Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Heat-affected penguins in refrigerators: Phillip Island

Yesterday we shared a pot of tea with Peter Dann, a marine biologist who's been working with Little penguins for all of his working life -- and who we first met in 1981, on King Island. Whenever we meet up with Peter, even after an interval of several years, it's as if we've seen him yesterday. He's wonderful company and has a vast knowledge for all things natural.

Peter amused us by telling of a recent incident at the Phillip Island Nature Park Animal Hospital, where they were treating penguins suffering heat-stroke. All that was required was to put the penguins in a refrigerator for a few minutes, and then tube feed them fluids. It reminded me of occasions when we had sheep with lambs suffering from exposure to icy winds. We simply put the lambs in an oven for five to 10 minutes, tube fed them milk -- and they revived magically.

Every now and then a dead penguin is washed ashore on Phillip Island and we always check it for either a tag on its flipper or a microchip on its back.

The microchips used on penguins are the same as those used on pet dogs and cats. Peter Dann and other marine biologists have been studying the movements and life cycle of Little Penguins (commonly called fairy penguins) for well over 30 years, and these microchips and tags have helped in the gathering of information.

When we lived and farmed on King Island in the 1980s, we were involved with the banding of penguins on our coastline. One of the penguins we banded on King Island, Peter Dann picked up on Phillip Island one year later. And then we found that same penguin dead in our King Island rookery a couple of years further down the track.

Bass Strait is a turbulent stretch of water and it's surprising to find that penguins move so freely between islands, with some venturing as far south as southern Tasmania.

There is nothing quite as delightful as watching penguins tumble out of the waves at sundown, and to see them waddle up the beach in their quaint little dinner suits, to be met at the entrance to their burrows by hungry trilling chicks.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Foraging for wild foods: Phillip Island

As I look around me here on Phillip Island I see an abundance of wild foods and plants. The Aborigines who moved along this chain of islands ate wallabies, Cape Barren geese, blue-tongued lizards, eggs and chicks found in rookeries containing thousands of mutton birds, penguins and seagulls, echidnas and bettongs -- as well as abundant fish, crabs and shellfish. Judging by the bone and shell remains found in middens scattered around the island, it's obvious these people feasted on a wide variety of delicacies.

Australian Aborigines (and also the Indians of America) did not adopt agriculture as a way of life. Instead, they chose a free, roaming lifestyle, feasting on whatever they could hunt and find.

In 1904 Tom Petrie wrote, "To them it was a real pleasure getting their food; they were so light-hearted and gay, nothing troubled them; they had no bills to meet or wages to pay. And there were no missionaries in those days to make them think how bad they were."

The Australian explorer Major Mitchell held a similar view. (The town of Mitchell was named after him, because he was the first white man to explore the area, following the Maranoa River upstream.) In 1848 Major Mitchell wrote, "Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilised men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilised earth to forsake it for tilled soil."

A bit wordy, I agree! However, I find it interesting that a white explorer in the mid 1800s considered Aborigines better off without agriculture.

Although some wild plant foods are dangerous, most are not. The Australian bush harbours a bounty of wild plant foods -- from tangy fruits to seaweeds, to seeds and leaves, tubers and mushrooms. On Phillip Island, the coastal scrub and shore-line grows many edible plants. Some of these include: New Zealand spinach, sea celery, pigface, sea berry saltbush, grey saltbush, boobialla, coast-wattle and grey mangrove.

Sea celery was first eaten by Captain Cook at Botany Bay, and was used to add flavour to food. New Zealand spinach was one of Captain Cook's many famous discoveries. It was cooked and eaten by the crew to prevent scurvy. It's the only Australian plant to be cultivated internationally as a vegetable, and can be eaten cooked or served raw in salads. Pigface fruit is said to taste like salty strawberries or fresh figs.

Another source of wild food comes from domesticated plants gone wild. Every now and then we find an apple, plum or peach tree growing wild. The fruit is usually very small, but packed with extraordinary flavour. When gathering wild foods, care needs to be taken that no herbicides or pesticides have been used in the area.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ships by night and day: Phillip Island

Watching the many and varied ships that pass by our seascape is a hobby for most of us privileged to have a wide view of Western Port Bay.

