Saturday, July 31, 2010

I Have Arrived

Well after a long and uncomfortable flight, I made it back to Brisbane. Staying at a backpackers for the night, then off to Mackay tomorrow. It turns out my outlet adapter was for Aussie to the US instead of the other way around (typical), so today I hunt for I means to plug myself back into the digital age. Still have 50% battery left though, just enough time to get this post in.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm Bored

In case you're wondering where I'm going to start my journey. I'll fly into Brisbane and stay in a hostel for the first night (hopefully). Then get a physical the next day and fly to Mackay. I'll be staying there for 10 days on in a hotel and work on the dredging boat starting on the 3rd. Then I will fly back to somewhere else in Australia for 10 days off, where I may travel, work with the data from the last project, or hang out with Kylie or Zeus. This will last up until September 10, where I will move to Noosa Head for 6 weeks to volunteer for the HARC project, and hopefully get a chance to drive the tagging boats around big old humpback whales. From there I should have more work lined up. But it's all up in the air.

Back Up Into Thin Air

The excitement has now completely worn off from all of the packing and goodbyes. Now all I’m left with is a nervous stomach and loads of anticipation (notice that I used the adjective “loads”, trying to get back into the Aussie lingo). It’s strange to think that I’m going to be living out of a backpack for possibly the next few years, which by the way weighs 45 pounds. I tried to reduce as much stuff from my pack, but there are certain things, bird books in particular, that I just can’t part with. So now I sit and wait at FAT (Fresno Air Terminal), hoping that I’ll have a place to sleep when I arrive in Brisbane in 2 days time. I have that feeling of doubt creeping in from the dark recesses of my brain, “what have I gotten myself into now?”.

I need to get back that excitement, that urge to travel. It really is true that I always want what I don’t have and have yet to do, and don’t realize how much I’ve enjoyed what I have had until I leave it. Deep I know. But at least that drive keeps me moving. It’s hard to leave your life behind, but you just never know where life is going to take you in the end.

Anyways enough of that, onto a new and less depressing topic. If this entry was posted on August 30th, it means that I have successfully wasted about 3 hours in LAX trying to figure out how to connect to the FREE public WiFi. Or I have given into paying 7.95 for 24 hours of T-Mobile internet access, which also at the moment doesn’t seem to be working. Being in an airport really makes me wish I was adrift on a small bamboo raft, 850 miles West of Peru, 3,500 miles East of the Hawaiian Archipelago, 15,000 miles above the bottom of the sea, and many fathoms from the moon (a quote from Barbara’s going away gift “Kon Tiki”). I get some consolation knowing that in 6 hours I will at least be flying over a vast unexplored ocean on a massive Quantas 757 flight, the modern way to explore the globe.

SO MANY PEOPLE HERE. I am currently sitting under a mobile charging station since my laptop is a PC and has terrible battery life: and they have altered all of the outlets in this airport so you can’t use them, and a man is standing over me on his phone (not sure why he can’t just step 0.5 over to the left…again switching back to Australian units of measure). I guess you’re supposed to give up your since of personal space when in a crowded airport, but come on dude, I really don’t want to be at face level with your bacon and bits for an extended period of time. Plug it in and move on….that’s what she said.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Time is Running Out

Things are wrapping up here at the Wedemeyer house. Boxes of books and clothes were trucked backed to the central valley for storage, desks and chairs were loaded into the Ford for a last chance delivery tomorrow, and the backpack is being packed for a year plus long adventure around Australia and the rest of the globe. This may all sound somewhat dramatic to you; most people eventually move out of there college towns to pursue a career in a new location. To me this feels different, I’m not doing it for work, it’s all about the spirit of adventure. To walk the earth as an individual learning what it means to be alive. I’m looking forward to meeting some amazing people, eating some great food, surfing some perfect sharky waves, and racking up my species list. Sure I have potentially a lot of work lined up, but what I really hope to get out of this experience isn’t green, it’s the priceless experience gained by trying something new and different.

