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Patowolonga’s Cormorants

1 Dec

Dear Reader:

It is a glorious spring day, not a breath of wind to ruffle the placid expanse of water that stretches out in front of me. By the breakwater there is a gathering of little black cormorants paddling alongside the rocky barrier. Every few minutes, one of the birds dives and swims out into the deeper water to hunt. Cormorants use both wings and feet to navigate underwater. Their aquatic speed and agility combined with specially adapted eyes and serrated beaks make them formidable fishers.

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Black cormorant

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Black cormorant diving

 

I am walking around the Patawolonga from Glenelg towards the first road and foot-bridge. This man-made lake extends between Glenelg and West beach for around 1.5 kilometres and serves as a flood mitigation system. The area also incorporates a berths for larger boats and lock that lead on to Holdfast Shores Marina an upmarket, shopping, restaurant and residential complex.

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View from the bridge

 

When I reach the bridge there is a spectacular view back down the lake towards Glenelg that takes in the old replica ship The Buffalo which brought some of South Australia’s first colonists and governor ashore. The extensive grassed areas that run alongside ‘The Pat’ are shaded by eucalypts and Norfolk pines which attract a wide range of common urban birds. Today there are numerous crested pigeons foraging in the grass as well as wagtails and swallows demonstrating their sophisticated aerial acrobatics as they hunt for insects nearer the water.

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Crested pigeon

 

From the western end of the bridge I walk back towards Glenelg along the edge of the marina. There are several fishermen casting for bream and I stop and chat with them. Apparently a small pod of dolphins has been in the area over the last few days. Not great for fishing but wonderful for those who simply enjoy the wildlife. The rocks along this part of the Patawolonga have a healthy cover of small molluscs and occasionally I catch sight of small schools of baitfish in the shallows.

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periwinkles at low water

 

The path stops near a dive shop and I have to walk around the lake past neatly kept houses. When I reach the lock I can see dozens of swallows hawking insects. A few have settled on the glass and steel partitions that enclose some of the nearby units to rest for few minutes before resuming their hunting sorties.

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resting swallow

 

The lock is not being used by any of the local boaties and I am able to walk across to finish my circuit of the lake, watched intently by yet another cormorant. This time it is a pied cormorant, perched high on a railing. The bird is drying its wings before it too dives back into the water for lunch while I head for nearby Jetty Road with similar intent.

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Pied cormorant drying wings on lock

 

 

Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

This is an easy walk which is quite suitable for families and seniors with public toilets, barbecues, parking and other facilities nearby.

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A Walk from Tennyson to Grange

11 Aug

A Walk from Tennyson to Grange

 Dear Reader;

As I follow the narrow footpath south from the cul-de-sac overlooking Tennyson beach towards the Grange jetty in the distance, I can see a bird of prey hovering just above the houses that spill down to the dunes. The sky is patchy, blue then grey as clouds blow in from the sea and it is difficult to locate the kestrel in the viewfinder. I take a few quick shots and hope for the best.

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Nankeen kestrel hovering

I am intrigued by the raptor and wait quietly close to a coastal wattle bush watching it patrol along the line of the dunes pausing periodically to hover and scan the terrain below for small animals. The birds in the surrounding scrub are not quite so keen. They head for cover deep in the bushes or under the eaves of the houses twittering their various warning calls.

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Singing honeyeater in shelter

A lovely little singing honeyeater hides in a dense tangle of branches while spotted doves remain motionless closer to the ground near some dried scrub that matches their subdued colouring. Both species are usually very wary in this dune habitat and hard to approach but I am obviously the lesser of two evils and able to get closer than usual to capture some images.

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Spooted dove

Continuing along the pathway, I am fascinated by the different architectural elements incorporated in many of the houses. There are domed chapel-like structures, facades of tinted glass and walls with pastel shades of ochre, pink and grey. Just before I reach the jetty the beautiful ‘Marines’ sit alongside the beach. This group of Victorian 3 story terraces was built in 1840 and they dominate the foreshore.

