Beauty Hiding in Plain Sight

Nature provides special events in and around Apollo Bay from time to time, against a backdrop of spectacles equally beautiful and awe-inspiring but perhaps less appreciated because they are available all the time. The photos below could have been taken in and around Apollo Bay virtually anytime in daylight hours.

Towering mountain ash in cool temperate rainforest

Mountain ash dominating the upper storey of this forest in the Otway Ranges.
Silhouettes against a cloudy but bright sky.
Mountain ash standing tall in the cool temperate rain forest through which Turton’s Track passes.
Such mighty trees require substantial bases.
Mountain ash in the morning mist deep in the Otway Ranges. It was perfectly silent except for the birds. This photo gives some indication of the great variety and profusion of plant life in this ancient rainforest.

The white-faced heron

Late afternoon low flight over Wild Dog Creek near Apollo Bay.
I cannot resist observing that in addition to the lift from these powerful wings the perfect aerofoil curve of the upper body of the heron would also create lift. The undercarriage is neatly retracted and streamlined to minimise drag during flight.
What magnificent lift and thrust generators these wings are.
Pausing for a moment on the beach between Wild Dog Creek and the ocean. Slightly less prepossessing than when in flight, but still elegant. Legs built for wading. Knees that articulate in the opposite direction to human knees. Neck and beak perfectly designed for fishing and foraging.

Masked lapwing chick

Masked lapwing chick handling the challenge of head-high uncut lawn.
Adult masked lapwing.

The little corella

The little corella (the adjective being supplied by the bird namer, not me) is found in a wide variety of habitats in Australia, including the coast and semi-arid inland areas. They are typically found in flocks and smaller groups. It has a short crest which can be raised or lowered at the bird’s discretion. These birds are common around Apollo Bay, albeit not as common as galahs or sulphur-crested cockatoos.
The setting sun shone through a gap in the clouds for a brief period, bathing this little corella in ‘golden hour’ light. Not sure what the ‘right wing extended’ signal means, but it could certainly be read from a great distance. It may have been simply waving at a passing friend.
Clear for takeoff. The golden hour had ended and twilight was beginning. These photos of the little corella were taken in the eucalypts along the banks of Milford Creek in Apollo Bay.

Strong south westerly winds on the coast

The effect of a strong south westerly wind on the ocean close to shore depends on which way a particular beach is facing. At this east facing beach in Mounts Bay (just south of Apollo Bay), the wind was pretty much offshore (blowing from the shore to the sea) which blew the tops off the breaking waves creating these clouds of white spray. The position and arc of this surfboard reminded me very much of the way dolphins and other sea creatures spear out of the water behind waves in exuberant short flight. It was interesting to see what a riderless surfboard gets up to when left to its own devices in the surf.
Little Henty Reef juts out into the sea near Hayley Point, exposing it to the full force of the south westerly wind. The sea close to the lee side of this rocky outcrop (near the foot of the image) is slightly protected from such a wind. The Australian fur seals to whom this reef is home, or short stay accommodation, were not deluged by these seas because while they were rough, there was not a large swell associated with it. But they would have been constantly damp from the spray. They didn’t seem to mind.

Swell and a Northerly Wind at Little Henty Reef

The northerly wind blows directly into the swell at Little Henty Reef, creating the white manes of spray shown. When swell above a certain size hits this reef, it inevitably creates an aqua barrel. Huge waves create big barrels. Smaller waves create tight little barrels as shown in this image. An interesting feature of the light in these breaking waves is that even on dull days (which this was not) when the sea is not particularly blue or green or any colour, the inside of the barrel is always vivid aqua….the emerald eye of the wave.
Slightly bigger wave, more water throwing out in the lip and consequently a bigger barrel. The reef is partially exposed as water is sucked out in front of the advancing wave.
This was probably the biggest wave I saw that morning (but well short of the biggest waves I have seen here). The reef is fully exposed as the water sucks out in front of the breaking wave. This is the reason I have no photos of surfers on this wave.
When the lip of a sizeable wave throws out in front and smashes on the reef, a large volume of water ricochets skywards as shown here. The forces are amazing, given that each cubic metre of water weights one tonne. The force is multiplied by the fact that it is moving at speed when it hits the reef. The rather mutant shapes on the breaking wave on the right reflect the variable topography of the seabed and reef immediately beneath that water.

A couple of bars of slide guitar

My gracefully ageing Martin 000-28H lives on its stand in my lounge room on permanent standby for my regular short performances to an empty room. Sometimes the performance lasts less than 30 seconds, sometimes slightly longer.

Marriner’s Lookout, Apollo Bay

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

Views from Marriner’s Lookout

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

Superb fairy-wren

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

The horse paddock just behind the lookout

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

Pied Currawong

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

Red wattlebird

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

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

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

West Coast Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diving Gannets at Kennett River

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

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

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

Aerial Reconnaissance

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

Diving

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

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

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

Red Wattlebirds Feeding Their Young

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

Fledglings waiting for a feed

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

Fledglings Feeding

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

The attentive parent

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

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

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

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

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

A great cormorant cutting it fine on a wave

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

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

Synchronised great cormorants

Silver gull coming in for a landing just before sunset

Yet another graceful glide to a perfect landing.

Swell breaking over Little Henty Reef

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

Magpies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apollo Bay Harbour Residents and Visitors

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

Classic Spring Weather in Apollo Bay

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

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

A morning ocean swim under a clear blue sky

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

A cold front passes over Apollo Bay

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

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

Some ocean swimming markers

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

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

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

Rain drops, not spray from a breaking wave

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

Silver gulls at Peterborough

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

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

A calm, golden evening at Apollo Bay

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

Gale force winds ahead of another cold front

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ocean swim after the wind eased

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

Final Days of Winter in Apollo Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Lone surfer – photo 1

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

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

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

Lone surfer – photo 2

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

Lone surfer photo 3

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

The Aire River Mouth

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

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

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

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

The ubiquitous crested tern and silver gull

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

….and sometimes they mingle.

