Archive | July, 2013

Coorong

28 Jul

Dear Reader

This week’s posting is about one of my favourite wildlife refuges: a place that rivals any of the habitats that I have visited over many years of travelling and one that is in my own backyard.

AA Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

The Coorong is around two hours drive south east of South Australia’s capital city Adelaide. It consists of a 150 km, slender spit of land of land that runs parallel to the coast enclosing an extensive chain of brackish, shallow lagoons and salt pans. Impressive scrub covered dunes, battered by the heavy seas of the southern ocean on the seaward side, run the length of the narrow peninsular. At its north-western end the Coorong is fed by the River Murray which enters into two large lakes-Albert and Alexandrina. The unusual word ‘Coorong’ is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘kurangh’ which means ‘long neck”

AC Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

The region’s unique landscape of sand dunes, tussock grasses, low scrub and jagged limestone outcrops, is a haven for wildlife. Kangaroos, wombats, emus and an abundance of parrots and honeyeaters are just a few of the many native species that inhabit the thick, low bush that borders the lagoons and cover the towering dunes. An extraordinary number and variety of wading birds regularly gather in the Coorong. Enormous Australian Pelicans glide majestically along the waterway or spiral high on thermals before settling back on the water to fish. Tiny Mongolian Dotterels, which have travelled over 10 000 kilometres to avoid the northern winter, feed on the beachfronts between the crashing waves while avocets and curlews probe for shrimp and worms in the shallow limestone pools and mudflats. In total, over 400 species of birds, both residential and migratory, are found in this internationally recognised wetland.

AB Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Such a rich and diverse environment did not escape the attention of Australia’s original inhabitants and for around 40 000 years the Coorong has been home to the Ngarrindjeri (pronounced Nuh-run-jerri) people. They hunted kangaroos, emus and reptiles in the scrub as well as fishing and harvesting shellfish in the lagoons. Today the Ngarrindjeri still live in the area and practise many of the ancient skills that have been handed down through countless generations by ceremonies and stories. Those visitors who wish to learn more about the Coorong’s rich Aboriginal heritage can stay in lovely studio apartments, camp out, or park a caravan at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge with its sweeping views of the park and bush-tucker walks or canoe trips lead by local guides.

AD Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Despite its wild and lonely character the Coorong National Park is an easy day trip from Adelaide. Ideally, you would hire an off road vehicle in the city and take the coast road south then meander back north on a variety of tracks that parallel the highway to the mouth of the River Murray and the twin lakes of Alexandrina and Albert. From there you can join the main road back to the city and even drop into one of the regional wineries if time permits. However, if wild places are your passion and you feel the Coorong’s scenery and history are worth a longer stay there are a variety of established bush campsites as well as budget cabins, units and bunkhouses in the area. A slightly more upmarket approach is to book into one of the self-contained lakeside cottages at the historic homestead of Poltalloch on Lake Alexandrina. From there you can arrange guided tours of both the Coorong and lakes or use your own vehicle or boat to explore the area.

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near  lake Alexandrina

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near lake Alexandrina

I hope that one day, Dear Reader, you will come and visit this extraordinary place.

Cheers

Baz

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Photo Reflections 1

21 Jul

Dear Reader;

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, South Australia has a diverse selection of landscapes and wildlife. When you add our temperate climate and clear skies to the mix, it becomes abundantly obvious that this is a place well suited to wildlife photography. In this post, and a few more in the future, I will share some of my favourite wildlife encounters and the images they produced. They will not always be my most technically correct pictures but they will be the ones that invoke my fondest memories.

Telowie Gorge 2_09-10-07_0008_1

Telowie Gorge; a classic dry creek habitat

 

Echidnas are the hedgehogs of Australia. They trundle along like little battle tanks searching for termite mounds which they rip apart with their powerful front claws. They are in fact monotremes, a peculiar group of mammals that lay eggs; their closest relative is the platypus one of the world’s most bizarre creatures. This particular echidna was wandering across a dirt track on Kangaroo Island and paid little attention to me as I followed it for several hundred metres into the thick bush.

A Echidna trundling across dirt track

Echidna trundling across dirt track

 

Zebra finches are found throughout South Australia. They tend to frequent dense bushland where there is a lot of cover. The males are more distinctly marked and brightly coloured than the females. I lay cramped in a thicket of acacia bushes for over an hour watching a group of these colourful birds waiting for the opportunity to capture an image that demonstrated the difference between the sexes. As you can see I was eventually rewarded for my efforts when a pair landed on a nearby branch.

B Male and female zebra finches

Male and female zebra finches

 

As a wildlife photographer I spend a considerable amount of time flat on the ground, half covered in dust and leaf litter. It is therefore inevitable that sometimes I will share these times and spaces with the critters that call them home. However, I was not quite so philosophical when a sizeable forest scorpion decided to co-habit the log I was balancing my camera lens on. We spent an awkward few minutes together before the little arachnid decided that it was more comfortable under the log where it had been peacefully residing before a large hominid disturbed its rest.

