Archive | May, 2013

South Coast Sealions

31 May

Dear Reader:
Last weekend I was walking along the rocky foreshore of the Deep Creek Conservation Park at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula around 90 kms from Adelaide. A few metres from the shore a rush of water and a speeding grey shape caught my attention. ‘Dolphins at play’ was my first thought but a closer look dispelled that idea. The twisting motion was suddenly more than a little familiar… sealions. A pair were frolicking or fishing close to the rocks on the inside of the powerful rip current that surges between KI and mainland. They were too fast for me to take a shot but my thoughts drifted back to my first encounter many years ago in this same stretch of water.

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Deep Creek foreshore with grass trees in foreground

We were *spear-fishing along this same section of coast on a day that would have been better spent sleeping in. There was a stiff sea breeze and the visibility was around 2 meters at best. I was returning to the surface after scouring a rocky ledge near the bottom for zebra fish and just one hard kick of my fins from the next breath of air when a grey shape rocketed out of the gloom just below me.  In an instant my assailant turned to face me with breathtaking agility. Instinctively, I raised my spear gun, slipped off the safety and prepared to meet either a bronze whaler or white shark.

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Zebra fish on a rocky reef feeding amongst brown algae

Needless to say, my reflexes combined with the drag of the water meant that by the time the predator had reached me the gun was in no position to be of any use. The next moment I was face to face with my attacker. The large bull sealion came to a sudden halt, only inches from my facemask; its formidable set of teeth, bushy whiskers and baleful eyes providing an image that stays with me to this day. The sea lion performed a few more acrobatic turns as if to point out my ineptness in its watery home then disappeared back into the murky depths.

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Sealion underwater near Deep Creek

Australian sealions (Neophoca cinerea) are a threatened species that inhabit the temperate waters of Western Australia and South Australia. They grow to around 2.5 metres in length and weigh up to 300Kg; the males are larger than females. Sealions feed on fish, molluscs and crustaceans and in the past were persecuted by fishermen and hunted for blubber and meat. Unlike seals, sealions move comfortably on land using their flippers rather than dragging themselves. They have external ears; hence their family name Otariidae . Sealions breed on isolated beaches and rocky platforms often with rock pools close by where the pups can swim safely while being weaned. Their major predator is the great white shark.

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Female sealion weanng pup on a sheltered beach

This was not my last encounter with these glorious South Australian mammals but it was my first and most memorable. In a later blog I will tell you about an exhilarating weekend on Kangaroo Island photographing sealions.

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Male sealion asserting dominance on a breeding site

Cheers
Baz

*Apologetic footnote…..Many of the Australian wildlife photographers and naturalists that I have encountered developed their passion for the natural world and much of their field-craft with a rifle or rod in their young hands before graduating to pen and camera.

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Rare Birds on the Beach

16 May

Dear Reader:
This week’s post is coming to you from Southport, a surf beach just south of Port Noarlunga but still sheltered by the reef (see Jan 21st post). I am sitting in a small cafe sipping a cup of coffee and reflecting on the last couple of hours spent wandering through the sand hills and along the beach.
I had driven to Southport in the early afternoon with the specific intention of walking along the tidal flats, where the Onkaparinga estuary drains into the sea, to photograph crabs and wading birds. However, I had not counted on such a high tide; the mudflats were covered and I could only access the walking trails that meander through the sand hills from beach on the seaward side.

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Southport Beach, estuary with bridge in the background

I parked by the roadside and crossed the river on a small bridge below the cliff line and spent a few minutes watching anglers casting for bream and garfish. Nearby, a father and son paddled a sea kayak towards the ocean disturbing a small flock of black swans as they edged close to one of the steeper banks where the sandy slope of the dunes ran into the water.

