Autumn at the Bay

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

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

Sunrise at Marengo in autumn

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

Moderate swell on Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point

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

Body boarder

The Harbour

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

One of my many studios

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

Storm Surf

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

The forecast

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

Waiting

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

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

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

The swell arrives

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

A-row for Southern Ocean watchers

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

Storm waves on Marengo reefs and south of Hayley Point

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

Hooded plover and a sooty oyster catcher

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

The majesty and power of the Southern Ocean in a storm

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

Postscript

I saw a fin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not worried, just interval training.

Australasian Gannets breeding on Southern Ocean clifftop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gannet Colony at Point Danger

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

How Gannets Relax

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

Individual Portraits

Fledglings and Chicks

Landing approaches at the busy Pt Danger breeding colony

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

Gannets on the wing

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty on the Wing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australasian Gannet

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

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

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

Pacific Gull

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

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

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

Silver Gull

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

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

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

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

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

Sooty Oyster Catcher

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That beak is certainly heavy duty.

Pied Oyster Catcher

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

Crested Tern

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Juvenile crested tern channelling its inner dove of peace.

Australian Pelican

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

Domestic Geese

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

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

Hooded Plover

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Inconveniently for them, hooded plovers nest on open beaches.

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Effective lookout system in action while on the nest..

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Spurwinged Plover

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

Black Swan

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

Eastern Great Egret

A truly exquisite bird.

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Australian Magpie

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

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Satin Bowerbird

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

Laughing Kookaburra

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Currawong

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

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo

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

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

New Holland Honeyeater

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

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

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

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

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Seabirds on the Wing

Birds on the wing, betwixt heaven and earth.

Version 2

 

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

 

 

Storms, seabirds, surf…..

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

The Southern Ocean in a post-frontal gale

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

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

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

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Raw power pounding the reef at Point Bunbury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A storm sweeping across Apollo Bay

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Australasian Gannets feeding 600m offshore at Apollo Bay

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

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

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

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

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They really do commit with a vertical dive as shown.

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

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

 

The southern heavens on a moonless night

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

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

The Southern Ocean at 38° 45′ 26″ S, 143° 40′ 11″ E (and some other things)

I have a strong sense of location. Wherever I may be, I keep track of north, I consider the major geographical features in the four cardinal directions, I note how far from the sea I am and I make it my business to know what the weather is and to have a guess as to what it’s  likely to do in the short term. Wind direction and strength are always important to me.  I love to read the wind on the water. When near the coast, monitoring ocean swell size is essential. Clouds fascinate me on many levels, and my eyes have turned skywards when given half a moment since I was a boy.

When there is time for contemplation, I like to think where the meridian of longitude on which I am standing would lead were I to follow it north or south. Similarly, I wonder where circumnavigation of the earth following the parallel of latitude beneath my feet would take me. When standing on an ocean shore, I like to know which continent is due south, or west or east of me. I like to orient myself in terms of latitude and longitude rather than postcode and governmental boundaries. When in Apollo Bay, I find it more interesting to think of myself as being at a point on the globe rather than at a street address within the boundaries of the town. The title of this post hints obliquely at this perspective.

It was a surprise to me when standing on the beach at Cockle Creek in the far south of Tasmania recently (located just south of 43° S), to learn that the next continent directly west was South America. The sustained westerly gale force winds in which I was standing were the full uninterrupted blast of the roaring forties. It will perhaps be a surprise to some Victorians to learn that the first land to be encountered flying due south from Apollo Bay is Antarctica. Such a track would even be west of King Island.  It may be an even greater surprise to some Victorians to learn that the first land to be flown across on a direct southerly track from Torquay is also Antarctica. That track would take you between Tassie and King Island.