C Scorpion

An inquisitive scorpion

 

One of the most difficult tasks I face as a wildlife writer is to adequately describe with words and pictures the environments that I explore. The edge of the Aldinga reef is one of my favourite haunts. The shallow limestone reef breaks the surface at low tide and falls away sharply several hundred meters offshore to sandy bottom dominated by algae and seagrasses. The actual edge is well defined with a series of crevices and caves that provide a wonderful habitat for a variety of fish including drummer, leatherjackets and magpie perch. On my last dive I took a dozen pictures trying to describe this characteristic environment eventually capturing the one you see here which included all the essential elements; algal growth, three species of fish and the rocky edge of the reef.  

D The edge of the reef

The edge of the reef

 

I hope that you enjoyed these images and the little stories that accompanied them.

 

Cheers

Baz 

A Walk to the Falls

12 Jul

Dear Reader

Last Saturday was a classic Adelaide winter’s day. It had rained the night before and a fine patina of dew decorated the shrubs in my garden. The sky was clear and despite a chill in the morning air it promised to be sunny and dry; perfect conditions for a walk in the park. Not any park though. My park of choice was a little conservation reserve nestled in the foothills about 20 minutes from the city centre. Like Waterfall Gully,  Morialta Conservation Park is graced by a series of waterfalls and steep walking trails that cut through a variety of classic bush habitats.

AB Typical sandstone and eucalypt bushland within the park

Typical sandstone and eucalypt bushland within the park

 The drive took me a little longer than expected as I was waylaid by the smell of freshly cooked pastries emanating from a little bakery. My rucksack now stocked with enough calories to sustain my upcoming physical endeavours and probably those of the next week, I pulled into the little car park alongside the creek, hung a camera from my shoulder and set off up the southernmost trail. The sun was still low in the sky and only the southern face of the steep-sided valley benefited from it.  I had walked just a few metres and was emerging from the shade when I noticed some walkers standing below a tall eucalyptus tree pointing excitedly at one of the higher branches. I followed their obvious line of sight and there, nestled into the fork between trunk and branch was a fairly large koala doing what koalas do best ….stretching out and resting.

AC Koala in tree near the trailhead

Koala in tree near the trailhead

The koala was an unexpected and encouraging start to the day and after spending few minutes watching it I started up the trail with a fair degree of optimism. Winter is never the best time for wildlife. Plants have fewer flowers and fruits and the insects that are attracted to them are in short supply. Of course there is always an up-side when it comes to nature and the damp ground makes it easier for some bird species to fossick for grubs and worms. A pair of blue wrens seemed to be making the best of these conditions, madly hopping from one tree branch to the next then down onto the ground in a never ending search for food. Their constant motion and the morning light gave me only a few half-chances to capture some images and no hope of freezing their motion completely. I did manage a couple of shots that showed some of the obvious differences between the male and female of this species.

AI Male blue wren

Male blue wren

AH Female blue wren

Female blue wren

A little further up the track I stopped and sat on a large boulder and scanned the undergrowth for insects or lizards. There was nothing to be seen or heard but I did notice some honeydew plants growing amongst the grasses near a rocky outcrop. These delicate little plants have tiny inverted cups radiating from their stems. The cups are fringed by small filaments and have sticky, viscous fluid in the centre. Unwary insects are trapped in the sweet heart of the cups and the filaments close on them to seal their fate. The unfortunate bug is then digested by its ‘vegetable’ captor providing essential nutrients that other plants might get from the soil.

AG Honeydew plant

Honeydew plant

 

Colourful wrens, cute koalas and carnivorous plants had provided quite a range of wildlife in the first kilometre or so of my walk. As expected, the wildlife had not been prolific but there always seemed to be something around the next bend if I took the time to pause and use all of my senses. The next few kilometres were enjoyable but largely uneventful. A few honeyeaters flitted between late flowering shrubs, a magpie nervously snatched a drink from the creek while a squadron of miner birds squabbled in a stand of acacia bushes. It was not until I was almost back to the car park and walking below some tall, pale eucalyptus trees that bordered the creek that my next significant encounter occurred.

AD Magpie drinking from the creek below the falls

Magpie drinking from the creek below the falls

A small group of rainbow lorikeets had gathered on the branches of a massive gum tree about 10 metres off the ground. They were screeching loudly and seemed quite agitated. I moved away so as not to scare them and sat quietly in the cover of some thick bushes watching closely through my long lens. The source of their consternation soon became obvious; a pair of galahs had commandeered a nesting hole in the trunk of the tree. Over the next half an hour I witnessed a heated real estate battle develop as a continual rotation of chattering rainbows tried to dislodge their larger rivals. Eventually the galahs moved off and one of the rainbow lorikeets immediately flew down and started to peck around the perimeter of the nest hole.

A A pair of rainbows watching galahs at nest site

A pair of rainbows watching galahs at nest site

AF Inspecting the new proerty

Inspecting the new property

I finished my walk sitting on the edge of the creek with a cappuccino from the coffee van that plies its trade on the weekend and a pastry from my stash. Not a bad way to spend a sunny winter’s day for any wildlife enthusiast.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

 

Cheers

Baz  

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