The quiet before the storm

with 4 Comments

Predictions of another intense storm were enough to steer most people away from the coast in and around Sydney over the weekend. Notwithstanding the pessimistic predictions the reality was relatively benign on Saturday morning, when the sea was glassy smooth. Fifty metres offshore of the Kiama blowhole a trio of Humpback Whales were lolling around on the surface. The sea was so smooth that the surface tension kept water clinging to the protruding backs of the whales, only breaking when they exhaled or lifted their tails. It was a remarkable sight, the surface distorting in response to the thirty-tonne animals underneath.

Humpback Whale 180616.1
Humpback Whale 180616.1

The whales started slapping their flukes, sending huge sprays of water skywards.

Humpback Whale 180616.2
Humpback Whale 180616.2

Humpback Whale 180616.6Amongst all the splash and spray swam a young calf, tiny compared to the boisterous adults.

Humpback Whale 180616.3
Humpback Whale 180616.3

It swam past all the fuss and rolled onto its back, pectoral fins raised into the air. The calf’s long pectorals, the Humpback’s most distinctive feature, were broader and stubbier than the adult’s, with fewer callosities along the leading edge.

Humpback Whale 180616.5
Humpback Whale 180616.5
Humpback Whale 180616.7
Humpback Whale 180616.7

Sunday morning at Wattamolla was gloomily overcast but still dry. All along the coast New Holland Honeyeaters were hawking after flying insects, squashing several insects onto their bills before stopping to eat their catch.

New Holland Honeyeater 160616.1
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.1
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.4
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.4

 

New Holland Honeyeater 160616.2
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.2

Hundreds of Red Wattlebirds were flying north in search of warmer and richer pickings.

Red Wattlebird 160616.1
Red Wattlebird 160616.1
Red Wattlebird 160616.2
Red Wattlebird 160616.2

The first sign of the impending storm was the arrival of strong southerly winds, which quickly chopped up the surface of the sea.

I found a vantage point high on the cliffs and sat against a rock shelf to look out to sea. Over the next half hour I counted 14 Humpback Whales. On the previous day long series of oval patches could be seen where the whales had taken a breath but in the choppy conditions quickly obscured any such marks, although the whales where actually easier to spot as they ploughed through the waves.

Humpback Whale 190616.1
Humpback Whale 190616.1
Humpback Whale 190616.2
Humpback Whale 190616.2

Flying past my vantage point was a passing parade of Australian Gannets and White-bellied Sea Eagles. Both species were flying into the strong southerly headwind, methodically scanning the sea below before sweeping back with the wind then turning back into the wind on the hunt again.

An adult Sea Eagle dropped on its fly past and snatched a large Porcupinefish off the water. Porcupinefish are poisonous to humans, but the Sea Eagle rose off the water and flew inland with its prize.

White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.1
White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.1
White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.2
White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.2
White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.3
White Bellied Seaeagle 190616.3

The Australian Gannets were diving close enough to capture with the camera . Gannets usually dive vertically to get deep enough for schooling fish, however in the rough conditions the schools were much closer to the surface. In response the gannets were spearing into the water at a shallow angle to scoot along just under the surface. One sent a school of garfish rocketing out of the water in a starburst pattern, while another bobbed to the surface with a Mado clasped in its bill.

Australian Gannet 160616.1
Australian Gannet 160616.1
Australian Gannet 190616.1
Australian Gannet 190616.1
Australian Gannet 190616.2
Australian Gannet 190616.2
Australian Gannet 190616.3
Australian Gannet 190616.3
Australian Gannet 190616.4
Australian Gannet 190616.4
Australian Gannet 190616.5
Australian Gannet 190616.5
Australian Gannet 190616.6
Australian Gannet 190616.6

I suspect I would have missed much of this action if I’d kept walking rather than watching from one spot.

Mid Sunday morning the storm finally arrived in Sydney. My endurance came to an abrupt end with the first squalls of heavy rain. I pulled up the hood on my jacket and departed, more than content with the wildlife I’d seen before the storm.

Odds and sods

Cape Bailey 150616.1
Cape Bailey 150616.1
Black Winged Stilt 180616.2
Black Winged Stilt 180616.2
Black Winged Stilt 180616.1
Black Winged Stilt 180616.1
Little Egret 180616.1
Little Egret 180616.1
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.6
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.6
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.6
New Holland Honeyeater 160616.6

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