Big Swell Hits the West Coast

The forecast was for gale force onshore winds with an 8m+ swell around Pt Campbell on Sunday, peaking a few hours after midnight – and that’s what happened.

Coastal cliffs just west of Loch Ard Gorge & Mutton Bird Island

The wind at the time this was taken was blowing from the SSW at 30-44 knots according to the BoM observations. When I took this photo it was in the higher range and blew me off balance requiring a few backward steps to stay upright.
Just after dawn when the wind was strongest, the seas at all locations I visited were generating a lot of foam. The gale force wind picked it up from the waves and lifted it up and over the clifftops in sizeable foamy clumps. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a shot of the flying foam. But when editing the photos I noticed I had inadvertently caught this clump whizzing past me. The flying foam pieces looked as though someone was throwing scones up and over the cliffs. Car parks were covered in pieces of foam as if there had been a snowball fight.

Port Campbell

The Pt Campbell jetty, looking out to sea. Any ocean swimmer who has done the annual ocean swimming race at Pt Campbell will know that conditions like this at the seaward turn buoy would be a daunting sight.
This photo was taken pretty early in the day. I arrived at Loch Ard Gorge at sunrise just after low tide. This line of kelp and seaweed on the nature strip at Pt Campbell is stark evidence that I had clearly missed the main show in the dark early hours of the day. Even if only momentarily, at some point, this was the high water mark in the wild conditions after midnight! This bay faces south west, the exact direction the wind was coming from at that time. Later in the morning the wind eased slightly and backed around to the south.
I have never seen Pt Campbell beach sand lifted by waves on to the elevated nature strip as shown.

Views from Curdies River mouth at Peterborough

This photo was taken looking east from the lookout in the middle of Peterborough, which overlooks Curdies River mouth and the exposed rocky reefs just offshore which have claimed more than one sailing ship in the nineteenth century. The larger of the two points shown is Point Hesse (which is the point with London Bridge on its western side).

View from cliffs near Two Mile

There is no maintained or marked path to this location. After bush bashing for a short distance to one of my favourite vantage points on this part of the coast, a squall line moved in with very strong gusty winds and driving rain. Luckily I was in fully waterproof gear. The short duration storm was so wet and wild that sitting in the lee of this bush appealed more than taking it all on the chin. As shown, my Nikon with its 150-600mm telephoto lens fitted also has fully waterproof cover. The camera stayed dry all day. I was soaked more than once, including by saltwater from spray and water blowing up and over clifftops at some locations. This photo was taken a few kms west of Pt Campbell.
With gale force onshore winds, Two Mile (a big surf location, also known as Easter Reef) was blown out. But waves of significance were still marching to the cliffs over the offshore reef here, even if they were closing out as shown. The green face of this wave would have been at least four times overhead in my estimation. I readily acknowledge that surfers would call it a ‘solid 8 foot’.
The immediately preceding post on this blog discusses rips including this one near Pt Campbell. The long line of unbroken water heading from inside Pt Campbell bay and out to sea, is a deep channel. In surf of this size it is the location of a strong rip (shown by the arrow in the second of these two shots) as all that water coming ashore with the swell finds it way back out to deeper water.
The channel going out to sea from Pt Campbell bay.
The very centre of this image shows where the rip coming out to sea via the green channel finally reaches deeper water and slows down and dissipates. The area of surface turbulence as currents and wind oppose each other is clear. The water is also discoloured in the rip as sand and other material from the seabed inshore is carried seaward by the rip. It would be quite a quick trip paddling a surfboard from the beach inside the bay at Pt Campbell out to this point beyond the zone of breaking waves. As for paddling back in, surfers would have no option but to use the white water either side of the rip, with wind and waves assisting the passage back to dry land. For the record though, I didn’t see a single surfboard off car racks west of Cape Otway. Had the wind been offshore with this swell, there would’ve been some epic surfing and the day would’ve gone down in local surf lore as Big Sunday.

