Lake Elizabeth

Lake Elizabeth in the Otway Ranges (Victoria, Australia) was formed in mid-winter 1952 when the East Branch of the Barwon River was blocked by a landslide. 1952 was an unseasonably wet winter. When the river stopped flowing, a search party was sent upstream and the new naturally formed dam wall and lake were discovered.

It is a place of compelling stillness, coolness and beauty.

East Branch of the Barwon River downstream from Lake Elizabeth.
The path to Lake Elizabeth winds through dense cool temperate rainforest.
Towering mountain ash and a variety of eucalypts rise above the dense ground storey of the forest.
The fertile banks of the East Branch of the Barwon River in the afternoon winter sun.
Grey shrike-thrush (and a host of other bird species) are plentiful in the area.
A quiet pool near (but not part of) Lake Elizabeth.
The top of the trunk of a large healthy tree fern.
The base of this giant tree is shown in the next photo.
Lake Elizabeth.
Platypus live in the lake.
The lake has many dark shores and corners which never see direct sunlight.

The lake in the afternoon was a wonderland of intersecting planes and reflections and colours and light and dark. The circle with the arrows is a slider, to compare two versions of the one photo. The photo shows a dusky moorhen gliding across the mirrored surface of the lake. The image with the duck swimming to the right of frame to my eye seems to show the bird taking improbable flight as if air and water had become one.
A dusky moorhen in the cold shadows.
Photographers often look for ‘lines’ in an image which draw the eye of the viewer to the centrepiece of the subject matter. Such lines are usually subtle, unlike the lines in this shot. I have never taken a photo with bolder lines than this one. First there is the clear black arrow on the left pointing towards the bird, which itself is sitting near the apex of a large arrowhead silhouette formed by a tree trunk and its reflection.
Late afternoon colours reflected on the water.
Pacific black duck.
These birds were obviously given clearances to land in line on the same runway. The second bird appeared to overshoot a little which required serious braking to avoid a collision with the bird ahead. While this deceleration caused the tail to rise, the nose stayed just above the runway surface. Both came to a full stop upright and undamaged.
Darkness approaching.

Autumn at the Bay

The experience of sunrise is greatly enhanced by full immersion in cold ocean water. It is not possible to feel anything other than fully alive when greeting the day in this manner.

Indeed, in late August at Apollo Bay it is not possible to feel anything much at all after a lengthy ocean swim, apart from exhilaration. Fingers and toes cease sending messages to mission control, the gift of speech is reduced to short words only understandable if accompanied by sign language, and whistling is completely impossible until after the administration of hot tea or coffee. But the water on this day was 14°C, which is cool rather than cold.

Sunrise at Marengo in autumn

Five or six dawn swimmers can be seen on the far right above the dark line of a small wave. The sun is rising just to the right of Cape Patton. The photo was taken from Marengo beach at the southern end of Mounts Bay.

Moderate swell on Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point

The waves over this reef are only surfed by seals and dolphins. Apart from the fact that the waves here mostly break over exposed reef, there are breaks nearby in deeper water which are ideal for surfing.
The water exploding upwards has already hit the reef and ricocheted back into the air to almost double the height of the wave.
The breaking wave in the background is over the reef. The surfers in the foreground are paddling around to their takeoff spot which is to their right.
This was one of the larger sets of the morning. This wave reared high and threw out a big lip of water as it reached the shallower water near the reef. A light north west wind smoothed out the face of the wave, held it up a little longer than would have happened with the wind from behind the wave, and also blew the white mane of spray up and over the back of the wave.
Finishing off the ride between Hayley Point and the reef which is home to an Australian fur seal colony.
Mesmerised.

Body boarder

The Harbour

Safe haven.
Crested terns love to huddle
That edgy hairdo on crested terns requires that beaks be kept pointed into the wind.
One of four resident geese at the Apollo Bay harbour. His limited facial movement permits only two moods to be conveyed – disdain and indignation. I think he was in transition to indignation at this point upon learning I was there to take a photo, and not to pay my respects with a bread offering which he was fully expecting.

One of my many studios

My attempts to capture an image of the full moon rising over the sea were thwarted by cloud on this night. A cold, quiet and beautiful place nonetheless.

Storm Surf

Whenever a solid swell is forecast for this coast, some locals in Apollo Bay quietly start to pay just a little more attention to the weather maps, to their tried and tested omens and to the feeling in their bones. They gaze out to the horizon for signs of swell, they judge the frequency and size of the small swell breaking in the bay hoping to be able to describe it as ‘building’, and they keep checking for any visible action on the bombies a few kms offshore. Surfers, fishing boat skippers, swimmers and photographers are among those who will be variously delighted, thwarted or simply awestruck if the Southern Ocean delivers big swell from storms gathering in the cold and desolate southern latitudes well to the south of the Great Australian Bight. The trajectory of the low pressure systems and the associated cold fronts and troughs will be closely followed to learn whether, or where and with what force the weather will hit the Victorian west coast.

The forecast

The following information and forecasts (screenshots from my iPhone) are the first omens I consulted when there was talk of solid swell on the way. They were auspicious enough to warrant me charging up the camera batteries, preparing the wet weather gear and getting just a bit excited about the reasonable prospect of big swell on May 1 and 2 at Apollo Bay and along the Victorian west coast generally.

Waiting

The swell was forecast for Friday and Saturday on the first two days of May. So on the last day of April I visited the local reefs and a point where any early signs of swell would be apparent. I have seen forecasts of sizeable swell which failed to deliver. I have also seen substantial swell when none was forecast.

But last Thursday, on the eve of its forecast day of arrival there was no swell.

But the permanent Australian fur seal colony on the Marengo reefs was present, and the late afternoon light was beautifully clear. They were crowded up a little as it was high tide, and above-water real estate on which to loll was at a premium. But no sign of any swell.
Late afternoon showers were passing through the area. The seal colony is directly under the end of the rainbow.
The telephoto lens was almost up to this task. Most seals have adopted the traditional resting posture with head held proudly high, like so many lifelike bronze statues. The one on the far right has chosen comfort and sloth over style.

The swell arrives

The wind backed around on Thursday night and increased to gale force. The swell arrived on schedule. Winds gusting over 40kts, heavy showers and stormy seas delivered more than I, and probably others, expected. This shot was taken looking south from Hayley Point at Marengo on the Saturday morning. The Australasian gannet above was effortlessly and (so it seemed to me) exuberantly soaring the storm.
This was also taken looking due south from Hayley Point, as one of the early waves in a big set closed out in this spectacular fashion on the reef. I was on a rocky headland, and while I didn’t feel the ground shake, I felt as though I should have. It was an awesome sight. So much power.

A-row for Southern Ocean watchers

Bottom to top: Barham River, Mounts Bay and Marengo. This swell had arrived from the south west and rounded Hayley Point to cross the bay directly into the westerly wind as a substantially smaller but still powerful wave.
Squall lines were coming through in a constant succession. Heavy rain obscured the hills to the north of Apollo Bay. The grey clear strip under the power poles in centre frame is part of the Great Ocean Road.
Wider shot of the same view as in the previous shot, but between squalls. The telephoto lens set to a focal length of 600mm significantly foreshortened the scene, making the Wild Dog Creek valley and hills beyond look closer than they would to the naked eye.