It’s finally starting to hit me that I’m leaving the town that I’ve become so familiar with over the past 6 years, and the amazing people that I’ve shared countless memorable experience with. Seeing my possessions being carted away is a freeing sensation, close to shear weightlessness. Yet the emotional baggage that ultimately comes with parting ways with those you love is starting to build. Again, this may be me being over dramatic as usual. Chances are I will see everyone soon, but it’s still hard to pack up and leave your comfort zone. I’m having the most trouble keeping myself from thinking about leaving Reef. He’s been a very loyal, well behaved, intelligent, and overall awesome dog; the best dog in the world. I don’t think he’s going to cope very well, and I’m worried that he’s going to live worried about when I’m going to return. I’m confident though that he’ll enjoy his life with Conner and my parents, and at least I’ll be able to see him every now and then. I raised a good kid, not it’s time for him to start the next phase of his life as well.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen over the next few years, which is what makes it so exciting. I know almost for certain that I start the dredging project north of the Great Barrier Reef on August 3rd, and will work 10 days on 10 days off up until HARC starts in mid September. There should be more studies coming up that I may be able to jump onto in Australia in between my MMO work, including a bottlenose dolphin study coming up in December. I’m going to look into going to grad school over there as well. I really want to travel outside of Aus too, so keep in touch with me whoever you are and let me know if you feel the need to travel.

1 last trip on the whale watch tomorrow, 2 more days of packing, 3 days left in Monterey, 4 days to departure from California….world….here I come.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's Next

In case you're wondering what the latest news is about my return to Australia, here's a breakdown of the most recent information.

I applied for a work visa which will enable me to work in Australia for at most one year. If I decide to stay longer I will need to be sponsored by a company or organization.

If all goes to plan, I will be moved out of my apartment in Monterey by the end of July and will fly back to Australia on Aug 1st. I hope to have a BBQ at the end of July before I leave to say goodbye to this foggy town and its inhabitants. Sadly Reef will have to move in with my parents...I don't want to talk about it cause it hurts too much so don't ask me.

Once in Australia, I will probably crash with Zeus near Brisbane, and help out with data from the Straddie Survey and help prepare for HARC (the next volunteer position) in September. This will keep me busy until work comes through as a marine mammal observer (MMO) north of the Great Barrier Reef in Makai. MMO's make sure that the operation in question does not interfere with the well being of marine mammals that are within a certain proximity to the vessel. This is required by the government in most industrialized countries.

This has not been confirmed yet, but apparently they want to train me to become the backup pilot for the research boats used to tag the humpbacks in HARC. Which would be RAD.

After HARC is over in October, I will hopefully have work lined up as an MMO to go offshore on seismic vessels used to explore for new oil reserves off of Australia and possibly New Zealand.

Other possibilities include attending grad school in Australia, flying to Fiji in November, road trip around South America soon, New Zealand in August, and US road trip in 2011 to the Marine Mammal Conference in Florida. I plan to fly back to the states periodically to visit over the next few years. There will also be chances for you to come visit me, so let me know if you're seriously interested and I'll see what I can do.

That's it for now, check back for the latest to come.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Birds and Water Spouts

7/06 The Albatross Enigma

Today was just another day on Straddie. Had the early shift this morning, and counted many whales. Last I checked today the count was up to 120 individuals; so by 5 this evening they may almost break the 150 mark. The peak has now officially begun. I snapped a few photos of Pod W, which passed pretty close to the headland at Norm’s Seat, maybe about 200 meters out. The weather was extremely warm in the morning, so I figured it would be a good day to surf between shifts. Of course the clouds rolled over and it was pretty cold during my surf session at Cylinders. Speaking of Cylinders yesterday while surfing in the evening, a pod of 2 Sousa (humpback dolphins) swam past me about 5 meters away. I could actually make out the coloration and shape of dorsal fin. You know you’re not surfing in California anymore when Sousa are riding waves next to you; a nice change from those old bottlenose dolphins.

I’m almost certain that I saw a new type of albatross today while whale watching atop Mt. Olympus; probably a Sooty Albatross. The light was not the best for distinguishing color, but it looked like the bill was all dark, different from a Giant Petrel which has a bubble gun colored bill. Its flight was also more graceful than a Giant Petrel, and the feet did not stick out past the tail feathers. Sooty Albatross are apparently not common north of New South Wales (the border is just south of my location in Queensland), but they are possible. Looking at the map, we are on the most eastern part of the east coast of Australia, and Straddie juts out into the Pacific; which makes this island a great place for spotting seabirds. I have so far been surprised at the frequency of seabird sightings I’ve seen so far: albatross every day, many flocks of Common Noddy, 2 good days of Prion sightings, and the occasional Giant Petrel. Not too shabby for being stock on land. I hoped I’d have more success during my brief boat ride on the Beluga, but at least I got a good close look of what I have now decided was an Eastern Yellow-nosed Albatross.

