Marriner’s Lookout, Apollo Bay

It was a still, cold and misty day at Apollo Bay yesterday. For much of the day a thin band of cloud sat just below Marriner’s Lookout (750′ above sea level). I thought it worth a walk up to the lookout in case there was a view out to sea over the top of the layer of cloud, a spectacular sight which I have seen on just a few occasions. But today was not such an occasion. However, I did arrive at the lookout just as the mist began to dissipate.

Views from Marriner’s Lookout

View to the west. There are areas of untouched temperate rainforest in some of these gullies.
View to the east. The small coastal settlement of Skenes Creek is visible in the centre of the image. Cape Patton is on the horizon. The mist was lingering in all the gullies and valleys.
View to the south east. Apollo Bay harbour and Point Bunbury appearing as the mist cleared. There is a fishing boat about to enter the harbour mouth.

Superb fairy-wren

Superb fairy-wren (male). While much of the land around Marriner’s Lookout is cleared, there is some that isn’t and it supports a wide variety of native bird life. There were quite a few of these male superb fairy-wrens flitting around the area. Only occasionally would one sit long enough to be photographed. I published photos and some info about the superb fairy-wren in an earlier post on this blog:
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/08/06/the-aire-river-mouth/

The horse paddock just behind the lookout

These two horses in the paddock behind the lookout area enjoy uninterrupted panoramic views over the ocean from Cape Patton to Marengo. Unbidden, they strolled across their paddock to greet me, even though I was facing away from them taking a few photos. The barbed wire didn’t seem to bother them. But the top strand of wire had an unexplained clump of wool on it, visible in the photo, which got me thinking. Sheep are not that tall, and there were none in the paddock. There was nothing else in the paddock growing wool. Had a sheep with ambitions for a life beyond the paddock and the plate cleared the fence after a good run up with a wild and woolly ovine version of the Fosbury flop or perhaps a western roll, leaving this tuft of wool as the only clue as to his escape? I hope so.
The horses were quiet and engaging. This one put his head over the fence and nuzzled my chest. He seemed to welcome being patted and rubbed. I didn’t expect this close encounter of the very friendly kind. We had a bit of a chat. I think we got on well.
The horse on the right was the one that was most sociable with me.
They seemed to be good mates, and this mutual nuzzling session went on for quite a while.
Beautiful warm and intelligent animals up close. I thoroughly enjoyed this unanticipated encounter. I once had a job which involved learning to ride (sort of) through long hours on horseback mustering cattle in unfenced bushland. Strong memories returned as I stroked the warm coat of this beautiful strong creature. I’d all but forgotten that pleasant horse smell, and the wonder of such a strong and large creature gently giving and accepting close contact as I stroked him and gave him a bit of a rub around his ears.

Pied Currawong

This bird looked as though it was born cranky. It was feeding, but let me know that my presence nearby was not welcome at all. I was in fact at some distance, as this shot was taken with a telephoto lens.
When I didn’t depart, he stopped eating to direct all his energy to indicating just how unwelcome I was. That is quite a glare.
The intensified glare, the frown and the cocked head finally did the trick. I got the message and moved on. The robust hooked beak visible here is one of the features which distinguishes the pied currawong from the grey currawong which is similar in size and colouring (it is dark grey) and has the same bright yellow eyes.

Red wattlebird

Adult red wattlebird upside down and feeding in the trees lining Milford Creek, which flows from the foothills near Marriner’s Lookout to the ocean.
After feeding upside down, without changing position it took off by simply letting go of the slender branch it had been on. It dived straight down for a short distance then levelled out and flew off.
The red wattlebird was sharing this gum tree with a sleepy well-fed and very round koala.

Koala dozing in a gum tree on the banks of Milford Creek

Arms folded, a full belly, safe and secure in the fork of these branches and sleeping peacefully.

West Coast Beauty

Some natural wonders can be assigned latitude and longitude coordinates. Others are fleeting and occasional, and appointments for viewing are not possible. The west coast of Victoria is well supplied with both categories. The photos below are of some of the fleeting offerings of Mother Nature in and around Apollo Bay which I was lucky enough to see. Each encounter was unplanned and a pleasant surprise. Serendipity fuels my photography.

The shots of the surfers were taken after I failed to find the wild easterly seas that the wind direction and strength promised at dawn when I woke up. The wind shifted as I drove away from my house and the waves changed from unruly rough seas to cracking surf. The Australasian gannets were the result of a drive to nearby Kennett River to find some elusive orcas of which I had heard reports. The orcas were a no-show. Finally, the feeding wattlebird youngsters were sighted from my deck when I went outside to check the windsock during the golden hour late one afternoon. All these photos were taken in the past week.

Local surfers making the most of an unexpected two hour session at this break

Some swell events have a long build up and are monitored by surfers for many days before the waves arrive. These waves were different in that the quality waves breaking at this location were unexpected. There was no shortage however of talented local surfers who either saw the waves or heard about them on the grapevine and made a beeline for this break. There are not a lot of occasions when waves at this spot are the best on offer in the district. But on this morning they were.

Unlike some other more reliable breaks in the area which have mechanically regular waves peeling off over reefs when wind, swell and tide are all aligned, the sea at this spot was moody and the takeoff positions were moving from set to set. There were no ruler lines of waves to the horizon, just glassy variable contours of energy moving towards the shore but not in any sense marching towards shore. There were lefts, rights and long close out sections. The size was not constant either, with the larger sets arriving earlier in the session.
Local surfer Jordy.

Professional surf, landscape & lifestyle photographer Katey catching the action.

There was a powerful side sweep from east to west (from left to right when looking at the first photo above). Some paddled out to the general takeoff area and found themselves heading west parallel to the beach for a couple of hundred metres. These boys were walking back to re-enter the water and probably to try something different to the 200m sweep west with return walk. That all four heads are turned towards the ocean suggests to me that they are examining the waves and shore break very closely with a view to avoiding a repeat walk.
Local surfer Aidan finds a clean right.
Earlier in the morning, the water was rough, then it was choppy until the wind backed around and got some offshore north in it. Then it lightened up, producing the glassy conditions shown. Beautiful texture on the water.
A clean green face is where you find it.
Local surfer Aidan on his backhand finding some speed to beat that lip.
Finn Barry with plenty of speed off the bottom turn for what comes next….
.. .smashing the lip. This was a very classy move.
Slight enlargement of previous photo to permit examination of some of the detail.
All the speed washed off, then accelerating back down the face to go again.
One of a number of ways to exit the ride when a wave starts to close out.
Local surfer Aidan with speed to spare.
Aidan putting that speed to good use with this cutback to return to the steepest part of the wave.
Aidan leaving the wave.
This is the first of four shots in a sequence showing Aidan getting a little barrel towards the end of his session.
The lip enclosing Aidan inside the wave.
You will have to take my word for it, but Aidan is behind this curtain. You can just see the nose of his board a third of the way up the wave at the point where it is breaking.
Proof that he made it through. That’s the collapsed barrel behind him.
Lone surfer eyeing off the shifting peaks advancing towards him in this moody sea.
Driving to the surf break shown above, I passed this eye-catching location. I understand the waterfalls are called, ‘The Falls’. Fair enough too. Heavy recent rain created a high volume of water flowing over the falls on this day. For much of summer there is just a trickle or they are dry. This house has an uninterrupted view of the ocean from close quarters.

Diving Gannets at Kennett River

The Australasian gannet is a great favourite of mine. I had the privilege of a visit to a gannet rookery earlier this year. It was in effect a private visit with just me and the volunteer guide. For my detailed descriptions of the gannet and its remarkable skills, as well as close up photos of this beautiful bird both on the ground and flying, see this earlier post in my blog (published 26 February 2020) at:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/26/australasian-gannets-breeding-on-southern-ocean-clifftops/

Getting close enough to gannets plunge diving to enable a good photo is very difficult. These photos were taken from three different vantage points on the shore near Sawmills beach at Kennett River. There must have been a huge area of fish for them to feed on as the gannets were diving and feeding over a huge area. Unfortunately no part of that area was quite close enough to shore for the sort of photos I would have liked. Most of the photos below are small cropped sections of images taken with a 600mm telephoto lens at full extension. As a result the sharpness of many of these images has suffered, but I think the content is sufficiently interesting to publish them anyway.