Storm waves on Marengo reefs and south of Hayley Point

Hayley Point, with my regular eyrie for taking photos of the ocean right on the tip near that notch in the scrub line. This photo shows some different stages of a sizeable wave breaking on the reef. On the far right the massive lip has thrown out and is cascading as a giant curtain with white water along the lip and solid curves of green and aqua water flowing down as the tonnes of water in the wave are thrown forward and down. The wave on the left shows the white water having crashed down into the reef ricocheting back into the air in great clouds of white water. Such water often reaches a height as great or greater than the height of the original wave before it broke. The centre section of breaking waves shows the wave finally dissipating and coming ashore, almost completely spent, as merely a two metre wall of white water with spray blowing back off it.
This was taken looking south west from Hayley Point as a massive set pounded its way to shore. There are three waves of this set visible in the photo, and all consist entirely of white water. Top left, through the curtain of spray, the crest of another wave just starting to break can be seen. The show put on by this set did not end at the three waves shown above.
I spent about 90 minutes taking these photos, standing on my usual windswept grassy vantage point beside the reefs. Very heavy rain squalls were coming through, without much respite between them. I have an ingenious waterproof covering for my camera and telephoto lens which keeps them totally dry. I have full access to all camera adjustments and controls when using the cover in driving rain. I wear a snow coat with a hood, my motorbike waterproof pants, and a pair of waterproof boots. I am pleased to report that this allows me and the camera to stay completely dry in the heaviest of rain. The waterproof gear is useful not so much for taking photos in the rain, but for allowing me to stay on a given location during the rain so I can take photos in the periods when it is not raining.

Hooded plover and a sooty oyster catcher

The reef on the shoreline was being successfully foraged on by this little hooded plover and his mate. They seemed to find plenty to feed on. When white water approached from behind, as I have observed on this day and many other days their first reaction was to run rather than to fly, choosing the latter only when absolutely necessary. This bird might have had to counteract a a bit of an uncommanded turn to the left in flight due to the orange plastic tag and the metal band on his leg. Difficult to see why two tags were needed.
Sooty oyster catcher with no oysters in sight. His diet apparently extends well beyond oysters (and in this part of the world his diet may not even include oysters), but the more accurate alternative name of ‘crustacean, worm, bivalve mollusc, starfish and sea urchin catcher, not to mention small fish catcher’, was probably considered too unwieldy. I’m sure the sight of that over-engineered beak strikes fear into the heart of bivalve molluscs.
The swim record was my daily 1000+m swim, in a location sheltered from the big swell.

The majesty and power of the Southern Ocean in a storm

I have never seen (in person) a more intimidating storm wave than this one. It was overcast when this was taken and there were heavy showers in the area. If you peer through the spray blowing over the back of this wave you can see the horizon and whitecaps on breaking waves out to sea.

Postscript

I saw a fin

Ocean swimming is a favourite activity of mine. I have been doing it for many years. One way or another, I have been playing in the ocean for over 50 years. During that period the only sharks I have ever seen in the water are (harmless) reef sharks while snorkelling in the Solomon Islands, a bronze whaler (which seemed to ignore us) while swimming in the shore break at Fishery Bay near Pt Lincoln in South Australia, and a number of large great whites off Neptune Island while on a cage dive organised for that purpose. I have thought about the topic a bit, and my carefully considered view is that seeing a shark in the water, much less being attacked by one, is a very low risk at the places I choose to swim. I remain of that view.

Today was my 48th consecutive day of swimming 1000m or more in the ocean at Apollo Bay (a continuing little project of mine during the pandemic lockdown). I swam a short distance in the bay, then topped up for my 1000m in the harbour. Those 48 swims included one night swim.

I swam out from the harbour wall this morning heading for the wooden lookout for a 1000m round trip. The crew I usually swim with were all leaving the water as I headed off. I had the bay entirely to myself. About 300m from where I entered the water, and about 180m offshore, I was swimming in a leisurely rhythm against a slight head current just enjoying the space and peace. I was not in a rush, and I didn’t care that my Garmin watch indicated I was closer to 3:00/100 pace than 2:00/100m. Each time I breathed to the left I could see the passing scenery on shore and knew the ramp and walkway up to the SLSC were about to come into my direct line of sight. There was nothing and no one to disturb my relaxing reverie. But then there was something.

About 20m to my left I saw a shiny dark dorsal fin emerge while moving south (the opposite direction to me). I saw it surface, stay level for a short time and then subside not to be seen by me again. It did not appear to change speed or direction as we passed each other. I immediately turned left 90° and headed to shore by the most direct route. It was more a case of observing that I did this, rather than recalling any conscious decision to head to shore. I am pleased that I turned before I had a chance to think about it. No point wasting time making decisions. I sensed no adrenaline rush or racing pulse or altered breathing rate. But I did increase my pace and take a few looks over each shoulder to see if the fin or its owner had reappeared. I also hoped to see a few dolphins swimming nearby as had occurred recently when swimming not far from here with four of my swimming friends. But there was no fin and there was no pod of dolphins. There was nothing but glassy ocean.

At one point on the return to shore, without losing forward speed I rolled through 360° changing from freestyle to a couple of strokes of backstroke then back to freestyle, to allow a quick look at the ocean behind me. No fin. Nothing to see to offer a chance at identifying what had swum past me. Just glassy water. My normal roll and breathe routine sees me looking out to each side at about 90 degrees to my direction of travel. The swim to shore for much of the journey saw me looking back over each shoulder as I breathed. I was conscious that I was swimming harder and faster than usual, and I do remember deciding it was probably best to keep doing that. I do remember thinking I should splash as little as possible. I kept swimming until my fingertips were brushing the sand. I was definitely pleased to stand up in shin deep water. I stood on the shore for a while looking out to sea for something, anything that would inform me as to how to file this experience. But there was nothing.

Upon reflection, I would certainly leave the water immediately if this happened again. An ocean swimmer responds to a solitary dorsal fin nearby (with an unidentified owner) the way a chicken responds to the silhouette of a hawk in the sky above it, whether it’s a cardboard cutout or a raptor with intent. But was it a shark or a dolphin? There is no way to reach a sound conclusion either way. There are solid entries for column A and column B. I don’t have enough information to resolve what it was. The fin did not have that inward curve on the trailing edge typical of a dolphin fin. Also, the movement I saw was not the familiar top of the parabola appearance and disappearance of the fin and part of the body – there was no hint of ‘porpoising’. Further, it only surfaced once while I was looking, which is not typical of dolphin behaviour I have witnessed. I understand dolphins can swim alone, but most that I have ever seen around here are in pairs or larger groups. The fin owner appeared to be swimming alone. It was definitely not a seal. I saw no disturbance of water behind the trail of the fin which could have suggested a vertical shark fin. Yet it showed no interest in me. The most recent swim I had with dolphins (with four friends) saw them acknowledge our presence and swim towards us from a distance of greater than 20m. The fin was of a size which gave the impression of something bigger than me, but not something huge.

I intend to continue to leave the water when solitary dark dorsal fins on unidentified creatures swim in my vicinity. Today’s prematurely concluded swim must be filed as merely an interesting experience. I will of course continue to swim in the bay.

The unimpressive track of my brief swim. Note the initial relaxed pace of 2:32/100m at 60 strokes per minute (the watch records only the left arm, hence 30spm = 60spm).

