Golden Hour on the Barham River

The hour before sunset is an hour of light like no other. Colours are richer, shadows are longer and darker and a soft golden glow washes over everything before switching off in an instant as the sun sets. Colour and focus quickly fade into shadowy twilight and night.


The Barham River at Apollo Bay

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This occurred shortly before the peak of the incoming tide. It is a miniature tidal bore which flows upstream against the river current. There are tidal bores in large rivers in some countries which travel quite some distance inland as a wave of six to seven feet in height which can and sometimes is ridden by surfers.
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The surf fisherman was facing south with Marengo township slightly to his right, and the Barham River flowing on the northern side of the sand dunes behind him.

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Marengo township in the distance, and the Barham River with the silver gulls and terns in the foreground.
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A peaceful coastal cameo near the mouth of the Barham River, with an unridden fast-breaking left in the shore break.

Silver gull in full hunting mode

I have taken a lot of photos of seabirds in my time, but I have never seen a silver gull do what I captured this one doing. He had his eye on a fish (I assume) and instead of landing near it and floating as gulls do when they land on the water, he kept his legs fully retracted and using his wings for power motored along using his streamlined underside as a hull and apparently keeping up with his fast swimming target. This was just like a floating hull aircraft landing on water and continuing to taxi at high speed. He bobbed his beak into the water a couple of times while speeding along the surface under wing power, with visions I think of grabbing the fish he was chasing. But it was not to be this time.

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The wake shows how far and fast he has travelled waterborne but wing-powered.

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The intended meal apparently threw an unexpected sharp left which saw the bird perform a very sudden aerobatic left turn with a high angle of bank as he attempted to stay with his prey.
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The fish must’ve realised that to survive he would have to resort to the third dimension at his disposal and dive. Undeterred, the gull dived after him, but with wings, and tail feathers ill-adapted to underwater antics, it was a short and shallow dive, and the end of the pursuit.
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The gull had to come up for air quite quickly, beak empty. The fish won this encounter, but the gull surely gets full marks for persistence, lateral thinking and effort.
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For some reason, instead of the usual forward motion (paddling with the legs) followed by wings outstretched and then up and away, this gull felt the need for a near vertical takeoff, which it achieved.
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Once all parts were clear of the water the gull transitioned into normal horizontal  flight close to the surface as it accelerated, then it climbed away and went looking elsewhere for food. Who knew the silver gull could do these things? Certainly not me.

Taking advantage of ‘ground effect’ for low and slow flight

When a bird or an aeroplane flies within half a wingspan or so of the ground, the air flow over and under the wings is affected by the proximity to the ground such that drag is reduced. This is called ground effect. All pilots and birds know about it and use it to their advantage, but birds use it better and with far greater finesse. A bird flying in ground effect is using less energy than if it was flying higher.

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Getting this shot was harder than photographing an airborne blowfly with a (600mm) hand held telephoto lens at full stretch

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Not sure what this bird is – possibly a swallow of some description. It was a speed of light darter, never flying in a straight line and varying its height all the time. It made a blowie at its peak performance look cumbersome and slow.  It seemed to be chasing small insects – it was all happening too fast for me to tell whether it was successful.

Turning on to short final for a full stop landing on the riverbank

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Rested terns

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I couldn’t resist. Write your own caption.


Mid-air collision avoidance miracles

There were essentially two agenda items for this evening gathering of crested terns (lesser crested terns and greater crested terns): sitting on the banks of the river, and taking off en masse, doing a wide circuit, and landing to resume sitting on the banks of the river.  Feeding opportunities were taken at any time as they arose.

The birds were in such close proximity to each other immediately after takeoff that it was remarkable to me that there were no collisions or near misses requiring evasive aerobatic manoeuvres. It was somehow all under control, despite how it looks.

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Crested terns in the golden glow of the setting sun

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Greater crested tern, above and below

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Last flight of the day (probably).

Juvenile Pacific gull glowing in the final moments of sunlight above evening shadows

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The colourings of the juvenile Pacific gull remind me of the wedge tailed eagle. The solitariness of this bird added to that impression.
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The foothills of the Otways between Apollo Bay and Skenes Creek in shadow. The Pacific gull was flying over the bay in the last of the sunshine. What a regal looking bird. This photo and the one following were taken from Pt Bunbury at Apollo Bay.

Crested terns in the last of the sunlight

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2 thoughts on “Golden Hour on the Barham River

  1. John, the crested tern is one of my favourite coastal birds. Is it being less ubiquitous than the silver gull, with whom I’ve often seen them “hang out”? Is it their slicked haircuts? Is it that they keep a cool and respectable distance from humans, (certainly compared to chip and bread chasing cousins)? Maybe all of the above.

    You’ve photographed them in aerodynamic perfection. No need for air traffic control. No doubt some microchip equivalent in the DNA permits grace in perceived chaos.

    In the midst of all those gulls and terms, I’m pretty sure you’ve photographed a “welcome swallow”, so named as a harbinger of Spring. In fact, I see them year round at Waratah Bay. I’d rather they not nest on door jambs and other heavily trafficked areas because, fly spectacularly as they do, they are not toilet trained. They painstakingly build a beautiful nest and the sight of three or four young poking over the nest top, demanding their sustenance, is most fetching. They love hunting insects over water, including the ocean, and are skilful in pursuit. Brave too. I’ve often been swooped in breeding season, when they build a nest in an eave position I decide is off the beaten path.

    My Menkhorst lives at the coast, but I am certain the welcome swallow is given due recognition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The crested tern has certainly become a favourite of mine too. They display great aerodynamic efficiency with beauty and elegance of form. Even with man-made aircraft, those two qualities seem to go hand in hand. But as you know, I choose to champion the cause of the silver gull from time to time, and have great admiration for the species.

      Thanks for the ID of the welcome swallow. Menkhorst and Simpson and Day both have informative entries for this bird. Do you think the pointed tail feathers either side of the forked tail of the bird in the photo above are long enough for it to be a welcome swallow? I had not heard of the species until you mentioned it, and knew nothing about them until tonight’s reading.

      I believe on looking back that I photographed what was clearly a welcome swallow on a beach not far from the mouth of the Barham River some time ago. There are two photos of this bird in the post ‘Subtle Beauty on a Southern Ocean Beach’ on this blog.


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