Aerial Reconnaissance

The gannet’s search for fish (such as pilchards) starts up high. Its long slender wings are made for such soaring.
Because the gannet can eat up to 5 fish caught on one dive, it probably dives not when it sees ‘a fish’, but when it sees a sufficient concentration of fish to make the prospect of success in diving and swimming around and catching fish quite high. In this shot you can see two birds on their way down. At top right the bird has banked to 90° before pointing its beak to the sea and building up speed for entry into the water. The bird two up from the bottom of the image is commencing his dive. The wings have been brought in to reduce their area and so reduce drag and allow the speed to build up. These birds are built for these aerobatic manoeuvres and have no hesitation in all the unusual angles and speeds. The transition from high speed flight to underwater swimming puts these birds in a class of their own.
L: Dive decision made. R: Still looking.
The wings assume this ‘W’ plan form as the gannet progressively converts itself into more of a missile to enable it to enter the water cleanly and penetrate to good depth before having to swim using its wings for any further depth.
The large webbed feet are deployed in the dive manoeuvre for aerodynamic purposes, something like airbrakes it seemed to me. Deploying these high drag feet offers one more means of speed control.
You can see the bird here in its low drag soaring configuration – feet tucked away out of the airflow, wings spread wide to maximise their area and the lift they produce.
Attention to task on pilchard reconnaissance.

Diving

As the bird nears the water, the legs go back (landing gear retracts) and the tail is used quite extensively to assist with manoeuvring to keep it on course for its target point on the surface of the water.
Just before entering the water the legs are streamlined against the body and the wings are further retracted becoming even smaller in area. The bird accelerates during this phase as it makes itself more like a spear and less like a bird.
Beyond the point of no return. This bird is about to get wet.

To illustrate the image quality problem resulting from photographing a small bird in flight from a significant distance, the highlighted area in the image on the left is the cropped section which was enlarged to produce the immediately preceding photo. Hence the lack of sharpness in the image.

This bird is about to hit the surface of the water. Gannets can reach speeds up to 80kph at the point of entry. Notice how aerodynamically clean it is. The small splash it makes when entering at such speeds reminds me of the small column of water that comes up from the surface of the Olympic diving pool after a perfect 10 entry into the water.
This and the following photo are a sequence of two shot in rapid succession. This dive commenced with an over-vertical manoeuvre.
This is the first of a sequence of four shots of a bird diving and entering the water.
Note the low splash made upon entry, and the streamlining of wings, tail feathers and legs.
The only sign that a bird has dived into the water at high speed.

Red Wattlebirds Feeding Their Young

The red wattlebird is second largest of the honeyeaters native to Australia. Only the yellow wattlebird is larger. They feed primarily on nectar, but insects are also part of their diet. Their eyes open in a week or so and they fledge 2-3 weeks after hatching. They are fed by both parents for a further 2-3 weeks. The young birds shown below could fly and were probably nearing the end of their dependent phase. But they didn’t budge from this bough while the parent was prepared to go back and forth finding and bringing them food.

Fledglings waiting for a feed

One of the two juveniles waiting on the branch for food delivery.
The parent always approached cautiously, sometimes flying into close range then alighting on a nearby branch before actually delivering the food. These birds had spotted the incoming food.
The young birds seemed to stay in close contact. The air was quite cool – perhaps they were huddling for warmth, although those downy feathers look as though they would do the job.
Eyelids shut, eyelids open, nestling.
Because receiving food can be a bit of rowdy and chaotic affair this bird has reflexively blinked while leaving its mouth wide open. Plainly it has faith the parent’s beak will find its mouth for the regurgitation transfer.

Fledglings Feeding

The parent on the left has his/her beak right inside the throat of the young bird with its mouth wide open. This ensures the regurgitation and transfer of food is efficient.
These two had just been fed and the parent bird (with its red wattle clearly visible below its eye) was about to head off to find some more food. The young birds remain ever optimistic leaving no doubt that they are ready for more food.
This shot was taken just after the parent had landed on the branch, and there was quite a bit of jostling and noise and moving around before the beak to beak transfer was performed with each in turn.
The young bird on the left receiving food, and the bird on the right showing no patience at all as it awaits its turn.
There is the appearance of an element of desperation in the young birds getting food. The young bird on the left is receiving food, and the other bird is sandwiched between it and the parent bird. The non-feeding bird stayed put, and didn’t seem fazed by being caught in the middle.

The attentive parent

This is the adult bird during one of its staged arrivals. The two young birds were nearby, but the adult landed on a branch and looked and listened very carefully before joining its young.
The adult looked alert and on the verge of alarm most of the time. The young birds just looked hungry all the time. The day after these photos were taken, the whole routine with the same cast was repeated in another tree about 50m away. Spring is a wonderful time of new life and hope.

A Great Cormorant Riding a Wave, a Swooping Magpie and a Gang of Geese

The ‘great cormorant’, formerly known simply as the ‘large black cormorant’, is unlikely to have objected to the name change. Flattering first names are the preserve of only a handful of Australian birds, such as the graceful honeyeater, the magnificent riflebird, the splendid fairy-wren, the superb fairy-wren and the powerful owl.

Heading the list of birds not quite so fortunate in this regard would almost certainly be the spangled drongo and the lesser noddy.

The great cormorant is said to prefer large bodies of still water. But they frequent coastal waters as well. In the Apollo Bay area, coastal waters are rarely still. This photo was taken from Point Bunbury earlier in the week. Great cormorants are often seen flying up and down the dunes diving and feeding just offshore from the beach south of Point Bunbury.
The great cormorant feeds mainly on fish which it catches by diving. It typically dives up to 20m in depth and stays submerged for up to a minute or so. It swims underwater using only its webbed feet, with its wings folded by its side. This contrasts with the Australasian gannet which uses both its webbed feet and its wings when it wishes to swim deeper than the 10m or so which it achieves from the momentum of its dive. This photo was also taken from Point Bunbury earlier in the week.
There was a moderate swell breaking between Point Bunbury and the mouth of the Barham River at Apollo Bay when this photo was taken. This great cormorant was cruising up and down the shorebreak diving and landing occasionally between waves, presumably feeding. It stayed well clear of the white water.
The great cormorant sports a distinctive bright yellow patch on the cheeks and is the largest of the Australian cormorant family. The other members are the black-faced cormorant, the pied cormorant, the little pied cormorant and the little black cormorant.

A great cormorant cutting it fine on a wave

These five photos are from a series taken at five frames per second in continuous shooting mode. On reviewing the photos of the day, I saw that they included a series of shots of a cormorant appearing to leave its departure from the face of the breaking wave a little late. In the first photo, it appears almost airborne. But the subsequent photos show it seemingly overtaken by the advancing and rising wave and failing to get airborne, culminating in it getting mixed up with the white water. The next photos following in the sequence (not shown below) do not show the cormorant at all. So I can’t confirm whether it became airborne or was submerged as the wave passed over it. If it was the latter, I have no doubt it would have survived given its impressive underwater swimming skills. Perhaps this particular bird hadn’t seen the memo about great cormorants having a preference for still water.

An alternative explanation of course is that this great cormorant, being a master of flying and diving, decided to have a crack at surfing. In that case, he rode the unbroken section of the wave very well, completing the ride by deftly turning back into the white water to flick out over the back as it began to close out on him.

Synchronised great cormorants

Silver gull coming in for a landing just before sunset

Yet another graceful glide to a perfect landing.

Swell breaking over Little Henty Reef

These two shots were taken from a corner of the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay, near the banks of the Barham River looking due south. The breaking waves on the south of Little Henty Reef (just off Hayley Point at Marengo) were at a distance of just over 2000m when I took this photo. The sea between the dunes and the white water is Mounts Bay. The swell on this occasion was only moderate, but it was big enough for the offshore bombies (3kms or so ESE of this reef and out of frame) to be working.

Magpies

The Australian magpie is very intelligent, sings most beautifully and in breeding season swoops on any person who it perceives to be a threat. The swooping behaviour is not designed to attack, but to deter. In flight, making contact “…could be very dangerous for the magpie because impact could break its neck.” (Australian Magpie (2nd Edition) (2019) Kaplan G, CSIRO Publishing, 206).

The magpie is a very vocal species. They message extensively to each other, and more generally to the world at large to defend territory or nests. They can recognise individual magpie voices. They have a quiet warbling song, and a much louder powerful carolling. The carolling is often used in territorial defence, but a group of magpies can also carol in chorus after a predator has been successfully repelled – a bit like a football team singing their club song after a win. Magpies also duet, imitating each other’s call. (Australian Magpie, 185-189). Their carolling is one of the most beautiful bird sounds I have heard.

Generations of magpies have lived in the trees along the creek beside my house. This joyous carolling is a common and welcome sound.

