beach

Kennett River wanderings

It was raining and cold, but we put on warm jackets and raincoats and went out anyway. The beach was calling… and waterfalls, rainforest and glow worms. Why stay indoors? It was mid-June and we were spending the weekend at Kennett River, halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay. The small town, full of holiday houses, was peaceful and almost deserted, apart from busloads of tourists visiting the solitary shop on the Great Ocean Road and feeding the flocks of waiting Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots and sparrows.

We followed the steep streets down to the beach. It was close to high tide, but there was a narrow strip of wet sand. Among the washed-up seaweeds, a few with their tough stalk still attached to a small rock, we found a sponge shaped like a shallow bowl on a pedestal. When the beach ended, we walked across the sloping rock platform and rounded stones, towards Point Hawdon, dodging out of the way of waves washing in towards us. At the rocky point, the tide was too high for us to continue, and bigger waves were breaking around the corner. We retraced our steps, watching large swells of green water on the horizon.

Kennett River locals hoping to share our breakfast.  Image: Kristen Cook

Kennett River locals hoping to share our breakfast. Image: Kristen Cook

The nearby river was deep and more peaceful. We walked along its grassy bank below houses, avoiding puddles deep enough for ducks to take a swim. Across the river was a steep, bush-covered slope. Past the last garden, an old vehicle track followed the base of a cliff through riverside forest of tall trees, mosses and fungi. Beyond the cliff, we scrambled up a steep, and at times, muddy track which brought us out behind the highest houses. We retreated to warmth and dryness to eat lunch, then ventured forth again.

This time we drove, following the winding road west along the coast to the mouth of Carisbrook Creek. A muddy track led uphill under arching sheoaks. We noticed damage to the track, the bank above us and the vegetation, caused by large animals, probably deer. We arrived at a wooden fence and a view in the distance of the long waterfall cascading down a rock slope. I watched waves of lacy white froth sliding downwards, dropping into small pools, dividing around higher mounds of dark grey rock, then falling into another pool, the pattern of movement and water drops constantly changing. The bottom of the fall was out of sight behind a pile of huge lichen-covered boulders. The creek turned a corner, becoming visible again above another boulder, where it split and fell to form a narrow, boisterous creek rushing over rocks and under sheoaks on its way to the sea.

We drove inland to Grey River Picnic Area, a small open patch of soggy greenness, sloping gently downwards towards the sounds of a narrow rushing river hidden amongst the tall gums, wattles and tree ferns. We watched its flow from the nearby bridge, then followed a narrow walking track into the gloom beneath the trees. Daylight was diminishing, so we saw only hints of ferns, mosses and fungi growing on the ground, on rotting logs, and the trunks of tree ferns. The track ended at a view upstream, partly obscured by the growth of young trees. As we returned, the world had become grey and black. We admired our roof of tree fern fronds and the ancient, giant gum trees towering above them.

The emerald green tree ferns and ancient towering eucalypts of Grey River.  Image: Wendy Cook

The emerald green tree ferns and ancient towering eucalypts of Grey River. Image: Wendy Cook

It was soon fully dark. Leaving our torches in our pockets, we walked up the road. On the dirt bank, under the tree ferns, were tiny white fairy lights, hundreds of them. These were the lights of glow worms, the larval stage of fungi gnats. They spin dangling, sticky threads to catch small flying insects. To attract their prey to this line, a light-producing chemical reaction occurs in the body of each larva. While to the insects this is merely a feeding strategy, to us it was magic. We continued up the road gazing and wondering.

We returned the next day to enjoy the forest in daylight. As we drove up the road, we saw a Koala sleeping in the fork of a gum tree, and watched a Red-necked Wallaby hop away from the road’s edge. The rainforest was still gloomy, but now it included colour - greens and browns. We waded along the first few metres of the track where a newly arisen creek, born of the last day’s rain, rushed through the forest to join the river. The trunks of the tree ferns were covered in plant life. The upper portions offered support for the creeping rhizomes of Kangaroo Fern, its fronds’ long side lobes occasionally giving it the shape of a kangaroo’s foot.

Below this, the trunks wore a dense, dripping cloak of False Fern Moss, their stems reaching outwards, laden with tiny dark green leaves only one cell thick. When I held a mirror under these long mosses, light reflected upwards shone through them, revealing them as almost transparent with a mere hint of green. Among the ferns and mosses, tiny fungi grew solitary or in clusters, their stalks curving away from the tree fern’s trunk, supporting delicate caps of white or brown. Seedlings of rainforest trees had germinated on the verdant trunks of some tree ferns. Some carried saplings, while a few trees showed the bowed remnants of a tree fern on which it had started its life. Mosses and fungi grew on the bases of the giant eucalypts, on the fallen rotting logs, and among the ferns covering the remaining soil.

