Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seal pups die in heavy seas: Phillip Island

Gale force winds and frequent rain squalls have whipped the bay into a frenzy, with seal pups the victims.

The Seal Rocks colony, located on the north-west tip of Phillip Island is Australia's largest fur seal colony. It's a vital seal breeding area and nursery with around 5000 seal pups born every year. Inevitably there are casualties. Weak pups often wash off the slippery black rocks in heavy seas and drown; and there is nothing a white pointer shark likes better than a meal of seal pup.

At this time of the year it's common to find dead seal pups washed up on our beaches.

Occasionally an injured bull seal will come ashore too, and die. The injuries are usually horrific and caused by fighting over females and territory. When a bull seal dies on the beach, the smell can be so overpowering that the Phillip Island Nature Park has to either remove or bury the carcass. The dead seal pups smell too, but quickly absorb back into the ecosystem of the coastal fringe.

Congregating in numbers exceeding 10,000, the seals at Seal Rocks are an impressive sight with their dog-like faces and soulful eyes. Their strong musky odour is a smell never forgotten!

Apologies re. photos. I'm having computer problems!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back in the rhythm of mutton birds

After such a warm sunny day yesterday, today's cold blustery change reminds me that we are now back on Phillip Island and not in outback Queensland.

The mutton birds are not concerned about today's weather; instead, the male bird of each pair is sitting snug within its sandy burrow, incubating a large single egg. Many of the burrow entrances are attractively draped in New Zealand spinach. Freshly scratched sand indicates a recently renovated burrow.

The photo of the egg shows how large it is in relation to the size of the bird. Some of the eggs are laid on bare sand and these don't last very long at all -- blue-tongued lizards, snakes, Pacific gulls and seagulls gobble them up in no time at all.

Mutton bird eggs hatch around 25 January, with the males and females taking turns at incubating the egg. Every evening, on dusk, thousands of mutton birds fly back to the rookery to join their mate in the burrow. They spend the day feeding in Western Port Bay and Bass Strait, eating plankton and small fish.

The welcome that the returning bird gives its mate in the burrow is joyous. When you multiply this sound by thousands, the chattering, squawking mutton birds can easily be heard from our house -- from our bed! But I love the sound.

Over the summer period, I'll keep you in touch with the rhythm of the cycle of the mutton birds. For me, they punctuate my time on the island, remind me of where I am and where I'm going.

Ever since living on King Island in Bass Strait and now Phillip Island, I've felt myself living in tune with these remarkable birds. I hope I can convey some of their magic to you.

Washing done: beach walk reward

Today was hot (28°C) with a strong warm northerly wind -- ideal for washing, airing and cleaning up after our 'migration' trip and time away from Phillip Island. A cool change hit the coast at about 6 p.m.; however, all the washing was dry and put away and we'd had our walk.

The dogs adore the beach and once off the lead, rush straight into the water, with Major yapping excitedly. We are content to walk, just a fraction above where the waves break and the sand is firm. It's got to be a lot hotter than 28°C for me to be tempted to swim!

The boardwalk linking the car park to the beach is brand new, and passes over and through the mutton bird rookery. This way people and dogs can't accidentally disturb the breeding birds. The boardwalk is very well built, with some of the cypress pine coming from mills near Mitchell. What a lovely link between Phillip Island and outback Queensland.

The steep steps will be bad news for anyone with a disability or parents with a baby in a pram, but for the rest of us it provides good cardiovascular exercise.

Previously, a narrow sandy track wound its way through the coastal scrub and rookery, providing an easier more pleasant walk. I can, however, see that with increasing numbers of people using the track, erosion was a problem and mutton bird burrows were being damaged.

So it gets back to the age-old problem of too many people!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final leg of our 'migration': Central VIC to Phillip Island

As we approached Melbourne I found myself feeling regret: regret at leaving behind the wide open spaces and warmth of outback Queensland; regret at leaving our home, friends and community in Mitchell. On the other hand, I looked forward to seeing the island and the sea.

