Sunday, January 28, 2007
We've spent the Australia Day weekend recovering from a few days at Phillip Island. Actually, my days there were non-consecutive (with work in-between), but enjoyable in any case. Naturally, the time we chose to go down there coincided with the appearance of a 6 metre (bloody big) great white shark repeatedly coming close in shore at Cowes. Even though we were in Cape Woolamai, there were (less publicised) shark warnings there as well. The changed weather conditions, with colder water, seems to have the sharks on the move in a lot of places. The apparent big concerns were this weekend and the Roxy Women’s Surf Festival at Cowes in February. Some have suggested rifles may be needed, but cooler heads have said that the great whites are only looking for snapper (too bad if you happen to bear an unfortunate resemblance to a snapper).
In any case, the most dangerous thing I did was nearly step on a big red-bellied black snake in bare feet. The animal tracks in the scrubby dunes were pretty interesting - some I had pegged as bandicoots (it looked like perfect territory for them) were actually long-nosed potoroos. Phillip Island has a strange balance of wildlife - no bandicoots, but potoroos instead, and a few other mammals - most prominently koalas and swamp wallabies (especially since the foxes have been eradicated). The birdlife is substantial, including hooded plovers (rare, and with the strange habit of nesting on the tideline).
We went to the Fairy Penguin walk, which has gotten very built up and touristy, but seems to work pretty well. Seeing the maps showing the penguin colonies steadily
disappearing during late last century was pretty sobering - this one is the last colony on Phillip Island, and there are far fewer elsewhere these days as well. Seeing these tiny little penguins come in with the waves at dusk is still a remarkable experience. There are still a few stupid people who attempt to photograph them, in spite of the restrictions against this.
(Penguin sketches are by J.)
It's worth walking the beaches in the evening to see the return of the short-tailed shearwaters - masses of them silently gliding into their burrows. Watching both the penguins and the shearwaters afforded fantastic views of Comet McNaught, which is the most impressive comet I've ever seen - very bright and close, with a huge tail.
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