After heavy rainfall, Grey River rushes rapidly under fallen branches and tree fern fronds.  Image: Wendy Cook

After heavy rainfall, Grey River rushes rapidly under fallen branches and tree fern fronds. Image: Wendy Cook

We visited the river bank. The muddy brown water rushed and foamed among the tree ferns, and under and over mossy logs. I watched a tree fern frond, caught in the current, sweeping downstream as far as it could reach. As the river hurried below and beyond it, it relinquished the frond which returned to its natural position, to be immediately caught again.

We left the forest, returning to the brightness of the coast. Today, as well as the rain, a strong wind was blowing inland and the sea was wild. We parked facing into the weather and ate lunch while the big, busy waves raced and foamed in front of us, crashing onto the rocks and the sand. Small flocks of dark birds soared and twisted through the sky above the waves. Four glided towards us and landed on the beach, revealing themselves as Sooty Oystercatchers with black feathers, pink legs and long red bills, strolling comfortably along the sand, unconcerned by the weather.

At Wye River, the beach was mostly submerged. We watched waves rolling a log and other debris to block the path to the sand. Barricades have been built to keep the sea in its place, but the water rose against them, almost to the level of the grassy picnic area. Further east, we stopped at Artillery Rocks, where the battering of the sea has created knobbly formations on the rock platform. From the base of the steps below the road, we could see a few rocks above the foam. We watched and heard the white fury of the waves crashing over the platform and eventually the lowest step, causing us to retreat to the windswept road edge. From there we could see the green sea filling the bay, spray flying from the white wave tops as they rolled in towards the forest-covered hills. The road hugged the feet of the hills, just above the vanished beaches.

The crashing waves at Artillery Rocks make for an exhilarating end to this eventful journey at Kennett River.  Image: Wendy Cook

The crashing waves at Artillery Rocks make for an exhilarating end to this eventful journey at Kennett River. Image: Wendy Cook

With no hope of a beach walk, we looked at the inland side of the road. Sheoak Creek had flooded the path to Sheoak Falls. Nearby, the waves crashing on the rocks were only one or two metres below the road. We walked up the estuary of St George River and into the forest following an old tramway, once used to remove the tall straight trees that grow there. We turned back at a river crossing, where a bridge had been washed away or stepping stones were covered by the rushing brown water. From there, we followed the Great Ocean Road eastward through Lorne and beyond. As the hills became lower, the coast more populated and the towns larger, the waves, although still covering the beaches, seemed smaller. At Anglesea, we turned inland, away from the wild sea and headed for the warm sanctuary of home.


Wendy Cook lives on a farm west of Melbourne with her husband and two teenagers. She loves watching the nature she sees around her every day and writing about it. She is a volunteer with Fungimap and at her local primary school where she hopes to instil a love of nature and reading in the children.


Banner image courtesy of Wendy Cook.

The walks and wonders of Phillip Island

Last year I explored Phillip Island and its nature and conservation reserves, each location providing insight into the significance of this popular coastal destination. During my short stay of a few days, bushwalking and taking photos of the landscapes and the wonders within them were high on my priority list.

Bushwalk One: Rhyll Inlet State Wildlife Reserve

This reserve is situated within the Western Port RAMSAR Site, and is of international significance. RAMSAR sites are related to The Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty for their protection. Within this RAMSAR site, saltbushes (Beaded Glassworts or Sarcocornia quinqueflora) are present, as well as many other floral species and a variety of birdlife.

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Bushwalk Two: Churchill Island

Located on the south-east side of Phillip Island, Churchill Island was also of interest to me. Although holding more of a historical significance relating to European settlement, there are a few leisurely walks that showcase its rugged coastline and its range of flora and fauna. Found amongst tree branches was a bright orange lichen, in strong contrast to the background of green foliage. The twisted branches of ancient Moonah Trees are an impressive sight, whilst looking out onto the grazing pasture of Scottish Highland Cattle is a somewhat unusual experience on this walk.

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Bushwalk Three: A beach walk along the coastline

The coastline of Phillip Island is rugged yet beautiful, and provides the perfect opportunity to investigate the small wonders hiding amongst rocks and sand. Discoveries include barnacles on the side of an orange, sun-glazed coastal rock, a delicate sea sponge submerged in sand, and a fragile wildflower found casting shadows next to a coastal cliff-face. 

