There, there, there it is again! It’s a humpback whale! Wait, there’s two!! Wait, that’s a mother and calf!!!

My Favourite Suburban Walk

John Martin

I step onto the street and I can immediately see the blue water of Sydney Harbour. It often looks inviting, especially when there’s no breeze, the sky is blue, and the sunshine is warm. I relish being in and on the water.

I’m on my regular walk. Down a few blocks to the water, out to the little headland to stare the harbour full in the face, and then into the national park. I take note of the bird calls and watch for other, less vocal birds. I keep an eye out in general, really, noticing different plants, animals, and fungi with the seasons. Regularly taking photos on my walk with my phone...there are so many photos on my phone.

I cross the little beach and walk up the hill, surrounded by the pinkish cream trunks of Angophora costata, aka Sydney red gum, aka smooth-barked apple, aka rusty gum. This is one of my favourite trees, I’ve known them my whole life, even before I knew what they were called. I’ve enjoyed visiting the bush my whole life, and growing up in Sydney the easy to access bushland is on Sydney sandstone. The deep valleys and gorges prevented their clearing for farms or houses. We’re lucky they did.

I crest the hill and start the path through the heathland down to the beach on the ocean side of the headland. On my left is dense heath, taller than I am; a thicket of spiky Hakea, Banksia, and Grevillea leaves. On my right the vegetation is low and open with charcoal branches standing and laying around. Evidence of a recent fire. The habitat is regenerating, slowly. The open vegetation provides captivating ocean and coastal views. This is my favourite walk, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Today it’s the middle of the day, a break while working from home. I step off the main path and follow a side track to a cliff ledge. I’m taking in the dramatic drop below me and the vastness of the ocean. The sun is bright and warm, the breeze is gentle, cool but not cold. It’s a warm winters day, perfect for a walk.

I’m watching the ocean, the small waves kiss the rock platform below the cliffs. The sun is glistening on the water, further out the wind creates tiny white-caps and a yacht sails towards the sun. What’s that?! Really close to the rocks something big appeared and is now gone. Is there a submerged rock that the small swell exposed? No, it hasn’t happened again, could it have been a whale...was it that big? I keep watching, scanning the water up and down looking for a whale to emerge to breathe. More than a minute passes, I’m questioning if I saw anything. There, there, there it is again! It’s a humpback whale! Wait, there’s two!! Wait, that’s a mother and calf!!!

I watch them dive, surface, and dive. The calf comes up alone, I can see the white-blue glow of mum’s massive body below in the water. The calf is big! but tiny at the same time compared to mum. What an amazing moment, simply awesome. They swim out of sight, I walk out of the national park, through several blocks of suburban streets, and sit back at my work-from-home desk. Lockdown has the occasional upside.

This is the fourth in a series of semi-regular longform stories.

Author bio: John is a research scientist and one of the coordinators of The Urban Field Naturalist Project.
F,I,T: @Wingtags

Location: Manly, NSW, Australia