Winter mornings may be cold but it is a whole lot easier to get up to photograph the sunrise when that happens long after 6 am. I don’t take many dawn shots in summer.
I arrived at Wattamolla in time to capture the last of the reds and purples before the rising sun gradually bleached the colour from the sky. Well worth the early start.
Continuing north I figured I was the first person to walk that section of track that morning. It took about twenty minutes to reach the coast, by which time the sun was fully above the horizon. Emerging from the dense heath I looked across a bare expanse of rock to the edge of a high cliff. Two Peregrine Falcons were sitting right at the edge.
Peregrine Falcons are normally very wary of people, at least those that don’t live on office blocks in the CBD, so I step ducked below their line of sight before bringing the camera up for a shot. The next few minutes were the familiar game of ‘creep forward expecting the subject to bolt at any moment, take a photo and repeat’. In the days before digital I once managed to expend an entire roll of film on a young fur seal resting on a beach, running out of film before I realised it had no intention of bolting back into the water.
The pair of falcons called quietly to one another as they sat grooming and stretching in the sun. The female looked to be about a third larger than the male. They weren’t quite as tolerant as the seal, and when my slow shuffle brought me to the edge of the rock shelf the female and then the male flew off. The female simply dropped over the edge, while the male took a few wing strokes at cliff top level before plunging out of sight.
I figured that they’d head to a more secluded patch of cliff and continued my walk. Only a couple of moments later I looked up to see one of the falcons flashing across the heath hot pursuit of a honeyeater. They flew through the glare of the sun and disappeared from sight.
The heath came alive with the alarm calls of honeyeaters, a bit late really! After a couple of minutes everything calmed down and the birds returned to feeding. I looked back up the track, and realised with a start that, not only could I see the cliff edge where the falcons had been resting, but that they were both back in the same place. From my lower vantage point I could see that the cliff edge was actually a narrow balcony that thrust out into open space. It gave total security from approaching predators as well as an unrivalled view of any seabirds flying along the coast. I turned up hill and repeated the game of progressively closer shots, although this time I stopped short of sending them in search of a quieter perch.
The humpback migration is into full swing off Sydney and so my attention kept wandering out to sea. I didn’t see any humpbacks that morning, although a large pod of Bottlenosed Dolphins swam past under the cliffs.
At one point I looked to the base of the cliffs ahead, and could see what looked like a dorsal fin right at the edge of the white water. It wasn’t moving, and closer inspection revealed another ‘fin’ nearby. It was two New Zealand Fur Seals.
The protruding fin was the seal’s front slipper. Holding it out of the water is a technique they use to thermo-regulate in what, for them, is overly warm water. Both seals would lie on their side, then slowly twist and spin and take a breath. Their eyes were shut, and it looked very much as thought they were sleeping.
All of this was happening tight up against breaking waves. I’ve seen this behaviour before, where seals sleep in the eddy that forms in the backwash of waves pounding into cliffs. My strong suspicion is that it is all about predator (read Great White Shark) avoidance. Sleeping in shallow water with lots of wave motion means that you are harder to find and harder to sneak up on from below. When I returned to the same spot an hour later they had moved less than 50 metres along the edge of the reef.
Most of the images and discussion in these posts relate to the narrow strip between land and sea. Ecotones, the boundaries between different habitats, are usually productive and diverse. There is nowhere I find more intriguing than these most special of edges.
Odds and sods