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Bushwalk Four: Phillip Island Nature Park

The final destination on my list before leaving the island was Phillip Island Nature Park, home to the Little Penguin colony. The nature park provides a vital conservation area for the penguins. Education, research and restoration practices are all part of the conservation efforts being being made to protect this iconic species. Boardwalks provide observation areas with views across the landscape as well of the wildlife (providing a glimpse of penguin burrows).

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Although only a short getaway, my time on Phillip Island provided many great photo opportunities and glimpses of the area's incredible landscapes, flora and fauna.

Until next time.


Christine Slade has completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science, and is in her final year of a Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Monash University. She is interested in engaging the public with the environment through photography, and to also raise awareness of conservation practices. She hopes to work in environmental consulting or education.


All images courtesy of Christine Slade.

Discovering the World of Alison Lester

At our beach, at our magic beach, we swim in the sparkling sea…

Alison Lester’s Magic Beach is one of those childhood books that was read so many times that now, when I revisit it, the words come back to me like an old favourite song. Not only am I filled with nostalgia over the familiarity of the words and pictures, but also that classic Aussie childhood experience of summer days spent at the beach.

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    ‘We swim in the sparkling sea’ from  Magic Beach  by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin, 1990).

‘We swim in the sparkling sea’ from Magic Beach by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin, 1990).

My mum is a children’s book designer, and has worked with Alison for many years – Magic Beach was actually finished on our dining room table while I was crawling around underfoot. Now that I’m all grown up, I caught up with Alison to have a chat about her books, and that indescribable feeling of connectedness to nature that she so expertly captures.

Alison grew up in South Gippsland, and many of the places visited by the characters in her books are based on real places, particularly in that area of the state. For instance, Magic Beach is based on the beach at Walkerville.

‘It does have bits of different places – there’s no jetty at Walkerville,’ says Alison. ‘But mostly that’s Walkerville.’

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       Noni the Pony goes to the Beach  by Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin, 2014).

Noni the Pony goes to the Beach by Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin, 2014).

I’ve since visited Walkerville Beach, and despite the lack of castles, princesses and smugglers, it does have a beautiful variety and seclusion to it that makes it special. As Alison puts it: ‘It has a bit of everything.’

‘Of all the books, Magic Beach is one of the least translated and I think it’s because the way we visit the beach in Australia is different to how others do it. We tend to go to the beach and really revel in the sand and the sea.’

Wilsons Prom – ‘that area where the mountains meet the sea’ – also features largely in Alison’s stories, and her psyche: ‘Often I’ll do something completely unrelated, and someone will mention how it reminds them of the Prom, even though I didn’t mean it to. It’s very subconscious.’

Her grandfather, father and uncle were some of the last to hold grazing rights for the Prom, and her family would visit every Sunday for a picnic.

We grew up thinking that it was our place, I think everyone feels like that about the Prom.

Nature is an ever-present backdrop of Alison’s books (‘I would never do a book that’s set in the city’), and they all celebrate the connection between people, and their connection with the natural world.

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    ‘… alone in the moonlight…” from  Imagine  by Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin, 1989).

‘… alone in the moonlight…” from Imagine by Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin, 1989).

‘The natural world is the best thing,’ says Alison, as our conversation turns to how her books – and children’s books in general – can help connect people to nature.

Alison talks about how encouraging kids to get out into nature and drawing what they see can really push them to notice the world around them, and by noticing things, they can come to appreciate it. She thinks that by showing her characters out in nature, she can help her readers feel more closely linked to the natural world.

‘You’ve got to get people familiar with it, because if they are unfamiliar with it they can find it quite scary, and so they don’t relate to it. If they feel they belong in it and it’s theirs, and that leads them to care and not chuck rubbish into it. It’s all those little things that make a difference at the end of the day.’


Ella Kelly

Ella is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she spends a lot of time thinking about why some quolls don’t eat cane toads (if only she could ask them!). She also enjoys talking and writing about science, and would ultimately love to have an actual impact on the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.

You can find her on Twitter at @ecology_ella.

 


Banner image: ‘Droving on the beach’ from My Farm by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin, 1992).

Looking After the Locals

This is a guest post by Sonia Sanchez Gomez.

December 10th, Saturday, 7.30AM. ‘Is that my alarm going off? Oh! Yes it is… Why? Ok! Get up, Sonia!’ And I did it, I got up. This probably impresses only people that know me well. They are aware that I am not a morning person at all. It can take me literally 42 minutes to completely open my eyes. Ok, I have no idea how long it actually takes me, I have never timed myself, but it would be too embarrassing if it took longer. So, why did I get up so early that Saturday? The answer is hooded plovers – also known as hoodies. I forgot about my chronic morning sleepiness, got up and went to a training workshop on monitoring the nesting success of these birds.

