Archive | April, 2015

Swan Reach……Riverside Wildlife Over Lunch

23 Apr

Dear Reader: From where I am sitting I can see the little skink scurrying around the old tree trunk searching in the tiny crevices and under the bark for insects. But the diminutive reptile does not have a stress free existence. Just metres away, a blue winged kookaburra sits patiently on the branch of a massive river gum watching for prey. And this snack sized critter needs to be more than just a little vigilant.


A small tree skink searching for prey


Laughing kookaburra on a tree branch overlooking the balcony

  However, it is not the outback that is the setting for this natural drama, but a cliff-top pub on the Murray River. We have just driven up through the Adelaide hills, past Springton and then across the mallee country to Cadell before crossing the river on a ferry. Now, over a couple of excellent pub meals; my calamari schnitzel and TC’s lamb roast, we are enjoying a spectacular view across the river from the dining room of the Swan Reach Hotel.


The pub viewed from the ferry

  Leaving my travel companion to muse over the dessert menu I scramble down a winding pathway to the river bank and walk along a riverside trail under the steep ochre cliffs. The crumbling sedimentary formations are the remnants of an ancient seabed that covered the area millennia ago. Close inspection reveals the fossil remains of many marine creatures including shellfish and sea urchins. There are also more recent intrusions into the rocks such as bird and insect nests as well as numerous holes and crevices that are home to ants, spiders and various other invertebrates.


Ochre cliffs and blue sky


Native wasp near fossil imprints

  As if to illustrate this point, a mud daubing wasp lands on the rocks just as I am photographing some fossil remnants and proceeds to scrape away at a nest site. Who says you can’t train bugs to cooperate?

  The trail is overshadowed by huge river gums and as I look up into the branches another world of wildlife reveals itself. Several rosellas, peck, preen and call on the extremity of a hollow tree branch that reaches over the water and a brown hawk lands in the uppermost branches to survey the river.

lorikeets preening

Lorikeets preening in nesting hole



Golden orb spider with a smaller male just visible under her back left leg

  A little closer, suspended from a lower branch, a large orb weaver spider checks its web for lunch. The large female is watched intently by her tiny suitor who tries to get close enough to mate with a bride who will, given half a chance, kill and devour him.


View from the dining room with the ferry just visible on the far bank

  However, dessert beckons and it’s time to leave the riverside dramas and get back to the dining room and the little skink that lives by the balcony.   Cheers Baz

Old Noarlunga….A River Walk

17 Apr

Dear Reader;

As I pull the SUV into the parking area I can hear the sound of cockatoos and corellas foraging in the recreation area just a cross the road. At the beginning of the walking trail several monarch butterflies are hovering around a stand of late flowering eucalypts. They are all part of a sudden surge of activity following recent morning showers; a welcome distraction after a long hot summer and a dry start to autumn.


Corellas feeding



Monarch butterflies



There are several marked trails that I can take from the park but today I am simply following the bitumen path along the river front to get some idea of the terrain and wildlife. This side of the river is bordered by the little township of Old Noarlunga and the area is quite significant in terms of South Australian history. For thousands of years it was a meeting place for the Kaurna people who lived along the river banks in natural caves or dome shaped dwellings. Later, during the early years of European settlement the area was a rest stop for bullock trains and some of the timbers and bricks in the park are remnants from the old Horseshoe Inn that burnt down in 1987.


One of the larger pools



On the far side of the river, the summer brown hills rise steeply and there is mixture of native scrub and cleared grazing land. A wood and cable bridge links the two banks and a small group of students appear to be carrying out some kind of environmental survey on the opposite bank.


Footbridge across the river



The river is at its lowest during this time of the year; a series of large pools linked by pebble strewn shallows where the water flows slowly. At the far end of one pool a white faced heron is hunting stealthily amongst the rocks. Every so often the bird jabs its long beak into the water to grab, what appears to be, some kind of large insect larvae.


Grey faced heron hunting



After a while I decide to rest on a large tree stump above one of the larger pools and simply watch the water. Near the reed beds I can make out the shapes of some sizeable bream cruising between the bank and several submerged logs in the middle of the river. At the end of the pool there are large black cormorants perched on branches that overhang the water. Surprise!!! They are also watching the fish.


School of bream in shallow water



A few hundred meters further up the track there is a side road that leads to The Old Noarlunga Hotel. In the warm weather a drink and lunch are a welcome break before I head back on the other side of the river. As I start to pack away the camera, a flash of grey catches my eye. A large bird flies along the river bank and lands in the trees quite close to where I am standing. Pulling the camera back out, I walk slowly towards the target keeping a large tree in line for cover. It turns out that the bird is an Australian bittern, a heron-like species that is not often seen in the daylight hours.


Old Noarlunga Hotel



Australian bittern



Half an hour later, refuelled and rehydrated I shoulder arms and head back down to the river to explore the other bank. But that area will be the subject of a future post, perhaps in the springtime, when the character of the river will have changed again.




Hallet Cove….a scrub and coastal walk

3 Apr

The walk from the park’s entrance is striking with the ocean forming a sapphire backdrop to the greens and greys of the scrub. Along the edge of the track stands of eucalypts dominate an understory of acacias, banksias and native grasses. Near the top of the trail, several wattle birds are feeding on a late autumn splash of flowers in the crown of a flowering gum. The largest of all the honeyeaters, these birds have a grating call reminiscent of an out of tune bagpipe.


View from the park entrance


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Wattle bird



I scramble further down the track listening to the twittering of scrub birds in the bushes. It is difficult to identify any particular species and almost impossible to photograph them. After walking for a couple of hundred metres, I catch a glimpse of some wrens and miner birds deep in the labyrinth of foliage. Where the trail runs alongside a small creek at the foot of the hill, a singing honeyeater is perched on an exposed branch, finally providing one easy target.


Singing honeyeater



Hallet Cove Conservation Park runs parallel to the coast about half an hour’s drive south of the city centre. It encompasses a range of habitats from sclerophyll forest to coastal heath and a classic wave cut platform below the cliff face. In addition to a healthy population of native animals the park has extraordinary geological and marine features that I will explore more fully in a later post. 

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The track winds through the scrub near a creek bed



I meet a group of elderly walkers on a small bridge that crosses the creek where the path starts to climb towards the top of the cliffs. As they tramp across the wooden planks a large water skink runs across, pausing momentarily before disappearing over the edge into the reeds.


Skink on the bridge



Climbing southward up the track I take note of the dramatic changes in terrain. The hillside that rises from the cliff tops is dominated by low wind-swept shrubs and grasses and the coastline is defined by the wave cut platform. Near the edge of the cliffs, two magpies are probing the undergrowth with their long, powerful beaks. Suddenly the birds become agitated and take to the air. I look around for the source of their distress and catch sight of a kestrel hovering high above them. But this kestrel has made an error of judgement that soon becomes apparent as the maggies take it on in an aerial dogfight.


Minding my own business



Kestrel hunting



Not on my turf



The final section of my trail follows the boardwalk along the top of the cliffs. I can see pacific gulls foraging in the rock-pools on the exposed shore and a colony of cormorants roosting on a rocky outcrop out to sea.


Cormorants on offshore outcrop



After following the contours of the hillside for a kilometre the boardwalk slopes down to a stretch of beach, finally terminating at a car park and local eatery…The Boatshed Cafe. Simply grabbing a croissant and soft drink to eat on the beach or choosing a light meal from the excellent menu is an ideal way to wind up a morning stroll.


Descent to the beach and cafe



I hope you enjoyed this little adventure



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