Snake habitat; koala courtship; swimming in and around Apollo Bay harbour

My last snake encounter on the Great Ocean Walk was last year when I was walking ahead of Liz and was informed by her that I had just walked past a coiled up tiger snake on the grass beside the track. We waited a short time and it moved off. This was in mid-winter. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. Numerous local friends have reported similarly unthreatening tiger snake encounters on this track. But it does seem that the longer the walk, the more snakes you see. A friend on a 14km run along the GOW recently saw three large snakes.

Snake sightings are so common on the GOW that news of a walk on that track without sighting a snake is an occurrence perhaps more noteworthy than a snake sighting. But I have never heard or read of anybody being bitten by a snake on this track. Seems they are not very interested in humans. So a good lookout and not rushing seems to allow time for walker and snake to see each other and get out of each other’s way without threat or incident.

These two photos were not taken by me. The photo on the left shows a tiger snake on the Great Ocean Walk. The photo on the right, taken recently by a friend during a run along the GOW, shows part of a substantial snake (one of three he encountered on a 14km run) which is either a brown or a tiger. Tiger snakes in this part of the world come in a variety of colour schemes and patterns – not all have the distinctive dark stripes. It was the report of my friend from his 14km run and snake sightings that prompted me to take a walk on the track in the heat of the day to see if I could capture a decent photo of a tiger snake in broad daylight.

The start of the Great Ocean Walk.

These warnings are near the start of the GOW at Marengo. The sign on the right is down the track a bit warning of the dangers of big surf. There are numerous points on this walk where there is a choice between a beach and rock shelf walk, or following the cleared track on higher ground. Big swell and a high tide usually remove the first option.

It was on a sunny summer’s day with cloudless sky, high temperature and very little wind that I decided to take my Nikon and telephoto lens for a couple of kms down the GOW around midday to see if I could spot and photograph a tiger snake. I wore jeans and my shin high leather motorbike boots, and carried a compression bandage and an EPIRB (the latter is always in my pack on bush walks and motorbike rides).
Beautiful bays and points around every corner in the early kms of the GOW. Clearly defined little rip in this corner.
Snake territory if ever I saw it!

There is variety in the width and surrounds of the main track on the GOW. Some parts are narrower than others, with more dense vegetation on both sides of the track. I was keeping a very good lookout on the track and its verges, and I walked quite slowly hoping to spot a snake without disturbing it so I could get a good photo using the 150-600m telephoto lens. My anticipation of a sighting was keen. All the omens were right. But I had overlooked one factor which I discovered during whale seasons past – arriving at the scene of a reported wildlife sighting or a location of common sightings, equipped with my Nikon DSLR camera, a substantial telephoto lens, a spare SD card and battery, seems to ensure that no wildlife will be seen that day. I neither saw nor heard a single snake on this entire walk. Disappointing.

False alarm. This is an evolutionary adaptation of sticks, to look like a snake so they will be left alone. It worked. I didn’t touch it. (Disclaimer: I am not a formally trained herpetologist or stick expert).

My Spot satellite messenger is like a recreational EPIRB. It uses the same satellite network (which means it works anywhere on the face of the earth) but instead of calling in the SES, the police, the military and rescue helicopters, it sends an SMS or email with a pre-written message to a limited number of family and friends I have chosen. There are a couple of messages which can be sent. The one I use most is the ‘current location’ message. The tick on the map shown is my location when I activated the Spot satellite messenger (this is the map display received on a mobile phone by my selected contacts). The houses on the right are Marengo.

L to R: EPIRB, Spot Satellite Messenger, snake-fang-proof leather boots and wildlife-deterring Nikon SLR with telephoto lens and monopod.

As an ocean swimmer and ski paddler, I learned long ago that when you get offshore a bit the ocean is always rougher than it looks from the shore. These seas looked pretty calm from the shore with only a hint of whitecaps. But there was definitely some swell out there. This boat was having an exhilarating run to Apollo Bay.

No snake photos for my trouble on this day. But any walk on the GOW is a privilege and a pleasure.

Koala Courting

There is a creek beside my house lined with tall eucalypts. Koalas are frequent visitors. Territorial disputes, competition for mates, courtship and mating are all equally noisy affairs. First-time witnesses to the grunting and growling sound a koala can make are always surprised at how substantial and deep and fierce it sounds.

This smallish female was chased higher and higher up a tree by a male who was snorting and growling constantly as he pursued her. Unsurprisingly, it turned out not to be a winning tactic.

The snorter and growler unhappy that his raucous and overbearing behaviour was apparently entirely unattractive to the female koala who adroitly kept out of his reach. I must say, he doesn’t look as though he’d be great company.
It seems ‘ears down’ signals unhappiness. I think he is annoyed and crestfallen at all that wasted chasing, snorting and growling. He will just have to learn that chasing a frightened female up a tree, snorting and growling and trying to corner her there then sulking upon rejection, simply doesn’t cut it.
He eventually lost interest in the female, raised his ears to their usual position, and sat motionless in the wedge of this tree for a lengthy period. His eyes remained open, so I assume he was sulking, not sleeping.