Before getting to photos of the Southern Ocean, which until this morning were to be the opening photos in this post, I cannot resist sharing a few snaps of one of the ‘other things’ mentioned in the heading. I received a visit this morning from the sometime resident in the eucalypts which line the creek beside my house in Apollo Bay.  I was made aware of his presence by the noise of the fracas as my little black dog Minnie, emboldened by the secure fence between her and the eucalypts, was exchanging rowdy unpleasantries with this koala. The koala was giving it all he had, with that improbably loud and deep-throated ‘growling cougar’ noise koalas are capable of making. He even deferred his climb up the tree, staying low so he could eyeball Minnie and give her his best.

By the way, koalas are not bears. They are marsupials. The ‘bear’ tag was given by the early English settlers. They were wrong, but it stuck.

The Koala

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Pausing between rounds in the mutual harangue with Minnie the black dog.

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I quietly positioned myself for a good photo angle out of the line of sight between the koala and Minnie. But I was spotted and transfixed with this laser stare!

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The face of the many moods of a koala could probably be captured with a single photo. Nothing on the face seems to move to permit expression of emotion. But the combination at this moment of wide eyes, and the ears in the full ‘alert but not alarmed’ position does suggest indignation at my proximity with a large telephoto lens invading the privacy of the koala. By the way, look at the musculature on that left arm, and those serious claws. This koala was built for climbing vertical smooth trees without effort, which he did after this photo session, with agility and speed.

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The indignant koala disengaged from Minnie and me, his perceived antagonists, and headed up to the highest branches of the gum tree out of sight of the offending dog and human. I think this face might also convey an emotion or at least the mood at the moment, which was “I am going to leave at my chosen pace, without a word, with my dignity intact, and with the most imperious and superior look I can muster on my congenitally expressionless face.”

The Point at Marengo and Little Henty Reef

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My favourite section of reef on Little Henty in a good swell, creating the predictable mayhem with this breaking wave.

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The swell was solid, and the white mane of spray courtesy of the offshore wind was on the verge of splitting the light into the colours of the rainbow. But the thing that caught my eye most was the mast of the fishing boat visible through the spray just left of centre in the image. It was close to the reef, but was certainly clear of the breaking wave and white water. Large boats don’t go through that pass between sections of the reef.

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The approaching wave was sucking the water off the reef immediately in its path. Some pastel rainbow colours can be seen in the white mane blowing back and falling behind the wave on the far right of the image. The beginning of a tight green barrel can be seen as the lip throws forward on hitting the reef.

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The green barrel is better developed here.

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Closeup of the little barrel which regularly appears at this spot with waves above a certain size.

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Bigger wave, bigger barrel. Still unrideable. The barrel looks neatly round, but the rest of the wave shows its rather chaotic nature and power.

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Solid swell, offshore wind and a vantage point for taking the photo which looks straight down the line of the wave.  Who could ask for more?

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If there’s one angle I like at least as much as looking down the line, it’s the ‘back-stage pass’ angle shown in this photo. The power of the wave and the extent and volume of the spray rising so spectacularly then falling like a very localised but very heavy rain shower behind the wave always captivates me. You would normally have to be swimming or on a surfboard to get this angle. But my feet stayed dry (mostly).

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This photo and the two following were taken on a different day and swell to the eight photos which precede them.

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Point Bunbury & Mounts Bay

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Power and beauty. Shore break at the reef parallel and close to the shore at Pt Bunbury.

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Mounts Bay. Locals call this Marengo beach and bay. Solid westerly making the sea glassy and blowing plumes of spray off breaking waves.

A dog and a ball and a beach

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I went to Skenes Creek to photograph waves, and this dog and its owner were playing ball. I don’t know the owner, and can’t identify the dog (save that I think it has a few different breeds contributing to its sleekness and obvious hybrid vigour).  The dog gave his all in exuberantly and athletically chasing down the ball each time it was thrown.

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“Before I give it to you, please confirm that you are planning to throw it again.”

Australasian Gannet Soaring Effortlessly

I mentioned in a previous post on this blog that the Australasian gannet had moved rapidly into a top three position on my list of favourite birds. I have read a lot more about it, and it now heads that list. It’s a beautiful and amazing bird.

