Thursday, March 31, 2011

Phillip Island sea grapes plump with air

This past summer was exceptionally mild, with no scorching hot days. Consequently, the sea grapes growing on the rocky reefs have remained golden-mustard in colour, and plump with air.

At low tide (when the reef is exposed) the sea grapes are vulnerable to sunburn, especially around midday when the sun is at its most intense. When the summer is exceptionally hot, the grapes burn, shrivel and turn a rusty brown colour, with no air left inside each grape.

Major and I love walking through gardens of sea grapes and both feel and listen as they pop and crunch beneath my sneakers.

Every now and then wild seas pound the reef and rip the sea grapes from the rocks, flinging them up onto the sand. Here they dry and become part of the compost of the sea, part of the cycle of life death and renewal.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cape Barren geese breed on Phillip Island

In a low-lying area alongside Grossard Point road, the grass is lush and green, and a nearby dam full to overflowing. A pair of Cape Barren geese have chosen this territory as theirs alone, and defend it against any other goose, by trumpeting noisily and flapping their wings.

The bond between the pair is incredibly strong and this past summer they've successfully reared three babies. But the youngsters have been told, "Go forth, be independent and multiply."

Cape Barren geese breed on Phillip Island and on other islands in Bass Strait (a stretch of water between southern Victoria and Tasmania) such as Flinders and Cape Barren Islands. They have very strong beaks evolved to graze native pastures, and a distinctive honking call.

Every month or so a pair of Cape Barren geese fly over our house, flapping their huge wings and honking softly before landing on the grass between our house and the sea. Their presence is always welcomed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Phillip Island banksias gnarled with age

When I was around six years of age I loved to sit beneath the spreading branches of an old coast banksia and dream.

I'd pick up fallen seed cases and peel back the outer covering to reveal a velvety chocolate brown interior. And then I'd stroke the velvet, letting my fingers feel the sensual softness. Looking up into the gnarled branches -- scribbled with pale green lichens -- I'd see yellow flowers, glowing like candles in the morning sunshine.

As a six-year-old (with two younger brothers) I was a dreamer and treasured moments alone, especially when surrounded by Nature's beauty.

Now in my 60s, and living on Phillip Island where coast banksias are relatively common, I remember my childhood and still relate to those feelings of wonder and awe.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Samuel, my Port Jackson shark pup

Every week or so I find the discarded egg case of a Port Jackson shark washed ashore on Phillip Island. Mostly they are empty; occasionally I find one full of sand; and miracle, miracle, one day I found one containing an embryo.

Using a sharply-serrated knife on the kitchen bench, I cut open the case. What I found inside was astonishing.

I preserved the dead, partly-developed shark pup and his egg sack in a bottle of methylated spirits -- and named him Samuel. You can see him in the photo, with the distinctive screw-shaped egg case alongside.

The egg case is made of a material that looks very much like seaweed, presumably to help protect the developing embryo from attack. The female shark lays her eggs, pushing each egg into an underwater rock crevice for safekeeping The spirals on the egg case hold it in a safe position -- until the embryo is fully developed.

The empty egg cases are sometimes called mermaid's purses.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A watery wonderland surrounds Phillip Island

After four days of huge seas, gale force winds and horizontal rain, Phillip Island has settled back into itself, so Major and I ventured forth again, to explore the seashore.

Heaps of flotsam -- flung up onto the sand -- decorated the beach, some commonplace but other bits and pieces so unusual that I collected them together to photograph.

Three rare sea squirts, with their twin breathing/feeding tubes; two shark egg cases; sponges; a mangrove seedling; seaweeds of all colours; abalone shells and many others I couldn't identify.

Nestled amongst a tangle of kelp, a cluster of pearly-white cuttlefish eggs caught my attention. When I wrote a blog about them on Christmas Day 2010, with the title 'A rare find on the beach on Christmas Day' I didn't have a photo, but now I have! So please feel free to flip back and have another read.

