Sooty oyster catcher, hooded plover, kookaburras, and the last big swell of autumn

As autumn turns to winter on the west coast of Victoria, the beaches are emptier, the wavs are bigger, the ocean is colder and the nights are longer.  The awesomeness and beauty of nature seem to peak in winter.  It may well be my favourite season.  It certainly is at the moment.

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The distinctive sooty oyster catcher, on the rock shelf at Marengo point in late autumn
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Hooded plover, finding plenty to eat as the white water washed backwards and forwards across the reef at Marengo point


Not so big Wednesday.

The forecast for Wednesday 29 May 2019 was for very big surf on the west coast. Surfers and photographers prepared and waited for the sun to rise on an epic swell (which  inevitably, down the track, would have been dubbed ‘Big Wednesday’). Instead, it was just a solid wintry swell which arrived a couple of days before the official start of winter (Wednesday 29 May 2019).

The first ten photos below were taken facing south east from Marengo point, near Apollo Bay.

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Such power. A favourite photo. The dark background is a heavy squall line which had just passed through.

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One interesting feature of this wave is on the left of the image. There is a solid green lip that has thrown forward as the wave reaches the shallower water over the reef. This is common enough. But what is unusual in my experience is the curtain of white water flowing over the lip and simply falling like a mini waterfall. Waves can be complex.
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The bombie on Outer Henty working (top left). In the foreground, the swell breaking over Little Henty reef.
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The Outer Henty bombie can be seen breaking mid-frame as it races across the horizon. My guess is that the face of this breaking wave was in the 15-20 foot range. It’s about 3kms out to sea from the reef over which the white water in the foreground is breaking, but appears closer due to the distance distortion (foreshortening) effect of the 600mm telephoto lens. Note the total absence of any horizontal water in this scene.
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This photo was taken one second before the photo immediately following.  Note the solitary seabird against the dark horizon.  The Outer Henty bombie can be seen on the horizon top left.
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This photo was taken one second after the immediately preceding photo.  Note the seabird silhouetted against the white water mid-right of image. With the freedom of the air at their disposal, such ocean conditions are merely another day for the seabirds.
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I had no desire to be in this water either on my surf ski, or in my wetsuit swimming. This is wild and unpredictable water.  But I could (and did) watch it for hours. I find it mesmerising. The big telephoto lens puts me right amongst the action in such a sea, while keeping my feet dry.
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This more orderly wave with its multiple breaks was on a reef out from one of the points just east of Skenes Creek (near Apollo Bay).  I took it from a point just west of Skenes Creek. The photo was taken pretty much facing into the sun. The bright sunlight to my left washed out such colour as was in this wave so I finished the job and edited it in black and white. The form of this wave is the thing, not so much its colour.  The strong offshore wind blowing the magnificent manes of white water over the back is always a sight to behold.
Just for contrast with the swell shown in the above photos, this shot was taken about a week into winter. The ocean was completely at rest. There was an offshore wind and a leaden sky ahead of an approaching front over the deserted beach and bay.  The ocean seems to have a distinctive colour palette for each season. On this afternoon it was the deep dark emerald of winter. Irresistible for a swim. I can confirm that the water in addition to looking cold, was cold. But one of the joys of winter swimming is wearing the right wetsuit and accessories (cap, booties etc). I was warm as toast on this swim. By the way, that’s Cape Patton in the distance.


The laughing kookaburra

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Our house is right beside Milford Creek, which has a beautiful stand of eucalypts lining its meandering course. The trees attract a wide variety of bird life. The laughing kookaburra (its official name) is a favourite. They are the largest of the kingfisher family. That powerful beak is put to good use for everything from grubs to sizeable snakes. Their famous laugh is always a joyous announcement of their arrival.
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A still photo allows you to stare contemplatively into the eye of a wild bird.


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This bird abandoned the impromptu photo session to seize a little snack which it spotted from the branch above.
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The caterpillar was quickly eaten. I think I detect a glimmer of smugness in the face and posture of the bird that got the grub.
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The beak of every kookaburra I’ve ever seen up close looks well-used, like this one, with scratches and marks suggesting it is has had a very active life to date. It’s quite a weapon.


Apollo Bay dawn

Low tide on the main beach, with the harbour lights still on. The sun was still 20 minutes or so from rising. I like the bold artistic stroke of the curved line of grey cloud rising from the pink cloud layer  on the horizon, going to the right then swinging back to the left and towards the viewer, somehow flinging out a series of evenly spaced tangential lines to the south as it does so.  On Facebook I captioned this photo: “Today’s clouds signing on with an artistic flourish.” I’m not sure a single viewer understood what I was on about.
These steps are 300 metres from my front door (downhill). The sand either side is more pleasant to walk on to get down to the beach, but the steps are a permanent and simple symbol of the eternal and irresistible draw of the ocean to be near it, on it or in it.
The luminous blue of the fading night sky in the west.
Nature’s invitation to walk down to the sea is more subtle than wooden steps, and more compelling. This beach is near Wild Dog Creek (between Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay).

2 thoughts on “Sooty oyster catcher, hooded plover, kookaburras, and the last big swell of autumn

  1. These are lovely shots. The birds have such grace and character and the light is particularly beautiful on the paths to the beaches


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