There is evidence suggesting that magpies “…can distinguish between individual human faces and learn who is kind or hostile to them”. (Australian Magpie, 127). The magpies whose territory includes my house know that a carefully chosen small snack is sometimes on offer. Over the years I have had many fly from some distance to my feet on the lawn or the deck rail where I am standing when I call out “Maggie”. They will take a small snack if offered, but after eating it will sometimes just stay there a metre or so from me, looking at me. Of course I talk to them, and they are good listeners, leaving when they are ready.

Sometimes they initiate contact with me by landing on the deck rail outside the window closest to where I am inside the house and peering through the window as if to attract my attention. I usually respond by taking a small snack outside and as I walk towards the door to the outside deck, they hop or half fly along the railing to meet me when I come outside. I have made no effort to train them to do this, but one thing is clear, they have successfully trained me to come at their bidding.

Two of my grandchildren sharing the joy of contact with one of the local magpies.

The greens keeper at the local golf club. There is one magpie (a male) which nests in the trees in the background in this photo, which has declared Damian to be his enemy number one. So as Damian does his rounds of the fairways, greens and tees, this magpie regularly swoops on him in full nest-defence mode. The photos below were taken while I was talking to Damian with the mower turned off. The magpie engaged in a relentless cycle of aggressively swooping on him (but never touching him), then briefly retreating to a series of different locations in a close radius around Damian, from which the next sortie would be planned and executed. Interestingly, the magpie never showed any interest in me whatsoever, and on some occasions actually landed near me as it planned its next swoop on Damian. It clearly recognised Damian as its target person.
Most magpies never breed. Only a small minority of birds have surviving offspring. One study suggests that only 14% of all magpies ever reproduce. (Australian Magpie, 99). Accordingly, “….breeding magpies are the high achievers of magpie society. They have survived years of hardship, fought hard to get a territory and have been able to find a partner. The magpies that breed are healthy, mature, experienced and possibly the best stock we have.” (Australian Magpie, 210). In short, Damian’s nemesis is a Top Gun magpie. This tree branch was one of the perimeter points from which it swooped on Damian. The body language of this bird tells the story of his immediate intention.
Damian has taken to wearing flexible nylon wire ties on his cap to encourage the magpie to keep its distance. The magpie here does not look at all deterred.
Magpies use wing flapping and beating, as well as beak clapping as strong and aggressive warning signals. (Australian Magpie, 185). This bird was totally in the zone whether half a metre from Damian’s head, or on the ground regrouping for the next fly past. It seems to have a bit of a wild look in its eye here.
So much for the deterrent value of nylon wire ties. This bird has never actually physically struck Damian. But it seems to revel in swooping him.
The message is clear.
One of the varied approach paths for a close proximity fly past was below the radar at almost ground level. I love the focus on this bird as it manoeuvres getting ready to climb up for another display right in Damian’s face. The undercarriage hasn’t even been retracted here.
All guns blazing.
Compared to the earlier shot of the bird below the radar, this one shows even more intensity as the ‘fists’ are clenched. The target is in the cross-hairs of that laser-like stare and this approach was at speed.
Damian remained impassive, but the magpie was continuously otherwise.
Yet another perimeter location from which to continue the mission. What a beautiful bird. Feathers slightly ruffled by the wind and I suspect by all that acrobatic manoeuvring.
Climbing away after the final fly past at high speed with landing gear retracted. Full sound effects.

Cropped enlargements from two of the above photos, showing the detail of this magnificent bird in full defence mode.

Apollo Bay Harbour Residents and Visitors

These are domestic geese, who belong to nobody, and to everybody in Apollo Bay. They live in and around the harbour. They are arrogant, very pushy when they think food is in the offing and they often get on each other’s goat resulting in some cranky honking and hissing and extended-neck fake charges at each other. They swaggered towards me with a superior and proprietorial air. It was significantly less than a welcome. I felt as though I had wandered into a bad neighbourhood. So I avoided direct eye contact, kept moving and felt grateful to be ignored.
The gang leader.
This goose seemed to be drinking, but it would have been salt water. I can’t find any suggestion anywhere that it has some sort of water desalination filter (such as is found in certain seabirds e.g. penguins, albatrosses, pelicans) – but maybe it does.
It was definitely eating this sea lettuce (green algae).
Goose giving me an unblinking stare from close quarters. I blinked first.
Spur-winged plover.
The sooty oyster-catcher and the Australian pied oyster catcher. They spend much of their life on rocky tidal shorelines. These strongly built birds use “…powerful pecks, stabs or hammering to open heavily armoured prey including mussels, limpets, chitons and sea urchins.” (Menkhorst, P and others, The Australian Bird Guide, 2017, CSIRO Publishing. 122). The sooty oyster catcher nests on offshore islands and sea stacks. The pied oyster catcher nests “…on ground in open settings near shore, especially on beaches and dunes…” (Menkhorst, P & others, 122). These birds have many common features, and share the same habitat. I find it interesting that they evolved in different directions with their contrasting plumage. What evolutionary purpose is served by this difference?
Australian pied oyster catcher and silver gull ignoring the ‘birds of a feather’ principle.
Crested terns. I always think of the crest on this bird as being like some sort of edgy hairdo that only a cool bird would sport. Not sure what’s going on with the wing action here – could be drying their wings.
Crests lowered (not fallen) and preening taking priority over feeding for this pair.
Apollo Bay harbour, with the air full of crested terns and lesser crested terns wheeling in all directions not long after one of their periodic group takeoffs.

Classic Spring Weather in Apollo Bay

Spring arrived as if a switch had been flicked. The air is warmer, the sun is brighter and the ocean somehow no longer looks wintry. Well, at least that was how it looked before the gale force winds arrived.

All these photos were taken in the first 7-8 days of spring 2020.

A morning ocean swim under a clear blue sky

This beach is 300m from my front door. It’s not always this calm.
I was the only person in the water when I swam. The wind was very light and on my back as I entered the water.
The figures on the beach in the centre of the image are Sue and Marion, swimming friends of mine. They were walking north to enjoy the swim back to the harbour wall in these conditions. I have taken better portraits of my friends. This was taken during a pause in my swim when I was directly out from the surf life saving club.
Glassy green waves standing up over the sandbar.
Behind the wave as it breaks. That’s not rain hitting the water, but spray which the offshore wind was blowing over the back of the wave as it broke. It falls like rain, and pings on my wetsuit hood or cap just as rain does.
More spray being blown over the back, not rain. Marriners Lookout on the horizon.

A cold front passes over Apollo Bay

We woke to near gale force winds this morning. A cold front was approaching and the north westerly wind increased in strength as it got closer. I timed my morning swim to coincide with the arrival of the front. Cloud cover increased and the wind slowly backed around from NNW to NW and eventually around to the W. It progressively eased as the front moved through and headed for Melbourne and eastern Victoria.

Unlike swimming conditions in recent days, the sun struggled to put in an appearance. The best it could manage through the thickening cloud was this pale white light which looked more like moonlight over the water than morning sun on a spring day.
As the cloud cover increased the sun’s last hurrah before the front and the rain arrived was this weak torchlight display over Cape Patton.
Then the sun disappeared behind the cloud that arrived with the front. I was swimming not far from shore over the sandbar which is where the waves were standing up green and clean (as shown) before breaking in the shallows. This wave is very similar to the wave in the fourth photo in this post. But the difference in the light (sunny skies compared to dull overcast) casts a very different colour and appearance on the water.

Some ocean swimming markers

Most of my ocean swimming is done between the Apollo Bay harbour wall and points north. Some trips are one-way, but mostly they are out and back swims. The Tuxion beach steps, the wooden lookout structure on the dunes and the surf life saving club building are frequently used distance measuring and/or turning points. The following three images show these locations. Use the slider to better locate these reference points.

These photos (and a few others in this post) were taken with my GoPro camera on a dull day while rain was falling. The GoPro (or at least the model I have) excels in bright light but not otherwise. Apologies for the lack of clarity, especially on the magnified parts of these three photos.

