Archive | September, 2013

An Urban Billabong

29 Sep

Dear Reader:

The word billabong looms large in Australian folklore. It is where ‘a jolly swagman’ met his untimely end and mythical beasties called ‘bunyips’ supposedly emerge from the water to devour unwary campers. In reality, billabongs are freshwater wetlands that flood when river levels are high then become more isolated in the dry season. They are essentially backwaters that provide a refuge for many different species of animals as well as being popular locations for camping and fishing.


Still, dark waters of an urban billabong


In South Australia the lower reaches of the Murray River has many lovely billabongs that have provided me with many a peaceful afternoon’s wildlife watching and photography. However, the trail that runs along the banks of Adelaide’s Torrens River also incorporates a little billabong which is tucked behind the upmarket suburb of St Peters, just a stone’s throw from the CBD. It was rehabilitated in the mid eighties and over the intervening years various community and government groups have overseen its care and maintenance.


A mosaic of the rainbow serpent reflects the importance that Aboriginal people attached to billabongs


Last weekend, I packed my little super-zoom camera, hopped on the bike and pedalled up to the billabong to take stock of the wildlife. It has been a long wet winter and I was hoping that the warmth of the first few weeks of spring would stimulate some wildlife activity. I was not entirely disappointed. As I approached the little wooden landing that fronts the water, a pair of amorous crested pigeons pranced and displayed to each other. Close to a patch of reeds a mother black duck was tending a pair of fluffy little ducklings.


Courting crested pigeons


A pair of black swans nibble the water side vegetation


During the winter months the landscape may be verdant but few of the native shrubs flower and the insects that rely on the blossoms are rare. Now the billabong was clearly beginning to emerge from its winter blues and life was starting to reassert itself. As well as the hormonal pigeons and baby ducks a colony of colonial spiders had constructed a silken trap in an acacia bush and delicate little purple chocolate lilies were emerging from their winter dormancy.

chocolate lily

Chocolate lily


Colonial spiders construct a complex web in a wattle bush


As spring turns to summer I am sure the wildlife will continue to flourish and I look forward to revisiting and reporting back to you.




Moonta Bay: above and below the water

21 Sep

Dear Reader:

It is a lovely afternoon and I am sitting on the balcony of a friend’s beach house gazing across the calm waters of Moonta Bay. The light is soft and despite an unseasonably hot spring day there is a gentle sea breeze ruffling the bushes and coastal grasses on the edge of the steep cliffs that drop down to the beach. I have been watching a pair of rabbits cautiously emerging from their burrows in the soft sand; endearing little creatures but unwelcome guests in this area where they eat the native plants and damage the delicate balance of the cliff top ecology.

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

As night approaches and the sun drops below the horizon the rabbits become more active. A flock of gulls flies in V formation across the skyline and I retreat into the study to avoid some early season mosquitoes and reflect on my day. The sunset is quite spectacular and provides some inspiration to set pen to paper.

Moonta Bay at sunset

The journey from Adelaide across the flat coastal plains and scrub hedged wheat fields  was an easy couple of hours. I stopped at a local pub and grabbed a bite to eat then pushed on to Moonta. With only one night at my disposal I spent the early part of the afternoon wandering amongst the old mine ruins. A little gecko clung miraculously to the smooth surface of an old mine bucket and a pair of swallows had made a neat little nest behind a wooden beam that protruded from a square stone tower. But strangely it was the colours in the rocks that caught my attention as they hinted at the wealth of copper that was extracted from this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

throughout the old quarry the rocks are stll tinged with the coper ore

Throughout the old quarry many of the rocks are tinged with the copper ore

From the mine it was a short drive down to the seashore and jetty with its art deco styled motel and restaurant nestled into the low cliffs. A stroll along the stained hardwood planks out to the end where it curves to run parallel to the shore brought back childhood memories of weekends fishing and playing cricket on the huge expanse of beach that is exposed when the tide recedes. But on this occasion the child’s rod and line were replaced by camera and notebook. Near the shoreline I stopped by a rocky outcrop to watch a pied cormorant hunting amongst the weed and rock-pools; its body seeming to take on the fluid persona of the water as it twisted and turned in search of small fish and crabs.