This initial relaxed pace contrasts with my pace after the 90° turn. My initial pace improved from 2:32/100m to 1:56/100m, and my stroke rate went up from 60 to 68. The second window shows that I then settled down to a steady 2:00/100m pace, but at 70 strokes per minute which I sustained!

Not worried, just interval training.

Coasting

Images from recent days in Apollo Bay doing stuff that requires only time – all within walking distance of home.

The New Holland Honeyeater and the House Sparrow

These birds literally flew between my camera lens and the surf break I was trying to focus on. They landed on cliff-top scrub that was just below my line of sight to the reef. As there were lengthy breaks between sets of waves, I wound the telephoto lens right back and took a few shots of these feathery little photo bombers from close quarters.

The New Holland honeyeater seems constantly on the move. It flits and darts at high speed, and only alights on a plant for a very brief time. They are a very difficult photographic subject. The sky was overcast when this photo was taken.
The clouds parted temporarily providing blue skies as the background for a few shots.
The beak on this female house sparrow was discoloured from feasting on the crimson berries on the branches all around it. This bird is not native to Australia. It was introduced from India and England in the 1860s. The species has thrived right across Australia, except in W.A. where they have not become established because of prevention measures taken by the W.A. state government.

Ocean scenery & ocean swims

The view to the north from Apollo Bay beach. There was a moderate swell this day. Friends of mine live in the low house on the cleared land in centre frame. The view from there is even better than you might think.
The stone wall on the right is at the entrance to Apollo Bay harbour. The ship was much further away than it appears here (due the foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens) as it headed west from Bass Strait. This photo was taken from Apollo Bay beach – the breakwater shown was about 600m from where I was standing.

The first two swims were done in the conditions and at the times and locations shown in the photos with the sunrise and the steps. The third swim was done in calm water – I just love the photo (which showed the conditions about two kms south of where I swam).

Surf & Surfers

Unrideable Waves

Around Anzac Day (25 April) there was a reasonable swell for a couple of days. There was a light offshore wind, and the sea was generally glassy. There was a long interval between sets, but when they arrived they were solid. This was a sneaker wave (surprisingly bigger than average on the day). The photo shows it breaking over the southern side of the Marengo outer reef. This shot was taken near dusk under overcast skies. I had the aperture wide open, I was constantly reducing the speed and increasing the ISO as the light rapidly faded. I was about to give it away and pack up when I saw this wave building out to sea. It was a short wait, and well worth it. This was one of the last photos I took for the day. The poor light washed out virtually all colour, except the vivid aqua sections as shown. The soft white manes of spray were the product of the light nor’ westerly wind.
Smaller wave breaking over the same reef (as shown in the preceding photo) but earlier in the day with much better light and a bit of sunshine.
The unrideable barrel. The dark areas directly in front of it are exposed reef.
Under overcast skies and with only a light wind, the swell was moody, glassy and grey.

Seamus

Seamus looking for speed as the lip started to throw out overhead. The other photo shows the end of the ride on this wave, with Australian fur seals relaxing on the reef in the background.

Tommy

Tommy can certainly lay claim to paddling out and over an unbroken section of this interesting and unrideable wave. But the wave he was heading out to ride was on the break to his right as he paddled out (as shown top right), which while not quite as spectacular, was eminently rideable.

The third photo was taken as the wave was closing out, the ride was over, and Tommy decided to bail out over the back of the wave. The photo captured the moment when it appeared he was levitating from the deck of his board to achieve this exit.

Leroy

Leroy is over 60 and surfs like a young bloke.

Angus

Angus is a young bloke who was giving it a red hot go on this day. Those are his feet in the air on the left as he decided against a duck dive on the board, and simply dived for depth relying on the leg rope to bring his surfboard with him. It was a solid wall of white water. The timing of his dive looked pretty good to me.

This is Angus completing a long ride by pulling on a bit of speed then shooting up the face of the fading wave and through the crest of white water for an exuberant airborne exit over the back.

Waiting for waves

This shot reflects the tacit cooperation of these surfers, who all knew each other, in taking their turn on the waves in accordance with the clear but unwritten rules of the surf. The next wave in the distance had grabbed their attention at the moment this was taken.
This cray boat was checking pots which to my eye looked reasonably close to where some of the larger waves were starting to peak. The wave in the foreground is the wave the surfers ride here.

Happy 15th Birthday Minnie

Minnie our little pugalier, turned 15 a couple of days ago. She is showing her age in her movement and sleep habits, but remains alert and still runs up the stairs. She’s a bit deaf, and the eyesight is fading. This photo shows her either in deep reflection on 15 years well lived, or just about to have her eyelids slowly close for yet another nap. I suspect it was the latter. She has lived the dream for every day of her 15 years.

Personal best loaf of bread

I baked a loaf of bread in Queensland in 1975. It was not successful, and was used as an effective doorstop for some months. I had a bit of a break, and then baked this loaf last week. It was every bit as tasty as it looked. I have never baked a better loaf of bread. It was great to eat fresh with butter and honey, and it also toasted very well for the few days it lasted. I plan to produce a third loaf after a shorter break than last time.
I understand I am not the only non-baker who is experimenting during lockdown with the bread making art.

P.S. This is my 100th post on South.

The most liked post so far is:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/07/08/she-loves-the-sea/

Idyll Moments

In these difficult times we need the facts. But we don’t need them 24 hours a day. I offer these images hoping they might provide an agreeable distraction and an opportunity to be pleasantly lost in your own thoughts of other things and other places, even if only briefly, upon contemplating the scenes below.

These photos were all taken in or near Apollo Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Australia.

The Otways

The banks of the Aire River, in the Otway Ranges. This location is upstream from the Hopetoun Falls shown below. The silence here was complete. I have never breathed sweeter air. This environment imposes stillness and quietness on those who enter it, just as a large cathedral does, only better.
Looking down on the Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The nearby track down to the falls is quite a descent, and a solid climb back up.
Just downstream from Hopetoun Falls.
These falls are at the bottom of a steep valley, which sees much more shade and darkness than sunshine. The air was cool and moist.
Liz
A brief spell and some water and food on the banks of the Aire River. We were in the shade of the towering sequoia grove, and in A-row to enjoy the dense cool temperate rainforest opposite us.
The mighty sequoia (aka Californian redwood). These trees are on track to become the tallest trees in Australia in the not too distant future.
A variety of ecualypts providing the upper storey to the ancient cool temperate rainforest sub-storeys. There is a good chance (bearing in mind that I am not a formally qualified arborist nor am I currently a park ranger) that some of these trees are mountain ash.

Apollo Bay in Autumn

Autumn in Apollo Bay and along the surrounding coastline is a special season. Calm days and increasingly cooler nights predominate. Storms and cold fronts to the south west typically generate big swells during autumn which arrive pristine and glassy and often very large and powerful on our beaches. The Rip Curl Bells Pro surfing contest, the longest running surfing event on the WSL (World Surf League) world championship tour, is held at Bells Beach every Easter. But not in 2020.
Still air, glassy waves and long boards – part of autumn in and around Apollo Bay. These three regular surfers are all members of a local Apollo Bay family. Their fourth member was also surfing, out of frame to the right.

