Topic: Fauna - Pilot Point
Includes the O’Sullivans’ farm, the dune, the Family of Rocks and the Tongaporutu River.
This shows a remarkably resilient coprosma with arguably the best view in Taranaki.
These cliff top photos were taken on the boundary that for my purposes, separates Rapanui South Beach from Pilot Point. As both images look south over Pilot Point, I have included them here. Due to the harsh marine environment, plant types tend to be limited to ones that can tolerate salt-laden spray.
I was particularly intrigued by a cluster of tiny black mussels (Xenostrobus pulex/Limnoperna pulex), on a cliff wall near the Pilot Point cave because the pattern they formed resembled a Maori motif. Mussels were also growing on some of the Family of Rocks and on the inside of a well lit through-going corridor cave at the Pilot Point cave system. In one of the caves on the Tonga River side of Pilot Point, a huge tree trunk had taken up squatting rights.
There was a dead Friesian cow (Bovine sp), in one of the caves. At the dune area a ginormous tree trunk had washed up.
30.6.2003 PHO2008-042, 048-049
Saw mussel spat on the larger rocks of the Family of Rocks. Most of the rocks were well covered with sand. I assumed that the sand level rose and fell on a regular basis.
Near the track at the bottom of the cliff, the dead cow that I had seen in a cave on the 1st June had now migrated to the dune area. Close by was a dead pig (Sus – Suidae), but I didn’t photograph that.
13.7.2003 PHO2008-941, 951
White Charolais cattle grazed in the cliff top paddock. At the base of the cliff, I came across our mutual friend, the dead cow. The stench had all but gone from the mummified carcass. The dead pig had now gone.
Later on, I photographed a cliff wall near the Pilot Point arch with green algae growing on the splash zone.
Atop Pilot Point there were lots of gorgeous North Island fantails, (Rhipidura fuliginosa placabilis) about. Down at the dune area I saw two dead cows close to one another. One was my old friend that I had original seen on 1st June. I also re-discovered the dead PIG. I then went down to the shore to investigate a white rock. It turned out to be another dead cow. This animal was white. Its flesh had long gone; just the skin and bulging ribs and other appendages remained.
I explored more of the dune area. There were lots of beached logs and wood. This was obviously a beached log housing estate. Variable oystercatchers (Haematopus unicolor), black backed gulls and shags were seen, also dog footprints and those of stoats or weasels. At the furtherest end of the dune I saw two flaxes that appeared to have been planted. (I later learnt that they would have been dislodged during a past cliff collapse and then been washed up on this northern side of the Tonga River).
At the rear side or back of the dune, I came across another dead cow. It was almost all black and was possibly an Aberdeen Angus. It had most of its fur still on.
The two dead cows that I saw on the 20th were still there. Further around on the cliff just past the Pilot Point Arch, some beautiful green algae caught my eye. I was also intrigued by the ‘soccer ball’ rock concretion above it.
In PHO2008-978, this flax bush and coprosma are masters of survival in this extreme environment on the Pilot Point Overlook.
The two dead cows and a pig had finally vanished from the beach, never to be seen again. Enroute to the cave, I noticed a lot of flotsam; seaweed, branches, flax, etc. (Note: seaweed is a colloquial term. It doesn’t appear to have a formal definition. As I didn’t know what the actual species that I observed was, I just stuck with seaweed. Some could have been Hormosira/banksii, Carpophyllum maschalocrpum). Upon seeing the flax I suspected that a cliff must have collapsed somewhere. (I later discovered that a cliff had collapsed on the Four Brothers Beach).
It was here that I was nearly swept away by storm surge conditions. (See Section Two on Weather, also Section Seven on The Tongaporutu River and the Family of Rocks for more detailed information on this). After this salutory lesson, while photographing the Family of Rocks, a lone black backed gull alighted on a nearby rock.
ALPHA STORM. I re-visited Pilot Point intending to photograph the decimated dune area. If there had been any nesting birds, their nests, eggs and chicks most probably would have been swept away as most of the area had been flooded out. Unfortunately, as the wind was screaming, it was almost impossible to keep upright, let alone do any photography. Before leaving, I noticed that the ginormous tree trunk root section had parted company from the cave where it had resided since May, and had now been dumped close to the dune.