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At the trail head near Tennyson Beach

 After a wonderful lunch at the Grange Hotel and a walk along the jetty to check out the fishers and look for dolphins, I turn back for home. The wind is getting up so I opt to walk back down the path rather than along the beach front. There are numerous trails down to the sea allowing me deeper penetration into the scrub as well as a quick search for seabirds. On this visit they are few and far between bar a couple seagulls under the jetty.

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Grange Hotel

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From track to beach through the dunes

 

Near one of the beach access paths I stop to watch a mudlark foraging in the sand and notice a discarded Besser brick lying in a sunny patch near a patch of early flowering succulents. Much to my surprise there is a bearded dragon lizard perched on it, flattened out to extract every bit of heat from the masonry. These reptiles are not uncommon in the summer but in the winter I would have expected them to be tucked away hibernating until spring.

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Mudlark foraging along pathway

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Bearded dragon picking up some rays

 

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Still a few bugs around to eat for the dragon

Predators prey and unseasonal reptiles it has been a rewarding winter’s walk along the dunes enjoying the ocean, good food and quite an assortment of wildlife.

 

Enjoy your winter walks in SA

Cheers

Baz

A Hot Semaphore Sunday

4 Mar

A Hot Semaphore Sunday

Dear Reader:

As I walk along the Semaphore jetty I can see several anglers working the shallows for silver whiting. Further along, another fisherman is jigging for squid. His bucket is half full of small baitfish and an opportunistic silver gull is sitting on the railing eying the contents as breakfast. The angler is unaware of his feathery adversary and a few minutes later the gull grabs a fish and heads off down the jetty.

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Silver gull

 

Semaphore is one of Adelaide’s original coastal suburbs and the jetty has been part of Adelaide’s beach scene for well over 100 years. It was originally used to moor pilot and customs craft. A coastal pathway follows the beachfront behind the dunes allowing visitors partial access to this protected area of sensitive coastal vegetation. The Esplanade, near the start of the jetty, is dominated by the iconic Palais Restaurant and Function Centre which was built in 1922. This Semaphore landmark has served as a bathing pavilion, dance hall, surf life saving club and kiosk before renovations in the 1990s.

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Lovely morning light

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View of the jetty and dunes over the function centre pavilion

 

Closer to the shore a young Pacific gull sits on a lighting fixture watching the antics of its smaller cousins and keeping a watchful eye on the ocean ready to patrol the shoreline in search of its next meal.

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Juvenile Pacific gull

 

It is getting warm by the time I walk off jetty on to the beach where I have left some snorkelling gear with a family who are enjoying the solitude of an early morning dip. The water is clear and there is little tidal movement as I enter from the beach. I follow the jetty poles out to sea as they provide shelter and food for a diverse collection of marine animals. It is not long before I notice a large blue swimming crab foraging near the bottom. We play a game of tag around the pole as the aggressive crustacean uses its powerful pincers to keep me at a distance.

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Agro blue swimmer crab

 

Half an hour in the water is enough to cool me off and I still want to walk along the pathway to search for birds and reptiles in the dunes before it gets too hot. Most of the bird life has sought shelter from the sun but I do encounter one singing honeyeater amongst the grasses that bind the loose sand of the dunes. Along one of the trails to the beach, a sleepy lizard emerges from under a coastal acacia bush to eye me suspiciously before disappearing amongst the ground cover.

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Singing honeyeater

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Shingleback or sleepy lizard, a kind of large skink

 

Over the next half hour I stroll down couple more paths and sit quietly amongst some of the coastal scrub watching for tell tale signs of animal life. Numerous doves peck amongst the ground covers and a group of wattle birds squabble noisily in one of the larger shrubs. However, as midday approaches the sun and heat has obviously taken its toll on both me and the wildlife and it is time for a cold drink and lunch. Needless to say, the Palais adequately provides both and as I look across the dunes from my table by the window, enjoying a delicate dessert, I reflect on how much I always enjoy my visits to Semaphore.