The Southern Ocean

Autumn swell rearing with a majestic white mane over Little Henty Reef in a light nor’ westerly wind.
Curtain fall.
Solid shorebreak on the reef just offshore south of Hayley Point at Marengo (a couple of kms south of Apollo Bay).
The eye of the beast. Swell arriving at the southern tip of Little Henty Reef often creates a neat little barrel. Depending on the size and direction of the swell, as shown, sometimes power is more to the fore than symmetry and elegance of form.
When the bottom of a larger wave hits the reef and decelerates, the many tonnes of water in the top of the wave can be thrown forward by the momentum built up over the long distance of its journey from deep southern latitudes.
Another emerald eye of a wave breaking over the reef.
This wave has hit the reef, the top has thrown over and hit the water and reef below it hard. White water has then ricocheted back into the air. You can see the explosive upward trajectory of some of this white water above the general height of the breaking wave. Waves get a lot bigger than this at Little Henty Reef. But this swell was certainly of sufficient size to create a scaled-down version of the show provided by very big surf.
The lull between sets of waves this day was often lengthy. The rocky beach and reef below me with its prolific bird life was a pleasant time-filler while waiting for the next set. This is the beautiful welcome swallow. Surprisingly it’s a rather unprepossessing looking little bird when not in flight. This bird in this image was captured (using a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second) a split second before becoming airborne.
The relentless attack of wind and water have produced surprisingly gentle shapes in the sedimentary shore platform between the ocean and the sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Welcome swallows and other small birds were constantly flitting and darting over the platform at low tide.
Much bigger waves than this break here. I have included this image of a wave breaking over Little Henty Reef for only one reason, to highlight the similarities this smaller wave has with a wave in the same spot but in much larger swell some two and half years earlier (see image immediately below). The reason for the similarities is of course that this wave is not breaking over shifting sand, but over a solid reef with interesting contours and features which do not change over time (speaking personally, rather than geologically). Bells Beach is a reliable location for excellent waves, when the swell arrives, for the same reason. The bowl at Bells has a rocky rather than a sandy seabed, and for a given size and direction of swell, the unchanging shape of the seabed will always produce the same sort of wave.
This wave occurred at the same location as the wave show in the immediately preceding photo but two and a half years earlier. The swell was a lot bigger that day.
This shot was taken in late October 2017. The big swell event of which this wave was part was featured in my post on this blog published 1 November 2017, and titled ‘Large Southern Ocean Swell pounds Local Reefs.’
The link to that post is: https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/01/large-southern-ocean-swell-pounds-local-reefs/
I find it interesting to compare the similarities with the smaller wave at the same spot in the immediately preceding image.
A large print of this image is hanging in my house at Apollo Bay.
The bright emerald eye of yet another short-lived barrel, with a solid line of swell in the background breaking at a different angle on a different part of the reef.
This was taken before mid-morning, and before a layer of strato-cumulus cloud arrived which softened the light and took the shine off the waves.
The white mane of a wave in an offshore wind is one of my favourite sights.
Small tight barrels are common when waves break on this part of the reef. But this larger fanning wave form was a one-off in my experience. The colour is attributable to the thing layer of water in this fanned out cylindrical form being backlit by the morning sun.
While it wasn’t a huge swell, it was substantial enough.
A moody sea with swell lines jostling for position as the water gets shallower and the time for individual performances upon hitting the reef gets closer.

My photographer’s eyrie, sheltered from the wind and overlooking Little Henty Reef and the Southern Ocean beyond.

That white spot on the grass is a rock I put there to rest my camera monopod on so the camera is at a comfortable height on the sloping ground.

Morning sun giving some sparkle to this breaking wave.
That mound of water has already hit the reef and bounced back in the air to the height shown.
Local surfer on a wave between Hayley Point and Little Henty Reef. The kelp is as it looks, in shallow water on the shore platform. But the distance between the surfer and the reef is greater than it appears, as the telephoto lens on a long focal length foreshortens apparent distance in this manner. By surfer’s standards, it’s not a perfect wave. But every surfer has been wet for less.
Brief chat between strangers in the morning sun after a session in solid well-overhead surf off the point at Marengo, with at most, three surfers out there. The waters beyond them are in a sheltered part of the reef system.

Australasian Gannets breeding on Southern Ocean clifftop

The Australasian gannet has a remarkable set of flying and feeding skills. It is also a very beautiful bird.

It’s perfectly adapted for flying and soaring, as well as for diving at high speed into the sea to catch fish. An Australasian gannet can fly in excess of 500km in a day seeking food, at speeds of 35-40 knots. It soars whenever possible on its outstretched 2m wings. I admire the capabilities of this bird.

They sometimes herd fish (pilchards are favourites) into dense shoals by soaring 10m or so above the surface. Then they dive and eat. They fold their wings back to dive from heights of 15m or so, with the ability to repeatedly dive to depths of 15-20m. They can also dive effectively from lower heights, usually done in rougher conditions. They hit the water at speeds up to 80kph (some say higher speeds are reached in the dive) and can propel themselves and manoeuvre under water (i.e. swim!) using their wings. They have been observed to catch as many as five fish in a single dive. Their eyesight is specially adapted for the underwater phase of their hunting. They only stay underwater for around 10 seconds but will generally swallow the fish before surfacing. I have witnessed a group of Australasian gannets plunge diving en masse and feeding very successfully offshore at Apollo Bay (photos below). It’s a great spectacle.

The gannets are found mainly in southern and eastern Australia and New Zealand. There are established gannet migration routes between these countries. They are very strong flyers, and fly well out to sea for food, as well as between Australia and NZ on migration journeys. Gannets from Australia have been recorded flying as far afield as Mauritius and New Zealand. But more typically, they fly long distances around the southern half of the Australian coastline. Fledglings leave the nest around 100 days after hatching. They travel many thousands of kms until around the age of three they return to their home nest to begin breeding when they are 4-7 years old.

They nest and raise their young between July and April. The period of incubation of a gannet is around 40 days. The young birds fledge around 90-100 days after hatching, and are able to fly from this time.

They live to around 25 years old, and form monogamous long term relationships with breeding partners.

What an interesting and impressive bird! They are also one of the most elegant and beautiful seabirds to grace our coast.

The Gannet Colony at Point Danger

The white mound on the promontory is the Point Danger Australasian gannet breeding colony. Its 5-6kms south of Portland, on the southern coast of Australia. The rocky outcrop visible offshore is Lawrence Rocks. There are around 6,000 breeding pairs on Lawrence Rocks. The Point Danger colony has about 300 breeding pairs. Some say this rookery is an overflow from the crowded Lawrence Rocks population. The fence in the foreground is high and secure, and is monitored by video. The gate is securely locked. There are also a number of electric fences around the breeding colony (including low down on the promontory cliffs) to keep foxes away. A committee of management and a number of volunteers will, by prior arrangement, accompany those interested inside the reserve for a closer look at the birds.
This is the only mainland Australasian gannet breeding colony in Australia. New Zealand only has two mainland breeding colonies. Islands are preferred.
There was continual movement of birds most of the time. It seems that at some point or another most of them chose to get airborne for a short flight. Some went out to sea and back, perhaps to try their luck for a snack. Others would lift off and lazily put in a couple of flaps to join the glassy ridge lift on the windward side of the promontory (to the right in the picture above) then stretch out their wings with only minor movements thereafter for turns, climbs and descents. They would soar back and forth before returning for more socialising and relaxing. Others would simply do a short circuit after taking off into wind, wheel around to the downwind side of home and then land into wind. Between such sorties, they were conspicuously relating to each other. It is said they are quite gregarious, and this was borne out by what I observed.
The information board at Point Danger Gannet Colony. This board and the fence around the tip of the promontory together with the nearby observation platform were the only signs that humans had any interest in the place. But interestingly, directly behind the observation platform (from which the first photo in this post was taken) was a solid mound of earth, plainly put there for some purpose. A short look around revealed that it was sitting directly in front of the targets of a rifle firing range, the line of fire of which would go directly over the gannet colony (and the observation platform!). A peek around the corner of the mound revealed the back of the targets, stern warnings and a clear view of the shooters end of the range which was far too close for my liking. They say the hooded plover in choosing to breed on the sand on open beaches is not showing great judgment. Well, setting up home directly in the line of fire of a shooting range also seems a questionable choice leading at the very least to a noisy neighbourhood. But my guide informed me that neither gannets nor those who come to see them have ever been shot by a stray bullet coming over the top of the targets.
This is Ewen. He’s chairman of the Point Danger Committee of Management. He is a volunteer guide, a gentleman and happy to share his extensive knowledge of the Australasian gannet. He also has great patience. As I took these photos revelling in the opportunity and privilege of being so close to this colony of such beautiful birds, he gave me no hurry up. Thanks Ewen. The volunteers make themselves available for tours of the breeding colony up close, by arrangement with Portland Information Centre.