Closeups of the birds of a feather flocking together.

Crested tern soaring over the surf zone searching for food.

Pacific gull posing, and juvenile crested gull.

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

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

Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands and Logans Beach

The migration of southern right whales and the humpback whales across the oceans south of the Australian continent is a winter phenomenon. After breeding in the warmer waters along the southern coast of Australia (and along the east and west coasts of the country) between May and November, they head back to Antarctic waters where krill abounds in the cold water. At birth calves would not survive the freezing temperatures deep in the Southern Ocean, which explains the annual migration to warmer waters.

Yesterday Liz and I drove to Logans Beach at Warrnambool, an established whale nursery, to see and photograph whales close to shore. With whale numbers increasing every year, whale sightings along this coast are increasingly common – except for yesterday. Despite keeping an eagle-eyed lookout whenever the ocean was in sight, and despite perfect whale-spotting weather and sea conditions, not a single whale or splash was seen. If you are a reader who likes a blog post to have a theme, then the theme of this post is photos without whales in them.

But the west coast of Victoria between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is not lacking in points of interest, even when the whales are elsewhere.

The vista to the north from a high point on the Otway Ranges not far west of Lavers Hill. Cold air and fog was still nestling in the valleys, but the sun burned it off pretty rapidly from mid-morning. (The connection of this scene with the three places in the heading of this post, is that it was passed on our way to those places).
Coastal planes near Gibson Steps beach.
There was not much swell forecast, but the ocean and beaches west of Cape Otway march to their own drum in this regard. There was a light northerly, and glassy long interval swell lines like this were arriving from weather deep in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The refraction of sunlight shining on the curtain of spray raised by the offshore wind created these fleeting rainbows. This surf, despite its quality, was too small to attract the interest of any of the local surfers. To see the sort of surf at Gibson Steps that does attract the interest of local surfers, see my recent post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/20/big-clean-swell-at-gibson-steps/
At the Bay of Islands, just west of Peterborough, I had my camera switched on with settings for seascapes and landscapes as we walked out a narrow headland covered in hardy shrubs and surrounded by ocean on three sides. We spotted this nankeen kestrel hovering and manoeuvring rapidly with its eyes fixed on prey it had spotted in the shrubs below. Before I could aim the camera (with 150-600mm lens attached) skywards, it drew its wings in and with its gaze locked on its intended prey, dived vertically down to the scrub where it disappeared for a moment or two. It then took to the air and climbed away with this hapless lizard having its first trip by air. This was no mean feat, as the scrub was quite thick. The nankeen kestrel is a member of the falcon family. Falcons are fast flyers, with high level aerial hunting skills, which this bird displayed superbly. The nankeen kestrel can be found right across the Australian continent, but they prefer to breed on the south east of the continent and in south western W.A. I would not normally publish a photo lacking sharpness as this image does. My excuse is that the shutter speed I used, while suitable for seascapes, was too slow to properly capture an airborne kestrel in hunting mode. But the subjects can be identified, and I find the photo interesting enough to include in this post.
The offshore limestone stacks along this coast are wonderfully secure eyries for nesting birds. The silver gull makes the most of it, as do cormorants, shearwaters and a variety of other seabirds.
Nesting areas on these limestone islands are far more densely populated than this photo might suggest.
Silver gull on final approach to join his two mates enjoying the view over an ocean teeming with food.
Coastal cliffs east of Peterborough. Before the light northerly came up, the day had started with fog as a large high pressure area was centred over the state. Once the wind started to move the fog, the sun broke through and heated the ground which reflected heat back into the lower atmosphere which in turn accelerated the dissipation and disappearance of the fog. Low ragged patches of cumulus cloud were the last remnants of this process, which was followed by a cold day with a cloudless blue sky.
A singing honeyeater on the whale watching platform at Logans Beach. It lives on berries, nectar and insects in habitats including coastal shrub land, which covers the sand dunes in this area. An interesting fact I read about this bird is that it is one of the first birds to call before dawn (‘The Australian Bird Guide’, Menkhorst and others, CSIRO Publishing 2017, at page 376).
The singing honeyeater. The facial expression suggests it was not about to burst into joyous song during this brief portrait sitting. I liked its proud assertiveness.
Some rips are easier to spot than others. The surfers shown were using this and other rips for an easy ride through the shore break to get out the back at Logans Beach to their chosen takeoff point.
This well established rip was operating right from the shallows. The figure on the left is a bodysurfer who entered the water at the rip and used it for a speedy lift out the back. From there he paddled parallel to the beach to his takeoff point. It would be a simple swim to shore on the white water either side of this rip. But it would most likely have been impossible for anyone to swim against the current in the calm looking water of the rip which was flowing out to sea to just beyond the zone of breaking waves. The rip could be spotted from the sea beyond the breaking waves by looking shorewards. It would appear as a break in the line of white water of the breaking waves. Surf is not breaking over the rip because the water is deeper there. These rips were at Logans Beach, east of the whale viewing area.

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 answer this with complete certainty. But such evidence as there is tends to favour the conclusion that it was a shark rather than a dolphin. 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 know from experience that dolphins do sometimes 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. 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.

My opinion based on the above is that it was not a dolphin, and that it was a shark of some sort – perhaps a Mako shark.

I intend to continue to leave the water when solitary dark dorsal fins on unidentified creatures appear 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.