Scuba-diving is something I've never experienced. The nearest I've come is to don a mask, snorkel and flippers and gaze into deep rock pools at King Island, where the diversity of sea life was remarkable.

At this stage of life I'm more than happy to explore the seashore after heavy seas and discover all manner of treasure tossed ashore.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Massage comes in many forms

Massage -- as a form of touch -- creates a bond between people and animals alike.

Here at Phillip Island, our back verandah fills with light and sunshine most mornings. Consequently, it's a favourite place for breakfast and morning tea. It's also the place where our two German shepherds have their beds. Major loves nothing better than to lie in a pool of sunshine with me massaging his tummy with my bare toes (and I have long toes!). Del prefers a little distance.

Both dogs love their nightly groom, however, leaning into the brush, clearly enjoying the rhythmic brushstrokes against their skin.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spreading ashes into the bay at Grossard Point

Every so often I notice a family group set off down the beach track, bound for the little bay closest to Grossard Point and just down from our place. Usually someone is carrying a bag, and often the mood is sombre.

An hour later I watch the group return, spirits uplifted and I think, "Yes, they've been spreading ashes."

There is something about Grossard Point that makes it the place of choice for people to scatter the ashes of a loved one.

In my blog -- January 19 -- titled Weird and wonderful things I've found on the beach I describe finding a container washed up on this particular beach, containing someone's ashes. How amazing that this container was tossed overboard in Freemantle (shortly after cremation), and from Western Australia the container travelled all the way to Phillip Island and was washed up on this particular beach at Grossard Point.

Equally amazing was the fact that, after consultation with the family, Frank's ashes were taken from the container and sprinkled here in the little cove below Grossard Point.

There must be something about this place!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Weddings and funerals at Trenavin Park Chapel

Overlooking Western Port Bay, the Nobbies, Point Grant and Cape Schanck, the Trenavin Park Chapel is a favourite setting for weddings and funerals at Phillip Island.

Its simplicity, combined with a stunning position stamp it as a place of tranquillity, where spiritual traditions flow serenely -- no matter what religious or other belief system a person may have.

My daily walk with Major takes me along the beach for a distance of about 1 1/2 km to Opal Point -- sometimes called Dog Point because dogs are not allowed to go any further along this section of beach. The reason is that the endangered hooded plover nests along this particular part of the coast.

From Opal Point I enjoy the view of the Nobbies, Point Grant, Cape Schanck and the Trenavin Park Chapel. Somehow, the Chapel is a reassuring presence, perched on the headland --especially when the last rays of sunlight touch the building with a golden glow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Major Mitchell wants a reaction!

As well as adding photos to my blog, I've added a Reaction Box, so please click either funny, interesting or cool.

Major -- my adorable German shepherd -- loves to explore the beach, and wants to know what you think of his summer playground

Too cold for bottle trees, Stego and me

Six months ago I planted two bottle tree seedlings in a small pot, aiming to create a bonsai effect. While living in outback Queensland they thrived; however, since relocating to Phillip Island they've barely survived.

This past summer has been too cold for bottle trees; too cold for me too. Stego my stumpy-tailed lizard agrees. Only venturing out of his grass nest several times, and not eating much at all, he'll be pleased to return to Queensland in April.

A full moon and low tide creates magical effects

With the moon closer to earth than its been for a very long time (in combination with a full moon), the moon looks larger than normal -- and majestic as it 'sails' across the night sky.

For me, it's magical sight to watch thousands of mutton birds flapping and gliding across the pathway of silvery moonlight that shimmers across the bay.

By day, the full moon means exceptionally low tides, with sections of the rocky reef exposed that normally lie beneath the water. What a wonderland to explore!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Historic car races at the Phillip Island Grand Prix track

Historic car racing at the Grand Prix track and several art shows and festivals have kept the island roads busy and people occupied.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Encased in a shark cage, Amanda arrives at Cowes

While enjoying coffee with my Saturday morning friends at Harry's On The Esplanade, we watched Amanda Drennan arrive at the Cowes jetty -- encased in her shark cage and welcomed by a large cheering crowd.