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What more do I need to say

 

Cheers

Baz

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Minding my own business

 

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Kestrel hunting

 

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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.

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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.

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Descent to the beach and cafe

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this little adventure

Cheers

Baz

A Walk Around West Lakes

14 Mar

Dear Reader: Once upon a time when I was several decades younger and people thought less about the environment, there was a mangrove swamp behind the dunes near Tennyson Beach. The government of the day and even the general public cared little for mangroves and even less for anything described as a swamp. Consequently, they allowed developers to ‘liberate’ this area from its unproductive state and create a new suburb in its place. The result was West Lakes. For some, the loss of this unique wetland was an environmental tragedy as such areas are important nurseries for many marine species and significant wild places to be cherished.

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Nearby mangrove swamp demonstrates what the area looked like before development

  History aside, West Lakes remains a worthwhile place to visit and walking around the man-made lake on a fine autumn afternoon still provides many interesting wildlife encounters. Instead of samphire swamp and mangrove forest, the edge of the lake is defined by fine sand and a ruler straight concrete edge which steps down into the water. Despite its artificial nature, marine invertebrates and small fish still feed on the algal growth that clings to this constructed shoreline. And on occasions I have even seen nudibranchs, a kind of sea slug with a prominent flower like gills on their backs, grazing on the concrete surfaces.

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West Lakes today

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A grazing nudibranch species

  Because the lake has a less diverse ecology than the original swampland, there are fewer fish species; although sizeable bream, mullet and even the occasional mulloway make it a popular venue for anglers. In fact, the people who live on its shore often feed the resident bream and have quite large schools living near their private jetties and landings. These fish are generally off limits to the fishers but school children who snorkel off the West Lakes Aquatic Centre get quite a thrill when an instructor lures a school from a nearby pontoon.

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Large bream close to the shoreline

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School student snorkelling near the aquatics centre

  The fish, crabs and sundry other creatures inevitably attracts predators. Because of the intakes that feed water in from the sea, sharks are virtually unheard of in the lake system and the main hunters are seabirds. Pelicans and cormorants are common and the ubiquitous silver gulls carry out their indispensible clean up duties along the shoreline.

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Little pied cormorant drying its wings on a pontoon

  Various paths and roads follow the course of the lake system. Walking or cycling along them in the evening and early morning is best for wildlife encounters. However, even at midday when the sun is up and all is relatively quiet on the wildlife front, the well-tended gardens along the fringe of the lake still attract a wide variety of common urban birds as well as insects and the occasional lizard.

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Bottle brush in lakeside gardens

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Gaura in lakeside gardens

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New Holland honeyeater feeding in garden

  Finally, a couple of considerations for those contemplating a walk around the lake. Start at the aquatics centre off Military road as there is a nice little cafe overlooking the water. And take a look at the Tennyson Dunes just across the road from the lake. They separate the urban zone from the seashore and are yet another wonderful South Aussie environment to explore… (see ‘Seaside Dragons’…30th Dec 2012)   Until next time Cheers Baz

Wildlife and Pub Food at the Port

25 Oct

Dear Reader;

It is a mild spring afternoon and there is barely a breath of wind to ruffle the waters of the inner harbour. A pair of sooty oyster catchers are foraging between the exposed rocks on the southern embankment. They are using their powerful blade-like beaks to prise shellfish from the rocks and dig in the sand for worms and crabs. The bright red beaks and eyes look like they have been painted by an artist with an exaggerated disposition for contrast.