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles as viewed across wild seas. A less common perspective on these iconic sea stacks (of which there are actually 8, and counting, down).

Broken Head viewed from headland near Bakers Oven Rock

Broken Head as viewed from the adjacent headland west of it. Loch Ard Gorge and Mutton Bird Island are just to the east of this promontory. The more vivid colours in this shot are attributable to a brief appearance by the sun. For perspective, visible on the very left of the image on the headland, is a multi-strand wire fence of conventional waist height. The difference in water level ahead of and behind the wave in the foreground is a good indication of the size and power of the swell. The unbroken waves in the top right above the headland also give some idea of the size of the swell.

Mutton Bird Island, viewed from Broken Head

This is the southern tip of Mutton Bird Island, which is where the sailing ship Loch Ard was shipwrecked just before dawn on 1 June 1878. The Loch Ard was a 263 foot clipper, carrying freight, 37 crew and 17 passengers. Only two passengers survived, Tom Pearce (a crewman) and Eva Carmichael (a passenger). They were both around 18 years of age. Parts of the wreck are still visible and divers continue to visit the site. The story of the Loch Ard shipwreck is well worth reading.
Note the difference in water level ahead of and behind this wave. Duck diving under this wave would be a singular experience.

Broken Head & Survey Gorge

I took this photo while standing on Broken Head. The white spray in the foreground is rising from the gorge which feeds into Thunder Cave. The other higher curtain of spray is in the adjacent Survey Gorge.

Thunder Cave at Broken Head

The water was constantly white and turbulent as wave after wave poured untold volumes of water into this narrow gorge, with the water level rising and falling up the rough walls
At the head of the gorge, in a pattern repeated right up and down this coast, the water has created a cave by flowing in and out with great force in sea conditions such as these, thereby progressively undermining the land above it. (See the videos below).

Little Henty Reef, from Hayley Point

No big swell day would be complete without a trip to Hayley Point at Marengo, located a couple of kms from where I live. Readers of this blog will know that I have taken countless photos of big waves breaking over the reefs comprising Little Henty Reef. There are many more to come.
The wave in front has some substance. The looming peak following has more.
The nature of the reef, the seabed and the surrounding channels at Little Henty mean that waves rarely break simply in text book fashion on this Reef. I find it endlessly fascinating when the swell is up, and I spend hours on my photographer’s eyrie on the tip of Hayley Point rugged up, camera in hand. I saw a lot of waves along the coast on Sunday, but none quite like this one.

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.

Catching a few waves on the surf ski at Apollo Bay

The surf ski is one of my favourite ocean toys. A previous post on this blog contains photos and detailed descriptions of the ski in action from many perspectives. See:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/04/26/things-ive-seen-from-my-surf-ski-at-apollo-bay/

In contrast this post contains videos and photos taken with a GoPro from one angle only – a camera mounted on the back deck of the ski. They were all taken in a single paddle session yesterday afternoon just after the low tide in perfect swell conditions for the ski. Many sets were breaking around the corner of the harbour mouth (where a couple of surfers had a reliable right to themselves), and some of the bigger sets were breaking across the middle of the bay. Despite very crowded beaches, I had the big green-wave part of the bay entirely to myself.

This is the GPS track of my ski session as recorded by my Garmin swimming watch. For the record, I was in the water for 50 minutes and travelled 3.7kms. It was much more fun than those bare numbers might indicate.

Launching from the harbour

The main beach was crowded both on the sand and in the water. So I opted for a quiet and calm launching spot in the harbour (where I often swim when conditions in the bay are not suitable).
The serenity of the paddle out through the boats and across the seagrass was a contrast to the conditions waiting just through the harbour mouth.
Leaving the harbour between sets.

Through the harbour mouth to the surf

An eskimo roll on this ski is not possible. But a refreshing and surprising half roll without notice is entirely possible. All it takes is a moment’s inattention. The ocean now had my attention. I remained upright for the rest of the session.
There were some solid sets marching through. I let a couple go through to the keeper to see what was on offer before I paddled for my first wave.

