An intense ‘east coast low’ brought huge seas and heavy rain to Sydney last weekend. Not the best conditions for wildlife photography. Even the frogs went quiet towards the peak of the storm- I know because I couldn’t find the local Dwarf Tree Frogs at sites where they normally occur in hundreds.
It made for a weekend focused on toasted sandwiches, coffee and books rather than photography. I did dart out during a lull in the rain, driving out to Cape Solander, the southern headland of Botany Bay. It’s one of the few places in Sydney where you can watch a stretch of coastal cliffs through the car windscreen.
The waves pounding the coast were huge, five metres and higher. The Botany wave rider buoy, a few kilometres offshore of Cape Solander, recorded a 12 metre wave that morning. From the carpark three headlands are visible to the south. The spray from was completely consuming those 20 metre high headlands.
Dozens of waterfalls, fuelled by the torrential rain and sea spray, were pouring off the cliff edges. Instead of cascading to the sea the water was being blown up and back by the incredible winds blowing in from the sea, returning the water to the streams. The upside down waterfalls looked bizarrely like columns of smoke rising from the cliff tops.
I buried the camera under jumper and jacket and headed along the cliff tops. I kept as close to the vegetation as possible, ducking below the worst of the wind. Even so, passing the upside down waterfalls felt like taking a shower in a hurricane, the droplets stinging my face.
It was only after reaching Tabbagai Gap that I turned back towards the car.
I soon found that walking into the wind was downright dangerous, with limited visibility and the serious prospect of being blown off my feet. Fortunately another track runs parallel to the coast and a bit further inland, offering a much safer way back to the car.
The long return offered an opportunity to wonder how coastal wildlife manages through such severe weather. I’d caught several glimpses of albatross and gannets from the cliff tops, big seas specialists revelling in the swell and wind. The smaller seabirds were conspicuous by their absence and I didn’t see a single land bird in the driving rain.
Next day I was back at Cape Solander. The rain had stopped and the inshore winds turned to the west. The seas were still just as big, however that westerly had blown away the chop, leaving clean lines of long period swell. The headlands were still covered in spray, but unlike the previous day the smaller seabirds, Crested and Common Terns and Silver Gulls were out in force. I spent a few moments photographing the terns hunting along the wave crests before returning to work.
Mid week and I was up at Port Stephens for a training course. The seas had continued to drop under the prevailing westerly winds. It made great conditions for whale watching, and I was lucky enough to see eight Humpbacks off Stockton Beach during my dawn walk.
Returning to the beach in the late afternoon before driving home I was treated to a glorious sunset over the dunes, made all the more spectacular by the reflections off the wide beach.
The contrast between stormy seas and tranquil beach illustrated just how much natural systems can vary from day for day. This year’s long hot summer quickly turned into the biggest storm in decades, yet barely two days later the gulls stood in the last of the day’s light with a tiny ripple of wave lapping over their feet. That resilience is one of the best reasons for not losing hope about the challenges wildlife will face in the future.
Odds and sods