The flax bush and coprosma bush atop the overlook witnessed all of the action.
6.10.2003 PHO2008-223-228, 1040, 1042
At the dune, I noticed that the log/wood debris was piled hard up to the high point; that is the marram grass level. Also, that sand had blown over them but it didn’t fully bury a lot of them. From what I could tell, the marram grass area had been severely reduced. The only birds I saw were black backed. No variable oystercatchers. Saw plenty of tracks. Stoat? Cat? Rabbits? When I changed my film, I noticed rabbit droppings, so the footprints close by belonged to them.
The huge tree trunk root section was still there, having been dislodged a week ago from its hidey-hole in a cave. The flax that I assumed somebody had planted in the wood debris was still there. I photographed the dune area in a series of images to be stitched together for future reference.
On the way back along the beach I came across a snail (Helix pomatia), that had slithered about ten feet out onto the beach. An incredible distance for a snail. It may have come in on some plant debris. It had currently stopped moving as its front door was covered with sand. I took it back up the cliff and put it on some hospitable vegetation. I thought it had earned a lucky break.
23.10.2003 PHO2008-1076, 1079
These two images show the vegetation above the Pilot Point cave system in both afternoon and evening light.
Lots of coffee coloured foam (algae?) frothed around the Family of Rocks.
20.12.2003 PHO2008-1161, 1163
This photo shows a semi-permanent population of driftwood that resides in front of the Tongaporutu baches. They are located on the southern side of the Tongaporutu River. PHO2008-1161 gives a broader view.
5.1.2004 PHO2008-496, 1193
The Pilot Point Overlook and beyond were shrouded in early morning mist. PHO2008-1193 shows our resident wind battered coprosma, while PHO2008-496 shows flax plants that occupied a slightly more sheltered position.
The dune area had been heavily scoured away. I photographed a beached log with the dune ‘wall’ in the background.
I was stunned to see that there was now a huge drop down to the beach from the flaxes and bush. The sand dune had been heavily gouged out by the sea, so it was even further back than my last visit on the 4th February. On that occasion it looked like a sand wave.
Passage to the dunes was initially past a blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), infested path, then onto energy-sapping sand and whipping marram grass. Due to the blasting sand, I wasn’t going to photograph at the dune, but because an old log had been uncovered since I last photographed here, (4th February), I got out my trusty supermarket shopping bag and went ahead.
While plodding over the dunes, I noticed that the large old pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), tree trunk that had called the middle of the mudflat bay home had gone. Sand covered a lot of the logs on the village side. On the seaward side to my right, a lot of logs had been lost to the sea. Bare roots were all that remained in large areas. I took a sequence of photos to be stitched up later as a panorama.
19.4.2004 PHO2008-648, 798, 800-803
The weather was perfect. Just the ticket for a great day out. I particularly wanted to see if the small mussels on the Family of Rocks had survived being buried by sand for several months. (PHO2008-648 is shown here to illustrate this. It was taken on the 4th February 2004). The rocks themselves were starting to emerge from their temporary tombs, but not enough to confirm either way. From what I could see, the mussels for the most part had disappeared. I could see traces of where they had been, but other than this the rocks were bare.
When the rocks are covered in sand, any mussels on them suffocate and die. When the rocks are uncovered again, fresh mussel spat re-colonises the rocks, only to suffocate and die, then re-colonise in a repeating fashion. Due to the time periods involved, none of the mussels lived long enough to reproduce so the attrition rate on rocks such as these, combined with their locations, is 100%.
After this, I remembered the “Maori motif” mussels I had photographed on 18.5.03. They had been sited on a cliff wall close to the Pilot Point cave. Well, the cliff face was almost clean. (PHO2008-800). Just one tiny patch of small mussels remained. This confirmed what I had already concluded, except that here the destruction of the mussels was due to wave action. Further, the level of destruction or otherwise was determined by the wave’s angle of hit. Also, being tightly clustered together, means that more mussels can be destroyed at any one time.