The first wave of the day

Video

This was a nice green wave which was easily caught. On the ski, most waves are easily caught. You don’t need much of a wave to get a ride. The slight weight redistribution achieved by leaning forward as I paddle to catch a wave helps considerably.
As this wave neared shallower water it began to show signs of breaking so I exited to the right. The rudder is operated by foot pedals. A paddle blade in the water can also assist in a turn on the wave as a course correction, or to turn 180° and exit over the back of the wave. Here I had the left blade in the water to steady the ski as I was about to be completely abeam the wave which was steepening. This is a point which tests balance and use of the paddle to stay upright.
There is no reason I couldn’t have stayed with the wave after it broke, but I do like the clean speed and ride on an unbroken green wave.

The wave of the session

Video

This was the biggest wave I caught this session. It steepened quickly behind me, requiring only a couple of paddle strokes before the tail rose and the nose dipped down as the wave picked me up and propelled me shorewards. After catching it I generally stay in touch with the water via a paddle blade to stay on course (pointing straight at the shore, or perhaps turning left or right a bit to go along the wave). It’s a great feeling gliding effortlessly across the bay at 20+kph without paddling..
The moment the wave reached me and the tail lifted, the nose was at risk of going underwater. That arc of spray is from the bow being partly buried. I am leaning well back in this photo to get my weight back as far as possible to stop the nose burying itself in the water. (This is the exact opposite of the ‘leaning forward’ technique mentioned above, used when paddling for a wave which is barely steep enough to catch). If the nose does go under, of course the ski goes over. Catching a larger steeper wave and staying in control of the ski is exhilarating.
Not long after I caught it this wave broke behind me. Because it was one of the bigger waves, the white water didn’t just spill gently down the face. It broke solidly and suddenly, with a lot of water completely covering the back half of the ski and hitting me in the back. The ski can easily broach at this point and rudder and paddle blade can be useless to stop it once it starts. Best to get in early. Fast and strong use of the paddle for balance can save the day, but sometimes there is so much water hitting paddler and ski side on that a roll and dismount (refreshing as always) still happen. The early preventative step to take is to lean forward and paddle hard when the wave is about to break, keeping as much of the ski ahead of the white water as possible. This tends to keep the ski more stable.
Until I owned a GoPro, I had no idea there was this much water this close to me on such a wave.
Having decided to exit this wave to the left, the left blade has gone into the water as well as full left rudder being applied, and the ski turns back in a gentle arc to the calm water behind the wave. When abeam the wave as shown, there is a risk of coming off the ski. But I stayed upright on this wave throughout.
Temporary green ledge to rest my left arm on.

A 60 second ride from the harbour mouth to the beach

Video

I took this ride from near the harbour mouth all the way into the beach near the corner of the breakwater wall. It was a 60 second ride. There was some breaking wave action behind me on the way in, but not as much as on the earlier larger wave.
Riding a wave right to shore here involved threading carefully between swimmers and all sorts of things that float. You can’t afford to let the ski get out of control and broach, because the broken wave will take it all the way in and as it’s 18 feet long, it has potential to injure swimmers who don’t or can’t get out of the way. Better to keep it pointed at the shore and to paddle hard if necessary in the shore break to stay on course. That is of course, provided there is reasonable room for the ski to come ashore safely nose first or sideways, as there was on this ride.

This young fellow came up beside me and started a conversation about my ski. After a bit of a chat, his enthusiasm for the ski being obvious, he accepted my offer to taking the captain’s seat and the paddle for a moment or two to see how it felt. He seemed to enjoy that.