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38° 45′ 26″ S, 143° 40′ 11″ E (aka Apollo Bay) under the Milky Way and a Rain Shower

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I took this photo in late winter. I rugged up and headed out in hope of getting perhaps a glimpse of the southern lights (the aurora australis), responding once again to entirely false allegations on the internet (fancy!) of the presence of omens warranting aurora-sighting optimism for coastal Victorians. In any event, cloud on the southern horizon ended that quest.  Showers were moving along the coast from the west, and the sky was mostly covered in cloud. But there was a break in the rain, and for a few moments the Milky Way, a solid cumulus cloud and a heavy but localised rain shower were all visible at the same time.

The Bay of Fires

As we drove off the ferry at Devonport gales from the west were lashing the west coast of Tasmania with wild waves, snow and ice.  We had experienced 5m swells and 45 knot winds on the trip across Bass Strait.  All part of Tasmania in winter.

The low terrain on the lee side of the island meant that at least the roads in that area would be open. So it was that we drove off the ferry having abandoned our plan to start our tour of Tassie with a night at Cradle Mountain and headed east instead.

With visions of east coast beaches in our minds it came as a complete surprise while meandering across the north-east of the state to suddenly find ourselves surrounded by magnificent temperate rainforest, replete with myrtles, sassafras, giant tree ferns and moss and moisture on everything.  To simply stand in such rainforest for more than a moment or two and to breathe in the silence and the moist plant-scented air is a feast for the senses and the spirit.

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Prime dairy country en route to the much drier east coast.

Bay of Fires Conservation Area

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Binalong Bay was the first north-east coast beach we saw.  The sand on my home beaches around Apollo Bay in Victoria is usually some pale shade of orange.  The beaches on the north-east coast of Tasmania are dazzling shades of white. The Bay of Fires is not a single bay but an area of coast consisting of many bays and beaches. Travelling north from Binalong beach on a dirt road, any track to the right leads to a white beach, with aquamarine water lapping its shores, and large granite boulders at the headlands defining the particular bay. Each individual beach has a given name, which sometimes coincides with the name used by locals.

We drove up the dirt road which parallels the coastal dunes going north from Binalong,  and turned down a rough track to our right which took us to the beach in the next photo. Our first glimpse of this beach as we walked clear of the scrub and low dunes was a breathtakingly beautiful sight; and it was mid-afternoon, not even sunrise or sunset. The sand was white and clean, the water was crystal clear, and the offshore wind made the inshore waters and small swell lines glassy.  The orange patches visible on the granite boulders are lichen, a common feature on all beaches in the area. We were the only people there.

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This is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

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Liz

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The air temperature was 9°C (wind chill considerably lower as the wind was stronger than it looks in the photos).  The water temperature I measured at 12°C.  It was an invigorating and exhilarating swim.  There were a few predictable currents working at this beach when I swam. The underwater visibility was excellent. I was warm in the Patagonia wetsuit (and cap, and booties).  That’s my GoPro hanging off my shoulder.

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DCIM101GOPRO

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It’s difficult to find a beach with no footprints at all. (Liz took this photo).

Dawn patrol at the Bay of Fires

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I woke before sunrise the day following my afternoon swim at the Bay of Fires. We were staying in St Helens which is about 20kms south of the beach in the photos above. Our plan for the day was to head south to the Freycinet Peninsula. But I was drawn to visit the beach again, before heading south. Rugged up, I arrived well before sunrise. The half moon was still high in the western sky. This photo was taken from the water’s edge. The wind was very cold.

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Taken from the northern end of the beach. Just over the dunes shown here was yet another beach which was similar but longer.

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A bank of cloud on the eastern horizon delayed the actual first appearance of the sun. So I had plenty of time to attempt to capture the mood of the pre-dawn twilight and solitude on this cold and beautiful beach.

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Just above the low lying rocks on the right are the lights of Binalong Bay.

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The bank of cloud on the eastern horizon which delayed the appearance of the first direct light from the sun.

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You never know what you’ll find in a rockpool.

