Archive | April, 2013

Waterfall Gully’s Aquatic Skinks

27 Apr

In the driest state on the driest continent water is, as you can imagine, the most precious of commodities. To be entirely honest, Adelaide has a wonderful climate but in summer we can go for many weeks without a drop of rain. During this time the few spring fed creeks that flow down from hills become a refuge for a wide variety of wildlife.  

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Waterfall above the creek

Frogs, native fish, fresh water crustaceans, aquatic lizards and certain bird species all need this permanent source of water. The spectacular little falls that have carved out Waterfall Gully on the city’s eastern fringe feeds one of the few environments where water dependent wildlife can survive the harsh summer months. At the foot of the falls; a restaurant, walking trails, and car parking sit adjacent to the creek making it a wonderful place for hikers, casual visitors and naturalists alike. 

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A spotted marsh frog amongst the reeds

 After a particularly dry start to autumn I decided to drive out to Waterfall Gully to assess how the wildlife was coping with the conditions. A friend told me that he used to see quite lot of water skinks in the area years ago. I had only caught the occasional glimpse of the little lizards while cycling around the Torrens Lake in the city or on the banks of the Murray. This seemed like the perfect time to try to get some better images of these fascinating little reptiles. 

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The creek provides a secure environment for many creatures including snakes, lizards, frogs and fish

Water skinks, actually the eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii) grows to around 30cms in length. They hunt for small invertebrates in and around permanent water. These lizards are territorial and males and females look alike. Up to 9 well developed young are born in the summer. They are common prey for Kookaburras, snakes and feral cats. Like most skinks, eastern water skinks can drop their tail when grabbed as an escape strategy and often have shortened or partly re-grown tails.

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Eastern water skink basking on a rock in the late afternoon

 On my first trip I drove up the narrow road to Waterfall Gully and parked the car close to the creek below the falls. Within a few minutes I had spotted my first lizard. It was sitting on a flat rock in the middle of the creek and had a substantial part of its tail missing. Around one in ten of the skinks that I saw that afternoon were missing parts of their tails.

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This little lizard got away but not without losing part of its tail

 As I walked towards the waterfall I noticed that the skinks were quite abundant throughout the creek and its banks. Some were tucked into the undergrowth while others were foraging amongst leaves and twigs that had accumulated between the rocks in the creek bed. I did not see any swimming though a few were partially immersed in water, apparently waiting for prey.

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An eastern water skink foraging in the creek bed

 I returned to Waterfall Gully several times over the next few weeks to watch the water skinks and try to capture some better images. On my last excursion I sat quietly by a section of creek for over half an hour watching the lizards, small birds and insects that lived there. The wildlife had survived the ‘big dry’ quite well it seemed.

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Perhaps I’ll focus on the insects next time

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Arkaroola’s Emus

19 Apr

Dear reader 

This last week has been quite exciting. Old friends visited from Texas and, as is our custom, we headed to one of the most remote areas of the state to indulge our passion for wildlife and wild places. My choice was Arkaroola a place that I had visited many years ago on an indigenous cultures study tour and an environment I was eager to experience again.  

Arkaroola is a world heritage listed site in the northern Flinders Ranges 600kms north of Adelaide. It is a landscape of harsh granite peaks and deep, enchanting gorges; a favourite haunt for off road drivers, bush walkers and naturalists. Despite its isolation, facilities at the visitor centre are first class providing accommodation, a restaurant, supplies and fuel.

C Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

The road from Wilpena in the southern part of the ranges to Arkaroola is largely unsealed and traverses an iconic selection of Australian arid zone bushland ranging from wide brown plains and grassland to forested scrub. The road is traversed by numerous ephemeral creeks some of which wind back into interesting rocky gorges. Each time I have driven this route the wildlife that I have encountered has been different; flocks of parrots and red kangaroos one year, sightings of a variety of lizards and raptors another. However, it was my last drive north that was most memorable.

B Driving to Arkaroola

Driving to Arkaroola

The first section of the road from the classical little outback town of Blinman with its pub, art gallery and general store, was largely uneventful. A few wedge tailed eagles soared on thermals in the distance and a couple of small flocks of corellas and galahs screeched at us as they took flight from larger eucalypts in the dry creek beds. The only kangaroos were road kill victims.

A Blinman    the last outpost before a long bush drive

Blinman the last outpost before a long bush drive

Around 50 kms north of the town we drove a little way up one of the creek beds clattering over the flat rock and sand in 4WD then parked in the shade of some taller gum trees for a bite to eat. Almost immediately, a male Eeu guiding his procession of chicks, emerged from behind some bushes where they had been feeding. As we approached he sauntered off up the creek with feathery rump swaying and his little family ‘in tow’.

EA Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Emus are the world’s third largest bird after the African ostrich and Australasian cassowary; they grow to a height of 2 metres and can weigh almost 40 kgs. Emus run at speeds over 60 kph. This bird had to be a male as only males incubate the eggs and care for the young.

