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Winery Wildlife

2 May

Winery Wildlife

 Dear Reader:

The male superb blue wren is extremely active as he darts between the bushes foraging for insects and seeds in the undergrowth. The iridescent blue plumage is striking. Nearby, a duller, grey coloured female twitters excitedly as the male approaches. Yet her adoration is a somewhat of a scam as their so-called monogamy is far from the truth. The promiscuous wrens will get a little avian action behind their mates’ backs if the chance arises while maintaining an outward appearance of togetherness.

 

Superb blue wren

 

I am sitting on a balcony overlooking the manicured gardens that grace the Jacobs Creek Winery in the Barossa Valley. After a superb lunch of chilli marinated prawns accompanied by an award winning white wine I am about to wander down the nature trail that leads from the restaurant and wine centre along the creek and into some nearby bushland.

 

Wine centre

 

Balcony view

There are both magpies and cockatoos calling from the lower branches of some magnificent river gums with finches twittering in the thick bushes alongside the trail. But it is a diminutive, silent creature that catches my eye. A delicate jewel spider has spun a web in a wattle bush and the brilliant colours and intricate body patterns of the little arachnid are quite outstanding; even on this relatively cloudy day.

 

Jewel spider

 

 

 

Nature trail

 

Galah

 

Near the small bridge where the trail and creek intersect I notice a group of small birds in a tree some distance away. They look a little like wood swallows but the colour is not right. I am familiar with most of the birds that inhabit this region and do not often come across a species that I don’t quickly recognise. Therefore, I leave this small task to you ‘Dear Reader’. If someone can identify them for me I would be most grateful.

 

Unknown birds

 

Closer shot of unknown bird

Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

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

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Wildlife and Wineries

15 Mar

Wildlife and Wineries

Dear Reader:

I can hear the first few notes of a kookaburra calling near some picnic tables across the other side of the green. The birds are usually quite shy and I don’t hold out much hope of sighting them with all the families enjoying their lunch on the grass. However, to my surprise there are two birds sitting on a low branch quite close to a group enjoying a BBQ and glass of wine. I have seen kookaburras steal a sausage in the past and these birds must be residents accustomed to life in the grounds of one of South Australia’s most notable wineries.

1 1

Laughing kookaburras

 

Seppeltsfield winery in the Barossa Valley is a pleasant 50 minute drive from the city. Easily recognised by the avenue of huge palms at its entrance, the rambling complex encompasses: green spaces, bushland, old buildings, a family mausoleum, fine restaurant, cellar door facilities and even an art gallery; and that’s without even mentioning the sprawling vineyards. Established in 1851 the land was initially used for growing tobacco then wheat and finally grapes in the mid 1860s. Today, it is one of the nation’s most famous and revered wine wineries.

1 2

Jam Factory gallery

 

I decide that a bushland trek in the area is not by best wildlife option. Today, I will simply wander around the grounds enjoying the animals that take advantage of the plantings, food and shelter that this popular rural setting can provide. My strategy pays off when a wattle bird hops down onto one of the slate tables just a few yards away. Like the kookaburras, wattle birds are fairly common but shy and often difficult to photograph. Having one so close is a rare opportunity.

1 3

Wattle bird

 

1 4

Picturesque grounds

From the picnic area I take a walk around the courtyards near the restaurant enjoying the tasteful landscaping and searching for insects amongst the plantings. There is a good selection of butterflies this time of year and several different kinds of tiny spiders are hunting amongst the flowers.

1 5

Flower spider n blossoms

 

After a late afternoon meal ‘Local Garfish, Skordalia, Snowpeas and Vegetable Escabeche’ at ‘FINO’ and a sample sip of the wonderful vintage port that Seppeltsfield is renowned for, I call it a day. As I walk back out to the car park a young magpie fixes its gaze on me cocking its head to one side as if to bid me farewell

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Fond farewell from magpie gatekeeper

 

Cheers

Baz    

A Golden Day

24 Nov

 

Dear Reader:

The track is quite steep and the scrub dense. I can hear birds calling and catch fleeting glimpses of tiny finches foraging deep in the bushes. At the same time a group of lorikeets are feeding on eucalyptus blossoms in the canopy. But the birds are wary on this warm spring morning and keep moving out of camera range. Periodically, the eroded openings of narrow mine shafts, fenced off for safety, appear on both sides of the trail. I stop to reflect on the men who worked these dangerous tunnels armed only with buckets, ropes and spades. At the top of the hill, where I started my walk, a restored miner’s cottage and the weathered skeletons of a rock crusher and derrick suggest that the area had once been the centre of a sizeable mining operation.

1 mining equipment

Mining equipment

 

I am at the Barossa Goldfields about 40 kms from Adelaide between Williamstown and Gawler. At its peak in 1870, the lure of gold attracted around 4000 hopeful souls to these hills and over 25000 ounces of the precious metal was extracted. The site has been carefully restored by volunteers and is in the Para Wirra National Park; a worthwhile stop en route to the Barossa wineries if you care to take the back roads rather than the main highway. There is a network of well marked trails to suit walkers of all abilities and many excellent interpretive signs that cover everything from local geology to the everyday life of the original miners.

2 Cicadas

Cicadas

At the bottom of the trail there is a small creek still flowing from this year’s ample winter rains and as I cross it a kookaburra takes flight from a low branch where it had been watching for prey. The air is warm and buzzing with the calls of cicadas. I find a small eucalypt that seems to have more than its share of the ‘noisy little buggers’ and sit quietly in its shade for the next half hour trying to get a half decent shot.

4 Wattle bird

Wattle bird

 

As the trail climbs back out of the gully the terrain changes; the thick scrub gives way to more open grassland interspersed with stands of tall eucalypts. In the distance I catch sight of a pair of western grey kangaroos but they bound off over a ridge as I approach them. A scattering of rosellas are feeding in the grass and a wattle bird squawks defiance at a group of miner birds that are encroaching on its territory.

3 sleepy lizard

Sleepy lizard or shingleback skink

As the track takes a sharp bend I come across a sign that indicates a short cut back to the cottage and car park where I started my journey. It seems an opportune time to sit under a tree and take a ‘swig’ from my water bottle. However, I am not the only one who finds this a convenient resting place. I hear a faint rustling sound by my feet and a sleepy lizard materialises between a couple of rocks, its pine cone scales shiny and dark in the dappled light.

 

5 Grevillias

Grevillea flowers

 

I leave the lizard to its shady refuge and continue on my way, happy with my wildlife sightings and ready to wind up a successful morning’s trek. Close to the cottage another trail head appears. This track drops down sharply into a gully and I can see that the terrain has changed yet again. The soil is gravelly and grass trees, grevilleas and a variety of small plants with yellow, lilac and orange flowers, decorate the understory.

6 Grasshopper

Grasshopper species

The ever present eucalypts are a smaller more gnarled species. A few cicadas still buzz in the trees but on closer examination I can see a variety of other insects in the scrub including a glorious little cricket with ‘pink-camo-splotches’.

7 Grass tree amongst low eucalypts

Grass tree amongst stand of low growing eucalypts

 

I walk a couple of hundred metres further and realise that this trail is worth more than a cursory glance- but not today. And so ‘Dear Readers’ I look forward to another hike around the goldfields and the opportunity to share whatever I find with you.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

 

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

Baz

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