Augusta is a small coastal town on the furthest southwest corner of Australia – next stop Antartica. It is home to roughly 1000 permanent residents and swells to over 5000 for the Christmas holidays.
When we first visited over thirty years ago we didn’t much care for the place. It looked boring, dreary, dull, and because we went in late winter had crappy weather. Thirty years later we’ve developed a new appreciation of the place. I suppose it seemed to my 28 year old self a bit like the English “Costa Geriatrica”,between Eastbourne and Worthing on the Sussex coast. When I went to Worthing in my late teens and early twenties It appeared that the average age of the population looked as if it was 109. It wasn’t helped by the fact that on the main road into the town was an enormous cemetery and crematorium. But I digress and Augusta isn’t all about prostate problems and incontinence pads. Oh no! It is an amazing place because of it’s rich biodiversity and beautiful scenery. It has taken all these years for me to fully appreciate what it has to offer.
We’ve just got back from a wonderful break down there. It was fantastic to walk in the forest, along the coast and observe nature. Our first port of call so to speak was the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Not because I have a thing about large phallus shaped buildings but because we wanted to see Rock Parrots (Neophema petrophila). I have tried to photograph them before at Denmark but not had much luck. The main reason is that their colouring means that they blend in perfectly with the grasses and sedges found on the coast. At the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse the parrots often feed on the lawns surrounding the buildings. Well maintained cut lawn would mean less foliage for the parrots to hide in. I settled into place and while I waited an Australian Pippit bobbed around in the longer grass at the edge of the lawn. After a while five or six rock parrots landed and started to feed. I waited patiently and as luck would have they moved closer and closer to me. After a while I had this distinct impression that someone or something was behind me watching. I slowly stood up and turned around and there on the water tank behind me was a solitary rock parrot. I was so close I could have reached out and touch it. Amazing stuff! Thankfully he/she was happy to sit there while I grabbed a few photos.
Our next foray was to Hamelin Bay where we hoped to find Southern Emu-wrens in the bush behind the dunes. Despite it hammering down with rain I did manage to find some, but taking a photo of them was another story. Those little buggers are fast and they don’t sit still for very long at all. All I got for my troubles was very wet and some photos of Silvereyes. We admitted defeat and retreated back to Augusta for an excellent fish and chip lunch.
In-between looking for birds I also spent some time looking for orchids. It is amazing to go to a place you’ve visited several times before but still find new and unusual species It was also very nice to meet a couple from Queensland who drive over very year to see Western Australia’s orchids. That is dedication!
My last session photographing birds came entirely by accident. We were taking Frida, our wayward bull terrier, for her morning walk on the dog beach when we saw some small birds scurrying around among the grasses and washed up seaweed. We took her back to the car and I grabbed my camera. After a bit of a smelly crawl through piles of seaweed I was delighted to find some Red-capped Plovers and proceeded to lie there taking photos for nearly an hour.
In many ways it was sad when it came time to leave. Mainly because we’d had a really good time but also with the realisation that the area is about to profoundly change. It seems that every bit of spare land is being turned into housing estates. Hundreds of project homes are being packed eve to eve on small blocks of land. Within a short while this will have a detrimental effect on the environment as forest and coastal heathland is cleared. What is sadder is that the housing isn’t needed. At the start of this article I said that only just over 1000 people live permanently in Augusta and according to Shire of Augusta Margaret River 44% of the buildings are unoccupied. We have watched the suburban sprawl spread in the Cape to Cape region starting at Dunsborough and slowly spreading to Margaret River and now inexorably down to Augusta. Many years ago a friend who worked for what has become Landgate which is the Western Australian’s land management department in charge of surveying, titles and planning. He said he’d seen plans to develop the Cape to Cape region to such an extent that the only forest left would be a thin fringe along the major roads. Then I didn’t want to believe him, but now I can see it is happening. Hopefully it won’t take thirty years for other people to realise what is so special about the region and try and stop this senseless development.