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

 A little further along the jetty, where the shallow water starts to turn darker hinting at the meadow of seagrass beneath, a flotilla of seabirds were patrolling; an indication  that there might be baitfish in the area. With this in mind I trotted back to the car and donned my snorkelling gear to take a closer look. I was not disappointed as several schools of small fish were congregating in the deeper water beyond the rocky outcrop. 

A school of baitfish congregate below the jetty

A school of juvenile mullet feeding below the jetty

The sunset is well over and the  forecast indicates fine weather with calm seas for the next few days.  I’ll probably do a little more snorkelling near the rocky outcrop before walking along the coastal trail to watch the seabirds and search for reptiles and insects.


Until next time



Springtime Turtles at Maggie’s Farm

7 Sep

Dear reader

Its early spring in South Australia and everything natural has started to flourish after a rather damp winter. To celebrate the season’s change I decided to take a drive out to Maggie’s in the Barossa Valley. Only an hour’s drive from the city, the Barossa is a favourite destination for urban South Australians. It is characterized by gently rolling hills and open bush-land where fine old homesteads sit amongst seas of vines. The land is not only conducive to what is arguably the finest wine growing area in Australia but also to wildlife. There is always a diverse pageant of bird life and even the odd kangaroo or fox to be seen on the way to visit a winery or two, which makes a drive through the valley a rewarding way to spend a spring afternoon.

AG Open bushland and vines

Open bushland and vines

Maggie Beers is a little pheasant farm situated in the heart of the valley. Maggie is a gourmet chef and she produces a range of fine homemade products ranging from pates and cheeses to ice cream and cooking oils. Visitors to the farm can sit on the decking or in a country styled dining room overlooking a charming little pond while sampling delicacies from quaint wicker baskets. The water is surrounded by tall eucalypts and an olive grove, which attract a variety of birds including rosellas, galahs and waterfowl but Maggie’s special wildlife treat resides in the pond not around it.

B Maggie Beer's from across the lake

Maggie Beer’s from across the lake


As I sat nibbling my pate and biscuits sipping a glass of red I caught sight of my first pond critter. At first it was a mere ripple in the water that caught my attention then two little dark nostrils appeared As the ripples drew closer I could see the little turtle clearly through the water. It was coming to the surface to breathe and probably warm its reptilian body in the sun before heading back to the bottom to search for yabbies, worms and other invertebrate goodies.

A Enjoying good food and wine while watching the wildlife

Enjoying good food and wine while watching the wildlife

The turtle stayed on the surface for at least 10 minutes stretching out its long snake neck and paddling closer to the shallows by the edge of the decking. Before the indulgences of dessert and coffee were complete I had watched half a dozen snake necked turtles appear and disappear in the area where I was sitting.

D Turtle in shallow water emerging to take a breath

Turtle in shallow water emerging to take a breath

Freshwater turtles belong to the family Chelidae and there are 24 species living in Australia’ rivers and wetlands. Interestingly, there are no land-living tortoises in Australia.  Maggie’s pond turtles are eastern long-necked tortoises (Chelodina longicolis). They grow to a carapace (shell) size of around 25cms and the neck can be a little over half the size of the carapace.

C underwater view of freshwater turtle swimming

Underwater view of freshwater turtle swimming


Watching wildlife in such ‘trying circumstances’ requires both stamina and endurance but my next step epitomized the daring and courage of the dedicated wildlife writer and photographer. Yes, you guessed it ‘Dear Reader’, I left the safety of my secure hide, shouldered a camera and walked around the pond. The goal: to try and get a little more insight into the behaviour of the turtles and see if there were any interesting birds in the trees.  

AF Turtle basking on the surface

Turtle basking on the surface


Apart from simply enjoying some different views of the turtles and being serenaded by a pair of affectionate sulphur crested cockatoos, my walk did not provide any new insights though one large turtle did appear to be munching a tadpole or small fish when it surfaced.

E A pair of affectionate sulphur crests

A pair of affectionate sulphur crests

On balance, a day sipping wine, eating fine food and photographing turtles did not seem to be a bad way to kick off spring.

Until next time


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