With the rugged south coast and the Nobbies behind her, Amanda is now on the home run; a courageous young woman who has almost completed an historic circumnavigation of Phillip Island.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Circumnavigating Phillip Island: the swim of her life

Phillip Island's Amanda Drennan is set to make local history by circumnavigating Phillip Island, swimming inside a specially constructed shark cage.

This brave young woman won a bronze medal at the Greece Paralympics in 2004 and is embarking on this particular swim to raise money for a 24-hour medical facility on Phillip Island.

A large support team will be on hand, with the most difficult part of the swim being the south coast of the island.

Tides, currents, rocky reefs -- and white pointer sharks -- along the 66 km swim will add challenge. The 4 day swim ends tomorrow at San Remo where Amanda will be greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lumps of coal washed ashore on the island

Every now and then we find a lump of coal washed up on the beach, here on Phillip Island. This coal -- originating from a seam of black coal at Wonthaggi -- has been carried by ocean currents and tides a distance of at least 20 km.

In order to show the size of the lump of coal, I've included Major's harness and lead in the photo. Every time Major sees this particular lump of coal on the beach, he sniffs it carefully. My guess is that many other people have picked it up and then put it down again, imprinting their individual scents into the surface of the coal. Oh to be a dog!

Wonthaggi is growing at an extraordinarily fast rate, due largely to the construction of the desal plant, which will supply Melbourne with water. What was once a small coal mining town is now a busy construction town, with wind turbines as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Waiting okay as long as I have pen and paper

Only a short blog tonight after a long day waiting in Berwick while Doug had a colonoscopy (thankfully with good results).

As a writer though, I'm always able to fill in time -- as long as I have pen and paper. Any paper will do: backs of envelopes, scraps of paper. Give me a pencil and I'm off!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sea mist over Wonthaggi desal plant and turbines

An inherited eye condition makes it necessary for me to wear contact lenses and have my eyes checked regularly. I blame my grandfather! On the other hand, I inherited my grandfather's love of animals and curiosity regarding all things natural, and for me, this is one of life's greatest pleasures.

Today's peripheral vision and contact lens check with Malcolm Gin, in Wonthaggi, resulted in the decision to have my lenses sent away to be polished. Consequently, I travelled between Wonthaggi and Phillip Island without my lenses, and seeing very poorly. It's times like these that I appreciate the improved vision I have with contact lenses and the expert care I receive with Malcolm Gin. Eyesight is such a precious sense and one that we tend to take for granted.

The desal plant was a blur; the wind turbines were a blur, but it didn't matter because Doug was the driver. I spent my childhood pretending I could see when I couldn't because I didn't want to wear glasses. It was only when I decided I wanted to get my driver's license and own a car that I had my eyes fully assessed and found that contact lenses were the solution.

Back home on the island, and wearing a spare set of contact lenses, I looked at the long distance photo Doug took of Wonthaggi, the desal plant and wind turbines. I noticed that a sea mist had made the photo look almost as blurry as it appeared to me when I was without my contact lenses.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Answering the riddle of my strange sea creature

A week ago I found a strange fist-sized sea creature washed ashore on Phillip Island. Today, a marine biologist has identified it as a sea squirt (cunjevoi). I'm feeling excited, because it's a rare find!

This remarkable-looking creature is found mainly in southern Australian waters, on rocky reefs near low water mark. The outer surface is like coarse reddish-orange sandpaper, the perfect 'tunic' to protect the sea squirt from the action of rocks and heavy seas. Only occasionally does the creature lose its grip on a rock and get cast up on the beach. The name sea squirt came about because of the way this creature forcefully squirts out jets of water from its large tube.

The way the sea squirt feeds and takes in oxygen is by means of its twin tubes (siphons) -- one for the intake of water, the other for its exit. Tiny food particles are sieved out (as well as oxygen) and enter a well-developed digestive system.

Anglers cut away the tough outer covering to reveal a soft red meaty interior, which they use as bait for reef-dwelling fish.