Just around the corner from the direct seaward facing cliff wall where the mussels had mostly been carved off, a band of mussels and barnacles appeared to be thriving. Conditions on the directly sea facing wall were obviously too severe. Too exposed to the power of the surf. Having said that, none of the mussels growing on cliff walls survive long enough to mature and reproduce. All eventually succumb to the pounding power of the sea. Only in site specific places at the low water mark do mussels appear to live long enough to reproduce. I estimate that overall the attrition rate of mussels on the coast from cliff wall to the low tide zone is 99%.
Beyond the low tide zone I would presume that the survival and reproduction rate is higher. So paradoxically in this case, though humans do predate mussels, overall the predation is light. Thus, humans are not the primary cause of the high attrition rate, Nature itself is.
When I had finished, I packed up to return along the beach. On the way I spotted a live stink bug (green vegetable bug – Nezara viridula). I left it alone to fly off, then just a few yards further along, I saw a dead green cicada or locust (Believed to be Kikihia ochrina), with one of its outstretched filigree wings glinting in the sunlight. I photographed it, but as I only had my wide-angle lens on the camera, the image wasn’t a close-up.
A sea fog was present. At the Family of Rocks, they were uncovered a bit more and there were pools of water around them. Some of the rocks had no mussels on them at all, while others had some mussel clumps. However, no mussels were present below the two foot mark from the rocks’ tops. Any below that had probably been killed off by sand compaction during the approximately two months that they had been covered by sand. Above this level, the sand was presumably looser. Tidal conditions probably allowed the sand to ‘flow’ and this flow time was just sufficient to allow some clumps to survive.
This dogged coprosma continues to survive, despite the elements.
In the Pilot Point cave, there was quite a lot of driftwood littered about. It was the most I have seen. Nothing lingers long in this location however as there is no dry upper high tide area. Come the next high tide, they would be moved further along the coast, usually in a northerly direction.
In calm spots in the vicinity of the cave, there were lots of small, non-biting, midge-like insects about. (Tiny flies?) Collectively they formed ‘insect clouds’.
An ALPHA STORM savaged the coastline. Although I didn’t visit Pilot Point, from the overlook on the Gibbs’ farm, I saw a huge log resembling a stranded whale had beached itself in the shallows fairly close to Pilot Point.
A fresh batch of mussels had re-colonised the Family of Rocks.
Near the cemetery at Pilot Point I saw lots of fantails flitting about.
Comet McNaught was lighting up the heavens and I wanted to photograph it from Pilot Point with a clear Mt Egmont in the background. In the early evening light, the mature grass shone with a golden glow. The atmosphere wasn’t crystal clear due to smoke haze blowing over from the Australian bush fires. I took a couple of early photos with the resident coprosma clinging to the cliff-top.
Several people turned up for this once in a lifetime event. As the sun went to sleep below the horizon, I saw some black backed gulls flying around. I also saw a pair of what appeared to be black swans (Cygnus atratus), fly past. I assumed they were swans because their necks were too long and thin to be geese. Due to the low light I couldn’t photograph them as they would just come out as an ugly black blur.
As I neared the bottom of the track where you drop down onto the beach, I saw that the last tree and flax bushes were now partially buried in sand. Previously there had been soil. The sand had encroached in quite a way.
At the dune area, lots of logs festooned the beach. I was also surprised at how much of the dune had been lost to the sea. Up close to the dune’s leading edge the damage was extensive. A large area of marram grass had been trashed by the waves. Undercut areas revealed a cache of old, beaten up logs that had probably been dumped there by the sea a long time ago. They were then gradually covered over by the dune. Now the sea was reclaiming them in a repeating cycle.
At the end of the spit, a flock of black backed gulls rested. Later on, when I returned towards the track, I spotted a dead kereru (New Zealand pigeon – Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), on the beach. It had died quite recently as no skeleton was visible. It hadn’t decayed to that point.