7/09 Cyclone Straddie

My last full day on Straddie today was a strange one. I woke up to the sound of howling wind and a bitter cold. Zeus, the two French girls, and I decided to walk down the street to check out the conditions before our morning shift started. As the ocean came into view from behind the gum trees, we saw an ominous dark sky and a white capped sea. Zeus continued walking down towards Mt. Olympus while the two French girls and I hung back to watch the water a little longer. Suddenly we noticed a huge water spout come into view, a tall funnel of water twisting and turning our way (we were told that a cyclone was due to hit the island in the night). It was an amazing sight, but we were definitely feeling a bit exposed on the bluff. I started to yell to Zeus “Duuuuude looook, it’s a water spout!”. The sun hadn’t yet appeared over the horizon, so we couldn’t make out his expression. There was no time to figure it out either, more water spouts began forming, and strong gusts whipped across Bambara St, knocking us off balance. We fled back to base, leaving Zeus to assess the situation for himself.

The weather went from windy to extremely cold in no time. In fact it even started to snow. Luckily I had packed my insulated hiking boots. The weather had improved and we were given the green light to head back up to Mt. Olympus and count the whales (if in fact it had survived the fierce winds and water spouts). After tripping over a tangle of power leads connected to a network of laptops, conveniently placed in front of the exit, I sat on the porch and proceeded to dawn my super comfortable boots. Dave pulled up in a green Toyota.......and then I realized something was wrong. It wasn’t the snow or the funnels of water I found odd, it was the color of his vehicle that seemed out of place. Dave drove a white Toyota.

I have the strangest dreams here; and I think it has something to do with the shift in sleeping schedules. Regardless of why, it was a very entertaining dream, I was even planning on writing about my experience with water spouts in my my dream. The reality today is that it’s been called off, not for snow or water spouts, but for the usual culprit wind. This is my last full day on the island, so I plan to surf a lot, snatch some final photos of the wildlife, and celebrate at Fish’s tonight with an extremely fun and welcoming group of people. Looking forward to flying home tomorrow and seeing the other side of the Pacific again, and all of you course. I’ve been dying to see Reef; I hope he still likes me. It’s going to hard to leave him behind again.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Where are the Explosions?

Happy 4th of July everyone. It has been fun for me so far. Blew another gale from the south fortunately, so we had half of the day off to play around at Cylinders Beach. Had a surf lesson to start; Jessie, Alphie, and Laura all managed to scramble to their feet. They seemed to enjoy themselves; it’s always fun to watch people pick something up for the first time. I was able to get in a few waves myself. We played a game of beach rugby to warm up; followed by me being buried in the sand and given boobs and a larger than life member. I’m sure those photos will turn out good. Tonight the Americans are putting on a BBQ with burgers, wieners, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and apple pie. We put in a request for sparklers from the mainland, but I don’t think they’ll make it. Going to be a good night of drinking with awesome company. Hope all you have fun tonight, looking forward to seeing your faces.

The new members include 1 Fijian, 3 Australians, 1 American, 2 from the UK, and 2 from France.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Few Notes on the Fauna

I am becoming very familiar with the wildlife here on Straddie. Last night after watching Space Balls at the Amaroo house, I nearly walked into a juvenile kangaroo at the bottom of the steps. It was standing out of view behind a fence, and when I turned the corner, we were face to face; its dark deep set eyes glaring into mine (similar to a deer in the headlights). Fortunately it didn’t kick or molest me and I was able to safely pass it by. I’ve seen so many of them now that I hardly take notice any more; I clear sign that I’m finally becoming acclimated to this land and its fauna. Even the colourful Rainbow Lorikeets hardly catch my attention anymore.