The sea squirt lays eggs that hatch as larvae, growing into tadpole-like creatures that eventually attach to rocks. With its twin feeding tubes, nipple-like bumps and red fleshy interior it's a reminder of the primitive beginnings of our species. It was creatures like these (especially barnacles) that helped Charles Darwin come up with his revolutionary theory of evolution.

As I gaze at this rare and strangely beautiful sea creature I'm reminded of my own primitive beginnings, and that's a strange feeling in itself.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teaching dogs not to chase birds

Training dogs not to chase birds can be a challenge, but we are making progress
with Del and Major, using praise and food rewards for good behaviour.

Teaching dogs to retrieve balls and sticks is a strategy we find helps keep the dog's attention away from birds. With a ball or stick in her mouth, Del is oblivious to everything else on the beach!

The beach is, of course, a place where birds congregate, and sometimes in large numbers. There's a small protected cove situated west of Grossard Point where plovers hold 'meetings', with up to 100 birds in attendance. How I would love to be able to take the minutes of their meetings!

Do they complain about dogs and work out strategies to tease nuisance dogs? Or are they more concerned about the ever-decreasing number of shellfish on the reef, caused by storm water rushing into the bay -- stormwater polluted with detergents and pesticides?

As perfect as it gets

It's not often that circumstances come together in a way that touches perfection, but today I've experienced two such occasions.

My Saturday morning coffee group turned into lunch, as well as a reunion with two of our 'originals' who now live off the island. Harry's On The Esplanade is a top-of-the-line restaurant where we are treated as guests rather than paying customers. Jip -- our favourite waitress -- knows our preferences and serves us without us needing to make an order. So welcoming is the service that we occasionally forget to pay!

Overlooking the Cowes jetty and the glittering blue of Western Port Bay, Harry's -- which is on the second level -- has an outdoor eating area as well as seating indoors. Today's 26°C made for perfect conditions out-of-doors, especially as a gentle breeze drifted from the water. Harry served a range of beautifully presented, exotic salads that included figs wrapped in ham and lightly grilled.

Our Saturday morning group began 14 years ago. We average between four and six women, so it's an intimate group interested in a wide range of subjects including writing, art and meditation. The conversation is a lively, with lots of laughing, sharing of news and support for one another in times of trouble.

A second perfect 'in the moment' occasion occurred on the beach this afternoon. We didn't take the dogs because its long weekend and there were too many other dogs running around off leads. After a walk along the beach, a conversation with friends on the sand, and then a swim, I felt a surge of contentment. Nevertheless I kept a close eye on the water around me. White pointer sharks have been seen along this piece of coast!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Stego lizard asks, "What happened to summer?"

In my opinion, Phillip Island missed out on summer and has entered autumn at a gallop. Stego my stumpy-tailed lizard, agrees.

There were only a handful of days hot enough to walk bare-footed along the beach and only a couple when I was tempted to swim.

Most days have seen Stego reluctant to leave the warmth of his grass nest. His head peeping out on the world has been his usual habit, and as far as food is concerned he's not been warm enough to eat more than about five times. A temperature of 25°C is his eating temperature and below that, a meal of ripe banana, snails and zucchini flowers don't interest him.

I'm not worried though, because when we move back up to Mitchell in April, Stego will act as if the winter is summer, and I will be able to fatten him up and see him more active. Outback outback Australia is Stego's natural environment. Phillip Island is a bit too cold.

I find myself agreeing with my stumpy-tailed lizard. Phillip Island -- although stunningly beautiful -- is often too cold for me too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grossard Point light guides shipping into Western Port Bay

Western Port Bay wraps its way around the northern beaches of Phillip Island and is shallow, except for the channel which is a 14 m deep ancient river bed.

In front of our home the channel is 600m to 800 m wide and 14.9 m deep. The channel is marked by buoys with flashing lights, and the Grossard Point navigation light.