25.11.2007 PHO2011-1098, 1100
Down at the dune, there was a new ‘lake’. I haven’t observed this feature before. At the dune, the marram grass had been well and truly hammered and was only a fraction of its former self. There were loads of logs and driftwood. I also heard several variable oystercatchers. Then I caught the stench of death. It originated from the carcass of a dead cow/steer. Its remains were festooned with zillions of flies. Its exposed ribs had presumably been picked clean by either or all. gulls, rats (Rattus sp), stoats and feral cats.
As I walked towards the Pilot Point Arch, I was struck by the number of large rock oyster shells (Saccostrea glomerata), and mussels that festooned the beach. They were accompanied by lots of seaweed, bits of wood and land based vegetation. Some of the mussels were full grown and complete. Complete to mean not empty shell casings. All still had their ‘beards’ attached. I assumed that extreme sea turbulence had ripped them from their underwater beds. It wasn’t due to pollution as some of the mussels were still alive. I didn’t notice any mussels, oysters or other shells washed up along Rapanui Beach which I visited later on. They were only present on the Pilot Point side of the estuary up to the cave. Whatever the localised underwater disturbance was, it wasn’t due to storm conditions. Though a stiff south-westerly was blowing, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for this coastline. The cause therefore remains a mystery.
The Family of Rocks were entirely denuded of any mussel spat. They looked as if they had been completely buried by sand until recently.
My final image was taken atop Pilot Point looking south towards the Three Sisters. A flax bush is shown in the foreground.
Down at the bottom of the track where the dune begins, the mini-lake I had first observed on 25.11.2007 was now a mini-pond. The marram grass was looking a bit sad with roots exposed and large chunks of habitat a goneburger. The dead cow had long gone. The sand level leading up to the dune was good and a lot of the lazy logs that normally loitered on the beach were wrapped up snug in a blanket of sand.
I climbed atop the dune and walked over to a couple of flax bushes and some shaved, stunted gorse plants. After this, I walked around the estuary to be on the baches side. A flock of red billed gulls, some black backed gulls and some noisy variable oystercatchers were wandering around on the beach.
Stepping over and around numerous snoozing logs, I was drawn to a mini oasis of a flax bush and two separate clumps of marram grass. There were also some bright green threads of sand convolvulus (Calystegia soldanella) . They weren’t in flower unfortunately, but the different greens were well highlighted against the wet black sand and slumbering logs. I managed to get Mammoth Rock in the background to give them a sense of place.
At the bottom of the track the mini-pond had now disappeared. Around on the seaward side of Pilot Point, some of the temporary sand pools were filled with frothing sea foam.
SUPER-STORM EVENT. Super-Storm One. At the bottom of the track I saw two variable oystercatchers who promptly flew off. I then headed towards Pilot Point to record the destruction of the Pilot Point Arch that I had first seen from above the Three Sisters Beach. There were actually three cliff collapse sites in total. What interests me here in this Section is the vegetation. First, there was a surviving flax bush and some reeds atop the fresh debris field at the base of the cliffs. Also ‘growing’ on the beach were several clumps of reeds. These, still being alive, and the presence of soil attested to the freshness of the arch’s destruction.
The destruction that I observed both here and on the Three Sisters Beach was truly mind boggling. It made me wonder what else had been destroyed in places I had yet to visit.
Lastly, I spotted a young, live pohutukawa embedded in the sand. I tried to rescue it, but it was stuck too fast for me to retrieve.
SUPER-STORM EVENT. Super-Storm Three. Where the Pilot Point Arch had stood, all the soil atop the main debris pile, along with flax plant and clump of reeds had vanished. Most of the reeds that had been in the sand had gone, but the few remaining ones still clung to life. Amazing. The pohutukawa tree that I had unsuccessfully tried to rescue had died. Quite sad really.
31.8.2008 PHO2011-1306, 1309
Before heading down to the beach, I went across the O’Sullivan’s farm to where you can look down on the cave. In the fenced off ‘valley’, scrawny coprosmas grew along with marram grass, flax, lupins and other tough souls, safe from browsing stock.