Final paddle into the calm of the harbour

After my wave ride into the shore, I paddled back out close to the breakwater (where there are less breaking waves) to the harbour mouth. I didn’t have to slow down too much to comply with the 5 knot speed limit.
The compass pole in the harbour. This is marker around which we often swim. This pole is used by fishing boats and other boats to moor on when swinging the vessel’s compass. This involves measuring minor errors in the magnetic compass readings attributable to interference with the earth’s magnetic field by metallic objects on the boat. The precise errors on various headings are measured and recorded on a compass deviation card (usually fixed to the compass or somewhere very close to it). So if e.g. the boat is actually pointing due magnetic north (360°M), the compass due to interference from objects on the boat may read 357°. This information is recorded on a deviation card which permits the captain or navigator to compensate when using the vessel’s compass to allow him to steer an accurate magnetic course.
Such peace and tranquility in the harbour after the session in good surf.
A most satisfying session ended as peacefully as it started.

Wind and Waves

The constant and ever-changing backdrop to life in Apollo Bay is the ocean. Swells come and go on the west coast of Victoria, unlike the wind which blows most days. The size of the swell is determined by storms in higher latitudes deep in the Southern Ocean. The strength and direction of the wind on the reefs and beaches where the waves complete their journey determine the nature and quality of the waves as they reach the reef or shore on which they break.

Little Henty Reef – solid swell in an offshore nor’westerly

This sequence of three images taken in rapid succession shows a sizeable wave breaking about 600m east of Hayley Point on Little Henty Reef. The wind was directly offshore.

This was solid swell. The volume of water in this wave is apparent from the fact that it had already broken over the shallow water above the reef (see the curtain of breaking white and green water forming something of a barrel in the centre of the image), yet there was so much water pushing forward that a second curtain of white water has pushed over the top of the first creating a second lip and curtain of water. In my experience this is not a common feature of a breaking wave.
The two green triangles of breaking water on the right of the image must have been caused by two underwater promontories on the reef lifting these parts of the wave causing them to break ahead of the rest. I have seen and photographed this feature of this wave on many occasions, albeit that it takes different forms depending on the tide, the wind and the size of the wave. Obviously a much shallower part of the reef is beneath the breaking wave on the left of the image. The unbroken section on the right must have deeper water beneath it.

Little Henty Reef – below the surface

The section of Little Henty Reef closest to shore is partially exposed at low tide. It is a swim of between 100m and 300m from shore depending on where you start and whether you swim to the northern or southern end of it. Currents are usually present in the little bay between this reef and the shore, and their direction and strength determine which part of the reef to aim for on the swim out. Swell, tides and currents can create conditions in which it would not be safe to swim out to this reef. I have never swum out to the reef when there were no currents.

I took these three photos on a leisurely solo swim out to the reef on a low tide in early January, when there was not much swell or wind. There was however a solid current flowing parallel to the reef. This photo shows the dense beds of algae in the shallows around the perimeter of the reef.
This was near the southern end of the inshore reef, and as shown by the marine plants the current was flowing and swirling constantly.
After swimming around the reef over the kelp beds which surround it, I swam north of the reef to the open beach for a play in the clean glassy little waves of the shore break. This is a breaking wave not far from shore, shown from the inside.

Apollo Bay back beach – small swell in an offshore westerly

Mounts Bay is the next bay directly south of Apollo Bay. Point Bunbury separates the two bays. Hayley Point and Little Henty reef are at the southern end of Mounts Bay. Locals refer to this stretch of beach as the back beach.

This small swell, looking tidy and groomed courtesy of a steady offshore westerly wind, was breaking around the middle of the Mounts Bay beach. There is a well established sand bar not far from shore here and the waves were essentially closing out (breaking along a long section at the same time, rather than from left to right or right to left) upon reaching the sand bar. There is a shallow channel between these two lines of breaking waves.
This long boarder was not deterred by the constant supply of closeout sets. He spent most of the time while I was watching sitting on his board, and negotiating white water as wave after wave closed out in front of him (and on top of him). I didn’t see him catch an unbroken green section of a wave – but he did get up his board for a few brief rides on the white water after the wave had broken. At least he avoided the slightly busier lineup a little further up the beach.
Up the beach from where the waves were closing out, there was a more rideable break a bit further offshore. These waves were peeling nicely, and a handful of surfers were catching a lot of waves and clearly enjoying themselves. This photo and the next were taken when the surfers were out of frame to the left, paddling back out after their rides. The low point with the sandy beach is Point Bunbury.
The offshore wind working its magic on small clean swell. A quite rideable left in the foreground.
Certainly not overcrowded.
This photo is the first of a sequence of three. This young bloke was catching at least his share of waves, and acquitting himself well on the rides I saw.
To get serious ‘air’ you need a bit of speed for which you need a wave perhaps a little steeper (and ideally larger) than this one. He did well to get his board around 180° while airborne, but instead of continuing to rotate, the nose dug in and he exited stage right. Good attempt.