Visible from our house, the light at Grossard Point is responsible for guiding shipping from Bass Strait to the entrance of the Western Port Bay channel. It does this by means of green, red and white lights.

While not as romantic as a tall white lighthouse, the navigational light at Grossard Point is nevertheless a well-known landmark and a favourite place for locals and visitors.

When darkness falls over the island, I find its blinking light a reassuring part of the night sky.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mystery creature tossed onto the beach

Nestled amongst a tangle of green and brown seaweeds, a splash of pink caught my attention. Something unusual.

With a rising feeling of excitement I investigated further. Was it a plant or an animal? The mass was about the size of a man's outstretched hand and about 50 mm thick. Nudging it with my foot it felt spongy on the top, and firmer where it had been attached to a rock.

Two tubes (with 15 mm openings) located at the top end, looked like filter-feeding tubes; while two nipple-like bumps on the side had me puzzled. What purpose? Eyes? Ears? Or, with a stretch the imagination, nipples? Probably not, on further consideration. By this stage, however, I was sure I was looking at an animal, rather than a plant.

Tiny seaweeds grew on the top, which was a stronger orange colour than the underneath which tended to be more of a pale pink. After rinsing it clean of sand -- in a nearby pool -- and taking photographs, we placed it in a larger rock pool in case there was still any life left in this strangely beautiful creature.

Unfortunately though, it looked dead.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cowes is the 'capital' of Phillip Island

Golden cypresses line the main street of Cowes and lead directly to a jetty that receives all manner of visitors -- from the smallest yachts or fishing boats, to larger ferries. The name Cowes comes from England's Isle of Wight.

The jetty is a popular fishing place although, at times, a lone seal hangs around for a free feed. A daily ferry service brings passengers from the mainland to French Island and then on to Phillip Island. This is a pleasant way to visit the island, without the hassle of freeways and traffic jams.

Over the summer months, visits by cruise ships cause excitement on the island. Carrying up to 2000 tourists, these ships anchor in the bay, and ferry people to the jetty in small boats and so onto the island to see the penguins and the many other natural and man-made attractions. Tourism is Phillip Island's main industry, with the world-famous penguins the main focus.

2km of beach to myself and the tide was out

The bush track between our home and the beach meanders through a mutton bird rookery and is over-hung with tea tree scrub, and clematis and New Zealand spinach creepers. About halfway along the track you enter a cathedral-like overhang of vegetation layered with lush creepers.

This is the point where I pause, because around the corner a wide vista of beach will open up before me -- and I'll see whether the tide is in or out, and more importantly, I'll know if I have the beach to myself.

After last week's gale force winds and rain, today's balmy 26°C and gentle breeze was idyllic. At 6 p.m. I paused at my usual place along the track and then rounded the corner. A thrill of pleasure surged through me. I had 2 km of beach to myself and the tide was out. Sandy beaches, rocky reefs with pools, and pockets of shells nestled amongst softly coloured and textured seaweeds spread out before me.

Once on the beach, I removed Major's harness and lead, slipped off my sandals and rolled up my jeans. For half an hour or so I paddled, explored, walked and played with Major, who loves retrieving sticks from the water. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Collecting succulents to propagate and share

Over the years, collecting different types of succulents has been a hobby of mine. Consequently I have quite a collection growing in a raised succulent garden and in pots.

Those growing in the garden handle our double life without any problems; however, the ones in pots suffer a bit, through lack of water. They've never died; they just look sad and a bit reproachful on our return to the island in December.

Some of my pot plants go back 45 years and have been moved 10 times. They are old friends and have been on my conscience, but today a solution came in the form of a close friend who happened to mention she was establishing a succulent garden.

So, after sharing morning tea in the garden, we loaded up their station wagon with pots and succulents until it could hold no more, and then waved them goodbye. There were some that I kept: a jade for the front door and another for the back, and a few of the hardier varieties for the verandah.

