off the side and then flew away just before it plopped into the water. When it returned, it did so to it’s engine perch. Take two. This time I chose a spot on the port quarter where the occasional boarding seas would wash away the nastiness. The bird, however, didn’t like that spot, and flew away only to return to……… the engine perch. I gave up and went to bed. Round two – birds.

Here’s one of the rare considerate ones. This Booby sat perched on our bow pulpit looking regal for most of the night. It can poo all it likes there because the waves washing over the foredeck deal with it.

 

In other news, we experienced my first proper rogue wave. Those of you with good memories might remember something called ‘wave superimposition theory’ from your schooling days. Basically, if you have, say, two waves, when they meet they will interact with one another to produce a single wave that is a mixture of the two. If a trough meets another trough then the resulting trough will be as deep as the two combined. If a crest meets a crest then the resulting crest will produce a wave that it as high as the two combined. And if a crest meets a trough then they cancel each other out and you get nothing. This can produce, on occasion, some quite uncomfortable, unpredictable, steep, large waves. What is known as a ‘rogue’ wave, however, is a much more rare occurrence. It is a matter of subjective opinion, but basically a rogue wave is a wave that is MUCH bigger and usually from a different direction than would normally be expected in the conditions that one is experiencing. I’ve had a few big waves that stand out in my history at sea, but none quite so roguish as the one that we had the other night. It was fairly calm and Bob was jogging along nicely. No big rolls, no lurching or pitching. You could perhaps have left a mug of something on the chart table and it would have stayed there. Suddenly, there was the sound of rushing water and a huge impact on the port side. Bob was thrown right over about 60 degrees. All the books on the shelf on the port side fell onto Sarah (who was sleeping peacefully in her bunk). A tray of eggs launched itself off the galley countertop and landed half way across the cabin. Afterwards………. nothing. Back to being pretty calm.

On the morning of August 15th we arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and have been anchored at the Royal Papua Yacht Club since then. It’s a really lovely place with superb facilities and two large supermarkets just a few minutes walk away. The city of Port Moresby is, as I’ve mentioned previously, not a safe place but it still has a lot to offer and is not too unsafe during the daytime, if you go in a group. Four of us (us and two new cruiser friends) went to a dance competition yesterday. Paul got his phone nicked out of his pocket and I’m 100% certain that if I hadn’t been walking around with my backpack on my front and a hand on the zippers at all times it would have been emptied in short order, but we never felt personally threatened and every single person we have (knowingly) met has been wonderfully friendly and nice. Sarah traded a shell head-dress with a local lady, and I had my own cultural experience when I tried betel nut – the local drug of choice (perfectly legal!).

 

These dancers all came from the island province of Manus, to the north of the main island:

Below is a photo of Sarah with the lady whose headdress she made the mistake of complimenting. It’s not the first time this has happened! In our culture if you express admiration for an item of clothing that another person is wearing it is received as a personal compliment and a congenial sentiment. In Polynesian and Melanesian culture, however, they take it one step further; their natural response is to offer that item as a gift. This lady immediately whipped off her headdress and tied it around Sarah’s head. Sarah responded by making a gift of her earrings. Last time it was her hat. Who knows what it’ll be next time!

You’ll notice that the lady above has a reddish tinge to her mouth? That’s a common feature among Papua New Guineans and it’s caused by the habitual chewing of Betel nut. It’s illegal in some places because it causes cancer of the mouth. It also appears to rot the teeth. People here chew it constantly. I thought I’d give it a go, so I bought a nut for one Kina (about 35 cents) and the lady showed me what to do with it. It tasted horrible, made me very light-headed and slightly ill. I should perhaps have tried half of a nut, or a quarter, rather than shoving the whole thing in! It turns deep red and releases the active ingredient when mixed with an acid. Mine is only orange because I am a wuss and couldn’t handle anything like the potency that the locals barely seem to notice:

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.