One new bird that caught my eye today while tracking whales through the theodolite was a new Procellarid (a type of bird with a tubular structure on its bill, such as an albatross) for me. It was light grey with a distinct dark line on the upper surface of its broad wings. It was dancing on the water like a storm-petrel, but was much larger in size. Turns out it was a close relative to a storm-petrel, a type of bird called a Prion. It is very hard to distinguish prions in the field, but based on the record of prion sightings off of Eastern Australia it was most likely a Fairy Prion. If I’m not mistaken, Prions are known for their ability to fly through large seas in a heavy storm, instead of over them (this may actually be diving petrels now that I think about it). Amazing birds that feed on plankton on the surface along current lines. I have been seeing flocks of them through the theo today, especially around areas where the whales have dived down. Perhaps the whales are welling up planktonic matter from the water column. I am not 100% sure these are prions I’m seeing, they may in fact be storm-petrels, but they don’t seem to fit any description of storm-petrels based on their size and light grey appearance.

I’ve been looking up photos of southern hemisphere albatross online, and it turns out the ones I’ve been seeing from the theodolite and one the Beluga may actually be Eastern Yellow-Nosed Albatross. The yellow-nosed have a grey bill with a yellow line on top, running from the tip of the bill to the base. They are also slightly smaller than the Shy Albatross and are darker on top. These characteristics match what I have noticed in the field. I can’t exactly confirm it, and both the shy and yellow-nosed are fairly common this time of year in Eastern Australia. I just need on to fly really close to land so I can confirm the bill is two toned.

Aside from the marine sightings, at dusk yesterday I heard a load clicking sound behind me as I road Dave’s bike from my house to Amaroo. It was a butcherbird, kind of a cross between a crow and magpie, trying to catch a large black butterfly. Australia seems to have quite a diversity of butterflies. I’m not sure if the source of the clicking was the bird’s wings or beak slapping together, but whatever it was the butterfly was eventually stunned and immobile; allowing the butcherbird to snatch it up with little effort.
The photo is of an Australian Pelican.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Week to Go

It is still raining....make it stop. Actually the rain isn’t so bad; it’s the sitting in it for 5 hours that’s painful. My relationship with the tarp has improved since the rain started to come down, it actually serves a purpose now on Mt. Olympus other than slapping me in the head and interrupting my sentences. The tarp is especially entertaining when it starts to pool with water and bulge in the middle. This is when we get to flush it out the back like a wave; we have yet to drench a whale watcher below. The weather forecast is calling for sun over the weekend, with an increasing swell and high winds. This translates into a day off from counting whales, with sunny warm surf at Cylinders.

The whales are really starting to pick up in numbers, and the pods are becoming much looser as the breeding season starts to kick off. Yesterday we counted 81 whales in 10 hours, and that number should jump to maybe up to 200 in the next few days. With more whales comes more chaos; we’re having a hard time keeping track of the pods, and they keep splitting up and joining others. Sometimes we have as many as 7 Pods to follow past our field of view....CRAZY. There has also been a lot of breaching, tail slapping, pec slapping and possible singing going on as they prepare to mate. The data entry has been a nightmare as well. Cleaning the data takes about an hour per day, and entering it into excel another hour.

I’ve posted a snapshot of what a day’s data looks like in Cyclopes. The data is from the day of my trip on the Beluga, you can see where we were plotted. Boat Rock (where we dropped the hydrophone array) is the single rock just beyond the 3 closer rocks called The Group. This is actually a relatively slow day; they only counted about 50 animals. You can just imagine what a day of 100 plus animals may look like. Mt. Olympus is at the end of the bicolored line running down the middle called the ‘beam’. This line runs at about 78 degrees from our lookout. Every whale that crosses the beam gets counted for the day. All other pods, if they’re going south or milling and never cross, are excluded. Norm’s Seat is at the tip of the headland on the right, our other platform. You can even see where we went snorkelling and had to rescue Boy Mike (Paul); we started from the gorge (the sliver in the headland) and worked our way around the rocks and onto Frenchman’s Beach (the sand to the left of the headland).

I’m sure some of you would like an update on what’s going to happen with my job and all of that. I will be in Monterey for sure July 13th until the beginning of August. I may stay as long as September. It all depends on how fast I can get a working VISA for Australia and when a job comes through. I’m going to move my stuff out of Monterey, but will hopefully be allowed to crash with Louie, Lydia, and Kelly....and Sam until I work things out. I will also be working at the whale watch until the very end; apparently they are still short on people. So I hope to see everyone before I leave; I’m not sure when I will be back in the States after that.