Swimming in and around Apollo Bay Harbour

While swimming in the open ocean is my first choice, conditions sometimes warrant an alternative, and the harbour is a fine plan B.

As these GPS swim tracks show, doing laps up and down beside the eastern wall of the harbour (third photo) is just one option. The other two photos show swims which go out the harbour mouth then west towards the shore, then back over the harbour wall on foot where there is a pier to jump off to complete the swim via moored boats back to the boat ramp or the little beach.

Some time back I invited any of my swimming friends who felt like an afternoon swim to join me in the almost tropical conditions in the harbour. One response was scepticism and a request for photos. These are the photos I supplied.

Friends swimming in the harbour on a day when easterly conditions made it the best choice.
A peaceful and beautiful location for a swim under the backdrop of the foothills of the Otway Ranges.

Rough seas in an easterly blow at Apollo Bay

Swimmers and surfers stay out of the water and boats tend not to leave their moorings and pens in the harbour when there is a strong easterly blow at Apollo Bay. A number of shipwrecks in the area have occurred on lee shores in conditions such as these. The sea conditions created by wind waves brought by strong easterlies differ in a number of respects from the conditions typically associated with large ocean swells from the south west. But both are a spectacle to behold.

Before the harbour and this breakwater were built, a single long jetty and anything tied up to it used to take the full force of seas such as this.
The harbour is a safe and peaceful location for boats and swimmers in conditions such as these.
Sea water does get past the wall, but it hasn’t got much punch left by the time it does. Swimming in the lee of this breakwater in strong easterly conditions is pleasant on two counts – the water is glassy, and there are periodical water drops pinging off our swimming caps from the spray of the larger waves which hit the breakwater. I had an early 1km swim in the harbour on the day this photo was taken.
The ocean has right of way where it intersects with pedestrians.
Marcus inspecting the breakwater.
No windsocks needed around here (even though there is one on the fish co-op)when there are boats moored from only the bow in these (largely) current-free waters.
Not all craft moored in the harbour fare equally well in an easterly blow. There is enough fetch across the harbour from east to west to create chop and whitecaps on the western side where these dinghies were tied up.
This is the harbour mouth as seen from the ocean side. The dark rocks on the left are the northern tip of the eastern breakwater. The sailing club rooms can be seen just left of the spray in the centre of the image. Such conditions probably go some way to explaining the absence of small boat activity at the time this photo was taken. I imagine it’s the actual harbour mouth with its shallow water, breaking waves and proximity to solid objects that would deter sailors more than the conditions out to sea.
The Kia Ora III safe in its pen near the harbour mouth. The rocks on the right are the northern tip of the eastern breakwater. Boats shown here had a bit more movement while moored in these conditions than the boats in pens further inside the harbour.
If you had to exit the harbour in a small boat, this would not be the precise moment to give it the gun and head out with all this white water on the starboard side (I’m not a formally qualified sailor, but I know my rights).
Taken from the middle of the road in front of my house. Nature’s way of saying ‘swim in the harbour today’.
I returned to the harbour after lunch when the tide was lower. The waves were performing on cue and the light was a bit brighter.
The western dredge buoy. On occasions, friends and I use this as a turn point on longer swims around the bay. It’s 300m from the harbour mouth, 500m from the beach in front of the SLSC and 600m from the steps to the beach at the end of my street (Tuxion).
Safe haven.

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.

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.

Wild Dolphins in the Southern Ocean

At short notice I received an invitation to go on a short trip with a local Apollo Bay professional fisherman on his boat the Karlene-Marie. I said yes.

Heading east in calm and clear autumn conditions.
Looking north west.
En route to set the net.
This is about as peaceful as the Southern Ocean gets.
Dolphins in formation off the bow of the Karlene-Marie. The species of dolphin in these photos is the common dolphin.

My initial editorial inclination was that half a dozen dolphin photos would be more than enough on this post. But I didn’t lose interest when I was on the boat after seeing only half a dozen dolphins. I hung over the bow for the full time they were swimming. There were so close to me that I got splashed from time to time. I was taking photos, but mostly I was just watching. I didn’t notice the passing of time at all. They were mesmerising, and I felt it a privilege to see them at such close quarters for so long. So, enjoy the product of my revised editorial inclination which is to share something more than half a dozen photos of the spectacle that held me spellbound for as long as it lasted.
The bright light and clear water worked magic on their sleek forms.
Fascinating pattern of air bubbles trailing behind the blowhole along the back of the dolphin in the middle.
The dolphins off the bow took turns at a burst of speed and porpoising out of the water as shown.
The skipper.
The deckhand.
Smaller dolphins appeared to defer to this larger dolphin, leaving her to porpoise on her own.
Heading home, in smaller swell inside the protection of Cape Otway to the south west.
The Karlene-Marie. Fifty years old and going strong.

The lines of this yacht appealed to me as a contrast to the functional beauty of the working fishing boats which surrounded it.

Thanks for the great afternoon Frosty.