Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pyramid Rock, a reminder of past volcanic activity

About halfway along the southern coastline of Phillip Island, a stunning rock formation called Pyramid Rock stands tall and majestic.

This part of the coast is a favourite place for artists, photographers, fishermen and surfers. Steep basalt cliffs, craggy reefs, wind swept vegetation, tiny coves, and a wide sweep of coastline (that stretches south and west) make up this dramatic place.

With its many-sided angular columns, Pyramid Rock is a reminder of the volcanic activity that was responsible for much of Phillip Island. Made of black basalt, Pyramid Rock sits on a base of pink granite.

Most visitors to the island drive to Pyramid Rock and then walk along the boardwalk to a high viewing point. People who live on the island do likewise, at least once every year. There is something about Pyramid Rock that inspires creativity and sorts out ideas.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mutton bird magic at sundown: Phillip Island

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As dusk settles gently over the bay, painting the sky and water with splashes of gold and crimson, I notice the first of a steady stream of mutton birds heading home to their rookery located alongside our home. Tiny dots become larger and larger as they flap and glide; thousands of birds returning home to feed chicks hidden deep in sandy burrows.

The excited chuckles and coos suggest a happy home-coming; of the reunion of pairs; and of the greeting and feeding of chicks.

Crash landing amongst the salt bush and New Zealand spinach they waddle the short distance to their burrow. Although graceful in the air, mutton birds are clumsy on land. Evolved for swimming (they need to swim in order to catch fish, their main food) rather than walking, their webbed feet are not ideal for use on land, but their long tapered wings are perfect for their long distance migration flight.

Sundown on the island, in summer, is my favourite time and place of the year. Last night's moon made a magic stamp on the western sky. When combined with the mutton birds' return and their joyful chuckles and coos, the moment touches perfection.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Classic Motorcycle Races: Phillip Is.

The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit -- owned by the Lindsay Fox Group (Lindsay Fox is a well-known Australian trucking magnate) -- was busy this past weekend with a three-day International Classic Motorcycle Race meeting. From vintage to 1983 motorcycles and side-cars raced, with teams from the UK, France and New Zealand competing against Australian motorcycles.

A large crowd attended on the Sunday, which was the main day. Friday and Saturday were practice days, with many of the spectators arriving on old motorcycles, having travelled from all over Australia.

My husband, Doug, rode his friend's 1960 Norton Dominator 99 in 2 parade laps of the Grand Prix Circuit, at lunchtime, on the Sunday. The Norton Club put on a display of motorcycles manufactured between 1940 to 1970.

All spectators had access to the pits area to speak with and watch the competitors preparing their bikes.

For enthusiasts, a day at the races is a real buzz, especially since the Grand Prix Circuit is beautified by several lakes, has views overlooking Bass Strait and is bordered by majestic golden cypresses.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm back, with skin cancers removed

There's a definite disadvantage of having Irish ancestry and being exposed to Australian sunshine throughout my youth. Every year I have skin cancers that need to be removed surgically, and so too does my husband, Doug.

Last Friday I had five removed from my face and my ear, so I've been feeling a bit like a bear with a sore head -- and I look far from beautiful! The surgery, however, was done by a plastic surgeon with expertise in this field, and the process was carried out very professionally, for which I'm grateful.

We're told that we need the vitamin D in sunshine to build strong healthy bones, yet too much sun produces skin cancers. It's very difficult to walk the middle road.

Basking in sunshine is the favourite occupation of blue-tongued lizards. Stego (my 40 year old pet stumpy-tailed lizard) also loves to sunbake, yet there is no way lizards develop skin cancers. Oh to be a lizard! On second thoughts though, I'm not sure I want scaly skin. You can't please some people, can you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Port Jackson sharks breed in Western Port Bay

One of the features of Western Port Bay flotsam is the fact that Port Jackson shark egg cases are fairly common. These screw-shaped cases, which look as if they're made of seaweed, once contained the embryo of a developing shark, attached by a cord to an egg yolk.

In my youth, we called these discarded egg cases the romantic name of mermaid's purses. Almost always they were empty of their developing shark. Sometimes though, they were full of sand.