A Emu bad hair day

Emu bad hair day

This was the first of many encounters over the next few days. Perhaps the most unforgettable was just a few kilometres outside of Arkaroola. We were rounding a sharp bend in the road when a pair of emus suddenly appeared on the road hurtling towards us. The pair seemed oblivious to our presence and wholly engrossed in some kind of emu ‘high jinks’. They pushed and shoved at each other while still running, one falling sideways, rolling over then leaping into the air to continue the game. We skidded to a halt and watched them cavort privileged to see such a candid display of exuberant animal behaviour. After a minute or so they settled down and wandered up a rocky together slope feeding.

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The boys are back in town

Our final emu encounter occurred near one of the few permanent waterholes in the region. Two large birds suddenly appeared from the scrub and ran alongside the vehicle for a couple of hundred metres then abruptly cut across us and headed for a stand of tall eucalypts. We pulled over and walked slowly down to the trees and watched them join up with another group and start drinking. In the soft evening light, the scene was really quite unforgettable and the Emus though aware of our presence, did not seem uncomfortable allowing us to capture some memorable images.

D Group of Emus at waterhole in the evening

Group of emus at waterhole in the evening

Cheers

Baz

Mad March Possums

5 Apr

Dear reader

Each season in our southern state has its own natural highlights, For many March in Adelaide is a very special month; one where culture and wildlife seem to interconnect in rather unusual ways.

The city of Adelaide is separated from the outer suburbs by over 760 hectares of parklands. They consist of playing fields, open woodland, creeks and gardens. Most of the year, the parklands are frequented by joggers, cyclists and picnicking families. However, each March the serenity of the eastern parklands is replaced by the roar of V8 motors, the rhythms of international music and a surreal feast of various performing artists.

A Open woodland environment of the Adelaide parklands

A Open woodland environment of the Adelaide parklands

Now, you would think that such an onslaught of humanity; its sounds, lights and smells would frighten the daylights out of the parklands’ resident wildlife. Admittedly, the local birds do seem a little more nervous and the resident bat population somewhat more erratic in their coming and goings. On the other hand, the possum population seems to relish the activity. Although they are not obvious to the casual observer, when the troubadours, drivers and musicians retire for the night these masters of the nocturnal world emerge to search for the spoils of the day.

Fruit Bats or Grey- headed Flying -foxes are found in the Botanic Gardens which are situated within  the Parklands

Fruit bats or grey- headed flying -foxes are found in the Botanic Gardens which are situated within the Parklands

Over the last few years I have enjoyed the city’s March festivities and often wandered down the east end to take in a concert, play or watch the ‘V8 Supercars’ burn up the track. This year, I decided to walk home after a late night performance and was more than surprised to see a couple of common brushtail possums foraging near an overflowing trash can. Normally solitary, these cat sizes marsupials seemed indifferent to each other as they sought out some apple and banana leftovers, a welcome change to their usual diet of leaves, buds and native fruits. I was aware that possum numbers had generally declined throughout the state due to habitat changes and predation by feral animals, most notably cats. I watched them for a while thinking to myself that if a little party food on the side bolstered their survival chances who was I to take the purist stand on natural diets for our indigenous species.

Brush Tail Possums use their delicate paws and sharp claws for feeding, climbing and grooming

Brush tail possums use their delicate paws and sharp claws for feeding, climbing and grooming

Unfortunately, I was not carrying a camera and decided to return the next evening at the unearthly hour of 4 am armed with my DSLR and long lens, in the hope of capturing a few shots. I was not disappointed. One particular animal that was sitting by the side of a trash can taking stock of the menu decided to climb up into a nearby tree as I approached. Staring defiantly at me as I adjusted the flash setting to suit the telephoto, it conveniently struck a number of typically possum-like poses then promptly disappeared into the upper branches once the modelling session had finished.

A possum's yellow fur shows where its pouch is situated

The yellowish fur on a female possum’s fur shows where its pouch is situated

I crossed to the other side of the road and scanned some native pine trees with a high powered flashlight. The stand of trees was situated just inside the perimeter fence of the aptly named ‘Garden of Unearthly Delights’, one of the festivals most notorious attractions. I was hoping to flush out a ringtail possum, a smaller less frequently seen species. Unfortunately there were none to be found but I did manage to find a brushtail climbing the trunk of a large pine using its prehensile tail to hold on while testing the capability of a smaller branch to bear its weight.

Brushtail Possum foraging in a native pine tree

Brushtail possum using its prehensile tail while foraging in a native pine tree

On the whole it was a successful night though I would dearly have liked to see a ringtail. Perhaps another night when sleep eludes me and the lure of the city’s indigenous nightlife beckons I’ll capture that image.

Cheers

Baz

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