Shark Warning

Sharks are always in the ocean. The only things that vary for swimmers and surfers in relation to sharks are how close they are, and if a shark is close, being aware of that fact. There are desirable and undesirable modes of achieving such awareness.

On the left below is the GPS track of a recent pre-breakfast 1000m solo swim of mine in the harbour. As shown, I turned around at the harbour mouth. All I saw there was a very large stingray on the seabed, which I often see in that area. I didn’t see any sharks and had no concern about sharks posing any threat to me. Upon returning home, I received a reliable message (from a friend who assumed I had yet to go for my swim) that a shark had been sighted at the harbour mouth heading out to sea. The sighting was around the time I was swimming. Around mid-morning (by which time the shark would’ve been well out to sea or kms along the coast), the Dorsal shark app on my iPhone published the location of the sighting at the harbour mouth (top right image below). A little later the surf life savers had placed the standard shark warning sign on the beach.

This shark sighting demonstrates nothing more than the self-evident proposition that sharks are in the sea, and if you go in the sea, you will be in the sea with sharks. It also demonstrates that warning systems (apart from shark sirens and surf lifesavers clearing people out of the water approximately contemporaneously with a shark sighting) such as an app or a sign on the beach, are by reason of delay largely of historical interest and amount to shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

I assume on every ocean swim at Apollo Bay that I might at some point be swimming within radar range of a shark minding its own business. I further assume that it’s highly likely that it will have no interest in me. There are numerous types of shark in the area, most of which pose no threat to humans. But if I see a shark fin while I am swimming I will leave the water for a while. On this point, see the postscript to an earlier post on this blog:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/03/storm-surf/

But the history of the interaction of sharks and people in the water at Apollo Bay is that humans eat a lot of flake, but the sharks leave humans alone. Being partial to the occasional piece of battered flake with my chips, I do hope there’s nothing in the karma thing.

Looking beyond Apollo Bay, records show that the last fatal shark attack in Victoria was at Portsea in 1956.

I think there is a direct parallel between the risk of shark attack at Apollo Bay and the risk posed by venomous snakes on bush walks in the area. On the first 1-2kms of the Great Ocean Walk which commences at Apollo Bay, it appears there is a resident sizeable tiger snake which likes to snooze on the walking path. Its presence has surprised many walkers. I have seen it at close quarters on that track (in mid-winter) and so have many of my friends (all year round). No-one has been bitten or threatened. There are of course plenty of other snakes on that walk, especially in summer.

But save for a generic snake warning at the start of the Great Ocean Walk, there is no ‘recent snake sighting’ warning system. Nor is there a snake sighting app as far as I know. Snakes are in the bush. Sharks are in the sea. Enjoy the bush and the ocean while taking sensible precautions regarding these and any other low level risks.

Little Henty Reef – moderate swell in an onshore southerly

A couple of days ago there was a moderate swell at Apollo Bay. The onshore southerly wind meant the water was a bit rougher and the waves a little less regular than they would have been in offshore or nil wind conditions.

