Archive | June, 2013

Red Earth Wildlife

28 Jun

Dear Reader

South Australia’s capital Adelaide is a wonderful starting point for long country drives that take you through a variety of landscapes ranging from seemingly endless wheat fields to rugged coastline and dense bushland. The  city sits in the curve of the Mount Lofty Ranges. It has a fine Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool wet winters. However, as you travel further west both the terrain and the climate change dramatically. The grassy plains and forests give way to saltbush, desert and scrubland. Even the earth beneath your feet looks different, the browns and greys turn to a rusty red, a signature feature of this iron rich land.

AB Bush track and old sheep fencing near Whyalla

Bush track and old sheep fencing near Whyalla

I have travelled west on many occasions to visit family on the Eyre Peninsula. They live in Whyalla, the state’s largest city after Adelaide. Whyalla lies on the coast and is a steel making centre where the iron rich rock that paints the landscape its terra cotta shades is mined, processed and exported to all corners of the globe. The city is well positioned for exploring the rugged Eyre Peninsula and has good accommodation as well as excellent fishing and interesting mangrove stands along the shallow foreshore. However, it is the nearby rugged bush landscape and hardy desert creatures that carve out an existence from it, that never fail to inspire me when I visit.

AB Different layers of arid scrub on Eyre Peninsula

Different layers of arid scrub on Eyre Peninsula

My last visit a little, at the end of this summer, was particularly rewarding. We had been without significant rain for well over a month which often brings the wildlife closer to the town where there is casual water and food, albeit not quite their natural diet, around parks and other public spaces. As many desert animals are crepuscular or nocturnal they tend to head back into the shelter of the surrounding bush during the day when the light is better for photography. This behaviour results in a narrow window of opportunity, during the early morning and late afternoon, for wildlife watching.

AE desert scrub near Whyalla

Red Kangaroo in semi desert terrain near Whyalla

 

A morning drive along one of the narrow bush tracks, used by local farmers to repair fencing, brought me to a large clearing and a brief encounter with a huge male red kangaroo. He was alone and grazing on some low shrubs and grasses and moved slowly into the bush as I approached. Several of the smaller grey coloureds females bounded across the track as I moved further along the trail and I caught a passing glimpse of an emu way picking its way through some stands of Myall trees. For the next hour the wildlife viewing was much the same, a few roos in the distance and the occasional bird of prey and flights of parrots flushed out of the surrounding bush.

hite-browed Wood Swallow perched near its nest in a fence post

White-browed Wood Swallow perched near its nest in a fence post

 

Later in the evening I drove along a different trail and had to engage low ratio 4WD to scramble my SUV across some steep shale covered sections. But it was well worth it when I climbed out and walked slowly through a particularly promising section of scrub. Crouching low in the bushes I spotted a couple of white browed wood swallows, a species I had never photographed and certainly a beautiful little bird and one superbly adapted to this green grey outback country.  

AF Tawny frogmouths group camouflagedin Myall Scrub in the late afternoon

Tawny frogmouths group camouflaged in Myall Scrub in the late afternoon

 

Satisfied with my afternoon’s work, I checked the ground for ants, scorpions or other pain inducing critters, sat down under an old, weathered Myall tree and pulled out my drink bottle. Sitting quietly in the bush is a treat for a city guy and I was going to enjoy some time alone before driving back for dinner.  However, it turned out that I was not alone in my choice of resting places. Perched on one of the branches, no more than three metres from away, was a family of tawny frogmouths; an insectivorous, nocturnal species unique to Australia that has an owl like appearance and the most amazing camouflage that I have ever seen. The birds were seeing out the daylight hours in the shade and paid me no heed as remaining still is a crucial part of their survival strategy. A final series of images to end an amazing morning in the bush.

Cheers

Baz

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My South Aussie Garden

15 Jun

Dear Reader

The people of Adelaide have the luxury of a glorious Mediterranean climate; cool and wet in the winter, mild to warm during autumn and spring and hot and dry in the summer. Such benign weather combined with the city’s ideal location between hills and coast provide excellent conditions for gardening throughout the year. Viewed from the hills, the city looks like a green patchwork of tiny gardens, expansive parks and tree lined boulevards. In general, South Australians take great pride in their gardens creating personal spaces that provide a sanctuary in a modern urban setting as well attracting local wildlife into the city.

AE Clssic home and garden in North Adelaide

Classic home and garden in North Adelaide

My own garden, like that of many Adelaideans, is a combination of native shrubs, trees, lawn and exotic flowering plants, all carefully chosen to give colour throughout the year and attract both birds, insects and the occasional reptile. Small areas of lawn and strategically placed rocks provide variations in terrain while outdoor seating and water features add aesthetics plus an all important source of moisture in the summer months.

