Archive | May, 2014

Port Willunga’s Natural Charms

24 May

There is a pair of pigeons nesting along the limestone cliffs. They are billing and cooing and puffing up their feathers if rival birds come anywhere near their territory. Unbeknown to the loving pair a far greater menace, in the form of kestrel, is circling high above, scanning the cliff face for a tasty pigeon treat. Luckily for the nesting pair, the hunter overlooks them or perhaps the angle of attack is too steep and the cliffs too perilous.

Lucky pigeons

Lucky pigeons……click to enlarge


I am walking along Port Willunga beach just 40 minutes from Adelaide; a glorious little stretch of white sand that lies below ochre limestone cliffs and bounded by the Aldinga reef to the south and Gull Rock to the north. The reef is a marine sanctuary that showcases a wide variety of the state’s diverse aquatic life. And the beach is a rich repository of the South Australia’s pastoral history where the sea scoured remnants of an old wheat jetty, built in 1853, protrudes from the shallow water. Despite its idyllic setting, Port Willunga also harbours a darker history with no less than five ships being wrecked in the vicinity. The most famous of these was the Star of Greece whose skeleton can still be explored just 500m offshore.

The view from the beach

The view from the beach… to enlarge



Leaving the fortuitous pigeons to their parental duties I kick off my shoes and walk through the water amongst the old jetty piles. The wood is bleached white and worn by wind, sand and rain. Tenacious little limpets cling to the timber and a shore crab scuttles past my feet. Looking back across the beach I can see the rough hewn caves that were dug into the cliffs to house fishing dingies and give shelter to the hardy men who made a living from these waters.

Drummer, leatherjackets, sweep and a moonlighter on the edge of the to enlarge

Drummer, leatherjackets, sweep and a moonlighter on the edge of the reef….click to enlarge


Warm clear water, a fine day and good light….thinks….twenty minutes later I am snorkeling along the edge of the reef. The water is fairly shallow and the marine life prolific. A school of zebra fish swims close to me and large dusky morwong and magpie perch feed along the undercut shelves that define the reef’s edge. At the end of one rocky outcrop a number of different species are congregating where the reef and the adjacent seagrass meadow intersect. I dive to the bottom and hold onto the rocks to steady myself and fire off a couple of shots. Later when I review the images they seem to reflect both the environment and the moment. An hour in the water and I’m getting a little chilly and its time to go back, this time I walk across the shallow rocky platform exploring the many tidal pools.

A casual lunch outside or fine dining to enlarge

A casual lunch outside or fine dining inside….click to enlarge



The change rooms at the end of the car park make getting out of the wet suit easy and the short walk up the slope to the restaurant, named after the hapless Star of Greece, gives me a good view north and south along the coast. Often I have caught sight of a pod of dolphins cruising the calm gulf waters but not today; just a few fishers and an optimistic body surfer are enjoying the water. However, after a strenuous swim and a walk along the beach my priorities have changed from natural history to lunch and the boutique restaurant, once a fish and chip shop that I frequented as a lad, beckons. Fresh seafood, quality local produce and wines; a typically South Aussie way to finish my day.




The Art of Nature

17 May

The metallic sculpture sits in the middle of a shady pool. The polished industrial surface in stark contrast to the delicate blue kingfisher that the artist has crafted to pose, lifelike, on its extremity. But it seems that the artist has done the job too well as the supposedly fabricated kingfisher suddenly takes to the air. I have rarely seen sacred kingfishers in the hills and to find one conveniently posed on a sculpture in a pond is simply too good to believe.

2 sacred kingfisher - Copy

Sacred kingfisher….. click to enlarge


I am strolling around ‘The Cedars’ the privately owned property near the tourist hamlet of Hahndorf in the Adelaide hills which is open to the public and host many art displays throughout the year. It was home to South Australia’s most famous artist, Sir Hans Heysen. The German born Heysen moved to SA in 1884 at age 7 where he was inspired by the beautiful and rugged countryside of the Adelaide Hills. He painted rural and landscape scenes for over 70 years in many SA locations before his death in 1968 The home and studio are set in 60 hectares of open woodland and scrub and wandering amongst the bush it is not difficult to see how the area inspired him.

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Heysen’s studio….. click to enlarge


From ‘shady pool’ I climb the gentle slope above Heysen’s studio to explore a stand of Eucalypts. I can hear the warbling of magpies and screech of lorikeets. Half way up the incline I notice another piece of art work. Several crows are balanced on a table peering into glass specimen jars full of postcards. Nearby a pair of genuine, organic crows are perched in some bushes searching for food with their piercing blue eyes. In reality, the birds we commonly refer to as crows are more likely to be Australia ravens as the true crows are usually found further north in drier conditions.