Later, as I struggled down the track to the beach, I heard a blackbird singing. I am still recovering from the flu I had nearly six weeks ago. Down on the dune I headed towards the furtherest part of the dune that was home to an isolated flax plant and some marram grass. On the beach I passed a bloated, rotting steer. I’ve noticed that with all the dead stock I’ve observed, either the salt or sand, or a mix of both, cleanly removes every hair on their bodies. Strangely, this steer didn’t pong, or perhaps due to my sinus infection, I couldn’t smell anything much.
The sand dune, that is the part covered in vegetation such as marram grass, flax, lupins etc., was very much reduced. And all of the marram grass on the seaward side (south) of the dune was scorched. There were lots of logs and tyres. Close by was a washed up flax bush from across the Tonga River. This had originated from the eroding dune on the Three Sisters Beach. The flax was still alive, but with its roots high and dry and mostly covered in sand, I didn’t think much of its chances of survival. A lucky few do survive however.
Down near the lone flax bush, new leaves of sand convolvulus were thrusting up through the sand. I didn’t know that they went dormant in winter. Or it could be a survival mechanism due to the particularly harsh conditions. The roots are usually well protected beneath the sand, while in winter the tops could be ripped away by very high seas. However, I’m only guessing.
At the Family of Rocks, the reeds that had been deposited in the sand after the collapse of the Pilot Point Arch on the 20th July were now all dead.
I took several photos of the new Family of Rocks members (from the Pilot Point Arch collapse). The photo here, (PHO2011-1354), shows them to be free of colonisation by any flora and fauna at this stage. Looking towards the Pilot Point Cave (north), I was particularly taken with the lovely green algae growing on the cliff walls in the splash zone. Also, some of the Pilot Point Arch debris materials here that was close to the cliffs were showing the first signs of algae colonisation.
CLIFF SEQUENCING. Down on the beach, I noticed two things. The first was that the sand level was good and how far out the sand bar extended. The second was a lot of plant material was littered about. These included flaxes, coprosma, scrubby pohutukawa branches and bits of twigs and leaves. A sure sign of a recent cliff collapse. As there was nothing on this side, I went out on the sand bar and looked across to the Three Sisters Beach. I was totally gobsmacked by the sight of a massive ‘flood’ of rock and soil that flowed down to the beach to the rear of the Three Sisters. This was truly a monster cliff collapse.
As I had planned to do cliff sequencing at Pilot Point and Rapanui South, I resolved to do this as quickly as possible so as to access the Three Sisters Beach and record the behemoth cliff failure. As for the weather, it had been fine for a while and there was only a light westerly blowing today.
Down at the dune, I noticed that there were a lot of logs on the beach. There usually are logs at this location, but as the sand level had built up quite a lot, they extended further out towards the Tonga River than usual.
Around at the Family of Rocks, I noticed a small patch of algae had started to colonise the nicely coloured triangle shaped rock. I didn’t see any mussel spat, unlike the larger rock behind it which had mussel spat, limpets and algae beginning to colonise it.
With that part of the photo shoot finished, I returned to the dune. I heard some black backed gulls calling on the outer estuary at the wave-line. I climbed up on top of the dune which had shrunk back quite a bit. However, some spinifex leaders were trying to reclaim old territory down on the beach. One tenacious flax bush, washed over from a cliff collapse that I observed on the Three Sisters Beach on 12.11.2008 had anchored itself in the sand just behind a small log. It looked quite healthy, but its new location was tenuous at best.
Afterwards, I strolled around to the lone flax bush and two clumps of marram grass that had called the outer dune boundary home. The sand convolvulus plants were still there but their leaves had mostly died back.
While searching around for a good photographic viewpoint, I spotted two largish eggs. They were between two and three inches long, whitish with grey marbling, and each had a cracked, open area in the shell. I assumed these old eggs belonged to variable oystercatchers. They have a low success at breeding here due to the presence of humans and various predators. I know this because they all leave their tracks in the sand. Having said that, I did see an adult variable oystercatcher being pestered by its grown-up offspring.
Nearby, I saw two healthy clumps of rust/cream coloured fungi (Fungi spp?), growing on two separate, but close by, small logs. Just to their rear was a healthy clump of convolvulus! So much for the dying down in winter idea.
