A Flurry of Flathead!

Whilst I’m not sure “Flurry” is the correct collective noun for Flathead, they were certainly abundant this weekend, from small sand-burying Marble Flathead to the Blue-spotted and monster female Dusky Flathead. The latter can grow up to 1m long. The only species I didn’t see that frequents the aquatic reserve was the quaintly named Tassle Snouted flathead, masters of disguise. The Latin names for them are equally extravagant – Platycephalus caeruleopunctatus being one of my favourites. It is pretty much much the Latin derivation of their common name “Flathead greenspots” – well almost!

These fish hide in the sand waiting for prey to pass nearby then swallow them whole in a single gulp. When their sandy appearance looks the same the tail spots on the caudal fin are a sure way to differentiate the species, but the more you see them the easier it is to differentiate.

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The Lionfish family – Scorpaenidae

Today, armed with 100mm macro set up a visit to Chowder Bay yielded four species from the Scorpaenidae family of fish. This family consists of many colourful and exotic members, but most of them have venomous spines in the dorsal fin. A large adult Common Lionfish was hunting around the pylons of the Jetty, whilst  a dwarf one hid in a colourful sponge, but the highlight by far was a Leaf Scorpionfish, right at the southernmost limits of its range. These fish are prized prey for photographers in exotic tropical locations so to find one in Sydney Harbour was tremendously exciting.

And so the summer fades….

The end of April usually brings strong southerlies signalling the end of summer. Luckily this year they came a bit late, but the water has chilled to 19 degrees already and many of the tropical visitors have died already.

As the water slowly cools, algae dies off and the water clarity should improve giving the best visibility of the year.

The biomass in the bay still astounds me, and this weekend saw dolphins patrolling the surrounding beaches, probably looking for a feed.

Glorious Goatfish

There are some ten different species of goatfish that can be found in Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, some are tropical visitors but there are also quite a number of resident species too. As horrific winds blew from the west and south all weekend, prompting weather warnings all along the coast, the bay was flat and visibility 10+ metres, so diving was beckoning.

The goatfish are quite amusing fish to watch as they patrol around usually in shoals, sifting the sand with their two barbels below the mouth. These flexible protrusions work prolifically looking for food particles. Often individual adults will be seen with an eastern maori wrasse, the latter opportunistically waiting for a morsel to be dislodged or flushed out, as the goatfish does his work.

Diving in May

This time of year is my favourite for diving. The algae that makes the water green throughout summer starts to die off as the sunlight diminishes approaching winter. The water remains warm, around 20 degrees for a while and this brings Westerly winds that help calm perfect diving conditions.

This weekend was one of those perfect moments to dive and a couple of dives were rewarded with some great finds.

The Gold-lined Goatfish and Forceps fish are rare tropical visitors, but the stars of the weekend were a small group of Starry Toadfish blowing the sand, looking for food.

A very sick Weedy Seadragon floated over the sand, its skin looking infected, and the poor thing visibly flinched when the strobe of my flash went off. I never take more than 5 shots of this species anymore due to their sensitivity to stress, so after a couple of identification shots of the snout spots my buddy Matt and I quickly left it in peace.

Other great finds included a juvenile Common Lionfish, a Cigar Wrasse, Bicolour Fangblenny and a magnificent Eastern Blue Devilfish.

Chowder Bay

Chowder Bay is always a dive to look forward to because the harder you look the more you find. My buddy and I were tipped off that there was a big black Anglerfish waiting for us, but we found two. The resident Pineapple fish was kind enough to give us a bit of a show, and due to a recent clean-up that has removed much of the fishing tackle debris, line, etc it was looking less like a dumping ground and more like an underwater reserve. Three bannerfish patrolled the pylons, and a couple of Blotched Hawkfish sat on sponge perches up on the growth that adorns the jetty supports.

With so much to see and water till 21 degrees, and only ourselves to silt up the water, my buddy Matt and I had a very enjoyable dive.

A dive amongst tourists

My buddy Matt, despite an injured calf, joined me today for a fun dive where we spotted lots of locals and a few visitors from afar. The locals included a couple of Weedy Seadragons including the cute juvenile pictured above and an Eastern Blue Devilfish.
We also encountered an amazing diversity of “newbies” including the Headband Damselfish, a Spotted Fringefin Goby, a Redhead Stylophora Goby (not previously reported in NSW), a Yellow Saddle Goatfish, apparently rare south of Foster, and a few crabs including the Honeycomb Coral pictured above. The establishment of corals in Cabbage Tree Bay has brought with it the organisms that have a symbiotic relationship. The Trapezia family of crabs, the Headband Damselfish and Redhead Stylophora Goby all co-exist with the Pocillipora family of corals, and the new species of Pocillopora aliciae that inhabits the bay in a number of locations  has attracted these new species.