How Gannets Relax

These two birds gracefully intertwined necks and beaks in a gentle interaction that continued for quite some time.
While appearing as though they might be ‘crossing swords’, they weren’t. This was very friendly behaviour. They truly are gregarious.
The same pair having a spell from the neck intertwining thing.
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An active fledgling overlooking a snoozing adult. That robust blue covering of the eyes when shut is part of the adaptation necessary for comfortable high speed diving into the sea. When the eyes are open, this blue shield is simply a blue circle around the eye.
The colony was densely populated. There was room to spread out, but they seemed to prefer being in close proximity to each other. While some of the chicks and fledglings were sticking together on the edge of the main group, there was a lot of apparently easygoing intermingling between generations on the main mound of the rookery.
None of the birds showed any fear as I stood quietly taking photos from close up. Those are serious feet for a seabird.

Individual Portraits

Fledglings and Chicks

Landing approaches at the busy Pt Danger breeding colony

Because of the dense covering of birds on the nesting area, birds returning from flight had to take great care in landing. The gannet is all elegance and efficiency in full flight. They seemed to me to also be quite agile and adept a low speed flight and manoeuvring. But on foot, they are merely ordinary – they are plainly built to fly. Just as an aeroplane becomes ordinary once its wheels touch the ground and it is reduced to tentatively plodding along taxiways at walking pace, so it is with the gannet. Both were made to fly, not taxy. Landing on this busy site involves approaching from downwind, then slowing down while looking all over for a spot to put down. They must remain ever ready to abort the landing and go around if required. Initially during the recce the wings are stretched right out to maximise lift for slow flight.
This bird is slowing down and descending. Tail feathers seemed to play an increasing role in manoeuvring as the wings are increasingly busy maintaining height or the required descent rate.
Seems as though a vertical hover straight down would be required for the spot currently being looked at. Helicopter pilots train in confined space operations. I believe the entire gannet species could be signed off right now as fully competent in this regard.
As slower and slower flight is required for some landings, the birds wings need to be flapped a little, with wingtip feathers extended right out to reduce drag and maintain lift.
This is a closeup of the bird in the previous photo. The focus is intense. This must be the same head and neck position of the gannet when it enters the water in a high speed dive for feeding. The form and streamlining is readily apparent in this photo. These qualities are of course also very useful in flight.
Those wings are amazingly flexible and variable in all parameters. Nothing out of the ordinary though it would seem. If beaks are any indication, this radical approach seems to have captured the attention of only one bird on the ground.
Closing in on the chosen touchdown spot. If there were regular landing collisions, these birds would of course quickly learn to get out of the way when there was inbound traffic. The audience on this all over landing field is utterly ignoring the bird approaching to land.
Even in such close proximity to birds on the ground, they don’t seem to be giving the risk of a wing in the face any thought at all. It seems clear that the approach and landing is and is perceived to be a low risk event.
Throttle back – touchdown is only a fraction of a second away. The bird doing the landing made no contact whatsoever with any other bird during this landing.
This bird was slowing down, but it was just too crowded. The feet were deployed as shown to create drag in to assist in the descent to land. So a decision was made to ‘go around’. The undercarriage was retracted, the wings started flapping and flying speed increased. Then he did another circuit before touching down smoothly and without incident on the second attempt. The webbed feet deployed as shown, would act a bit like the drag function of flaps on an aeroplane. A bird that is so streamlined and built for speed and soaring needs some control surfaces to slow it down in the circuit area.

Gannets on the wing

To be fair, this probably should’ve been in the approach and landing section. Same can be said for the next photo. But these two were in clear air above the colony, and I saw quite a few birds slow down for a quick look just as these two are doing, before giving it away as too crowded and heading off for another short flight in the area before setting up the next approach. That their legs are tucked away in the streamlined position indicates to me that the decision to land has not been finally made yet.
Full flight mode. Apart from landing manoeuvres, I have very few photos of an Australasian gannet flapping its wings. The reason is, they only do it when necessary. This bird was in ample ridge lift on the windward side of the promontory and effortlessly maintained height and speed with the wings fixed as shown.
The streamlining of the gannet is obvious in this picture. This serves it very well not only in long distance flight, but also in its underwater activities.

These are Australasian gannets plunge diving on a school of fish. It’s a spectacular thing to see – the vertical dive, with the last minute folding away of everything that might come unstuck upon hitting the water at up to 80kph, the fearless beak first entry at maximum speed, then the dive to perhaps 15m or so using its wings underwater to swim and manoeuvre. Fish are caught and often eaten before the bird surfaces. These photos were taken from the shore at Apollo Bay in December last year. Please excuse the poor quality of these photos – the birds were feeding over 600m offshore, the sky was overcast and this was the best the big tele lens could do.

This bird gave the landing approach away early, and was ‘going around’ at low altitude at reasonably high speed. I wonder if gannets enjoy doing low high speed passes.

The Australasian gannet species is not under threat. The populations are in fact growing in both Australia and New Zealand.

It was a wonderful privilege to spend an hour or more with these gannets. The pleasure was added to by their utter lack of concern at my presence. Opportunities to observe such wild and beautiful birds up close and in their natural habitat are rare. Prior to visiting this breeding colony, the best gannet sightings (and photos) I had were of them soaring high above me over a beach near Freycinet in Tasmania. My hour at home with the gannets was memorable.

Beauty on the Wing

As a young pilot flying around the west coast of South Australia and across the vast deserts to the north in the late 1970s, I saw so much that was new and mesmerising that I bought a Nikon 35mm film camera and snapped away whenever I was awestruck, which was often. That habit has persisted to this day.

Taking photos for so many years has taught me to be observant and patient in capturing an image worth keeping. These habits have proved particularly rewarding when it comes to taking photos of birds. Serendipity has also played a role.  With one exception, all the birds in the photos below (nearly all of which were taken in and around Apollo Bay), I encountered by chance. The exception is the eastern great egret. I first encountered this bird by chance, and was enthralled by the protracted slow motion dance of us staying close yet keeping our distance around the mudflats at the mouth of the Barham River. But I now know where that bird lives and what the rules are, and have sought him out with success on many occasions.