AB New holland honeyeater feeding in bottlebrush

New holland honeyeater feeding in bottlebrush

A couple of sizeable eucalypts dominate the back of the garden. The smaller of the two has large yellow flowers that blossom in the spring and tends to attract a wide variety of parrots, especially rainbow lorikeets. The larger tree has smaller, white flowers that seem to be at their best around Christmas. The  snowy blossoms are a favourite food for several different  species of honeyeaters including the largest of all; the wattle bird whose raucous cry sound remarkably like wakeup…wakeup.

AF Rainbow lorikeet feeding on red flowering gum blossoms

Rainbow lorikeet feeding on red flowering gum blossoms

AC Young wattle bird feeding in eucalyptus tree

Young wattle bird feeding in eucalyptus tree

Several different species of lizards are quite common around the garden. Marbled geckos live amongst the brickwork and a variety of slender skinks including sliders and cenotus scurry under the leaf litter and rocks. Occasionally a blue tongue or shingleback makes an appearance during the summer months.

AAgarden skink amongst bark and leaf itter

Garden skink amongst bark and leaf litter

 

Spiders and insects are found in a myriad of micro-niches throughout the garden. Flower spiders hunt amongst the blossoms, red backs live in the dark recesses of garden sheds while various beetles, wasps and mantids (to mention just few groups) forage amongst the diverse shrubs and grasses.

AD Leaf curling spider

Leaf curling spider using a gum leaf to construct its home

 

This is a merely a brief introduction to my garden. In some of my future posts I hope to share much more detailed stories and observations about the animals and plants that   I encounter each day in my own garden and others that I might visit around the state.

Cheers

Baz

Any feedback on this post is most welcome

 

Misty Morning Rats

9 Jun

 This year, the first few days of winter have been a little cloudy with a light mist over the city in the early hours. It is the kind of weather that encourages a cup of coffee, at the Par 3 Cafe by the Torrens Weir, before my weekend bike ride around the river trail. But the cool quiet mornings do have one distinct advantage. Some of the more reclusive creatures that inhabit the river banks seem a little less wary and easier to find; most notably…The Australia water rat…one of my favourite species.

 

AFF Torrens Weir in winter feeding the river below

Torrens weir in winter feeding the river below

 

As you can imagine, misty mornings, shy wildlife and carrying a camera on a bike does present a few challenges. My digital SLR and long lens are too heavy and the low light conditions push the compact super zoom that I can comfortably wear on my hip, to its absolute limits. Consequently, please excuse a couple of the rather grainy images that I have included later in this post. However, the mere fact that I was able to capture these pictures encourages me to share them and their story with you.

 

AA Willy Wagtail lookin for insects amongst the reeds

Willy wagtail looking for insects amongst the reeds

 

 

Over the many years that I have walked or cycled around our permanent creeks and wetlands I have only caught the occasional glance of Australian water rats. The tell tale ‘V’ shaped wake that they leave and their low profile in the water make them unmistakable. Unfortunately, after a brief appearance they invariably dive or disappear into the tangle of reeds and grasses on the water’s edge. It is also quite easy to confuse them with common rats, which swim well and often live close to waterways. Unlike their terrestrial cousins, water rats are a little more robust have a slightly blunter face with a heavier covering of whiskers. Their back feet are also webbed and they have a white tip to the tail.

 

AG Common rat scavenging close to the river

Common rat scavenging close to the river

 

Back to my tale of coffee and misty mornings; last Saturday I had cycled from home to the weir and was peddling along the track that runs south above the river when I noticed a classic ‘V’ shaped wake in the water. I quickly dismounted, whipped off my helmet and gloves and pulled out my camera. The water rat swam upstream diving periodically and I was able to walk slowly along the trail watching it for around 5 minutes. Eventually it disappeared into the undergrowth near the bank but not before another one paddled close by affording me a rather unique photo opportunity. However, as I mentioned at the start of this piece, the light conditions were far from perfect and my target animals were the best part of a 100 metres away. A lot of frames and little Photoshop produced the two images you can see here.

AC Australian Water Rat sheltering under the bank edit 2

Australian water rat sheltering under the bank

 

AD Australian water rats swimming across the river

Australian water rats swimming across the river

Encouraged, I returned the next day and sat quietly on the bank for the best part of an hour, hoping for a repeat performance. I did see one water rat for a brief moment but I could not focus rapidly enough to get a clear image. At this point, the coffee beckoned and I cycled back to the weir stopping a couple of times on the way to enjoy the winter’s early scattering of leaves on the river bank and watch a pair of silver gulls wading in the water cascading over the sluice gates.

 

AH Early winter leaves on the river bank

Autumn leaves on the river bank

AE Australian silver gull looking for prey in the overflow

Australian silver gull foraging in the overflow

Now that I know there are several water rats in the area I am determined to travel the same path on foot over the next few months with my DSLR to see if I can improve on these pictures. But for now I am thrilled to have seen the little animals foraging in the wild and to have captured a few simple images.

 

Until next time

Baz

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