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While the morning colours were appearing in the east, the sun was not, and I was on the verge of heading back to St Helens to examine my pre-dawn photos over breakfast. I was also getting colder by the minute.

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Any thoughts of returning to St Helens were quickly forgotten when I turned back from looking at the colourless vista of the next beach north to see this smaller beach suddenly suffused with hints of colour as the sun rose into the blue sky above the clouds. The sudden commencement of the transformation was arresting.

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In a matter of seconds, the hints of colour were turned right up to full colour and brightness. I think the extended period I spent surveying this beach from every angle in the gloom between first light and sunrise had conditioned me to subconsciously accept the dull lighting as all this day had to offer. I knew sunrise would brighten everything, but the rapidity and vividness with which it occurred was a wonderful thing to see.

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The brilliant result of a transformation which occurred in less than a minute.  Full colour.

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The beach immediately to the north of the beach at which I swam.

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Footprints of a hooded plover in the salt-white sand and the early morning light.

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The hooded plover. Said to be in danger of extinction in some areas. But they appeared to be plentiful in the Bay of Fires, as they are on the beaches around Apollo Bay.

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Silver gull.

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Pied oyster catcher.

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Pied oyster catcher. The brightness of the beak and leg colours vary with the age of the bird.

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The silver gulls were behaving as if they had some proprietorial right over the beach which was being transgressed by the mere presence of the pied oyster catchers.

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The pied oyster catchers seemed bemused, but otherwise unaffected by the rowdy song and dance of the sea gulls.

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The silver gulls ramped up their protest with this quartet performance. There was no tune, no harmony, and a lot of noise. But the pied oyster catchers simply watched on, and continued their feeding rituals.

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So the silver gulls brought out the big guns. But even direct aerial attack didn’t seem to be anywhere near the threshold of concern for the placid pied oyster catchers, who simply called the bluff and went on undisturbed.

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A truce of sorts was eventually tacitly declared, and as it turned out, there was enough beach and food for all.

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These birds were resting in a wind that was very strong and cold, even at sand level. The ruffled feathers on the back of their heads shows the wind direction. They both turned their heads facing nearly backwards, and  tucked their beaks under the feathers. Whether this kept them any warmer or not I don’t know.  At the very least it would’ve kept the sand from blowing into their eyes.

Freycinet National Park (between Bicheno & Coles Bay)

Not far south from St Helens is the spectacular Freycinet National Park.  Having spent some time in this area on a previous trip we planned to bypass it on our way south to Cockle Creek. But we couldn’t resist a diversion to call in at one of the long beaches in the northern part of the National Park.

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The silver gull is a beautiful bird, especially when in flight and backlit by the afternoon sun. (Photographed over the shore break at the Friendly Beaches, Freycinet National Park).

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The mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula near Coles Bay are on the horizon. Typical beach vista in this area.

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There was more swell about than appeared at first glance.

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Not all of the coast boasts brilliant white beaches. These granite cliffs plunging straight into the ocean are common along the east coast of the Freycinet Peninsula,

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The swell responds to the sand bars, channels and varying depths of the seabed as it rolls, white manes flying, towards the shore. I decided against a solo swim here as there was quite a bit of water moving around.

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A sandbar a little way off-shore produced this reliable right hand break.

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Sooty oyster catcher (photographed on a beach reef in the Freycinet National Park).

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The Australasian gannet (photographed above the wave zone on a beach in the Freycinet National Park). A bird perfectly adapted for flying and gliding with great efficiency, as well as for diving at high speed into the sea to catch fish. They fold their wings back to dive from heights of 15m or so, and typically dive to depths of around 20m. They can also dive effectively from much lower heights. Their eyesight is specially adapted for the underwater phase of their hunting. They only stay underwater for around 10 seconds but will generally swallow the fish before surfacing. An Australasian gannet can fly in excess of 500km in a day seeking food, at speeds in the range 35-40 knots. I admire the capabilities of this bird.

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The Australasian Gannet in its element, gliding effortlessly above the coastal waters of the Freycinet Peninsula.