Upon first coming to Apollo Bay, I thought that seagulls, cormorants, sparrows, magpies and cockies, with the occasional wedge tailed eagle over Marriners Lookout pretty much summed up the bird life in the area. How wrong I was.

These photos have all appeared on my blog. But in compiling the photos for this post I am working on the assumption that nobody has followed/read this blog from its commencement, or devoted a substantial part of their annual leave to immersing themselves in the back catalogue.

I wish to share with readers through this collection of favourites of mine, the beauty, the majesty and the sheer wonder of some of the birds I have encountered and photographed in the paradise that is Apollo Bay and its immediate surrounds.

This post is all about the photos. The words are superfluous, so please treat reading the comments as entirely optional.

Australasian Gannet

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The Australasian gannet is a powerful flyer. They breed in Australia and New Zealand, and flights across the Tasman and up and down the east coast of Australia are not uncommon.

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One mode of fishing mastered by this species is plunge diving. The birds dive at speeds up to 80kph and enter the water with wings folded back. They can dive to 50 feet or so underwater, and can manoeuvre under water using their wings. Sometimes the birds will target a single fish before diving, but often a flock will fly at 30 feet or so above the water and herd fish into a concentrated area before diving and catching them with ease. They have been observed to catch as many as 4-5 fish on a single dive.

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These birds are so aerodynamically streamlined and are such accomplished flyers that they spend much of their time aloft soaring and gliding. The Australasian gannet always seems to fly and manoeuvre with elegance and efficiency.

Pacific Gull

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Silver gulls must sometimes look at Pacific gulls and wonder if the silver gull was simply a first draft, and that this species is where nature finally got it right. This bird does everything a silver gull is capable of, but does it better, further, higher, faster and with more panache and ease.  This is a very stylish, robust and well designed seabird.

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These birds look absolutely on top of their game, even when doing ordinary things like formation head checks before takeoff.  They are distributed in a relatively thin band along the south coast of the Australian continent,  and up the south west coast of Western Australia. They are common enough, but nowhere near as common as the silver gull.

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Wherever possible I try to get a photo of a bird with at least one eye clearly lit and visible. It gives a hint as to the character of the bird. This closeup of a Pacific gull does just that. I’ll leave the character reading to you, but it should include supreme confidence.

Silver Gull

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This silver gull was standing in the shallows in the flowing Barham River on a very hot evening. He seemed to just be chilling, letting the freshwater flow around his legs, and enjoying the coolness of the air just above the water.

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I learnt something very useful from this silver gull. I was taking photos of very small things on the tidally exposed reef between Pt Bunbury and the Barham River mouth. This required lying down on the sand or rocks at times for a better view. It was while in that position, having been there for a little while. that this bird in the company of others landed close to me then proceeded to walk and feed even closer. There was no doubt that my reduced apparent size by reason of being prone removed or reduced the appearance of threat that usually causes them to land warily at a greater distance, and move away not towards me. I have put this theory into practice on other occasions, and it works.

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Juvenile silver gull – distinguishable by light brown feathers on the wings, and dark beak and legs.

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This gulls quartet was in fine voice just after dawn on a beach at the Bay of Fires in Tasmania one cold winter’s morning. They were giving this rousing number everything they had.

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That’s Cape Patton in the distance. The photo was taken looking east after sunset from Tuxion beach at the end of my street in Apollo Bay. These birds appear to me to have the languid relaxed air of heading home for the night after putting in a solid day. Their legs are just dangling, and their beaks are pointing left and right respectively indicating they have not given up entirely on scoring a snack on the way home.

Sooty Oyster Catcher

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That beak is certainly heavy duty.

Pied Oyster Catcher

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The pied and sooty oyster catchers frequent the same areas in southern Australia. Makes me wonder why they evolved such contrasting markings.

Crested Tern

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Juvenile crested tern channelling its inner dove of peace.

Australian Pelican

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The ubiquitous Australia pelican. This one was photographed on Wallis Lake at Forster-Tuncurry in NSW.

Domestic Geese

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A small number of long-liberated domestic geese live in the Apollo Bay harbour. Fishermen and other locals feed them from time to time.

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This is a formal goose portrait. Its colouring and pose reminds me of those old sepia portraits of early American presidents and the like. This goose had  an imperious look about him which suggested he answered to nobody,  called the shots on every occasion and was never wrong.

Hooded Plover

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Inconveniently for them, hooded plovers nest on open beaches.

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Effective lookout system in action while on the nest..

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Spurwinged Plover

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I have researched the sharp yellow spike on the leading edge of the wings of this bird. It is not actually used in battle. But it is used in threat displays. All show apparently.

Black Swan

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This swan had just taken off from the Barham River at sunset, and was heading west. That’s a lot of neck to control in flight.

Eastern Great Egret

A truly exquisite bird.

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Australian Magpie

The song of the magpie is second to none. It is truly beautiful and uplifting. I got to know this particular male magpie over three breeding seasons. Its territory is in and around my house and the tree lined creek beside it, and up and down the street I’m on. I have watched it rear young with its mate (two young for each year I have observed). This bird would come down from a lamp post and land at my feet upon being called by me. It was also familiar with my house, and would peck on the front door or adjacent window. It would also look through windows and find me in the house. It knew when I was getting something from my special stash of approved maggie tucker, and would head to the nearest door before I did. It would take the food from my hand, and sometimes then stay put on the balcony rail, as if for the company. Sometimes when I was using the outdoor shower after a swim, this bird would land near me and throw its head back and treat me to a song or two, while enjoying a bit of splash from the shower.  This species likes to interact with humans, and many householders in Australia have a special relationship with their local maggies. They are very territorial.

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Satin Bowerbird

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Readily distinguishable from other bowerbird species by its striking blue eyes. This photo was taken from the balcony on my house beside the creek.

Laughing Kookaburra

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Currawong

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This is a Tasmanian bird, which lives and breeds in Tasmania and some islands in Bass Strait. This photo was taken at Cradle Mountain.

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo

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A male yellow tailed black cockatoo (dark bill, pink ring around the eyes and a smaller cheek patch than the female, which has a paler bill, a grey ring around the eye and a large patch on the cheek).

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These birds are awkward flyers compared to say the Australasian gannet. It seems that they flap, then notice that they are going down, and so flap again. It’s as if they have reluctant wings barely up to the job. But that aside, when they descend on target trees their eating method is to bite off a branch, have a nibble and discard the branch. Then repeat. A tree they have fed from often has a substantial pile of bitten of branch pieces below it. These birds work in gangs – but there is always a non-eating lookout appointed when they raid a tree. The hakea tree in our backyard is a regular victim of the yellow tailed black cockatoo. I forgive them. Long may they visit.

New Holland Honeyeater

This tiny darting little bird lives on nectar, and sometimes insects. It moves too frequently and quickly for an observer to have any hope of ascertaining its true beauty. The photo yields wonderful surprises with this little bird.

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Only a still photo enables this stern looking and feature-rich little face to be appreciated.

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None of these colours, markings, feathers and shape are able to be appreciated when this bird darts past.

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I suppose when insects are on your diet you have to be able to maneouvre in flight in this extreme manner. Any flying machine built by man, with wings on these angles, would be about to crash. All in a day’s or perhaps a millisecond’s work for the NHH.

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Seabirds on the Wing

Birds on the wing, betwixt heaven and earth.