The notchy uneven horizon is a reliable indicator of swell at sea.
You’d need to tighten up your swimming goggles (and perhaps even your Speedos) to duck dive under these waves.
In the aqua barrel of momentarily smooth fast flowing water (just right of centre in the image) is a length of bull kelp going over the falls. A swimmer or surfer in the wrong spot at the wrong time would have a similarly exhilarating experience. But it would have an unpleasant ending as that aqua water is about to smash on the exposed (or very shallow) reef under it. The mass of white water rising in front of that wave has already hit the reef and ricocheted skywards.
After the wave initially broke over the reef, it rapidly changed form and size as it dissipated its energy over the extensive shallow reef beneath it. While a mini barrel can be seen in this photo, it was short lived. The whole wave smashed into chaotic white water shortly after this shot was taken.
This is the first of a sequence of three photos of a single wave taken in rapid succession. This was a larger wave which commenced to break in the shallower water some distance seaward of the exposed part of the reef.
With or without a surfboard, it would be a memorable duck dive under this wave at this point.

The Ocean at Rest

Cape Patton photographed from Apollo Bay beach (Tuxion) under a rising full moon. The thin white line at top right is a meteor.

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.

Easterly Seas at Apollo Bay

The main beach at Apollo Bay faces east and is completely exposed to the wind waves and rough seas brought by easterly and south-easterly winds. The waves erode the beach and dunes up to and sometimes above the high water mark and the wind moves huge amounts of sand. Once the wind gets above around 25 knots the bay becomes a potentially dangerous place for swimmers, entirely unattractive to surfers and a magnet for kite surfers who revel in the 25-30 knot winds.

In strong easterly conditions there is a lot of water moving around creating rips and side sweeps and general movement of water in often unpredictable directions. An ocean swimmer could stay afloat and swim in these conditions but would most likely encounter currents quite different to those normally experienced in the bay which could make it very difficult or impossible to return to shore before becoming exhausted or hypothermic.

So far this week at Apollo Bay the wind has been blowing non-stop day and night from the east at 25-30 knots, gusting higher at times. Monday had some sunny breaks, but on Tuesday we only saw cloud and cold winds. The forecast is for the winds to moderate and stay from the east or south-east until at least the end of the week.

Any water person in the area shown the photos below without being told anything about when they were taken could immediately identify the conditions as easterly. They are very distinctive compared to the conditions when the wind is from anywhere between the NW around through W to S.

Persistent easterly winds in the area can vary in strength from gale force (see my previous post on this blog at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/08/10/gale-force-easterlies-at-apollo-bay/) to lighter winds with sea fog and mist (see an earlier post on this blog at https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/20/rain-from-the-east-three-days-at-least/). The winds of recent days were less than gale force but consistently in the 25-30 knot range – strong winds.

I live in Apollo Bay and start most days with an ocean swim. I don’t swim in the open bay in strong easterly conditions, but fortunately the local harbour provides protected waters which are an ideal plan B. These photos capture something of the easterly sea conditions, as well as the contrasting harbour waters in which I have continued my daily swims during the otherwise unswimmable easterly conditions so far this week.

