Silent flight over Apollo Bay

Yesterday on the beach that stretches from Marengo to Apollo Bay I stood in the one spot for an hour and a half approaching sunset.  There was a brisk easterly blowing and there was more cloud than sun as the air cooled.  All these photos (with the exception of the shot of the mature Pacific gulls) were taken from that one spot. I simply had to turn, point the camera up or down, and zoom and focus as the birds came, went and sometimes stayed around me.  Their tolerance of me seemed to increase as time wore on.

With the exception of the photo of a juvenile Pacific gull, and the shot of an adult hooded plover, the birds photographed yesterday evening are either crested terns or silver gulls (juvenile or adult).

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Landing options were tight. Even though the terns and the seagulls were in one large group, each species tended to stick together.
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Detail from the previous photo.
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Juvenile silver gull coming in for a landing on the beach. The onshore breeze of 15 knots or so was creating a band of lift over the sand dunes, and another band of lift over the sloping sand above the high water mark.  Birds were exploiting both areas of free flying. Some of the younger birds were getting caught out by this lift, allowing it to interfere with their landings.
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This young seagull had just landed in air that was not smooth.
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This juvenile crested tern was trying to land,  and encountered the band of lift on the sloping face of the beach  which arrested its descent for a short time.
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Many birds display quite different colours and patterns on their plumage with wings extended. The young crested tern is no exception.
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A clear shot of a young crested tern landing. The right leg has been banded. The downy feathers on top of the wings suggest that the airflow over them was neither smooth nor constant.
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An older crested tern flying in gusty winds with its wing area reduced accordingly.  The streamlining which permits this bird to fly at speed is evident here.
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Remarkably versatile wings on this young crested tern. The two wings are quite asymmetric at this moment which was obviously required to keep the bird level in the gusty air. It was flying low over the shore break looking for food at this point.
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Adult silver gull doing a fast low pass. The landing gear remains retracted and the whole body is streamlined perfection.  Note the twist in the wings from where they join the body to the wingtips. This reduces the angle of attack on the wingtips.  This feature is employed on many aircraft wings, and is called washout in that application.  Washout changes the distribution of lift across the span of the wing.  It also means that if the wing stalls near the wing root, the tips will not stall.  This is of great use in slow flight.  Seagull wings are remarkably variable in all aspects – there is no aircraft wing that can match bird wings in this regard.
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Depending on which way I was facing to take a photo, and whether the sun was out or behind a cloud, the sky backgrounds varied from blue with some cloud (as here) to dull flat coloured skies.  It’s a pity this bird’s underside was in shadow but I like the composition.
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The speckles on this crested tern’s black hood are a feature of the juveniles of this species.
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This young crested tern found some seaweed in the shallows and was determined to explore its food potential, which apparently turned out to be zero.  It was discarded untouched.

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This photogenic pose was fleetingly struck as this bird kept an eye on me.
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Detail of previous photo.
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Reconnaissance mission over the shallows looking for an evening snack.
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Young crested tern, with some fluffy down on the back of his noggin where his crest will soon be.
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Many of the shots above show a crested tern with head and beak pointing down. They were doing what this bird is doing – flying backwards and forwards over the shallows in search of food near the surface.
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A large flock of crested terns were wheeling up and down and around each other, in what seemed impossibly close proximity to each other when I took this photo.  These two were merely part of a large group all doing pretty much the same sort of manoeuvres.  When flying into wind, their speed relative to the ground was slow, and when flying downwind it was very fast. There were no near misses or sudden avoidance manoeuvres that I saw.  The turned heads of each of these birds suggests to me that they were in fact each keeping an eye on the other for collision avoidance.  A daring aerial ballet. The only apparent motive for the flock engaging briefly in this flying show was the joy of flight.
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It wasn’t at all difficult to find a pair of seagulls flying together.  This photo and the next three were all taken when the sun was behind cloud, and the sky was uniformly uninteresting as shown.  I included them here because of the variety of wing configurations.