Atop the Pilot Point Overlook, I wanted to take the standard picture postcard view, but with the panoramic camera. Of particular interest were the beaten up coprosma and ragged flax bush perched on the cliff edge.
2.12.2009 PHO2011-1689-1693, 1696-1697
Sea fog accompanied by low cloud equalled dullsville weather conditions. At the dune, a large sand shelf was furnished with logs and driftwood. Next, I re-discovered the flax plant survivor that had originated from the cliff section collapse on the Three Sisters Beach that had occurred on 12.11.2008. The flax was located at the very edge and at the bottom of the dune proper. It had grown a couple more shoots since my last visit. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph it the first time I observed it on the 3rd June.
Atop the dune proper, the marram grass had flower heads forming. Also, the attractive creeping sand convolvulus were flowering. The flowers were all pink. Lupins were also in flower, they being yellow. After this I made my way around to the lone flax bush and twin clumps of marram grass. As I approached the flax plant, several variable oystercatchers on the estuary called out plaintively. I checked to make sure I wasn’t encroaching on any possible nest scrapes.
When finished, I walked towards Pilot Point and the Family of Rocks. Enroute I saw some flax bushes washed up as well as other vegetation. These had obviously migrated across from the dune on the Three Sisters Beach. This is one way how dunes can get colonised, by plants washed up from other locations.
At the Family of Rocks, the flora and fauna colonising them had increased markedly since my last visit on 3.6.09. All of the larger rocks of the new family members had green algae hats on them and the mussel population had exploded. Just small stuff. The original Family of Rocks were lower down in the sand, but had enough rock exposed for mussels and algae to also colonise.
In a word, the weather was wet and none of the panoramic photos I took turned out.
Down at the dune, it appeared to have shrunk back even further. It might not have in actuality; it just looked like it had. I noticed that the flax plant that had drifted across the Tonga River from the Three Sisters Beach and embedded itself at the base of the dune was still there and thriving. It originated from a massive cliff section collapse that I observed on 12.11.2008. Logs were still present on the beach on the seaward side of the dune, but there wasn’t a forest of them. A lot had either gone float about or been buried.
I then squished along to the Family of Rocks. I noticed a few large flax plants that had been washed up, both at the dune and around at the Family of Rocks. I assumed they had come from an unseen cliff collapse on the Three Sisters Beach as there was nothing evident here. As the plants were fresh and very much alive, I also assumed the cliff collapse must have been very recent. Either that or they had been carved off from the actively eroding dune on the Three Sisters Beach.
With regards to the newest members of the Family of Rocks, extensive mats of mussels had made themselves at home, even on the patterned triangle shaped rock which earlier had been mostly shunned by colonising mussels.
I returned today in the hope of repeating the photography I stuffed up on 27th June. Unfortunately, the weather was a virtual re-run of that day, wet and miserable. However, I lucked in for a few brief minutes and took a couple of photos of the extended Family of Rocks that shows them being colonised mostly by mussels and green algae. Some black-backed gulls were resting on the estuary in the background, but they look like white blobs in the photo.
The beautifully patterned ‘triangle’ rock, though colonised, was less so than the others for some reason.
Down at the dune, as well as the usual party of driftwood, there was a small lake and a stinking dead cow, minus its fur. Several flax plants, washed up survivors of past cliff collapses had taken root on the seaward side of the dune. For the most part, this is above the high tide zone. At the far end of the dune where the lone flax plant has made a home for itself, the convolvulus had yet to re-emerge with spring growth. An extensive driftwood field bleached in the sun. I also saw some black backed gulls on the beach and a shag.
MEGA-STORM. Due to the ferocity of the wind, it was impossible to use the big camera and the tripod. As for standing, stooping was the order of the day, either that or crawling on hands and knees as at Te Kawau Pa. As well as taking a standard shot from the usual picture postcard spot, I photographed the dune from the cliff top near the track that leads down to the dune and beach proper. I did this because the conditions made it impossible to go down onto the beach without being sand blasted.