For seven months my mind's been lulled by the outback to a slower more peaceful state. Consequently Melbourne -- shrouded in smog and dense with traffic, people and 'stuff' -- was a culture shock. Eventually though, we passed through the city and headed down the South Gippsland Highway to Phillip Island and our other reality.

It's always a thrill to cross the bridge connecting the island to the mainland, and from here it's a half hour drive to our part of the island on the north-west corner.

Our house and garden were all in good shape, except for shoulder high thistles in several garden beds. The dogs were in ecstasy chasing rabbits in amongst the shrubs and trees. But all Katie wanted to do was settle in an armchair in her sun room and sleep.

Once we'd had a general look around, we headed for the beach with the dogs. I'll show you our beach tomorrow!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Unique trees: central NSW to central VIC

As promised, I'd like to show you a famous grove of apple trees growing at the Parkes Radio Telescope, in central New South Wales. These trees are said to be the direct descendants of Sir Isaac Newton's famous apple tree.

Cuttings were taken from the original tree in England and grafted to produce these trees growing at Parkes. Apparently, an apple fell on Newton's head and from this experience he thought up his famous theory of gravitation. That's the story, anyway.

Also growing at The Dish at Parkes is a stand of Eucalyptus rhodanthas with their large red flowers and exotic seed cases. Doug has propagated these trees from seed; however, the young trees died during the summer in the ground at Mitchell. We suspect they got waterlogged due to heavy summer rains.

A huge lemon scented gum, located in Culcairn (New South Wales), in a leash-free dog exercise park, is always a stop off for us. Here our two German shepherds can run and play, and we can stretch our legs while at the same time breathing in the strong lemon/eucalyptus aroma that hangs around the tree.

I don't know the exact age of the tree but it's probably around 80 years.

Other than notable trees, today's journey has been remarkably uneventful: kilometre after kilometre of cropping and grazing land which is typical of inland Australia -- under a wide sunny sky.

Gilgandra to West Wyalong -- missing the floods

At the entrance to the showgrounds at Gilgandra there's a water tower (filled from an artesian bore), and the last bottle tree seen south of Mitchell. The spacious well-treed showgrounds provided an excellent place to exercise our two German shepherds.

At Parkes, we stopped for coffee at the radio telescope, the location of the famous Australian film 'The Dish'. I wonder how many of you have seen this excellent film?

Before leaving The Dish Cafe, I visited their immaculate toilet block. Even this has a scientific flavour. Each cubicle has a fact about astronomy attached to the inside of the door. You get educated as you sit!

Tomorrow I'll show you a famous apple tree and the most exotic of all eucalypts -- and more.

We've just heard that Mitchell has had 130 mm (5 inches) of rain since we left on Thursday. Also, that the Maranoa River is running. How exciting.

The umbilical cord connecting me to Mitchell is stretched tight!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Forgotten salt; spiders, bull ants and frogs

So far, the sole item missing from our luggage has been salt, and that was discovered only when our evening meal of steak and vegetables was nearly ready to be served. I admit I like salt, and plenty of it, so its absence was a disappointment.

The Lightning Ridge supermarket has an extraordinarily wide and excellent range of products: especially gluten-free and organic, fruit and veg., deli. and breads. Therefore salt was easy to buy. The Lightning Ridge newsagent sells newspapers from countries all over the world, a reflection of the population who work in this opal mining town located in northern inland New South Wales.

A bull ant, a green tree frog and a large black spider that fell out of my towel and landed on my foot, combined to make last night's shower at Lightning Ridge eventful.

The caravan park here at Gilgandra is well-known for its spacious green lawns and magnificent trees, especially huge lemon-scented gums. Although the caravan parks we're staying at are pet friendly, animals are not allowed in the cabins. Therefore, the photo shows Katie Siamese set up in the front of the ute for the night. She is surprisingly happy about this arrangement and appears comfortable and secure.

The two dogs sleep in the back of the ute, and although they look crowded, in actual fact they are not. Frequent walks give them plenty of exercise and they have each other for company. In any case it's only four nights.