January 25th 2013
Wet season treasures
Some call it the adventure season - when momma nature takes centre stage and puts on a show of power and grandeur - reminding us of who’s in charge. On Magnetic Island it’s been like that this week with 177 mm of rain landing at Picnic Bay on Wednesday-Thursday after some some big falls preceding. The creeks are alive and spilling out of the hills and yesterday, expecting some, possibly unique, surf conditions, another, altogether magical sight was beheld - the kind of experience exclusive to the monsoon wet and one so many visitors to Magnetic in the placid sunny season will never know.
Your editor had been doing some rounds of the Island as is usual after a big downpour. There’s always something to see from the fast running Island creeks, beach changes and, of course, the latest potholes - which it seems have been particularly prevalent where some of new road repairs have been made - hmm!
Potholes aside, such a tour is never complete without a visit to north-facing Horseshoe Bay. Knowing that the wind was coming in from the north and that a possible cyclone could re-emerge from the monsoonal low aka ex-cyclone Oswald, at the time centred around Rollingstone (a little north of Townsville), I was expecting a goodly gale and some exciting surf. I was right.
The foreshore at Horseshoe was taking a flogging at high tide with the floating stinger net sausage crashing and bashing about in the nasty beach break which had, once again scooped out much of the sand and fill used to rebuild the lovely recreational area after Cyclone Yasi. This sea was nothing like the morning after Yasi when the sea flowed straight from the bay across the esplanade dune and into the lagoon behind but it was dramatic and newsworthy nonetheless.
Wandering about I bumped into long-time resident John T. A long time surfing devotee, John had once shown me a photo taken back in the day when he was tubed in a beautifully shaped, cyclone-generated wave off the spit towards the middle section of Horseshoe beach. John was hoping for a rare repetition as the morning swell was relatively well shaped and, if the low moved south during low tide, the off-shore wind could push these barrels up into very surfable status.
I returned in the later afternoon. This time I approached the bay from the end of Swensen Street. Locals would know the little access trail through across the sand mound that breaks the lagoon in two near the mouth of Endeavour Creek. It’s a wild and sometimes harsh place. Sand dunes give way to stark dead trees rising above the lagoon which in turn are swallowed by a greater backdrop of paperbark forest then the mist-softened granite bulwarks of Magnetic's rugged interior.
Here, like many beaches of the Island, one can witness first-hand the impact of storms on top of rising sea levels pushing back the front line of casuarinas - the skeletal remains of which were fitting perches for hungry ravens on the look-out for tide-raked morsels.
But great surfable tubes I did not find. The wind was still in the northwest and the waves were dirty chocolate bruisers intent upon pushing back the ripping flow at Endeavour Creek’s mouth.
Turning inland I surveyed the lagoon once more. It’s a great spot for bird watching. I knew of an osprey nest further down the dune and hoped to see one of its residents. It was then that some locals out for a wander caught my eye. One was pointing to the sky. I looked up too and there they were. Pirate birds, Man of War birds or, more commonly, least or lesser frigatebirds. In Jo Wieneke’s excellent “Birds of Magnetic Island” these birds are listed as “uncommon” for the island. Indeed they are most often found well out to sea where their massive but narrow wings - measuring up to nearly two metres from tip to tip can carry them for days on end without landing. In fact it is thought that they may even sleep on the wing.
Frigate birds over Horseshoe Bay
But it is the almost wicked shape they cut against a stormy sky that makes these birds stand out. There is something unnervingly beautiful about the zig-zag wings and deeply forked tail that had me transfixed. But it wasn’t just that. I didn’t see just a lonely stray or two, blown out of the middle of the Coral Sea. I saw 56! Yes, that’s how many I counted, all in one extraordinary gathering, sailing (they hardly ever need or bother to flap) towards the western headland of the bay with truly effortless grace.
Common knowledge is that these are also storm birds which one just wouldn’t see unless there was a major storm like a cyclone or tropical low in the area. So here was a sight for the locals and visitors who love north Queensland for all of its seasons and can reap the rare and rich rewards the depth of the wet can bring.
For lots more photos of the wild and wonderful day at Horsehoe Bay visit our facebook gallery (click here)
Story and photos: George Hirst