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Kayaking below the cliffs

As I traversed the final set of dunes above the beach I felt the afternoon sea breeze on my face and caught the muffled crash of waves breaking on the shore. Several surfers were enjoying a choppy break and more adventurous anglers were wading into the white water to cast for salmon. I headed down to the sand to find one of the trail entrances to the dunes that open onto the beach. As I trudged through the soft sand I noticed a group of diminutive shore birds racing between the foamy lines of waves curving up the beach. At first glance they appeared to be similar in appearance but a more critical look through the telephoto revealed a mixture of species and sexes.

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Mixed group of waders foraging between waves

One particular pair stood out amongst the others. I held my breath, refocussed and squeezed off a series of shots, dropped to one knee to better incorporate the water into the background and fired again. I was photographing a pair of hooded plovers, an endangered species that nests on open beaches and a bird that I had only glimpsed at a distance along the Coorong’s extensive beaches further south. As I captured the last image, the wind picked up and the little flock of waders lifted as one and flew further down the beach.

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Hooded plovers

A sat for a few minutes, smiling inwardly as I reviewed the images then continued down to the trail entrance. As I climbed back up into the dunes I reflected on the extraordinary beauty and diversity of this stretch of coastline, a mere 20 Kms from the city centre. Walking through the dunes was like entering another world made up of: low scrub, wiry grasses and a thick layer of undergrowth fashioned from the skeletal remains of branches and tree trunks. I walked slowly and paused frequently observing a variety of insects, several lizard species and an assortment of birds including: honeyeaters, magpies and crested pigeons.

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View of the beach from the dunes in the afternoon light

But today it was the ocean that called and as the light started to fade I took another track down to the shoreline and worked my way back to the section of beach where I had encountered the plovers. Sadly, the plovers were long gone but a little group of red capped dotterels remained, bedding down for the night in the footprints that I had left in the sand when I walked this way just an hour ago.

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Red capped dotterels bedding down for the night

My coffee is finished now and it is time to drive home and share this afternoon with you.

And yes, dear reader, I missed the tide but somehow I think it might have been for the better.

Sincerely
Baz

Adelaide’s Parkland Rosellas

4 May

Dear Reader Adelaide’s CBD is surrounded by parklands. They are a place for workers to enjoy during a lunch break or cyclists and joggers to traverse on the daily commute. They set the tone for the city and also provide a natural backdrop to the everyday business of the state’s vibrant capital. They were conceived by the city’s founder and first governor Colonel Light and are still treasured and protected by those who live in the city and inner suburbs.

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Bike riding through the parklands

The ecology of the parklands like the commerce of the city has its own rules and hierarchy. magpies and miner birds aggressively mark out and defend their territories, brushtail possums enjoy the nightlife and screeching rainbow lorikeets seem to know everyone’s business.

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Noisy miner feeding on a banksia bloom

One of my favourite animals in this urban ecosystem is the elegant and colourful eastern rosella. They are found throughout the Adelaide and Mount Lofty region and seem to have a preference for open woodland where they can find suitable nesting holes, preferably in old growth trees. There has been a pair raising their young in a white cedar in front of my home this year and when I go for an evening walk I can hear the young ones deep in the tree calling to the adults.

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Male and female eastern rosellas feeding

Adelaide rosellas are around 35 cms in length with females being slightly smaller with a faintly orange cast to their plumage and less defined markings. They create a nest up to a metre deep within a tree hollow. Both parents feed the young. Rosellas are mainly seed eaters and feed mainly on the ground.

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Eastern rosella on parkland fencepost feeding on wild grain heads

For me, one of the attractions of rosellas is their is its truly unique South Australian connection.  Indeed one particular type, the Adelaide rosella,  only occurs within a few dozen kilometres of the city. It is actually a hybrid of the yellow rosella which inhabits the Murray River valley and the crimson rosella which is more prevalent in the south east of the state.

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Social interaction between eastern rosellas above nesting hole

If you walk through the parklands during the spring and summer months it is not difficult to observe these colourful rosellas exhibiting a full range of behaviours from feeding to nesting and mating.

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Eastern rosella perched on nesting hole entrance

Cheers Baz

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