Adult brooding (keeping warm) a five-day-old chick.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Adult brooding (keeping warm) a five-day-old chick. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Phillip Island Nature Parks and BirdLife Australia run this workshop to recruit and train Phillip Island residents, like myself, to join the ‘Hooded Plover Watch’, a group of volunteers and rangers who monitor the hoodie nests at the island beaches. Since 2006, BirdLife Australia has been coordinating their Beach-nesting Birds project, which involves working with coastal communities and volunteers across Australia to raise awareness about this group of birds, and to help monitor and improve their breeding success. Currently, this is the biggest citizen science project in the world. And there were not only local residents in the workshop room that Saturday - there were people that had driven from Melbourne to attend the workshop and learn about the hoodies. It was then that I realised that there was something fascinating about these birds.

Cordoned-off areas give birds space to nest on busy beaches. Shelters (like the one shown here) provide more protection to chicks if they need it. In this photo, there are two adults and one chick. Can you spot them?  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Cordoned-off areas give birds space to nest on busy beaches. Shelters (like the one shown here) provide more protection to chicks if they need it. In this photo, there are two adults and one chick. Can you spot them? Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Signs on the beach indicate to the public that they should stay on the water's edge if there are hoodies nesting nearby.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Signs on the beach indicate to the public that they should stay on the water's edge if there are hoodies nesting nearby. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Hoodies are tiny, endangered shorebirds that nest on the beach during spring and summer. They are the most threatened of the five Australian beach-nesting birds – pied and sooty oystercatcher, red-capped plover, beach stone-curlew and hooded plover. Hoodies lay their eggs in a small scrape in the sand above the high tide mark. They usually prefer open ocean beaches, but in Western Australia they also nest near inland salty lakes.

Beach. Summer. Heat. Imagine the level of disturbance and stress these birds go through. The first time I heard about the hoodie’s life, it blew my mind. In Spain, where I am from, if you get up at 7.30AM on a Saturday in summer it’s because either you have to go to work or you want to get a spot at the beach. Beaches are packed. Sometimes you can see more towel surface than sand. And the Mediterranean does not have big tide changes. So when I moved to Australia, beach-nesting birds were something totally new to me.

This four-day-old chick is looking for refuge close to the dunes at high tide. Chicks fledge at at 35 days old.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

This four-day-old chick is looking for refuge close to the dunes at high tide. Chicks fledge at at 35 days old. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

When tide is low, adults and chicks (five days old in this photo) often forage on the rocky platform that becomes exposed. Parents never feed their chicks but have a full-time job showing them where to go and keeping them warm and safe.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

When tide is low, adults and chicks (five days old in this photo) often forage on the rocky platform that becomes exposed. Parents never feed their chicks but have a full-time job showing them where to go and keeping them warm and safe. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

I think the magic of hoodies relies on the fact that you find them at your local beach, when you go for a swim, for a walk, for a run. They are there, running over the sand and you do not need expensive gear or expert knowledge to observe them and learn about their behaviour. And they will captivate you. I was captivated, and I am not a birder. For the last month, I've found myself looking at these tiny birds and chicks for hours at my local beach. I've talked to a lot of people about why it is important to protect them, why walkers must keep their dogs on leashes, and how humans can help. I've been enjoying every minute spent observing five chicks growing, and have been trying my best to help them become full adults. And that is what the Beach-nesting Birds project aims for. It gives local communities a way to protect their environment, when most of them do care but don’t know what to do. It gets residents engaged and connected with nature, and at the same time these residents educate other beach users. Then we, the local volunteers, enter the data about our sightings in BirdLife Australia’s beach-nesting database, which plays a huge role in the conservation of hoodies.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. I will get up at 6AM this time to go and check the two hoodie families at my local beach. Tomorrow, again, I won’t care about my chronic morning sleepiness because I will start the day with one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced.

If you want to become a volunteer, please contact BirdLife Australia. They will happily provide you with the necessary training to monitor hoodies in a safe way for you and the birds.


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Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Sonia is a PhD student at Monash University working on foraging behaviour and ecology of little penguins. Originally from Barcelona, she grew up spending her summers swimming in the Mediterranean and looking for crabs on the rocks with her dad.

You can find her on twitter at @SonSanchez9

 

 

 

 

Banner image courtesy of Sonia Sanchez Gomez: Adults are usually attentive to potential threats. Sometimes they pretend to be incubating eggs to keep predators away from the actual nest.