Friday, 25 January 2008

Cape Bridgewater: cliff tops

We pulled in at the car park overlooking Bridgewater Bay. There must have been … ooh, I dunno … fifty people on the beach sun-bathing, swimming and surfing, so we gave it a miss. The silver gulls and crested terns didn't seem all that bothered by the fuss.

A track at the top of the cliff starts at lookout and runs down to a seal colony, about two hours away. Behind the lookout, the sea box (Alyxia buxifolia) wason covered in red berries and the old man's beard (Clematis microphylla) had set fluffy grey seeds. Singing honeyeaters looked sleek and well-fed. (They're the zebras of the bird world — they always look as though the living's good.)

Bridgewater Bay

Sea box

Old man's beard

The dense vegetation on this side of the Cape differs from that at the tip, which projects into the Southern Ocean. On still, warm days, it's difficult to believe that there's nothing between the Cape and Antarctica, except thousands of kilometres of blue water. On cold, wet and windy days, it's a lot more plausible.

The Great South West Walk follows the edge of Cape Bridgewater. To the west, it takes walkers down to the shelter of Discovery Bay. We headed east until we lost the tourists. Most of them went no further than the Petrified Forest, so it didn't take long to escape them.

Below us, Australian gannets (Morus serrator) soared in formation a couple of metres above the waves. Hundreds of them, in twos and threes, plied a route between the colonies on Lawrence Rocks and Cape Danger to the protected waters of Discovery Bay. On land, silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) popped up out of the thickets and zipped across the track to the next feeding place. Blue-winged parrots (Neophema chrystostoma) picked seeds from low vegetation. When we approached too closely, they would take to the air with fast wing beats and disappear into the Melaleuca. Not one of them sat still for a portrait. Contrary little so and sos.

Cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii) dominates the beach limestone at the start of the track. But it's not the only plant.

Pigface (Carpobrotus rossii) forms dense carpets — rugs, perhaps — between the grey cushions.

Had I not been with a botanist, I would have dismissed this dune thistle (Actites megalocarpa) as some crummy weed. I'm still not taken with it. Still, it's not there for my benefit. I'll just have to come to terms with that. What makes my dismissal even more pathetic is that Actites is a monotypic genus. So this is it. One species. That's yer lot. I'm working on warming to it.

Sea celery (Apium prostratum) is edible. Apparently. Yum!

Sand ixodia (Ixodia achillaeoides) is now grown for the cut flower trade.

Fan flower (Scaveola aemula) is a great garden plant but it looks even better in the wild.

I have never seen so many native wasps in one place at one time as I did on this Melaleuca lanceolata. I would have made a video but the soundtrack would have been nothing but swearing and squealing. Sure, wasps are not particularly ill-disposed towards people but they are possessed of ovipositors like stilettos. And as it was quite warm, they were flying around with great enthusiasm. One of them might have knocked me over. Discretion. Valour. All that stuff.

There were Theba here too. Sun-bleached shells were scattered all over the place but living snails were much patchier. Where they did occur, they were stuck to just about every type of low-growing plant. And some taller ones too, including coastal wattle (Acacia sophorae).

This low open heath wasn't the only vegetation type at Cape Bridgewater. At several points, water drained from the rocks, creating salt marshes on the cliff tops. More about in the next post.


Duncan said...

Another great post Snail!

Anonymous said...

You bring these things to life with your terrific writing, Snail.

Snail said...

I'm glad you're both enjoying it. It's handy having a botanist on hand, although it's difficult to swap between plant-finding and bird-finding modes!