It's been my life-long habit to pick up anything of interest along the seashore so, over the years, I've picked up hundreds of Port Jackson egg cases -- especially on Phillip Island beaches after storms.

One day, however, I found one that looked intact. Filled with excitement I carried it home where I cut it open on the kitchen bench. Miracle, miracle: inside was my very own shark pup -- Samuel! He was dead but not at all decomposed, so I preserved him in methylated spirits and have him to this day.

The egg case is tough and flexible, and screw-shaped for a reason,. The female Port Jackson shark lays her eggs and wedges each into an underwater rocky crevice, using her mouth, where it will remain stuck until hatching.

Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) are small and do not attack people, therefore can be viewed with affection.

Tomorrow I'm booked in to have three skin cancers removed from my face, under a general anaesthetic. Consequently, I'll not be able to write my blog for a couple of days. But I will be back!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moulting crabs, lizards and snakes

It's common to find crab shells washed up on Phillip Island beaches -- but it's not often I find a whole crab.

In fact, in the 15 years I've been beachcombing on the island I've found less than five. Perhaps this is because the crabs keep such a firm hold of the rocks and seaweeds in which they live, using their pincers and clawed legs.

The top part of their body, however, sheds readily and is often found amongst the seaweeds and shells washed ashore. A crab sheds its shell as it grows, in a similar way to that of lizards and snakes.

One of my photos shows a framed collection of crab shells, sea urchins and the bleached remains of a weedy sea dragon found during the first years of our beachcombing, here on the island.

Monday, January 23, 2012

European sea spurge invades island beaches

Sea spurge is a small plant originally from Europe and now found throughout south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. It's a plant that likes sandy beaches and dunes.

A single plant is able to produce up to 5000 salt-tolerant seeds every year. These seeds spread widely in wind and ocean currents. Consequently, colonies can increase in size rapidly, and in the space of a few years a beach can be overrun by sea spurge.

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) is a true invader, crowding out indigenous plants and reducing the places where sea birds can nest -- especially hooded plovers that prefer open sand for nesting.

Broken stems and leaves ooze a toxic milky sap that burns exposed skin and may cause damage to eyes. For this reason, it's advisable to wear gloves and protective clothing when pulling out and bagging this weed.

Situated close to our home here on Phillip Island, lies a small sandy cove surrounded by stunning red cliffs. On the eastern tip of this cove is Grossard Point with its shipping beacon.

The vegetation within this cove is free of all weeds except sea spurge. Doug has decided that he'll pull out and bag the six patches of sea spurge with follow-up weeding over the next five years or so. Seed heads explode when mature -- in late summer -- releasing their seeds. No doubt there's a lot of seed lying dormant in the sand, ready to germinate next year.

This year will be the most difficult because some of the plants are several years old. Mature plants have long tough tap roots that cling tenaciously to the ground and are difficult to pull out. Doug is a strong, however, and determined to return the vegetation of this unique cove to its original condition.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Linking foxes, penguins, mutton birds & geese

The Phillip Island Nature Park does a great job of eradicating foxes from Phillip Island. At last estimate, the number left on the island was between 10 to 20 foxes.

Foxes are an introduced predator of penguins, mutton birds and Cape Barren geese and as such pose a very real threat to their numbers. A few years ago a fox killed over 60 mutton bird chicks in one night in our Ventnor rookery. It was a dreadful slaughter.

The remaining 10 to 20 foxes are, unfortunately, the most cunning, and as such, are difficult to trap, shoot and bait. However, the Phillip Island Nature Park Rangers are much smarter, so we look forward to the day when that last fox is dead!

The lower fox numbers have had a beneficial effect on the number of Cape Barren geese that reach maturity. Once uncommon, Cape Barren geese are now frequently seen grazing alongside roads and in paddocks where they coexist happily with cattle. Today we saw 36 geese grazing with a herd of Friesian dairy cows. Some of their beaks were stained purple from eating sea berry saltbush berries (see yesterday's blog for more about these berries).

One of the saddest sights I've seen recently was a lone Cape Barren goose standing by his dead mate who'd been killed on the road. Clearly this goose was grieving and I wondered how long he would stay by his dead mate.

Cape Barren geese mate for life: so too do mutton birds.