Archive | October, 2013

Wine, Whales and Pelicans at the Bluff

26 Oct

Dear Reader: 

I am at ‘The Bluff’, a granite outcrop near the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Comfortably tucked into a wicker chair on the balcony of the ‘Whalers Inn’,  I am enjoying a plate of local calamari and nursing a fruity white from one of our coastal vineyards. The restaurant is only ten minutes drive from the centre of Victor Harbor, the south coast’s largest town.

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A view from the restaurant

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Calamari with soy, lemon and wilted greens

My field glasses and camera are within easy reach and every few minutes I scan the horizon beyond Wright Island for a tell-tale blow, breach or the raised fluke of a Southern Right Whale. I can just make out one animal a few kilometres out to sea and I am hoping that it will make its way closer inshore. Only a few days ago two adults and a calf were frolicking in the bay just a few hundred metres from where I am sitting. In fact, well over 40 whales have been seen during the last month. Southern Rights regularly migrate with their calves en route to their Antarctic feeding grounds at this time of year.

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Rocky outcrops and an offshore island

 

No such luck. The whale heads further out to sea and I know that it is late in the season and the chance of another sighting is slim. I shift my focus to the rocky foreshore where jagged outcrops of dark rock trail into the sea. A strong offshore breeze is ruffling the feathers of a group of caspian terns that are precariously clinging to the rocks. Over the last few hours they have been alternately patrolling the rolling swell between Wright Island and the mainland searching for baitfish then resting on the shoreline.

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Crested terns resting between forays

 

A little closer to the town, between a stand of huge Norfolk pines, there is a boat ramp and every so often anglers motor in from the deeper water and tie up at the dock. Several large granite boulders lie close to the channel and a couple of Australian pelicans have been patiently ensconced on their smooth surfaces eyeing each craft in the hope of a fishy handout. They are not too fussy and a few mullet, salmon trout or even some unused bait usually makes their wait worthwhile. While I finish my calamari the birds are rewarded by a boatie and his family of pelican friendly kids.

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Australian pelican

 

There are, of course, the usual silver gulls flying, scavenging and wading in the shallows in search of any kind of food from a discarded potato chip to an unwary shore crab. But amongst their sleek silver forms I catch sight of a larger yellow beaked gull. It is a pacific gull, a less common species in this area, and it is wading in the shallows searching for prey in one of the tiny beaches that form between the rocky outcrops.

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Pacific gull

 

As the afternoon wears on and the temperature climbs, I finish my glass of wine, pay the bill and stroll down to the car. The sea is inviting and my snorkelling gear and underwater camera are in the back. Today I have dined well, photographed a diverse collection of seabirds, watched whales on a dazzling blue ocean, and now I have the chance of encountering some slightly smaller varieties of marine life in a great dive location.

That encounter will be the subject of a future blog.

Cheers

Baz

 

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Family Life at Walker Flat

11 Oct

The road from Mannum to Walker Flat is a classic Australian drive. With low hills to the left and the river on the right it winds past limestone cliffs and mallee scrub. It is a short drive of no more than 30 kms but there is ample opportunity to get out of the car and wander around in the scrub or capture a panoramic shot of the river. The countryside is typical of the Murray Mallee zone. Mallee are smallish eucalypts that have numerous trunks growing from the same base. They are of uniform height and stretch for kilometres in an unbroken forest. The hills are predominantly limestone based and where the river cuts through them it exposes a wonderful array of fossils.

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Limestone cliffs a Walker flat

 

 

As you come down the hill into Walker Flat the river takes a sweeping bend exposing ochre coloured cliffs that rise abruptly from the water. There is small community of shack owners, a general store and places to camp, launch a boat or cross the river on an old fixed line ferry. The area has several billabongs; backwaters fed by floods; and it was these that I had come to explore. Even as I drove down from the low hills to meet the river I could see a flock of pelicans cruising along the main channel of the river.

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Pelicans feeding as a group

 

Camera in hand, I walked along a dirt trail that followed the course of a large billabong that was bordered by thick stands of reeds and some old eucalypts. My quick reconnaissance was useful and I located a dozen different bird and insect species in the first few minutes. However, the wildlife seemed very wary and scattered at my approach. Accordingly, I resorted to my favourite strategy for capturing images under these circumstances and found a quiet spot with a clear view in every direction, settled down and waited.