The steps at Tuxion beach on a day of very small swell. When we swim in solid swell it is usually much bigger at this spot than in the south of the bay near the harbour wall where in most conditions the water is more protected. There are days when we have swum north from the wall and paused directly out from these steps before swimming back that the size and force of the breaking surf between us and the shore (we swim well offshore on such days) is enough to make the 800m return swim back to the wall a decidedly more attractive option than swimming ashore through such shorebreak. Sometimes the distance from shore we have chosen to ensure we stay seaward of the big breaking waves proves to have been underestimated and we have to duck dive under a breaking wave as a big set comes through and breaks seaward of us.
The lookout. This is located just 100m or so south of the servo (another popular turn point and distance measurer) or Thompson St to be more formal. The lookout has a peculiar non-rectangular plan form such that there are quite a number of spots out to sea from which it can be viewed and from which it appears you are on a line at 90° from the shore. Accordingly, I consider myself directly east of it when the light pole some distance behind it appears in line with the lookout, as shown.
The Apollo Bay Surf Life Saving Club building. The marker here for me is the clearly defined track through the dunes in front of the clubhouse. I consider myself at this landmark when I can see the fence on both sides of this track.

Rain drops, not spray from a breaking wave

One reason for planning my ocean swim to coincide with the arrival of the cold front and the band of rain it brought, was the hope of swimming in strong winds and heavy rain for a short time, perhaps with a bit of thunder in the distance for atmosphere. As anybody who has done it can attest, swimming in such conditions is most enjoyable. But it was not to be. Instead of rampaging across Apollo Bay, this front just sauntered in to town, taking its time, being polite, saving its thunder for some other day and providing merely grey clouds and steady light rain with not much wind at all. I don’t believe any rain even registered in the gauge. This photo shows a few raindrops, not spray from breaking waves. The swim was still very pleasant. There was a small bit of swell between me and the harbour when I took this photo. Near the top left of the image the masts of yachts in the harbour are visible.

Silver gulls at Peterborough

The mature silver gull has bright orange bill, legs and eye rings. These birds were juveniles. The colour of the legs etc on these birds has been faithfully reproduced in these photos.

This photo was taken on a cold day. This bird looked very cosily covered in feathers to survive the cold air temps and colder sea temps on the Victorian coast in winter. This might be a ‘Peterborough and surrounds’ evolutionary thing for silver gulls. It can be very cold there by the sea in winter.
What a fine, healthy and self-assured looking specimen. Am I imagining just a hint of sternness in where its right eyebrow would be if it had one? It did not tolerate me getting very close to it. This was taken with a large telephoto lens.

A calm, golden evening at Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay harbour late afternoon. I generally consider buying a cruising yacht on these walks. But when I mention it to Liz, she says ‘Fine’, then adds, ‘Write to me.’ She has a way with words.
The fleet of working and recreational boats. Only one visiting boat that I could identify here. A local sailor could probably spot more.
Liz watching the lengthening shadows about to merge into evening light.
Long board rider enjoying small but golden waves as the sun disappeared behind the hills. Whether this was the last ride of the day or the first ride of the evening is a moot point.
Where Apollo Bay beach meets the harbour wall. The locals call this protected beach Mothers’ Beach.

Gale force winds ahead of another cold front

This cold front brought very strong winds to Victoria, especially along the coast. Close isobars, steep pressure gradient, stronger winds, wind blowing anticlockwise around a high and slightly angled across the isobars to the outside of the system etc etc

I woke to gale force winds rocking the house. I drove to Hayley Point as soon as it was light, as this is where the interesting stormy seas in the area are usually seen at their best. But as this weather event was a big wind, not a big swell, there wasn’t much to see in Mounts Bay. There was a bit of swell as shown above but it wasn’t getting a chance to stand up at all. The 35-40 knot wind was flattening the waves and blowing the breaking crests back at water level, not in the elegant rising and curving manes of white water seen behind big surf in normal offshore winds.
So I drove to Pt Bunbury (near the golf course in Apollo Bay). This is an easterly point surrounded by sea on three sides. With the wind howling in from the NW, there was a fetch of some kms of ocean between the north of the bay and Pt Bunbury. Of all the local vantage points the wind would be strongest here. This is because the stretch of relatively frictionless ocean over which the wind had blown since it left the land in the north of the bay was long enough to allow the wind to accelerate at sea level in a way it cannot accelerate at ground level over hills, trees, houses and other obstacles which create friction and which hold it back. So I chose an elevated green on the windward side of this point from which to measure the wind speed.

I measured the wind at Pt Bunbury at 41 kts (76kph). This is a Hall wind gauge used by hang glider pilots. It is calibrated in knots and is quite accurate. It can be used as shown to measure wind speed. Alternatively, it can be used (and I used it in this way) as an airspeed indicator when attached to the base bar of the hang glider.

Winds at just 2000 feet above means sea level were calculated by one of my weather apps to be over 50 knots (92kph). Many locations at elevations of this order and above experienced winds of this strength and more on this morning.

The wind was of sufficient strength while I was trying to take a photo of the wind gauge, that on more than one occasion I was blown back and had to take a backward step to stay upright. When the wind speed doubles, its force increases four fold, when it triples, the force increases nine-fold etc. So this 40 knot wind compared to a 10 knot wind had 16 times the force. It felt like it.

35-45 knot winds lashing Apollo Bay harbour and dunes. The sand I got in my eyes taking this video took two days to disappear.
Looking due east over the mouth of the Barham River as the gale force winds tore the tops off the waves, lifting water from the surface and turning whitewater into high speed smoking trails of spray. In small areas where the gusts are noticeably stronger the wind lifts more spray from the water. Spray blown from cresting waves during a gale is known as spindrift.
A marked area of spindrift offshore from Pt Bunbury.
Turbulent gale force winds, spindrift rising from the sea, shorebreak flattened by the wind, wave crests ragged and blown away, stormy seas to the horizon and a great crested tern soaring over it all. An adult great crested tern weighs only 275-370g. Its fine hollow bones and aerodynamically perfect array of feathers not only survive in this wild wind, but allow the bird to positively revel in it. This bird was not struggling at all in these conditions, and flew with its usual precision and purpose. What a delicate and wonderful counterpoint the presence of such a bird is to the mighty forces of the stormy ocean over which it flies.
There is a craypot buoy visible just right of centre and near bottom border of the image. This pot wasn’t checked while I was there. I wonder if crayfish have any idea there is a gale blowing above the surface of the water above them. I suspect they don’t. When swimming in rough water I often remind myself that it’s only rough on the surface. Crayfish could well do the same.
Little Henty Reef. This photo was taken from 2100m away on Pt Bunbury. Only small swell was breaking, but the spray was blowing downwind for hundreds of metres like white smoke streaming downwind from a bushfire. This spray consists of water droplets which have mass, which when blown off the top of a breaking wave would normally fall to the water surface close behind the wave. Streaming spray falls the same vertical distance in stronger winds, but in a 40+kt wind the spray travels much further horizontally while it is falling. Spray as shown here only occurs in very high winds.
Apollo Bay harbour in gale force winds. I suppose I should’ve taken a video to properly convey this fact. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

An ocean swim after the wind eased

An hour or so after I measured the wind at Pt Bunbury at 41 knots, this was the scene at Tuxion beach looking north. I went for a solo swim to the north and back again (1000m). The wind was still strong, but because it was offshore at this end of the bay, such swell as was there was completely flattened. Whitecaps are not visible because the wind must travel some distance before whitecaps are formed. The stronger the wind, the shorter the distance it takes to create wind waves and whitecaps.

Final Days of Winter in Apollo Bay

We had a quick taste of spring weather, then winter finished in style.

The high over Apollo Bay provided clear skies and a warmish day, while swell from the south west reached our shores ahead of the low pressure system that created it. This water was winter-cold to swim in. The preview of spring was followed immediately by winter’s last official hurrah. The photo shows the main beach (east facing) at Apollo Bay.
It was a small swell, but groomed nicely by the light offshore wind. This wave is typical of the close-out sets on the sandbank which parallels the shore on the main beach at Apollo Bay.
An eastern great egret normally found along the banks and exposed mud flats of the Barham River, amongst the trees and vegetation on the banks of Milford Creek seeking shelter from rough weather. It was very aware of my presence even though I was quite a distance away. It kept a close eye on me. Interestingly, on its home ground on the Barham River it is cautious, but treats me with much less regard and something more like disdain. This photo was taken from my east-facing verandah. To see photos of this bird in its more usual environment, see my post devoted to the elegant eastern great egret: https://southernoceanblog.com/2018/08/24/the-eastern-great-egret/ Another post on this blog also features this beautiful bird: https://southernoceanblog.com/2018/08/24/the-eastern-great-egret/
The late afternoon view from my back verandah on a still afternoon when salty mist from the surf hung in the air getting golder by the minute as the sun neared the hilly western horizon.
Tuxion Road. Also Cawood St. It was as peaceful and quiet as it looked. But next day winter returned with a strengthening cold northerly / nor’ westerly wind followed by a cold front and gale force winds with rain and hail.
The air temperature dips quickly once we are in the shadow of the hills. A neighbour beat us to the punch at putting a match to the wood fire in preparation for the cold night that followed.
For the few hours before dark a couple of days ago, the swell picked up sufficiently for surfers to consider it worth the paddle out at the Point. Some waves were ridden. Looking south past Hayley Point at Marengo. The wind picked up the next day and blew for days as the last cold front for winter marched over the state.
Photographer on the spot at Hayley Point to capture some late afternoon light on the surf.