It was a win, win situation, which is so often the case when we give and receive spontaneously. Kay loves plants so I know she'll care for them and enjoy their amazing colours, textures and shapes in the creation of her own new garden. And I'm happy that my plants have gone to a good home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gas tankers piloted up the channel

Ships pass in the night, lit up like Christmas trees, diesel motors thudding softly as they slide across the darkened seascape. By day, their presence is more defined, especially when sunlight illuminates the bright red to orange paintwork typical of gas tankers.

Recording the comings and goings of shipping along the channel is a favourite pastime of many retirees living on Phillip Island. A pattern unfolds; ships become as friends visiting the seascape. LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) tankers come up the channel empty, fill with LPG and then return past our home and into Bass Strait, bound for overseas destinations such as Japan. The gas originates in Bass Strait, is processed in Sale, Gippsland, and is then piped to a terminal in Western Port Bay -- from where it fills tankers.

These tankers are guided along the shipping channel by a qualified pilot skilled in the currents and tides affecting Western Port Bay. The pilot boards the tanker before the ship enters the bay, and escorts it out as well.

Last year Doug had our Ford Ute converted to run on LPG. It has cut our fuel costs by half. We use LPG for our barbecue too. Meanwhile, I enjoy watching the wide variety of shipping that passes through our seascape. A submarine was one of the more unusual sights, but it left me feeling disturbed by its somewhat sinister presence. On the other hand, dolphins frolicking in the swell and the occasional whale give me a thrill of pleasure.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Penguins compete with motorcycles and historic cars

Over 63,000 fans turned out last weekend to the World Superbike event at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. This three-day event included festive activities in the heart of Cowes, with police happy to report good behaviour by fans.

In two week's time, 500 cars spanning eight decades will be on show at the Cowes Classic, also held at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. More than 30 cars from overseas are entered for this, Australia's largest historic circuit event.

Around sundown, hundreds of visitors to the island watched as penguins tumbled out of the surf and then marched up the sand. Dressed in their quaint little dinner suits, the penguins made their way to burrows in the sand dunes, where their chicks waited eagerly and noisily.

What a contrast: motorsports and little penguins returning after a day's fishing in Bass Strait.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Phillip Island, rainwater tanks provide plenty

Wasting water is seen to be politically incorrect: however, I have to admit to indulging myself with long showers. My justification is that, with rainwater tanks, we are self-sufficient in water.

The rainfall on Phillip Island is a reliable 30 inches and with the combined catchments of house and shed, the level in our tank has never fallen below one third capacity -- even with my long showers! If every home in Melbourne and southern Victoria installed large rainwater tanks, the Wonthaggi Desal plant would not be necessary.

The feel of hot water streaming onto bare skin is relaxing and conducive to creative thought and problem solving. I see no need to skimp on my shower when we have plenty of water.

Plenty is an interesting word and one that I like linking with my life. I like having plenty! That doesn't mean I waste things, nor does it mean I'm extravagant. Rather, plenty is a state of mind; of contentment with what I've got at this point in time. And we do have plenty of water. So I'll continue to have long showers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mothering and friendships between different species

Interactions between animals have always interested me, and over the years I've seen evidence of tenderness, friendship and mothering between different species.

Our German shepherd Del fell in love with her calf friend Bailey, licking the milk froth from around her lips during and after the calf sucked her twice-daily milk feed. Afterwards, they played chasey around the paddock, taking it in turns to chase. Major Mitchell, my 60 kg German shepherd gives big slurping kisses to Katie Siamese and Stego my stumpy-tailed lizard.

Great Dane, Gem, mothered an orphaned lamb, letting the lamb sleep nestled close to her, and even letting it suckle. Our Irish setter dog Albert, mothered many orphaned lambs, and wouldn't let any other dog near his lamb. Years ago when I reared orphaned kangaroo and wallaby joeys, our Irish setters licked them clean and let the joeys snuggle up in their soft, silky feathering.

Our Irish setter bitch Karli had a delightful friendship with our pet budgie, who lived free in our home. Shamrock rode on Karli's back like a jockey and preened the feathering around our setter's ears -- even scolding our Irish if she dared move.