Guided by a series of buoys and navigational beacons -- described as a street of lights -- boats of all shapes and sizes enter Western Port Bay and travel safely through it.

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 sunshine illuminates their name.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) 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, and 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 location of the narrow shipping channel, and 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.

The map shows Phillip Island and the shipping channel through Western Port Bay. The shipping channel follows an ancient river bed. We live on the north-west corner of the island, close to McHaffies Point. Phillip Island is the land mass at the base of the photo.

In the series of 3 photos, you can see the tanker enter Western Port Bay, with West Head to the right, and then progress along the shipping channel to the terminal.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2 steps forward, 1 back: 2 weeks on (Mitchell & Ph. Is)

Two weeks ago tomorrow, a hernia operation slowed me down to a halt. When combined with the trauma of the Mitchell flood and the loss of our home and belongings, I felt stunned and somewhat overwhelmed with how I felt and all that the flood involved. Our home was just one of the 300 houses flooded in Mitchell when the Maranoa River rose to a peak of 9.84 m, 0.28 m above the previous record peak of 9.56 m in 1864.

Things are slowly falling into place. Doug's desk contains a mountain of paperwork: we have many decisions to make and many processes to wade through. But we have bought a caravan in which to live in Mitchell for the winter and spring of this year, and probably 2013 as well. So that's a positive step forward.

The caravan is only a few years old, has a separate toilet and shower, and comes with a fully enclosed annex of two rooms, so I believe we'll be comfortable.

Unfortunately I've come to the conclusion that the boardwalk steps and the deep sand on the beach are causing extra pain and discomfort in and around my hernia incision. So, no more walks to the beach for a while. This is frustrating!

Major and Del are off to the vet today for their annual vaccinations and also for more sand fly treatment. Both dogs are suffering with bad itchiness due to sand fly bites. Daily swims cool and soothe their inflamed skin and since it was so hot yesterday, Doug took them to the beach twice. Lucky dogs!!

For the next few weeks I'll need to show you Phillip Island as from our front verandah, or from the car. Fortunately we have a magnificent view of the land and sea from our verandah and front rooms. The sunset, which was taken last night, shows our view, with West Head to the right.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finger-like capsules burst into flower

As a change from my coverage of the recent Mitchell floods, I thought I'd show you yet another amazing eucalypt: Eucalyptus lehmannii (Bushy Yate).

This small tree thrives in coastal settings, consequently it's often seen on Phillip Island. The tree itself is not out of the ordinary, however, its large pale yellow flowers burst from finger-like capsules (up to 22 'fingers' per clutch, each 3 to 5 cm long) to give an impressive display.

On a different subject, the island is hotter today than in Mitchell (in outback Queensland), in spite of Phillip Island being so much further south. Today's maximum temperature on Phillip Island is around 35°C, compared to 29°C in Mitchell. As well as the uncomfortable temperature on Phillip Island, there's a gale force northerly wind that's blowing over rubbish bins and whipping up an agitated sea.

Snakes, sand flies and stumpy-tailed lizards

Athol, who lives on the outskirts of Mitchell and is very generously looking after Doug's 1940 Plymouth sedan, has been visited by an unusual number of snakes. This past week he's found and killed (because of the risk of his dogs being bitten) four large highly venomous King brown snakes -- all in his garden.

Athol's daughter found a 7 to 8 foot long King brown snake basking on her verandah, the biggest Athol has ever seen. It seems that the flood waters of the Maranoa River have caused snakes to be out and about, and on the move.

Our friend and neighbour Richard offers a free and immediate snake removal service in and around Mitchell. Richard prefers to see snakes caught and relocated into bushland, rather than be killed.

With reptiles on my mind, and the temperature hovering around 34°C here on Phillip Island, I'd like to give you an update about Stego, my 41-year-old pet stumpy-tailed lizard.

Stego and I share a love of sunshine and consider a temperature of about 26°C to be ideal. As far as food is concerned though, our tastes differ. Stego loves garden snails, Whiskers cat food (but not of the fish variety) and very ripe bananas.

