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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