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I have a large framed print of this on my wall in my house at Apollo Bay. It’s a favourite. It draws me in whenever I glance at it. I find so much in it to look at and think about.

 

 

Storms, seabirds, surf…..

Weather generated in the roaring forties hits this part of the world with glorious force. The reason is that Apollo Bay is just around the corner from Cape Otway which extends unprotected into the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean in a post-frontal gale

Summer announced its arrival around here with a series of cold fronts and all that comes with them.  Gale force winds and rough seas swept in from the west and south west.

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The bombie at Outer Henty Reef, which lies 3kms or so ESE from Marengo Point, was stirring. Always a good indicator that there is some bigger than average swell about. Not the spot to anchor the family runabout on this day, or ever.

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Shore break on the southern side of Point Bunbury, Apollo Bay. There was a howling westerly, and this wave was travelling north. The mane of spray which blows over the back of a breaking wave in an offshore wind, was simply blown to pieces in these conditions. .

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Raw power pounding the reef at Point Bunbury.

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Strong onshore conditions created this ocean palette over the reefs around Cape Patton. The winding line of the great ocean road can be seen carved into the cliffs near Cape Patton. This photo was taken from the point overlooking the surf break known locally as Sledgehammers.

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Apollo Bay in a post-frontal gale. While the westerly winds were creating the rough seas shown in the first five images above, Apollo Bay, with its east-facing town beach was quite protected, but only close in shore. The whitecaps and waves could be seen out to sea, as could the notchy horizon which indicates rough seas. But the main beach in front of the surf life saving club had this glassy green little wave sculpted by the offshore wind.

A glassy wave in the lee of the headland at Wye River

The story of these few shots is simple. I was driving to Apollo Bay and passing through Wye River. I watched the rain shower passing over Wye as I approached from the east. As I climbed up the hill after crossing the river and passing the general store, the rain was receding to my east, and the sun was shining from the west, with the inevitable result. I did a quick U turn and parked illegally but sort of out of the way, and caught these couple of shots before the rainbow disappeared.

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I’m sure that if asked, this surfer would not be able to come up with too many ways of improving upon this moment.

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This is the composition in which I would have liked the surfer to be up and riding. But the peaceful way he was paddling out meant, I think, that he was pretty happy with the composition as shown.

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This right hander is in the lee of the point at Wye River, At the time this was taken, there was a very strong westerly blowing, with frequent gusts over 30 knots. But the land generally and the headland in particular meant this break was on the lee side of the hills. The adjacent land provided protection from the wind for quite a distance out to sea.

A storm sweeping across Apollo Bay

These six images were taken in late winter. The passage over Apollo Bay and surrounding coast of this substantial cumulo-nimbus cloud included very heavy rain and hail. I didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder. Between the squall lines which brought this storm were short periods of bright sunshine. An irresistible light combination for a photographer.

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I was east of Apollo Bay when this shot was taken.  The storm and I were on a collision course. The dark curtain of heavy rain is clearly visible . The following photos were taken from beaches at Apollo Bay after I drove through the rain and under the cu-nim.

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The storm rapidly sweeping eastwards. While the storm was moving away from me, it appeared to be increasing in intensity for a while.

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I have no explanation for the presence of this isolated fragment of cloud in front of this very active cumulo-nimbus could. I am aware from my flying days that even in clear air some miles away from such a storm, great turbulence can be experienced. There is a lot of unstable moist air moving around in and near a Cb.

 

The Great Cormorant on a low level mission over the shore break

I was standing on the point at Lorne looking towards Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet, when two great cormorants (their formal name, not my adjective) flew fast and low straight towards me then straight past me. I captured what I could.

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The patterns and colours on the top side of the wings are quite beautiful.

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This bird was on a serious mission, and had me directly in his sights at this point.

 

Australasian Gannets feeding 600m offshore at Apollo Bay

I have included these five shots because of the interesting bird behaviour they show. They are of poor photographic quality, principally because this activity was happening 600m offshore from where I was standing.  I know the distance because they were diving near an orange buoy I sometimes swim around, and I have measured the distance with my GPS watch. The 150-600mm telephoto lens was set at a focal length of 600mm for these photos.

The Australasian gannet cooperates with other birds to round up fish in a loose sort of way, then they dive at high speed into the water and catch them at depths up to 40 feet or so. They can swim and manoeuvre quite well under water. The fish is generally swallowed before they surface. These birds are also great flyers. Many have been recorded flying between Australia and New Zealand. Their large wings are built for soaring and efficient flying. It is therefore all the more remarkable that they can tuck the wings in so well to permit a streamlined high speed dive and entry into the water, without doing any damage to themselves.

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The two birds on the left are both lining up for a dive into the water. The top bird still has its wings spread somewhat, but the lower one is beginning to tuck his in.

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The lower bird has now completely tucked his wings away and is about to enter the water. The top bird is at a slightly earlier stage of the same procedure.

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They really do commit with a vertical dive as shown.

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As it nears the water, the wings are progressively retracted to lie streamlined along the body, to reduce drag in the air (higher speed entry) and under the water (deeper and faster movement to the target fish).

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By snapping away at 5 frames per second, I fortuitously caught this bird with its head just entering the water, and the rest of its body about to follow.

 

The southern heavens on a moonless night

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This photo was taken on a moonless night from a small cliff overlooking the beach, the reef and the Southern Ocean, near Marengo.  Thee was some moisture in the air, and a low layer of strato-cumulus cloud across the horizon. It is the moisture in the air that gives some of the stars their halo. The Milky Way is lying low in the sky as it does at this time of year in the southern hemisphere, and in mid-frame is the Southern Cross lying on its side compared to how most people remember it.  The two pointers are the two bright stars right of centre in the image. One of these, and the brightest star in the Southern Cross, are reflected in water lying in rock pools on the rocky reef (near the bottom of the image). In the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross can be used to locate true south. Google it. But if you are a bit old school, try this. Draw a line through the long axis of the kite shaped diamond that is the Southern Cross, and extend it to around 5 times that distance. Then connect the two pointer stars with a straight line, and draw a perpendicular from that line and extend it until it intersects the extended line you drew through the diamond of the Southern Cross. That point is the south celestial pole (a point in space, interesting for a lot of reasons but not presently relevant). Drop a vertical line from the intersection of your two lines, and where it meets the horizon is due south. If that doesn’t assist you to find north, east and west, you wasted your time reading this and should just activate your EPIRB if lost under a cloudless night sky in the southern hemisphere.

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This was taken on a moonless night looking due south from a beach between Wild Dog Creek and Skenes Creek. Once again there is some low cloud. There are two meteors or shooting stars in this photo. The Milky Way extends right across the image, and faintly but there if you look, is the Southern Cross with all its stars as well as the two pointers visible (just right of centre, and just above the layer of dark cloud). I am always entranced when I look up at such a night sky. It gives me a heady feeling. Looking at stars that may have ceased to exist eons ago, pondering the myriad imponderables and contemplating my infinitesimal smallness in the big picture – it’s the ultimate look over the edge.  I intend to continue my late night visits to the beach and the universe.  The photos are just a bonus.

The New Holland Honeyeater

A photographic offering in praise of the surprisingly beautiful New Holland honeyeater.

