Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wedding and life on the island

A wedding on Australia Day, held in inner Melbourne at a small gallery,  celebrated the marriage of Helena and Dave. We were guests and travelled up and back on the one day.

For the past 27 years, Doug and I have been privileged to be part of Helena's life -- as foster parents.  Consequently, to share in her special day and to see her so full of joy was, for us, an equal joy.

Back on the island we've spent more time on the beach, especially since school has now gone back and the holiday crowds have thinned.

Sea sponges; rocky reefs carpeted with sea grapes; an unusual feathery seaweed; a gas ship hugging the shipping channel so as to skirt treacherous rocks -- these are just a few of the things that have been bright spots, in amongst medical appointments.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mutton bird calendar punctuates my year

Once yearly dates -- notably birthdays and anniversaries -- punctuate our year; however, the mutton bird calendar is foremost in my mind.

The mutton bird egg is one of the largest (in relation to the body weight of the bird) in the animal kingdom.  Between January 10 and 23, millions of mutton bird eggs hatched in southern Australia -- mainly on Bass Strait Islands, including Phillip Island.

  • January 15 is the peak of egg hatching. 
  • April 18, adult birds leave on their annual migration to the Bering Sea, near Alaska.
  • End of April, the young birds follow their parents to the Bering Sea.
  • End of September, the mutton birds arrive back to their island of birth, to dig out their burrows.
  • October is the month of courting, with mating taking place at the end of the month.
  • November 25 is the peak of egg laying.
  • Incubation of the egg begins with the male, then the parents swap places.

Last night, as I walked along the board-walk that meanders through 'our' Ventnor rookery, I visualised (at the end of each and every burrow dug into the sand) a tiny chick covered in fine grey down -- protected by a male parent bird.

Back at the house, and about an hour after sundown, I watched as thousands of mutton birds swooped and glided across the golden glow of the western sky. The females were returning to their mates and newly hatched chicks with crops full of tiny fish and microscopic crustaceans.

As the mutton birds crash-landed amongst tussocks, salt bush, New Zealand spinach and coastal scrub, a noisy welcome of chattering, clucking birds rose into the still night air.

The mutton birds were home.

I've included a photo of a broken abalone shell -- I love its eye!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Nature soothes my soul

Medical 'stuff' has occupied much of this past week and will continue to do so for a few weeks to come.  However, the beauty of Nature serves as an antidote -- at least to me.

Abalone shells are a relatively common find on Phillip Island beaches.  The fleshy part of this animal is considered a delicacy, by many people.  Usually the flesh is pounded to soften before cooking hot and fast.

Abalone used to be plentiful, but have been over-fished and are therefore less common today.  They cling to rocky ledges at or below the low tide mark and feed on algae.  The inside of an abalone shell has a pearl-like sheen sometimes called marine opal.  The shells serve many uses: I like to fill mine with other beach treasures.

This week I found my first sea squirt of the season.  It's quite a small specimen, but intact.  Usually fist-sized, sea squirts form colonies near low water mark on rocky reefs in southern oceans.  These filter-feeding creatures live on tiny food particles.  Anglers often use their red fleshy meat as bait.

These squat red to-orange to-brown invertebrates have two tubes, one for the intake of water, the other one for its exit.  They also possess a large pharynx, gill slits, a strange heart and a well-developed digestive system.  So they are more complex than they seem -- at first glance.

In this blog I'll include a couple of photos of succulents I've placed in bowls on our table.  I love their unique structure and unusual beauty.  They grow in our garden, here on the island, without any special care or any extra watering.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gift, fall and ship passing by

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes, but today's was-- for me -- unique. Three 7 year old girls had spent the afternoon digging a huge swimming hole in the sand, close to the water's edge.  When I paused to admire their creation, one of the girls held out a couple of shell necklaces and said, "They're for you, for free.  We usually charge one dollar but no one has any money on the beach."

This week the sea shore has held many and varied interests: a mass of shiny white cuttlefish eggs; banks of seaweed (ideal as garden mulch); shells of all shapes and sizes; and a large gas ship moving across the bay in order to fill its tank, and then pass by a second time, fully loaded.

Six days ago I asked Doug to stop the ute so I could scramble through some coastal scrub to reach up and break off a branch laden with tiny star-like flowers.  On the way back to the car -- holding my botanical specimen high (to show Doug) -- I fell heavily, landing on my left knee and right ankle.  I failed to see a ditch hidden in long grasses.

Fortunately I didn't break anything but I could scarcely walk for two days and it's only today that I'm back walking long distances at the beach.

A friend commented, "I bet the branch with flowers didn't get damaged!"  And she was correct. Consequently, I have a watercolour painting of bursaria flowers which came at a cost and was painted when I could do little else.

Several phone calls from friends in Mitchell have been highlights in my week. The umbilical chord connecting me to Mitchell continues to be strong, even though -- temperature wise-- I know it's more comfortable here on Phillip Island. On average, Mitchell is 15°C hotter.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Population explosion on Phillip Is: its a natural wonderland

It's the time of year when family and friends gather together at Phillip Island to enjoy conversation and share the beach and other natural wonders.  Our population swells from around 7000 to 70,000.

The highlights of a visit to Swan Lake (a 10 minute drive from home) were the sighting of a pair of rare freckled ducks, a large copperhead snake and the vista of extensive wetlands alive with water birds and butterflies.

A nest -- occupied by two cute swallow chicks -- sat snugly inside one of the two bird hides; while all around, New Zealand spinach draped itself artistically over fences and low shrubs.

On the beach, kids splashed in the shallows and then moulded sand into the shape of an armchair and also castles with all the trimmings.  Overhead, kites flew and gulls soared.

Beside the road, Cape Barren geese grazed the lush green grasses, totally unafraid of vehicles or humans.

This is January on Phillip Island.