 

 

 

 

Golden Hour on the Barham River

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

 

The Barham River at Apollo Bay

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This occurred shortly before the peak of the incoming tide. It is a miniature tidal bore which flows upstream against the river current. There are tidal bores in large rivers in some countries which travel quite some distance inland as a wave of six to seven feet in height which can and sometimes is ridden by surfers.

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The surf fisherman was facing south with Marengo township slightly to his right, and the Barham River flowing on the northern side of the sand dunes behind him.

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Marengo township in the distance, and the Barham River with the silver gulls and terns in the foreground.

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A peaceful coastal cameo near the mouth of the Barham River, with an unridden fast-breaking left in the shore break.

Silver gull in full hunting mode

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

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

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The intended meal apparently threw an unexpected sharp left which saw the bird perform a very sudden aerobatic left turn with a high angle of bank as he attempted to stay with his prey.

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The fish must’ve realised that to survive he would have to resort to the third dimension at his disposal and dive. Undeterred, the gull dived after him, but with wings, and tail feathers ill-adapted to underwater antics, it was a short and shallow dive, and the end of the pursuit.

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The gull had to come up for air quite quickly, beak empty. The fish won this encounter, but the gull surely gets full marks for persistence, lateral thinking and effort.

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For some reason, instead of the usual forward motion (paddling with the legs) followed by wings outstretched and then up and away, this gull felt the need for a near vertical takeoff, which it achieved.

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Once all parts were clear of the water the gull transitioned into normal horizontal  flight close to the surface as it accelerated, then it climbed away and went looking elsewhere for food. Who knew the silver gull could do these things? Certainly not me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Rested terns

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I couldn’t resist. Write your own caption.

 

Mid-air collision avoidance miracles

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

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

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Crested terns in the golden glow of the setting sun

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Greater crested tern, above and below

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Last flight of the day (probably).

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

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The colourings of the juvenile Pacific gull remind me of the wedge tailed eagle. The solitariness of this bird added to that impression.

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The foothills of the Otways between Apollo Bay and Skenes Creek in shadow. The Pacific gull was flying over the bay in the last of the sunshine. What a regal looking bird. This photo and the one following were taken from Pt Bunbury at Apollo Bay.

Crested terns in the last of the sunlight

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Sooty oyster catcher, hooded plover, kookaburras, and the last big swell of autumn

As autumn turns to winter on the west coast of Victoria, the beaches are emptier, the wavs are bigger, the ocean is colder and the nights are longer.  The awesomeness and beauty of nature seem to peak in winter.  It may well be my favourite season.  It certainly is at the moment.

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The distinctive sooty oyster catcher, on the rock shelf at Marengo point in late autumn

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Hooded plover, finding plenty to eat as the white water washed backwards and forwards across the reef at Marengo point

 

Not so big Wednesday.

The forecast for Wednesday 29 May 2019 was for very big surf on the west coast. Surfers and photographers prepared and waited for the sun to rise on an epic swell (which  inevitably, down the track, would have been dubbed ‘Big Wednesday’). Instead, it was just a solid wintry swell which arrived a couple of days before the official start of winter (Wednesday 29 May 2019).

The first ten photos below were taken facing south east from Marengo point, near Apollo Bay.

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Such power. A favourite photo. The dark background is a heavy squall line which had just passed through.

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One interesting feature of this wave is on the left of the image. There is a solid green lip that has thrown forward as the wave reaches the shallower water over the reef. This is common enough. But what is unusual in my experience is the curtain of white water flowing over the lip and simply falling like a mini waterfall. Waves can be complex.

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The bombie on Outer Henty working (top left). In the foreground, the swell breaking over Little Henty reef.

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The Outer Henty bombie can be seen breaking mid-frame as it races across the horizon. My guess is that the face of this breaking wave was in the 15-20 foot range. It’s about 3kms out to sea from the reef over which the white water in the foreground is breaking, but appears closer due to the distance distortion (foreshortening) effect of the 600mm telephoto lens. Note the total absence of any horizontal water in this scene.