Hard shiny scales protect him from the sand flies that are currently swarming in the green grass of our garden. These sandflies are a huge problem for our dogs, but not Stego.

With an eccentric yet sensitive personality, my stumpy-tailed lizard is a true survivor.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Super Bikes, Swimming and Sun -- Mitchell Floods

With wide sunny skies, a balmy 28°C and a gentle breeze, Phillip Island's in party mode. Competitors and enthusiasts from all over the world have flocked to the the island's Grand Prix Circuit to watch the Super Bike Races.

Likewise there's a real buzz in the main shopping centre, with brightly coloured and glitzy motorcycles, helmeted riders and lots of people out and about shopping, having coffee and soaking up the sunny day.

In Cowes, this morning, Doug and I spent a couple of enjoyable hours shopping, choosing an armful of books from the library, visiting the art gallery and having coffee in the main street. Here we met people we'd never seen before, and discovered shared interests -- namely dogs, writing and books. Of course, it was dogs that triggered the first part of the conversation. A Canadian couple we met have a beautiful cocker spaniel called Ebony. Why is it that we always get to know the dog's name before their owners' names?

With my body on Phillip Island and my mind so often in Mitchell, I can't help telling everyone I meet about Mitchell and the flood. Prior to the Maranoa River bursting its banks and flooding 80 per cent of the town, few people had heard of the small outback town of Mitchell. Now everyone knows Mitchell, thanks to the TV crews and radio presenters who covered the disaster so graphically.

Later in the afternoon we took Major to the beach. I planned to swim but Doug persuaded me not to do so, due to the possibility of getting a sea-borne infection in my hernia wound. So I paddled in the cool water, to a level just above my knees, while encouraging Major to swim -- which he did with great enthusiasm. "Have a swim!" is one of his favourite commands.

Going down and then up the boardwalk to the beach is challenging to a recently healed hernia wound. But I took it slowly. Gradually I'm getting stronger, feeling less pain and gaining energy. The anaesthetic fog is lifting!

The sunset tonight had a coppery hue and was stunning. I can't resist sharing it with you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

High-power flood clean-up: Mitchell QLD

Now I've shown you the damage done to our home and property by the flood of the Maranoa River in Mitchell, around 3 February 2012, I thought I'd give you a snapshot of the clean up, with the last of the depressing photos.

There are no photos of the many friends, neighbours and council workers who helped Doug, but there are some of the RACQ Disaster team in action, and also the army carrying out rolls of sodden mud-filled carpet. The RACQ (Royal Auto Club of Queensland) team, dressed in yellow vests, carted out all the wrecked furniture and belongings, and then high-pressure hosed and swept out the interior of the house.

Bully Harrison knocked over the remains of the front fence and took it away. Thanks, Bully.

As I've mentioned, our caravan is a write-off so we're now in the process of trying to purchase another, large enough to live in for at least one year -- while we rebuild.

Doug's 1940 Plymouth sedan is now with Athol, a fellow car enthusiast and friend who lives in Mitchell. It's been very badly damaged.

I'll include a view from the house to the river. Formerly we couldn't see the river because of the dense vegetation growing alongside. Huge river red gums, as well as other eucalypts, acacias and shrubs lined the river. Most of these were swept away, such was the force of the water flowing down the Maranoa River, the fastest flowing river in Queensland.

My aim, in showing you the last of these flood damage photos, has not been one of self-pity. On the contrary, Doug and I realise we're fortunate to have a home on Phillip Island, and also to be insured. With 80 per cent of the town suffering the after-effects of severe flood damage, Mitchell is hurting. We hurt in sympathy and understanding.

Our daily contact with friends and neighbours keeps us in touch. Mosquitoes, sand flies, snakes and temperatures in the high 30s C make the clean-up difficult. Many people are feeling depressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated by government departments and insurance companies; and yes, fearful too, in case further floods occur.

I'll continue to keep you in touch with Mitchell (though from distant Phillip Island) -- but there will be no more depressing photos.