3 crows - Copy

Crow art

IMG_3620 red

Crow/Raven….. click to enlarge


A little further along the trail I discover yet another art work hidden in the scrub: a pair of dung beetles rolling a globe. This piece seems to reflect on the state of the planet as seen by one artist. From this site I take a short walk to the house where Hans Heysen and later his daughter Nora lived and worked. The well kept garden features an eclectic mix of native and exotic flowering plants, the perfect place to find some beetles though not the dung variety which are more typical of Africa not Australia. After a little searching amongst the agapanthus, roses and native species I discover a brown flower beetle crawling across an agapanthus blossom.

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Dung beetles….. click to enlarge

2 brown flower beetle on white agapanthus (2) red

Brown flower beetle….. click to enlarge


My walk has been both entertaining and informative with each animal species mirrored by a piece of art: a lovely way to spend an autumn afternoon.


Until our next adventure


Burnside’s Hidden Creek

6 May

Dear Reader: 

The wattle bird seems to be totally absorbed and indifferent to my presence as it feeds on the tiny white lerps that dot the leaves of a creek-side eucalyptus tree. Usually these large members of the honeyeater group are quite nervous and hard to approach. This one, however, is determined to provide me with a ringside display of its acrobatic ability as it hangs upside down and hops from branch to flimsy branch in pursuit of its lunch. The tiny white lerps look like an arborial version of measles. In fact they are the early stage of a parasitic bug called a psyllid, an introduced insect pest that sucks the ‘juice’ from the trees.

A wattle bird pecks tiny insects from the leaves of a blue gum near the river bank

A wattle bird pecks tiny insects from the leaves of a blue gum near the river bank.


I am walking along the banks of second creek in the Michael Perry Botanical Reserve. This charming little park is easily accessed from a small lane called Andrew’s Walk at the southern end of Hallet Road, in the hills face suburb of Burnside. The shady banks, trickling stream and little ponds have a European flavour to them affording a cool retreat in the drier summer months. Before setting off on my short walk to investigate the creek’s wildlife I made a couple of crucial stops to provision my pack for a bite to eat on the river bank. At the nearby Stoneyfell Winery I found a fine bottle of white while ‘Taylor Blend’, a fashionable little eastern suburbs coffee shop on Hallett Road, provided a wide selection of gourmet paninis and local beesting cake. When one has to sit by a river bank for an hour or so to wait for the wildlife it might as well be done in style.

The brook cascades over a small ford made from slate and sandstone rocks

The brook cascades over a small ford made from slate and sandstone rocks


Leaving the wattle birds to finish their meal I work my way along the creek, pausing frequently to try and catch sight of the small birds that I can hear chirping and rustling deep in the cover of the reed beds. Without warning a grey faced heron explodes from the tangle of branches a couple of metres in front of me. The birds wheels in flight and settles on a branch high in a nearby pine tree where it can keep a sharp eye on its human intruder. As I point the camera at the perching water bird I catch site of a pair of Kookaburras in a huge eucalypt further up the opposite embankment. Two predatory birds; now it’s time to take a look for the prey animals that sustain them.

A white faced heron watches the creek from its vantage point in a pine tree

A white faced heron watches the creek from its vantage point in a pine tree


The first interesting small animal that I notice is a water skink which is sunning itself on a log. Being mid autumn I am surprised to see a reptile as most would now be ‘dug in’ for the winter months ahead. As I sit quietly and prepare to watch the lizard, a green eyed dragonfly lands on a boulder in the middle of the creek. And, where the water has formed a small clear pool I can see tiny fish or tadpoles swimming close the reeds and water striders skating across the surface: like my lunch, a gourmet larder for a range of feathered predators.

A water skink basking on a log amongst the reeds

A water skink basking on a log amongst the reeds

A dragonfly pauses for a moment on a warm rock in the creek

A dragonfly pauses for a moment on a warm rock in the creek


A fence marks the end of the reserve and I cross the creek to return on the northern bank. The tiny reed birds still elude me but in a shady stretch of water a single black duck is swimming against the current as it dabbles for food. A common enough species in southern Australia but the light is particularly good and on reviewing the shot it seems to encapsulate the mood of this lovely little waterway.

Black duck are common along the waterway

Black duck are common along the waterway


Until the next time


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