Katey and I, recognising each other through the telephoto lenses, each had the same idea.

Photo by Katey Shearer
This photo was taken from a roadside parking spot on the GOR overlooking the surf break known locally as Sledgehammers. The point in the distance is Cape Patton, about 5kms as the gannet flies from where I was standing to take the photo. Another local surf break known as Boneyards, is about a third of the way between the point I was on and Cape Patton. I saw no surfers in the water with the naked eye nor did I notice any through the telephoto lens as I took these photos. I was not surprised given the strength of the wind and the amount of water moving over and around the various reefs between me and Cape Patton.

If you are not particularly interested in surfers and waves, the photos under ‘Lone surfer – photo 1’ will probably be quite enough to get the general idea of a solo surfer well offshore in these seas and weather conditions. Photos 2 & 3 show the same surfer surrounded by different waves.

Lone surfer – photo 1

So it was with quite some surprise that I later learned there was a solitary surfer out in the very waters I had photographed. Upon checking the photos the evening after taking them, I noticed what I initially thought might have been a seal some distance out to sea. On zooming in I could see that I had unwittingly taken a photo of a lone surfer, wetsuited and hooded, sitting on his board way out in the middle of this cold, windy and moving ocean. He would’ve paddled out at Boneyards. I believe the tide wasn’t ideal for surfing this location at that time, which may explain why there was only one surfer out. Seeing a solo surfer out in big waves and wild seas in winter is not an uncommon event along the west cost of Victoria. Respect.

The two photos following are cropped enlargements taken from the preceding photo to better show the location of the surfer.

An alternative method of locating the lone surfer: use the arrows in the circle to slide left and right between these two images to see the surfer’s location on the magnified portion of the second photo.

Lone surfer – photo 2

This sequence of images follows the same format as those of the surfer in photo 1: original photo, two increasingly enlarged cropped portions of that photo, and two slide images with the area around the surfer magnified on the second image.

Lone surfer photo 3

The dark object on the centre left of the image is exposed reef as the water sucks out towards the approaching breaking wave.
Solid swell from the south marching directly into very strong winds from the north.

Winter in Apollo Bay

The air temperature was 7°C and the wind was blowing at 25-30 knots. The wind chill was around 1°C. There was thunder from time to time and being wet from the near constant rain created a further refrigeration effect. These were the conditions in which some of the photos below were taken. The camera and I were rugged up and I stayed dry (as did my camera) and warm for the time it took to take these photos. Being out in conditions like this always makes me feel really alive and energised.

A deep low, a couple of fronts and a blast of cold air from Antarctica

While the winter solstice in Australia was on 21 June 2020, the coldest part of winter around Apollo Bay always seems to be late August. The sea temperature is coldest then, and deep lows and cold fronts such as we experienced in recent days are common.

View of the Barham River, and Marengo on the point in the distance (as seen from the Great Ocean Road). You know there’s exciting weather on the way when clouds like this appear. The developing cumulo-nimbus cloud on the horizon typically occurs when cold moist air is lifted as a wedge of cold air (the cold front) pushes underneath it. The diffuse boundary and developing anvil shape on top of this cloud indicate that it is still developing. The rising moist air condenses and releases latent heat which causes the air to rise further and the process repeats. This is the start of the self-contained system of a thunderstorm cloud. The cloud shown had formed out to sea and was a sure sign of the instability in the atmosphere (rapid drop of temperature with altitude) and of the influx of cold moist air into the area. The stage was set for a day or two of squalls and thunderstorms, which is what occurred.
The place where the Barham River enters the sea can be seen at the top right edge of the image. Heavy rain had lifted the water level in the Barham and increased its flow out to sea. The mixing of the muddy fresh water with the sea is clearly visible in and beyond the surf zone on the left half of the image where the brown river water flowing out to sea is clearly delineated from the green ocean water.
The view due south from Hayley Point at Marengo. Departing squall on the left horizon and approaching squall on the right. The apparent calmness of the inshore area is a function of the strong offshore NW wind, and the fact that the wind eased a little between squalls. While there was a wait between sets, there were solid waves coming ashore here.

Below are the usual portents and omens which are always enjoyable reading for those interested in the weather. They are a clarion call to do many things, including making sure there is enough dry kindling and chopped firewood to ensure the open fire can burn continuously during such a cold spell. This weather pattern brought snow down to 500m across many areas in western Victoria which don’t normally see snow.

Photographers’ Eyrie at Hayley Point

Many of my wave photos are taken from this spot. The air temp was around 7°C this afternoon. Wind chill was in very low single figures given the wind strength. It rained heavily most of the time. I was rugged up in waterproof walking boots, my motorbike waterproof overpants, a fleecy lined hoodie, a North Face hooded ski jacket, a NZ possum hair beanie and hand warmers kindly knitted by my good friend Boo. The camera is more difficult to protect. But this raincoat for the camera and telephoto lens works very well, provided I keep my back to the wind. Rain drops and running water on an exposed lens (which occur when facing into the weather even with a lengthy hood such as this lens has) do not make for useable photos. The camera cover is an ingenious bit of equipment. I am confident I could take the covered camera under a shower and it would stay dry. On this day I spent over 90 minutes outside with heavy rain falling most of the time. The camera raincoat is not quite long enough for my 150-600mm telephoto lens (being designed for a 200mm lens), which is why the very tip of my lens and the hood attached are in the rain. But there are no moving parts there so the rain does no harm. And so it was that I was able to spend an hour and a half or more in near constant rain in complete warmth and comfort with my camera totally protected yet fully functional. It is helpful to know your way around the various controls on the camera by feel when it is covered like this. Taking photos of the heavens on moonless nights has been good training in this regard.

There was a lot of water moving at Little Henty Reef

There have been much bigger swells in this area. But the deep low centred in the southern ocean south-west of Tasmania and its associated storms still created enough energy to bring sizeable groundswell to the Apollo Bay coast and beyond. As the low moved through the area, the wind eventually swung around to the south-west. But on the day these photos were taken the front had yet to pass and the wind was from the north-west. Such a wind is offshore for the waves arriving at Little Henty Reef which means the waves are shaped perfectly and groomed by the wind with giant manes of white water blowing back as they break.

This sequence of four images shows the stages of a wave first appearing in the large crescent shape dictated by the reef contours just north of Little Henty Reef, then peaking, breaking and finally crashing over the shallow reef with a perfect dark aqua barrel even on this gloomy wet and windy day. These photos were taken between squall lines.

A lot of water moving around.

The light and the texture of the ocean surface changes when it rains

Heavier rain darkened the day and the mood of the sea

I don’t know whether it’s the low light, the indistinct horizon, the heavy rain and stormy conditions, the size and darkness of these waves or all of the above which vividly conveys the majesty and power of groundswell such as this. Great spectres from the deep. Witnessing such a sight from the deck of a sailing ship 200 years ago with wind howling through the rigging and sizeable swell with breaking waves in very close proximity would surely have struck terror into the hearts of such seamen. On this coast, history records that this scenario is not idle speculation.
Streaming white mane of spray flowing behind this wave throwing out a small lip before it breaks. By the way, that’s a crested tern top right flying in the heavy rain over the waves. I always marvel at the ease and command of seabirds in stormy conditions and big seas. They truly are above it all and such conditions pose no threat to them. They are the masters of their domain.