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This photo was taken one second before the photo immediately following.  Note the solitary seabird against the dark horizon.  The Outer Henty bombie can be seen on the horizon top left.

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This photo was taken one second after the immediately preceding photo.  Note the seabird silhouetted against the white water mid-right of image. With the freedom of the air at their disposal, such ocean conditions are merely another day for the seabirds.

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I had no desire to be in this water either on my surf ski, or in my wetsuit swimming. This is wild and unpredictable water.  But I could (and did) watch it for hours. I find it mesmerising. The big telephoto lens puts me right amongst the action in such a sea, while keeping my feet dry.

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This more orderly wave with its multiple breaks was on a reef out from one of the points just east of Skenes Creek (near Apollo Bay).  I took it from a point just west of Skenes Creek. The photo was taken pretty much facing into the sun. The bright sunlight to my left washed out such colour as was in this wave so I finished the job and edited it in black and white. The form of this wave is the thing, not so much its colour.  The strong offshore wind blowing the magnificent manes of white water over the back is always a sight to behold.

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Just for contrast with the swell shown in the above photos, this shot was taken about a week into winter. The ocean was completely at rest. There was an offshore wind and a leaden sky ahead of an approaching front over the deserted beach and bay.  The ocean seems to have a distinctive colour palette for each season. On this afternoon it was the deep dark emerald of winter. Irresistible for a swim. I can confirm that the water in addition to looking cold, was cold. But one of the joys of winter swimming is wearing the right wetsuit and accessories (cap, booties etc). I was warm as toast on this swim. By the way, that’s Cape Patton in the distance.

 

The laughing kookaburra

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Our house is right beside Milford Creek, which has a beautiful stand of eucalypts lining its meandering course. The trees attract a wide variety of bird life. The laughing kookaburra (its official name) is a favourite. They are the largest of the kingfisher family. That powerful beak is put to good use for everything from grubs to sizeable snakes. Their famous laugh is always a joyous announcement of their arrival.

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A still photo allows you to stare contemplatively into the eye of a wild bird.

 

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This bird abandoned the impromptu photo session to seize a little snack which it spotted from the branch above.

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The caterpillar was quickly eaten. I think I detect a glimmer of smugness in the face and posture of the bird that got the grub.

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The beak of every kookaburra I’ve ever seen up close looks well-used, like this one, with scratches and marks suggesting it is has had a very active life to date. It’s quite a weapon.

 

Apollo Bay dawn

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Low tide on the main beach, with the harbour lights still on. The sun was still 20 minutes or so from rising. I like the bold artistic stroke of the curved line of grey cloud rising from the pink cloud layer  on the horizon, going to the right then swinging back to the left and towards the viewer, somehow flinging out a series of evenly spaced tangential lines to the south as it does so.  On Facebook I captioned this photo: “Today’s clouds signing on with an artistic flourish.” I’m not sure a single viewer understood what I was on about.

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These steps are 300 metres from my front door (downhill). The sand either side is more pleasant to walk on to get down to the beach, but the steps are a permanent and simple symbol of the eternal and irresistible draw of the ocean to be near it, on it or in it.

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The luminous blue of the fading night sky in the west.

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Nature’s invitation to walk down to the sea is more subtle than wooden steps, and more compelling. This beach is near Wild Dog Creek (between Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay).

Apollo Bay Locals

Portraits of three of the birds who call Apollo Bay harbour home.

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The imperious and slightly greasy-necked greylag goose.

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Greylag goose cooperating with formal portrait pose, albeit with a bit of a sly look.

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An adult little pied cormorant, on the pontoon at the boat ramp.

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For a bird permanently burdened with the word ‘little’ in his name, he exudes a lot of attitude. Not sure whether this comes from the edgy hairdo, the frowning face, the serious beak or all three.

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I suppose when your legs are this short, it’s fair enough that your first given name is ‘Little’.

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Juvenile silver gull basking in the golden light of the sinking sun.

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Last flight of the day.

 

These photos were taken during the hour before sunset.