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A little wattlebird, one of the many bird species along the billabong

Within twenty minutes or so the rhythm of the river bank seemed to return to normal. So long as I didn’t make any sudden movements or sounds most of the wildlife seemed to view me as a part of the environment and I, in turn, started to notice the hidden things that were going on all round me. Twenty metres in front of me the reeds began to move and a purple swamp hen emerged delicately grasping the plants with his outrageously huge feet. I eased the big lens up slowly for a better look and to my surprise the adult was accompanied by two fluffy, black chicks. Over the next few minutes I was privileged to watch the adult cutting up reed stalks with its powerful beak and feeding them to the young. Later, another swamp hen appeared and took the chicks further into the reeds indicating that both parents were involved in rearing their brood.

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Purple swamp hen cutting up reed stalk near chicks

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Purple swamp hen feeding a chick with cut up reed morsel

 

My next encounter was a tad closer. A variety of large dragonflies and their more delicate cousins the damselflies had been continuously flitting across the water just a few metres away. They appeared to be in a mating phase with an occasional pair joined head to tail, which is part of the reproductive process. Others were obviously hunting smaller insects while a few seemed to be establishing some kind of territory by chasing off rivals of the same species.

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Wandering percher dragonflies mating in flight

Emperor dragonflies mating

 

Between the dragonflies and purple swamp hens feeding their family my patience seemed to have paid off and re-confirmed an old but well tried approach to wildlife photography. Better to let the target come to you than chase it.

 

Until next time

Baz

 

Kids, Kookaburras and Creeks

4 Oct

Dear Readers

It would be lovely to write for a living. To earn my dollars wandering South Australia’s diverse wilderness areas taking photos and composing articles to share with you. Dream over….reality check! Like most of the world I need a steady job to survive and my profession is teaching. One of the many requirements at my school is to take my year 6 students on camp each year. Fortunately, Adelaide has many wonderful destinations in the adjacent hills and along the coastline that provide a range of outdoor activities. Many of these sites also double as corporate destinations. This year we chose Wirraway a campsite located on the eastern fringe of the Mt Lofty Ranges. It is a beautiful location situated amongst rolling hills with a little creek running through the property. And, to my delight their program included a nature walk along with the adventure activities.

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Typical hills country

 

Each morning I woke at six and reluctantly dragged my weary bones out of bed; any teachers reading this will immediately understand that the previous night’s sleep was limited to a few hours. The students were not allowed out of their dorms until 7.00 which gave me an hour to wander around the grounds uninterrupted. Campsites always attract wildlife. However well intentioned the staff may be there are always a few food scraps to be had, nooks and crannies to nest or hide in as well as wood piles and building materials that might be home to both predator and prey. On my first morning a pair of rats scurried under the raised foundations of the caretaker’s home watched with interest by me and anticipation by a kookaburra sitting in a an old gum tree (there’s a song title there).

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Hungry kookaburra

 

The camp site was also home to a wild rabbit that liked to munch the grass close to one of the girls’ dorms but scurried back into the bushes at the slightest noise. Each time it appeared I tried to signal the students to be quiet and take a look…no such luck. Only a picture snapped in the quiet hours and shown at the dinner table convinced them that I was not making it up.

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Peter makes a rare appearance

 

Both male and female superb blue wrens were common though timid and constantly on the move keeping low in the bushes and feeding in the leaf litter. And a resident flock of red browed finches moved between the flowering trees and bushes often coming close when I was working with the students and staying away if I had a camera nearby. Fancy that!!

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Male superb blue wren

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Finches all in a line

 

Our nature walk was quite a revelation. You would not expect city kids to be overly responsive to a lengthy stroll in the bush when the alternative activities included horse riding, archery and rock climbing. Surprisingly, they showed a keen interest in what the guide had to say and even sat quietly by the creek for a few minutes trying to work out how many different frog species could be identified from their distinctive calls. Even the plant life scored a hit, most notably the unusual grass trees that were flowering at the time and an old weathered log with lichen and moss growing in its sinuous furrows.

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Flowering grass plants

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Patterns and colours in nature

 

The three days passed quickly and each group appeared to enjoy their excursions into the bush.  Kids get few opportunities to experience the outdoors in our digital world and watching their faces as they discovered the beauty of wild things was a rare pleasure.

 

Until my next post

Cheers

Baz

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