Brief sunny interlude late in the day before the next squall line

This photo was taken from Hayley Point looking across the southern end of Mounts Bay towards the foothills of the Otway Ranges. The day’s weather was a series of squalls. Sometimes between the heavy rain there would be just grey skies, and sometimes sunshine. The lowering angle of the late afternoon sun worked its usual magic on the ancient weathered folds of the hills behind Apollo Bay. The dark clouds beyond added to the spectacle.
Looking across Mounts Bay to Apollo Bay and Wild Dog Creek valley in the hills beyond. Between the town and Wild Dog Creek valley is a distance of 2.5kms or so across the waters of Apollo Bay.
About 800m offshore at the southern end of Mounts Bay is the outer reef of Little Henty Reef. It provides overnight accommodation for travelling seals, and is home to a colony of 100 or so Australian fur seals. The rainbow in the eastern sky is backdrop to the small silhouette of what I believe to be an Australasian gannet. For a post of mine devoted to the remarkable and beautiful Australasian gannet, published on this blog on 26 February 2020, see: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/26/australasian-gannets-breeding-on-southern-ocean-clifftops/

Images from a couple of recent swims

Marengo

Winter in Apollo Bay is not all storms and big swell. These photos were taken with my ageing GoPro at Marengo a week or so ago. It was a cold sunny day with not much wind. There was no swell to speak of. Conditions allowed me to swim about 500m north from the small bay at the southern end of Mounts Bay into the more open bay (and back again). There are many occasions when such a swim is imprudent or dangerous. This day was neither. The ocean was at rest. The underwater visibility was also very inviting. The water was cold and clean. I was the only person in the water and Liz was the only person on the beach.

The sea bed in the bay inside Little Henty reef slopes away gently to the east (to the right in this image) a short distance offshore.
Closer to shore the seabed is relatively level.
Just one of the reasons I love ocean swimming.

Apollo Bay Harbour

As noted in some previous posts, on days with big easterlies, or when the bay and Marengo are not inviting for one reason or another, there is nearly always the harbour. Clean relatively sheltered water can usually be found here.

This was a bit of a stormy day. You can see the raindrops on the water. With the wind from the north west there was enough fetch across the small harbour to create chop on the eastern side where I swam. The water was clean and cold (around 12°C).
The jetty beside the public boat ramp. The seabed below me here is covered with healthy dark green seagrass. For underwater photos taken on a day of good visibility see my previous post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/12/12/an-hour-amongst-the-seagrass/
The surface of the sea does wonderful things to light, whether in the pristine ocean waters of the reefs near Marengo, or the Apollo Bay harbour.

Incidental beauty around Apollo Bay

The ubiquitous arum lily. When I rode my motorbike around Australia in 2010 I saw these all over the place. I knew nothing about them but I thought they were beautiful. I have since learned that they are a declared pest in WA. I have also discovered that, unexpectedly, all parts of the plant are poisonous causing a variety of very nasty symptoms if ingested. I think I liked it better when I knew none of this. Before I was burdened with such knowledge (a simpler time when I in fact thought they were called Aaron lilies) I was never tempted to eat one. I didn’t need to know they were poisonous. I shall continue to view them as simply beautiful.

Onion weed on the left. I was disappointed to learn that this delicate and understated but beautiful little plant was not called something more prosaic like ‘the deferential dew drop’ or ‘the reading light’. I was also disappointed on Googling this species to be directed first up to a site informing me ‘how to get rid of onion weed’. This plant apparently has no friends. On the right is a flower called ‘blossom’ (my research on this flower was brief).

I think I will stick to declaring beauty wherever and in whatever I find it, unburdened by unhelpful knowledge.

Grevillea, and king protea (before opening hours).

The exquisite and luminescent king protea.

Disclaimer: I am not a formally qualified botanist. In fact, as a gardener, my skills end at mowing bold spirals in my front lawn.

Ocean swimming, Lorne at Dusk and a Storm Cloud

Winter on the shores of the ocean at Apollo Bay is a time of open fires, strong winds, big seas, cold fronts, cold oceans, cold swims and driving rain. It’s a wonderful season to be in this wild and remote part of the world.

Winter Ocean Swimming at Marengo

I woke up to blue skies, a light offshore wind and no swell this morning. I measured the sea temperature at Marengo at 11°C. On July 6 I measured it at the same spot at 14°C. Late August is typically when the ocean is coldest at Apollo Bay. I have never measured it below 11°C here and in recent years it has not dipped below 12° in winter.

A perfect day for a solo swim at Marengo with my iPhone 8 in its trusty waterproof housing.

Looking north from the little bay at the southern end of the beach at Mounts Bay (Marengo). These big skies and vast ocean seascapes are easy to take for granted. But so too is the other world just below the surface of the ocean. So I decided to swim around and take some photos underwater of the beauty I regularly swim over.
Most of the seabed inside Little Henty Reef is clean sand without any seaweed. But along the shore of the mainland (Hayley Point) there is rock shelf which supports an abundance of kelp and seaweed and all sorts of marine life. The fringe around Little Henty Reef a couple of hundred metres offshore is the same. If you are interested in seeing underwater photos taken around Little Henty Reef see these two previous posts of mine:
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/06/30/winter-swim-around-little-henty-reef/
and
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/
The rock shelf surrounding Hayley Point extends well below the high tide mark. The rocky areas underwater or in the tidal zone are covered with limpets, barnacles, seaweed and sponges of all sorts. We often see fish in this environment.
Hayley Point and a glimpse of the the underwater zone between the rock shelf and the clear sandy seabed in the middle of the small bay.
Underwater gardens fringing the reefs.
Only a few metres north of where the previous three underwater shots were taken the seabed of the little bay looks like this. It’s not all perfectly flat, and there are channels and significant contours when you get offshore a bit towards Little Henty Reef, especially at the southern end of the reef. The colour of the water varies on a bright sunny day according to whether the sun is ahead of, beside or behind me when I take the shot. I enjoy swimming over these sandy seabeds disappearing into the distance when the water is so clear. Currents here can sometimes give swimmers the same experience.
After 40 minutes in the water I was heading back to the beach when I came across these two swimmers.
Headstands and duck dives are a critical part of the ocean swimmer’s repertoire, especially duck dives (for diving under breaking waves when swimming out to deeper water beyond the surf zone).
Semi-synchronised swimming.
Hayley Point in the background, and some of the Marengo residential area.
Duck diving.
After warming up with a few duck dives and headstands, the swimmers headed north between Little Henty Reef and the shore for a distance of 500m or so and back.
Jenny just entering the water – another experienced local ocean swimmer.
Looking south towards Hayley Point and the two low lying reefs of Little Henty Reef.
There was tiny but clean swell breaking at times in the little bay which, combined with the bright sunlight and clear water, set the scene for yet another shot of mine of a breaking wave from underwater. The dark area on the sand is the temporary shadow of the more opaque whitewater on the breaking wave.

Solo Swim at Marengo

My friends and I have all had a lot of solo swims at this beach. Even if the swell and currents are a deterrent to going outside the little bay, there is usually the opportunity to do laps of between 100m and 300m parallel to the beach depending on the tide and swell. This day, my 1000m was done as 4 x 250. I was pleased with my almost 2:00/100m (20mins per km) average pace. For no particular reason, 2:00/100m is a pace benchmark for me, and reaching or beating it always puts a smile on my face. But the great thing about ocean swimming in this part of the world is that with the watch left at home, swimming always bring joy anyway, regardless of the pace.

A Harbour Swim at Apollo Bay

When both Marengo and the bay at Apollo Bay are either not safe or not suitable for swimming, the local harbour offers an alternative. I have swum here when it was rough with a howling northerly coming straight in the harbour mouth. I have often swum here when big easterly seas pound the local beaches, as the eastern side of the harbour water is calm in such conditions in the lee of the breakwater. I have swum here when it was so dirty from dredging that the visibility was zero and the dirt clung to my face and wetsuit after I had left the water. I have swum here when it was dirty because it was rough. On one such swim, in relatively shallow water, I encountered one of the large resident stingrays. We gave each other a fright. Stingrays are not uncommon in the harbour. Finally, I have swum here in the black of night, during a 100 day challenge for which I had to swim at least 1000m every day for 100 days. The only option on one particular day was the harbour after dark. That was not an enjoyable swim and I have no plans to repeat it.

But the day these photos were taken, the harbour was picture perfect. The water was clear, calm and various shades of blue and green. It may have looked like a tropical paradise, but the water temp was 12°C and the air temp less. But it was still a very pleasant swim.

This pole is a convenient turn point for a 300m lap along the north-south breakwater.
Clean and clear water on a day like this. Our 300m salt water lap pool. A very acceptable plan B when the bay and Marengo are not suitable for a swim. But it is best swum on a high tide so that the shallows along the breakwater are deep enough for swimming.

Lorne Pier after Sunset

The sun had set as I was driving through Lorne, and the fading light on a layer of cumulus cloud on the eastern horizon beyond the Lorne pier demanded a few photos.

A black and white version and a version with variation of the actual pastel colours. An experiment I won’t persist with.