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The hooded plover.  In some parts of Australia this species is threatened. While they are not in any danger of extinction in Victoria, their habit of nesting on open beaches will always leave them vulnerable.  They are a small delicate bird, and the young even more so.  They demonstrate an apparent preference for running away rather than flying,  only resorting to the latter when necessary.
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I have included three shots of this seagull to show a feature he alone seemed to have in this flock of seagulls, which was that he simply would not keep quiet.  I don’t know what was agitating him, but no other birds seem to take any notice, and he didn’t do anything other than fly with them, squawking all the while.

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This is a juvenile Pacific gull.  He was keeping company with a flock of crested terns when I took this.  The rich golden brown plumage gives way to white in adulthood.  (See next photo showing two adults. I took this shot at the Apollo Bay harbour a while ago).  Plumage colour as shown is quite similar to that of the adult wedge tailed eagle.

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The silver gull in soaring flight, displaying its beautiful and efficient wings to full effect.
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Streamlined and purposeful.
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As the cool easterly reached the coast and lifted over the hills, it cooled further and created cloud.  This silhouette of a silver gull wheeling above me against a backdrop of stratocumulus cloud seems a fitting final photo in this post.  I was running out of daylight, and so were the  seabirds.  But this gull continued to soar effortlessly and majestically for no other reason than that he could.



There was a neat postscript to my time spent photographing these birds.  As I took this final silhouette shot, in the distance I saw something airborne that was very small and by its motion and appearance, not a bird.  I trained the 600mm telephoto lens on it, and confirmed it was a hang glider at about 2,000 feet above ground level just north of the town.  Shortly afterwards my iPhone announced that a good friend and 9 or 10 of his good friends had just successfully flown their hang gliders (one did the trip in a paraglider!) from Bells Beach to Apollo Bay.  We all caught up and dined on fish and chips at Spiro’s in town, with the conversation and atmosphere alive and loud as the pilots slowly came down from the concentration and exhilaration of this gutsy coast run.  I flew my hang glider with four of this crew on different occasions in days long gone at places such as Bright (in the mountains) and Birchip (towing up from the flatlands).  I have never attempted the Bells to Apollo Bay coastal run.

For one of their number (Gary) it was the first time he had successfully completed this coastal run – he was in the air for about 6 hours.  It was his arrival I saw with my zoom lens – he was the last of the group to land. My friend Hughbert took around 4:45 for the flight.  It was his tenth trip.  The journey is about 82kms straight line.  But the difficulty not the distance is the thing with this flight. Every pilot would’ve flown a longer distance than 82kms with all the turning and flying backwards and forwards in tight spots to get lift to make it to the next point.   There are  places en route where if lift is not found, a water landing is all that is on offer.

Most remarkably, the one pilot who was did not join us at Spiro’s was Rohan and he had a very sound excuse.  Upon arriving overhead Apollo Bay (passing Wild Dog Creek is treated as making it) he turned around and flew back to Jan Juc (the next beach east of Bells Beach i.e. beyond Bells).  This is the first time any pilot has performed this remarkable return flight.  Normally the wind strongly favours making headway to the south west from Bells Beach, which is why the return trip has never been even tried to my knowledge.  But the trip down was hard going for all given the wind direction and strength which meant that it offered the possibility of the return trip. What a legend Rohan is (and was, even before this additional feat in his illustrious hang gliding career).  Most of the happy crew are shown below before packing up at Apollo Bay and heading to the fish and chip shop.  There is great depth of experience and a wealth of incredible flying stories able to be told first hand by this crew.

The seabirds weren’t the only ones revelling in the joy of silent flight as the daylight faded at Apollo Bay yesterday.


2 thoughts on “Silent flight over Apollo Bay

  1. A wonderful clash of species enjoying a shared interest in flight. A very gutsy flight by the lads! Enjoyed your blog Dad.

    The picture of the seagull doing the low fast fly needs to be on the wall at Apollo Bay. As does the one of the two pacific gulls – I can only imagine what they were talking about…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many pictures, so few walls. Pleased you enjoyed these few seabird shots Jesso. I love the confident bearing of those two Pacific gulls. It’s obvious that whatever they were discussing, it was of the highest importance.


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