Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve at Grossard Pt: Phillip Is.

Every New Year's Eve we meet friends and neighbours at the Grossard Point boardwalk. Last night was celebrated in the same way.

Here, with a 270° sea view over Western Port Bay and out into Bass Strait, we watched the last of the setting sun, and the 'coming out' of stars, planets and the moon.

Due to Grossard Point's exposed position, wind is often a problem, but this was not the case last night. No breath of wind disturbed the tranquility of the bay. The only sound was the occasional chuckle of a mutton bird as it swooped low before coming in to land in the rookery.

The moon cast a silvery pathway across the bay; so too did the planet Venus.

Sharing this wonder with friends and neighbours was our way of welcoming in 2012.

To all my many friends, all over the world, I wish you a happy, healthy and successful 2012. I have the feeling that 2012 will be a good year, with many positive things happening.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Lava flow, oyster catchers and no dogs: Ph. Island

Without dogs you can walk right around Phillip Island; with dogs, you're allowed to walk west to Opal Point, or east to the small town of Cowes. The reason for the westerly restriction is the protection of penguins and hooded plovers.

Late yesterday afternoon 'our' beach was crowded with people sun baking, building sand castles, digging forts, swimming, playing ball games -- -- --. Therefore, we took the opportunity to walk west, towards the distinctive hump of the Nobbies and onto beaches reserved for the birds -- a walk of about 6 kilometres. Our dogs stayed at home; each with a bone.

Within 15 minutes we had the beach to ourselves and soon discovered a unusually large shell resting in a tangle of seaweed (in the photo you'll see the shell along with four others that are the normal size for this part of the world).

I had the feeling I could walk forever; eventually though, we came to a place where black stones 'flow' from a headland out into the sea, remnants of an ancient lava flow. In amongst the 'flow' of black stones, a pair of sooty oyster catchers fossicked for seashells, their long orange bills contrasting sharply with the black of the stones and the silver glint of the sea. After five minutes, they took flight, their eerie calls echoing out to sea.

We turned back towards the east, our eyes drawn to Grossard Point, and the new boardwalk leading to our home on the hill.

Walking in unspoiled places is one of my greatest pleasures, and always I'm rewarded with the discovery of something that inspires me; that lifts my spirits; that frees my soul.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

'Last' sunset over water: Phillip Island

The view from our home has a section that looks out into Bass Strait, a turbulent stretch of water between Victoria and Tasmania.

At this time of the year, the sun sets into this watery horizon -- however, tonight is the last sunset over water for some time, because the sun will set over land tomorrow evening.

This blog is a celebration of a those magical moments in and around sunset.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Farmland around beach-front estates: Phillip Island

Phillip Island's abundant rainfall, this past year, means that the whole island looks green and healthy.

The housing estate where we live, on the north-west corner of the island, backs onto a very well-managed beef cattle property. Stud Charolais cattle graze pastures dotted with large rolls of hay. Other properties on the island run Angus or dairy cattle, or sheep.

The native trees, shrubs and grasses hugging the coast have never looked better with fresh green shoots, flowers, seed heads and cones. Taking advantage of this burst of fertility several species of butterfly have hatched from their cocoons in huge numbers.

Never before have I seen so many butterflies on the island. Everywhere I look, they are fluttering about. Soon they will mate, lay their eggs and then the caterpillars will munch their way through the tender new growth on trees and shrubs -- and the cycle will begin all over again.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bull ants working as a team: Phillip Island

At the base of a stark eucalypt trunk I noticed a group of bull ants attempting to carry a grub back to the colony; to feed their larvae. Clearly it was a difficult task requiring cooperation.

Growing up to 20 mm long, Australian bull ants are one of the most primitive living ants on Earth. Their powerful jaws lock like the jaws of a bulldog -- hence its nickname bulldog ant. Their strength is amazing. Experiments have demonstrated that a large bull ant is able to support 1100 times its own weight.

As they worked out a strategy, I watched, making sure I was nowhere near the stinging apparatus. Poison injected by a bull ant causes a nasty reaction in most people, and I've had one too many bites in my lifetime.

After watching for a while I left the ants to get on with the task of moving the juicy grub from the sandy track to the colony, a small mound with two entrances beneath a protective covering of New Zealand spinach.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Walking to Swan Lake: Phillip Island

Rather than battle the strong south-westerly gale whipping along the beach, we chose instead to drive 5 km to Swan Lake and do a bush walk.

The 1 km long Swan Lake walking track winds its way through dense coastal vegetation; consequently, it is an ideal place to be when it's windy. Banksias, eucalypts, tea- tree and melaleuca create a tunnel effect over and around the track. Not a breath of wind disturbs the peace.

Underfoot are deep layers of leaf litter and sand. Pussytail grasses and other native grasses whisper their softness beneath the tree canopy. New Zealand spinach drapes itself artistically over low hanging banksia branches, creating a cave-like hollow. Nature plaques give visitors information about the ecology of the area.

The final part of the track is an extensive boardwalk that passes over a melaleuca swamp, and then goes through a mutton bird rookery towards three bird hides overlooking the Swan Lake wetlands.

Since 2011 was exceptionally wet on the island, Swan Lake is full of water and rich with animals, birds and insects -- with waterbirds in particular flocking to the area.

An attractive and informative mural painted on a wall in one of the bird hides shows the many different species seen at Swan Lake. We saw black swans with well grown cygnets, water hens and many duck species sitting on the far bank. Unfortunately we forgot to take our binoculars. A swamp wallaby had a drink from the edge of the lake and then hopped away into the dunes.

The Swan Lake mutton bird rookery is dense with burrows -- within each burrow, an adult bird is incubating a large single egg, due to hatch around 15 January.

Even though it was Boxing Day the only people we saw were a young Japanese couple. Swan Lake and the surrounding coastal vegetation is cared for by the Phillip Island Nature Park, who do a fantastic job in caring for the unique vegetation, animals and birds that live on and around Phillip Island.

The Swan Lake bush walk gave me an experience of a wonderland. It's the best held secret on this island!