The New Holland honeyeater is hyperactive. It would make a blowfly around food at midday on a hot summer’s day look lethargic.  In the time it took to take the photos below, I didn’t see one sit still for more than a few seconds. Capturing a photo at all, much less one that was in focus, was not easy. This bird is present in large numbers around Apollo Bay, and seems to favour the coastal vegetation belts. One of my bird books claims it is one of 76 species of honeyeater found in Australia. It is found along the southern coast and immediate hinterland of southern Australia.

These photos were taken on the banks of the Barham River at Apollo Bay (on the south east coast of Australia) during the hour before the sun set yesterday evening. These birds seem to fly around and feed in groups, and most of the photos below are of different individual birds.  The vegetation beside the Barham and its tidal mud flats is dense and lush. Reed stalks and small bushes seemed to be favoured perching locations for this honeyeater. It feeds on nectar and insects. Its capacity to manoeuvre and dart in any direction in the blink of an eye would give it the upper hand over many if not most insects in the area.

I have sorted the selection of photos into those showing the bird perched, flying and looking tough. When this bird flies past you get a sense of it being small and dark, perhaps with a flash of white or yellow depending on your vantage point, and quickly gone. I have included photos to show the bird from most angles in an attempt to show its full beauty.  The shots of the bird in flight show off the wonderful colour scheme which is really only evident in full flight.

Some of the shots of the bird in flight are of a different quality to the other photos. I won’t claim intentional artistic effect, even though I don’t mind the unintended graininess of some of them. The explanation is that the low light as the sun set (with a few clouds around)  required a high ISO and a less than optimal shutter speed. The image was further pushed during editing by cropping significantly from a larger image, to show the detail of this small bird.

Perched

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Reed stalks waving in the wind proved to be a sound choice for this dusk session with the camera. I went to the banks of the Barham at dusk with the specific intention of  improving on recent photos I have taken of the New Holland honeyeater.

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On the wing

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The photo immediately before this is an enlargement from this shot.

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Remarkable agility to momentarily have the wings on this angle while flying in full control. (This is obviously an enlargement from the previous photo. This manoeuvre certainly didn’t happen more than once for the entire time I was taking photos).

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Higher speed flight for short distances is not beyond this little bird when it streamlines itself and applies full throttle.

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The only way I could get a shot of the bird in flight was to point the lens at it while it sat for a couple of seconds on the reed stalk, then press the shutter when it looked ready to depart. The distance it covered from the stalk is a measure of both its speed and my reaction time.

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Closeup from the previous shot.

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The following photo is an enlargement of the bird in this shot.

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I had no idea before seeing this photo that this dark darting little bird could have such beauty, even if only displayed for milliseconds in flight.

 

Looking tough

I’m not sure if this look is some sort of defence mechanism, or just an accidental product of the markings around its face when seen straight on. This look simply cannot be seen with the naked eye with the bird flying around or perching momentarily. I had my big telephoto lens set to a focal length of 600mm, and still had to crop and enlarge the image to enable this seriously cranky look to be enjoyed.

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What a little character.

An Hour with an Egret

The ever elegant egret was the subject of a post on this blog in August last year.  I have long wanted to see and photograph this bird displaying its breeding plumage, which until yesterday evening I had only ever seen in photos. The mud flats and tidal shallows near the mouth of the Barham River play host to many species of birds especially around dusk.

So as the breeding season for this egret is October to December, yesterday evening I walked slowly along the banks of the river when the sun was an hour or thereabouts above the horizon, hoping the egret might make an appearance. Golden evening light alternated with duller light as occasional low clouds west drifted through the area. As it turned out, I was rewarded with the arrival of this solitary eastern great egret. For an hour or so, he walked up and down his side of the river, and I walked up and down mine. We kept a close eye on each other. From previous experience I know that a river width is about as close as this bird will let me approach without taking off. It was a most enjoyable hour.

But as usual when I’m on a mission armed with a camera and with a particular subject in mind, serendipity threw irresistible distractions across my path. The first was this new holland honeyeater, which momentarily alighted on a solitary fragile looking reed waving in the wind.

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The new holland honeyeater will not pose for photos. It’s a case of point and shoot the second you spot him land, or he’ll be gone.

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The new holland honeyeater up close. That is indeed a stern look. I was clearly in his sights.

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There are many varieties of crimson rosella differentiated mostly by colour scheme. The vivid crimson and bright blue displayed by this bird is my favourite.  I wasn’t sure whether or not he thought he was hiding behind that vertical stick up the midline of his face. He sat frozen in this position while I took a few photos.

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I took this photo in winter last year (also at the Barham River). I include it here for contrast with the photo immediately following. The flawlessly smooth surface of the plumage on this bird is the non-breeding plumage.

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This is the breeding plumage. The feathers on the neck and body can be smoothed down as shown in the next photo. But the mantle of feathery tendrils trailing from the back of the bird are always visible during the mating season. The marked display of the breeding plumage here, including the feathers on the neck standing out from their normal smooth appearance, seems to be a state of display which the bird can produce at will, as shown here.

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This bird was feeding very successfully. A small light brown flattish fish seemed to be on the menu in this location. The egret would walk slowly through the shallows looking down at the water very attentively. Then it would freeze, the neck would slowly extend but with a marked kink, from which position it would wait for target prey to be exactly in the cross hairs at which point it would fire the beak into the water at high speed to seize the fish. There were very few misses with this hunting technique.

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Success! (again).  They were only hors d’oeuvre sized snacks, but as anyone who has starved at an event offering that inevitably inadequate substitute for a proper dinner of drinks and finger food knows, if you eat enough of them…..

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There are a number of species of egret. But only the great egret has this wonderfully extendable long neck. The breeding plumage is at rest here, just hanging from the bird’s back like an ornamental cloak.

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That’s a lot of neck to manage in flight, and indeed at other times. It also presents a daunting task for any fish who survives being plucked from the water and swallowed, and who has plans for a last ditch fight back up the neck to freedom. I saw zero escapes of this nature.

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Not a lot of moving parts on this face for expressive looks. Perhaps this one look simply has to fit all situations, and hence, not being equipped with a smile or language, the need for breeding plumage to attract attention and to remind any who need reminding that ’tis the season for perpetuating the species.

The next five photos are a sequence showing the bird doing a hover-like vertical takeoff. It took some creative and very energetic wing movements before it was safely airborne, with the landing gear retracted, and the head in a streamlined position directly in front of the body.

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Standing tall, and looking directly at me.

Two photo sequence of the very effective feeding routine.

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The egret is so effortlessly elegant.

Three photo sequence below. This bird just kept striking beautiful poses. The lush banks of bullrushes and the foliage behind them provided protection from the wind. Good for egret fishing, and for photos.

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The sun was setting when this was taken. The three ducks had obviously given it all away for the day. But even as I left and glanced back, the egret was still strolling around, feeding pretty much at will. Perhaps the ducks with their blunt rounded beaks, their short necks, their flat feet and stumpy little legs just accepted that they were outclassed in the conditions on the day at this location by the superbly adapted and equipped eastern great egret.

Four image sequence of the egret feeding on edge of the water near the mud flats. Beyond the mud flats was the banks were crowded with lush green foliage, visible in these photos only as reflections in the water.

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A most enjoyable hour.

 

Postscript

When not being the star of the sunset feeding rituals performance as shown above, this egret lives just  a few hundred metres upstream, on a quiet corner of the Barham River away from the public and paparazzi (well, most of them anyway). The extras also retreat to this spot.