First day of easterlies

If I stand in the middle of the road in front of my house, this is how the sea looks during an easterly. No quick walk or drive needed to check out the conditions. In fact even the walk out on to the road is not necessary, because I would have woken up to the eucalypts along the creek beside my house being whipped around by the easterly wind. Also, the sound of the surf would have been carried by the wind to my house identifying that there was an easterly. By the third day of these easterlies sand had blown up this street from the beach and the dunes and was lining the sides of the road. In some places sufficient sand had blown across the Great Ocean Road to warrant placement of warning signs for drivers.
This was taken from the beach in front of the Apollo Bay SLSC early on Monday morning while the sun was still reasonably low, creating the golden glow of the eastern sky. Sometimes in a lighter SE wind, the corner of the bay can have some protection and be swimmable. But this view sealed my decision to swim in the harbour.
As I drove to the harbour, the sun was higher in the sky, the clouds were darker and there was some rain on the way. But for a very short period there was a break in the clouds and the sun shone brilliantly on the water for a few fleeting moments. I parked, grabbed the iPhone and ran to the steps to the dunes to get this photo. The breaking water glowed aqua and sparkled snow white, in contrast to the khaki and duller white water in the cloud shadows. Before I had returned the few steps to my car, the sun had disappeared from view. That’s the AB harbour wall in the distance.
This wall of the harbour is roughly N-S. The white water crashing over it came from waves smashing into the neatly placed huge rocks forming a reasonably uniform sloping surface on the ocean side of the wall. The water in the harbour in the lee of the wall is glassy and clear. There are a few mild currents in the harbour but nothing compared to the action immediately outside it. When I swam on Monday morning some of this white water landed on my back like gentle rain.
The harbour mouth and Wild Dog Creek valley in the coastal hills 2-3kms to the north. My swims usually include going to the right of small boat nearest the wall and then parallel to the wall to the mouth and back the same way. Note that all the moored boats are pointing due east into wind. No need for windsocks here. With rough seas beyond, I generally turn around a bit before the mouth as there are some interesting currents there in big swell and rough conditions. An often busy boat ramp is to the left of frame. Swimming nearer the wall gives safe clearance from boats. There are some beautiful sea grass plains on the sea bed in this corner of the harbour supporting a good variety of small fish. Stingrays are a reasonably common sight, and from time to time seals pay a visit. Neither pose a hazard to swimmers here.
This is Marengo as seen across Mounts Bay from the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay. Mounts Bay is the next bay south of Apollo Bay. It only gets rough here in this manner in a strong easterly. More typically, large south west swells swing around Hayley Point to march with precision and beauty across this bay into an offshore westerly wind, with perfect manes of white spray blowing over the back of them as they break approaching the shore.
These sand dunes are between the Barham River and Mounts Bay. The reef is Little Henty Reef, foreshortened by the telephoto lens to look closer than its 1600m or so from where I was standing.
Looking south over the Barham River and the dunes between it and Mounts Bay.

Day two of the easterlies

The corner shown here, where the sand dunes meet the harbour wall, is referred to by local swimmers as ‘the wall’. It is their most common starting point for the regular morning swims in the bay. This beach is also known locally as ‘mothers’ beach’ because it s usually sheltered and safe.
This shot was taken from the wall looking north, showing the steps to the beach (under the low red-roofed dwelling) at Tuxion, the beach at the bottom of my street. From where this photo was taken to the steps is 800 metres. Swimming from the wall to Tuxion or to one of the landmarks a bit short of Tuxion, are popular courses for local swimmers – but not on this day.
The harbour mouth in easterly conditions.
This photo of the harbour wall was taken from Tuxion. The orange buoy is not the cap of a local ocean swimmer bobbing about, but is one of two markers for anchoring points used by the local dredge which keeps the harbour mouth clear of sand.
This is the N-S harbour wall viewed from some distance north. On the day this was taken I had my swim in the lee of this wall inside the harbour.
The harbour mouth in easterly conditions.

Harbour swim on day three of the easterlies

The easterly by day three had eased a little and was closer to 20 than 30 knots. The open seas were still white and rough. The inviting glassy clear water inside the harbour was the spot to swim today. Eight of us swam in the harbour this morning instead of the usual locations of Apollo Bay (and sometimes Marengo). Of course, warming up over coffee and a chat followed.

Sue and Boo after their swim. The water was cold, and they both wore wetsuits (as do all the local swimmers during the colder months). Michelle and Susie are stroking towards shore mid-frame.
Susie and Michelle in the shallows after their 1000m or so swim in the calm waters of the harbour. The mist sitting on the coastal hills was there all day. Such mist is one of the features of easterly winds here – formed by all that moist air from over the sea lifting over the hills where it cools and condenses to form mist and low layers of stratus cloud.
Possum on the left and Duke (one of her offspring) on the right. These curly haired retrievers belong to Heather, one of the long-time local ocean swimmers. They love the beach and the water. These two are local identities known to many. They know their way around town and the harbour. They had a splash in the shallows then waited, watching patiently from the beach, for Heather to finish her swim in the harbour.

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.