The next two shots have are the colours I saw. These photos vary in the number of surfers present, and in the inclusion of the tree and headland on the right in the second image. I like these, and if I were submitting them to a surfing magazine, there is no doubt the paddling surfers would add to the appeal of the picture.


But this image was my final choice. I like the balance of the opposing lines of the small wave and the jetty, and the clouds were also a little more detailed and vibrant here than in some of the other shots I took. I like the simplicity of the shot. It has very few elements.

Early Evening Storm Cloud over Bass Strait

I was driving down the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay and saw this cumulo-nimbus cloud off-shore in Bass Strait near Hutt Gully (between Anglesea and Aireys Inlet). The cloud was sufficiently well developed to warrant a shot, and the rainbow in the falling rain beneath the cloud capped it off. The ocean is a powerful presence vital to the shot, but its relative calmness mean it’s not a distracting presence. I have piloted light aircraft past such clouds many times, a bit too close a few times, and right through the middle of one in the dark on only one occasion. The cumulonimbus cloud has long fascinated me. Majesty and awesome power on a huge scale.
My account of my flight through an active thunderstorm at night appears in an earlier post on this blog, under the sub-heading ‘The June 1978 Flight’. Here’s the link to that post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/20/whiskey-india-lima-a-flying-reminiscence-or-two/

The Coastal Eucalypt Forest

Pristine coastal eucalyptus forest breathing. This valley was at St George River, just west of Lorne. The air was moist and there had been recent heavy rain. There was no wind, but this mist was floating slowly through the treetops and fading as it did so, like a sigh.

Gale Force Easterlies at Apollo Bay

On the second weekend in August 2020 a high pressure system paused for a few days as it made its way eastwards over Victoria. There was a strong low off the south east coast of the state. The isobars over the state got closer and the wind got stronger producing two days of easterlies above 30 knots with gale force gusts at times. This was followed by a further two days of progressively abating easterly winds. The driving rain and low cloud that usually accompanies such a system were present, but just a little north of the coast this time.

The main beach at Apollo Bay faces directly east which means easterlies are onshore winds. Strong easterlies create rough seas with white water well offshore and right up to the high water mark on the beaches of the local east-facing bays. Such conditions are bad for boating and worse for swimming. I didn’t see any boats arrive at or leave the harbour over the weekend. I don’t swim in the ocean in these conditions. Apart from the general rough seas, the local rips and currents seem to go into overdrive in such conditions and there is a lot of water moving around in the 200-300m closest to shore.

The harbour is a good alternative in such conditions as the 475m long north-south aligned breakwater protects the harbour water immediately in its lee. During this period of strong easterlies I swam in the calm waters of the eastern side of the harbour but also tried another potential alternative I have considered for some time, the Barham River. A few GoPro snaps from that swim are included in this post.

Gale force onshore winds at Apollo Bay

The view out to sea looking due east from Point Bunbury. There are two black cormorants flying in the rough air below wave height
The eastern face of the north-south breakwater at Apollo Bay harbour last Saturday. Fishermen often stand on top of this wall casting out well beyond the rocks. They apparently all had other things to do on this day, or were already swimming out of frame to the right in this image.
The footpath on the north-south breakwater. Spray and drenching large volumes of seawater were regularly making this footpath a very wet place to be.
I watched this couple walk from the northern end of the breakwater through blowing water and spray such as that behind them. They were wet, but seemed unfazed and looked as though they were enjoying themselves.
This fixed buoy is about 300m off the harbour mouth, and about 600m from the buoy to Cawood St beach, or Tuxion as the locals call it. With my local swimming friends, on numerous occasions we have swum out to this buoy, but in much calmer conditions.
View from the corner of the wall at the harbour to the steps at Tuxion. The straight line distance is 800m. We have swum from the corner of the harbour wall (where I stood to take this photo) to Tuxion and back many times. Just below the low red roof in the gap in the trees near the shore is a set of wooden steps. This is usually our aiming point for that swim. But I have never swum this course in conditions like this. The telephoto lens foreshortens the image making it look closer than 800m.
Tuxion to end of breakwater with beacon is about 900m direct track. (Use the slider to see each image in full). With local swimming friends this route has been swum a number of times as part of a two km triangle, but not in conditions shown in the image on the right!
The contrasting sea states at the harbour mouth.
The wind at this time was so strong that even over the very short fetch of the harbour whitecaps were forming on the western side. More than one sailing ship has been wrecked on this beach and surrounding east facing beaches such as neighbouring Mounts Bay by being washed ashore in conditions such as these. The steamship S.S.Casino wreck lies about 400m offshore in a position roughly near the centre of this image and about two thirds of the way across the bay..
Stormy seas, safe haven.

Barham River Swim

The Barham River flows out to the sea just south of Point Bunbury at Apollo Bay. I have long thought it might be a pleasant swim along this river. I swam a lot in the Barwon River in Geelong as a boy, so the notion of swimming in muddy water with muddier banks doesn’t bother me. Of course, clear ocean water is far and away my first preference. The vision I had in mind for re-visiting river swimming was tranquil water as shown in the photo below, with the rich farmland on the fertile river flats and the distant foothills of the Otways offering a continuous series of calendar shots to my left and right.

This little jetty is 500m north of the bridge which carries the Great Ocean Road over the Barham River. I have been told platypuses have been seen here, but my turn is yet to come. This photo was not taken on the day we swam in this river.
The strong easterly winds meant that an alternative to the ocean was required for a swim. I had a few swims in the harbour while the easterlies were blowing, but on Sunday a swimming friend (Deb) and I decided to swim in the fresh cold water of the Barham River.
This is the Barham River from the GOR bridge showing its proximity to the ocean. It gets shallower from this point so we decided to swim upstream from the other side of this bridge.
The river is always flowing to the sea, but I underestimated the strength of the current on this day. There were numerous stops to marvel at how much of our planned swim remained still ahead of us! All stops saw us going backwards towards the sea. There had been recent rain which both filled the river to a good depth, made it colder than usual and perhaps increased the speed of the current a bit. I measured the temperature at 9.9°C. If we kept our heads down and a maintained a good stroke rate we made slow but steady progress towards the next bridge upstream on the river. We experimented with the middle of the river and both sides to see if the current was less in one of those places. It wasn’t.
We eventually made it to this bridge over the river and found a slimy submerged tree to hold while we had a look around. We then let go of our slippery underwater log mooring point and started swimming north. The loose plan was another 300m to a little jetty on a bend in the river.
But the river narrowed upstream from this bridge, and when we headed in that direction my progress as assessed by looking at the rate the river bank was moving past me suggested it could take quite a while to swim the next 300m to the little jetty. The current seemed a bit stronger as the river narrowed. So the loose plan to continue against the current was abandoned and we did a U turn. The current rapidly took us downstream even while floating on our backs. Deb seemed impressed with this form of transport. Note to self: next river swim start at the little jetty on the bend and finish at the Great Ocean Road bridge!
Occasionally we did bother to swim and the pace was very impressive. I had to be quick to get this shot of Deb gliding past like an Olympian with time for a ‘thumbs up’ without losing any pace whatsoever.
The river might have been murky, but when going downstream but it did take care of navigation and propulsion while we floated on our backs enjoying watching the scenery slide past..
Barham River water visibility report: zero and brown.

Measuring the temperature after the swim (9.9°C). The course we swam as recorded by the Garmin watch.

High and Dry

Each receding tide during a period of strong onshore winds leaves a higher than usual volume of kelp, seaweed and other things that washed ashore. Bull kelp (also know as string kelp) and other brown algae and seaweed line the high watermark when the easterly winds blow.

I see a stingray in this shape.
I see a large fish here.
Detail of the previous image.
This strong cord like length of algae was connecting two large tangles of seaweed. I estimated its length at round 9-10m. It was under a bit of tension but showed no signs of snapping. The two photos below show clearly that it is in fact organic, and not some man made cord caught up in the seaweed.
Small bivalve mollusc passengers on this cuttlefish skeleton (which is a central part of the cuttlefish buoyancy system) finally reach the end of their time at sea, well after the life of the cuttlefish had ended. Cuttlefish are in the cephalopod group of advanced molluscs, which includes squid and octopuses. The living cuttlefish looks a bit like a preliminary draft of an octopus. It has eight arms, and two tentacles with suckers, which are retracted when not in use. They can change colour for camouflage purposes, but mostly opt for a striped patten. They are a favourite food of dolphins.

