Saturday, March 31, 2012

Shark pup in cork-screw case: a rare find

About 12 years ago I found a Port Jackson shark egg case on 'our' beach -- here on Phillip Island -- that contained an almost fully developed baby shark attached to an egg sack. It was a rare find and we never expected to discover another.

Yesterday, however, Doug found another Port Jackson egg case which looked and felt as if it contained something. Probably sand, we reasoned, yet we brought it home and cut it open in the laundry sink. And yes, another shark pup, but this time much earlier in its development. Doug christened him Simon and preserved him in methylated spirits.

So now Samuel and Simon sit side by side in their bottles; preserved.

Both shark pups were dead when we cut open their case. When the female Port Jackson shark lays her eggs, she pushes each cork-screw shaped egg case (the outer surface looks like seaweed) into a rocky crevice, there to develop and finally emerge as an independent shark pup.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Butterflies in the tree-tops

The Rhyll paperbark forest and wetland was literally fluttering in butterflies when we walked the boardwalk yesterday. Many hundreds fluttered about us on their way to sip nectar in the treetops, or to bask in pools of warm autumn sunshine.

While admiring the bark of a paperbark (Melaleuca) I captured an Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi) on my camera, as its spread out its wings horizontally, to maximise absorption of warmth.

A female of the same species sunned herself on a nearby leaf, with a curtain of New Zealand spinach behind -- butterflies have to be the fairies of the natural world.

The presence of butterflies and frogs in an environment suggests a healthy balanced ecosystem free of pesticides and pollution.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Board-walk meandering through a paperbark forest

A walk along a boardwalk and then up a narrow track to the top of Conservation Hill, gave us sweeping views of the Rhyll Inlet and mangroves; and beyond, to Tortoise Head on French Island.

The boardwalk meanders through a paperbark forest (Melaleuca), where New Zealand spinach hangs artistically from branches.

Other trees include coast banksias studded with flowers that appear like golden candles; and spotted gums humming with beetles and bees.

One of the best things about living on Phillip Island is that there's such a wealth of natural beauty -- and fauna and flora -- within 10 minutes of home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Barnacles die; orange sponges capture my attention

After believing we'd saved the lives of hundreds of stalked barnacles, today we found we'd not been successful. A group of eight sooty oyster catchers were gathered around the plank which had washed up onto the sand. Not one barnacle was left.

Although I felt sorry for the barnacles, I had to admit that, for a sooty oyster catcher (one of my favourite sea birds), barnacles are a great delicacy. So that is the end of the barnacle story!

Often I nudge a sea sponge with my foot -- while walking -- to see it better, but the bright orange of these sponges needed no such treatment.

People often think of sponges as plants, but they're not -- sponges are animals.
By looking closely you can see small holes (pores) that the sponge passes sea water through, to filter out microscopic food particles.

Squeezing the sponge gently I felt a softness that yielded to pressure, that was 'spongy' to the touch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saving stalked barnacles fixed to a plank

While researching a book about Charles Darwin, I learned of his fascination with barnacles -- in fact, Darwin went on to write two books about this subject alone.

After heavy seas, a few days ago, a plank washed ashore on 'our' beach. It was covered with a colony of stalked barnacles. While photographing them, I noticed movement and realised they were still alive; so Doug carried the plank down to the water's edge and tossed it back into the waves.

These crustaceans attach themselves to hard surfaces such as planks, jetty pylons or rocks. They feed using feathery legs that filter the plankton and other fine food particles from the ocean. Stalked barnacles protect their bodies with a number of hard plates.

Seeing the plank floating out into Western Port Bay -- on a strong current -- gave me a thrill. We'd saved colony of stalked barnacles.

A Pacific gull took advantage of easy food as the plank floated in shallow water.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lucky last: 140 year old Norfolk Is. Pine on Churchill Is.

This is my final blog about Churchill Island, and I've chosen the Norfolk Island pine for lucky last -- because it's so special.

From a distance, Churchill Island appears as a small bump on the horizon, but it's a bump with a differences. Midway along the bump something tall extends skywards -- a 38 metre tall Norfolk Island pine.

Planted in 1872 by Samuel Amess -- and propagated by his friend Ferdinand Von Mueller at the Royal Botanic Gardens -- the tree is still growing strongly.

Its trunk is broad and invites you to touch, to stroke; to feel the strength flowing up from roots thrust deep into rich volcanic soil. Perhaps the roots have tapped into an underground water supply, but even if they haven't, rainfall on the island is regular and plentiful.

Samuel Amess planted the Norfolk Island pine on the highest point of the island, alongside his newly built home. Now, in the year 2012, it's a grand tree able to be seen from all around Western Port Bay. It's a definite landmark.

Running my fingers over the bark I felt its rough texture, heard a breeze playing in the topmost branches, smelt the distinctive aroma of pine. I continued to stroke, letting my mind drift, dream ----.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

132 year old olive and mulberry trees: Churchill Island

Ever since visiting Italy I've loved olive and mulberry trees, especially old gnarled ones. Therefore, to discover similar trees growing at Churchill Island was a delight. These trees were planted in 1880 by Samuel Amess, with advice from his friend Ferdinand von Mueller -- of Melbourne Botanic Garden's fame.

Twisted limbs and knobbly bark suggest trees of a ripe old age. Supports have been necessary to strengthen some of the branches, but they live on, bearing fruit and delighting visitors to Churchill Island.

The white mulberry and common olive are listed on the Significant Trees Historic Register.

To feel the aged bark beneath my fingers and to gaze up into the twisted branches gives me a feeling of timelessness, and a strong feel of the life force the tree.