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Sooty oyster catchers foraging at low tide (click on all images to enlarge)

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Soon to be lunch

 

I am walking around the wharves and shoreline of Port Adelaide. Originally nicknamed Port Misery by the early settlers who came ashore amongst the mangroves, mud and mosquitoes that once dominated the area; the Port has undergone many changes. Once a lively harbour that berthed dozens of ships delivering the provisions to establish a new colony; it is now a quieter, quayside community. People now come to the Port from the city, just 15 minutes away, to visit the maritime museum, shop at the weekend markets or go for a cruise along the Port River to catch sight of the world’s only urban dolphin pod.

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Dolphin cruise ship moored at the wharf

 

From the foreshore I walk past the pub and on to the old Birkenhead Bridge, the first bascule or lifting bridge in Australia. Glancing down at the old jarrah poles, driven hard into the river bed where they once stood as moorings, I notice that several silver gulls have chosen the iron clad posts as nesting sites. Every so often one of the birds lifts off its scruffy nest and checks the eggs, sometimes giving one a little push with its beak, perhaps to keep the distribution of heat even.

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Nesting silver gull

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Silver gull adjusting egg position

 

I watch the birds for half an hour. While one sits on the nest the other flies off in search of food further along the shoreline amongst the same rocks the oystercatchers were exploring just a little while ago. The foraging gull tugs on the end of a tube worm protruding from the fine sand and mud. It is about to extract the hapless invertebrate when a mudlark, usually a woodland species, emerges from a clump of nearby bushes and relieves the seabird of its prize.

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Mudlark feeding along the shoreline

 

Like the gull and mudlark I figure it’s about time for lunch and head for the Birkenhead Tavern and one of the best chicken schnitzels the Port has to offer.

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Birkenhead tavern

Sorry, only one post this month!!!!!

Have been travelling overseas

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

A Bite at Grange

19 Sep

Dear Reader:

A lone silver gull is flying parallel to the shore just above the Norfolk pines that grow along the Grange beach front. Suddenly it veers off course, dipping towards one of the trees and letting out a loud, raucous shriek. This unusual behaviour encourages me to stop and take a closer look through the telephoto lens. And there, perched serenely on the topmost branch is a beautiful nankeen kestrel surveying its stretch of prime coastal real estate.

Nankeen kestrel looking for prey

Nankeen kestrel looking for prey (click all images to enlarge)

 

Nankeen kestrels are small falcons that are widely distributed across the country. They usually live in rural or outback regions where they hover over fields and open bushland preying on small mammals, reptiles and occasionally taking birds in the air; which explains the gull’s nervous disposition. Seeing one in an urban area is a really quite unusual. For the next half an hour I follow the raptor as it patrols the shoreline and dunes moving from tree tops to fence posts to survey its territory.

The Marines, beachside heritage homes

The Marines, beachside heritage homes

 

Grange Beach is just 15 minutes from the centre of Adelaide. An old wooden jetty, classic golden sands and heritage buildings make it an ideal place to go for a walk and grab a bite to eat summer or winter! A walking &cycling trail passes through the area winding between the seafront properties and coastal revegetation zones providing a unique blend natural and urban habitats that encourages a wide variety of wildlife.

Spotted dove

Spotted dove

Singing honeyeater in coastal scrub

Singing honeyeater in coastal scrub

The unfortunately named pigface

The unfortunately named pigface

 

After watching the kestrels I follow the track south. The delicate shrubs and grasses that stabilise the dunes are home to many different bird species from common house sparrows to spotted doves and singing honeyeaters. Although it is a coolish day and the insect life is in short supply a few bees and butterflies are congregating around some early blooming pigface, a common succulent in the dunes.

Grange jetty at low tide showing worm casing encrustaceans

Grange jetty at low tide showing worm casing encrustaceans

 

For a little variety I walk back along the beach. The tide is out exposing concrete-like encrustations of tube worms cemented to the jetty piles. A track leads from the beach to the old kiosk which is now a fashionable restaurant. My day ends with a glass of white, salt and pepper squid with sautéed scallops in the shell accompanied by a generous serve of crusty bread.

Grange Kiosk

Grange Kiosk

 

Until our next adventure

Baz          

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