 These photos record two consequences of not keeping an eye on the tide charts and the approaching waves. They are related in that I was busy taking a photo of the pufferfish (or porcupine fish – one type of the large and varied group of puffer fish) and paying no attention to the sea when the incoming tide brought a small wave to my feet. Well, to my legs to be precise. The pufferfish appears to have come too close to shore in the 30 knot easterly to be able to resist being washed ashore and stranded.

Pufferfish contain a powerful poison called ‘tetrodotoxin’. It is said to be many times more dangerous than cyanide. It’s stored in their skin and internal organs. The spines are merely sharp and don’t contain the toxin. Touching a pufferfish is not a good idea. Eating one could kill you. They are found in shallow temperate waters world wide.

Been waiting for a couple of hours now. Beginning to wonder if the volunteers with the wet towels. buckets of water, hugs and rescue attempts are coming at all. Sometimes it sucks being a porcupine fish.
As found. Gift wrapped by the ocean.

The Aire River Mouth

The Aire River is only about 40kms in length. It flows from its point of origin in the Otway Ranges, south east of Beech Forest, through the Great Otway National Park (in which it flows over the Hopetoun Falls). It then winds down through the foothills of the Otways and across the fertile coastal flats of the Glenaire Valley before finally flowing into the Southern Ocean south of Hordern Vale.

The Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls on its way to the Southern Ocean. See my earlier post on these falls, at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/04/04/idyll-moments/
The Aire River flowing beside the giant sequoias in the Otway Ranges (between Beech Forest and the Great Ocean Road).

Our position at the Aire River mouth was recorded using a Spot Satellite Messenger. This GPS device works anywhere on the face of the globe – it can record position very accurately. Satellites then relay the position, superimposed on a satellite photo of the area, to a ground station which in turn relays it to email and/or mobile phone contacts I have nominated in advance of using the device. I used this device regularly when I spent 7 weeks riding my motorbike around Australia in 2010, out of mobile telephone range for much of the trip.

The narrow light coloured track is part of the Great Ocean Walk. Aire River appears to be a major camping point on this walk which extends from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles.
The Aire River nearing the end of its journey to the ocean. The foothills of the Otways are behind the fertile arable land in the Glenaire valley. The river widens and slows with extensive areas of marshland as it nears the bridge at the Aire River campground (from which this photo was taken).
The final 1500m or so to the river mouth and ocean beach is via this track covered in a good depth of soft sand. Our all-wheel SUV does a great job, but would have quickly come to a halt on this road.
Elizabeth the Intrepid.
Near the river mouth, the incoming tide was surging vigorously upstream.
As the satellite photo earlier in this post shows, the river does a hairpin turn just before it reaches the sea. I’m sure the final path of the river to the sea across the beach varies over time according to the amount of water flowing down the river and the size of the tides and waves in the ocean. These piles are the remains of a bold but unsuccessful attempt long ago to build a jetty extending from the river mouth out to sea. The ocean proved too rough for the project to be successful. The nearby Glenaire valley is very fertile and has long been settled. In the early days those relying on shipping had to keep the river mouth open using horse teams and equipment to clear the sand away. The waves in the background when this photo was taken perhaps give some idea of the daunting task which the jetty project faced.
On this day the surf zone extended well out to sea from the beach near the river mouth. I was tempted to caption this, “It was OK once you got out the back.” But it wouldn’t have been.
On the soft sandy track down to the beach we came across these fresh footprints. My immediate unbidden thought was that it was left by some prehistoric creature that had such a long stride it only touched the track once in bounding across it, the adjacent footprints being invisible in the scrub either side of the track as it thundered across the landscape. But a moment’s reflection settled on it being the prints of both feet of a kangaroo as it hopped across the track.
Adult male ‘superb fairy-wren’ in non-breeding plumage on the banks of the Aire River. These were tiny birds, and they flitted and darted with the speed of a blowfly in summer. Quite difficult to photograph as they were never still for more than a fraction of a second.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. The adjective ‘superb’ is the work of whoever named this bird, not my assessment of its quality. It appears that there was a little taxonomic difficulty in relation to the naming of fairy-wrens, as there is also a ‘splendid’ fairy-wren. It seems that as more and more types of fairy-wren were discovered, all warranting some synonym of ‘superb’ or ‘splendid’ in their official title, the fairy-wren namers lost interest and gave up searching for further superlatives. Notwithstanding the beauty of all fairy-wrens, they resorted to sadly unimaginative prefixes such as ‘lovely’. It was all downhill from there. All poetic sense was abandoned and the tail enders in the naming process were saddled with drab descriptive mundanities such as ‘blue-breasted’, ‘red-winged’ and ‘white winged.’ A sorry tale for members of such a beautiful bird group as the fairy-wren.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. Feisty looking.
Adult male superb fairy-wren (in breeding plumage). The CSIRO ‘Australian Bird Guide’ 2017 at p 362 says non-breeding plumage is held by most males from about March to August (and blue the rest of the time), but a few older and more dominant males can retain blue plumage all year round. These provide a truly eye catching flash of iridescent bright blue as they flit around, especially in bright sunlight.

The ubiquitous crested tern and silver gull

Crested terns and silver gulls are usually found together along the west coast of Victoria (and almost right around Australia for that matter). But for reasons known only to them, they sometimes assemble exclusively with their own species….. (use the slider to see each image in full)

….and sometimes they mingle.

Closeups of the birds of a feather flocking together.

Crested tern soaring over the surf zone searching for food.

Pacific gull posing, and juvenile crested gull.

The beautiful and majestic silver gull soaring effortlessly.
Crested tern rising after snatching a morsel from the rough water. As the next photo reveals, after this ordinary example of feeding, the bird went to extraordinary lengths to make sure whatever it caught did not escape and was successfully swallowed as the bird flew away. I was not aware of this until I looked closely at this photo well after taking it.
[Enlarged detail of the previous image]. Job done. The bird in flight shook its head vigorously to manage the morsel (as the water drops show), including rotating its head through almost 180° presumably to enlist the assistance of gravity to finish the job successfully. Proving what a masterful flyer it is, the wing movements and flight path did not miss a beat.

One of my favourite limestone sea stacks along the west coast of Victoria. While the occupants were not home when I took this shot, such stacks are ideal nesting sites for many seabirds including terns, gulls and the short-tailed shearwater. It’s difficult to imagine a more secure home for them.

Snow in the Otways

A strong cold front passed over western Victoria today, bringing gale force winds, rain and hail. It also brought snow down to low elevations. A dusting of snow on the hilltops is a once or twice a year event. Today’s snow was more than a dusting and more than I have seen in the area.

The Arctic blast from deep in the Southern Ocean brought low temperatures to much of the state. Apollo Bay had an overnight minimum temperature of 4°C and a maximum temperature today of 8°C. It was much colder in the hills in the immediate hinterland than on the coast. When I drove up towards Forrest this morning, at the Turtons Track turnoff where some of the following photos were taken, it was 1°C.

Driving north on the Skenes Creek to Forrest Road, approaching the turnoff to Turtons Track (which leads to Beech Forest). The roads were slippery!
Turton’s Track turnoff (looking south).
Falling snow can be seen in the second of the above two images. (See full images by using the slider)
Usually when I head down Turtons Track, bushfire risk is on my mind. Today the road was covered in fresh snow.
I have never seen this area of cool temperate rainforest in falling snow. It was very quiet. The first and only footprints on the snow were mine. The crunch of my boots on the snow was the only sound I heard.
Then the first car of the day on the track passed me heading west.
The tree fern fronds were weighed down with snow.
The T intersection of Turtons Track and the Forrest Road (13 kms from the Great Ocean Road and 19kms from Apollo Bay).
This tree fell while I was taking photos further up the road at Turtons Track. I was the first to arrive. The image on the right below shows my wheel tracks around the tree. I was grateful for all-wheel drive. The fellow in the high-vis vest standing in the tracks I had just made was the driver of a large van, and was making up his mind about what to do next. I assume he didn’t have a long wait as quite a few locals carry a chain saw in their car or ute.
On descending from the high points in the hills where the snow was plentiful, the cloud thinned out and let some sunshine through. This had a quick effect on snow on the road, and in creating white mist amongst the dense foliage as the snow and water on the branches and leaves were warmed by the sun.
The bright light created a temporary but beautiful scene with the fresh snow on the trees and bushes, white mist drifting through the trees, and patches of blue sky and white clouds above it all.
The low mist behind these trees acted like a filter for the otherwise bright sunlight, and the tree shadows created the radiating beams of white light visible above. The air was cold and fresh. This beautiful sight was totally unexpected.

I have said it many times on these blog posts – photography is all about the light (and serendipity).