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Whyalla’s Wildlife Oasis

5 Dec

Dear Reader:

The red-necked avocets are searching for food along the shoreline of the little lake. They use their characteristically upwards curved beak to probe for tiny crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates. Avocets employ two different feeding strategies. Where the water is clear the birds pick their prey from the surface but in muddy areas they sweep their bills across the sediment flushing out tiny animals to feed on.

 

Red-necked avocet

 

I am walking around the freshwater lake that is the centrepiece of Whyalla’s newly created wetlands. The area has been carefully developed over the last few years with the aid of local community groups. There are significant stands of reeds, grasses and shrubs throughout the park providing a habitat for a range of wading birds including: stilts, ibises, plovers, dotterels as well as larger species such as pelicans and cormorants. Barbecues, a playground, benches, toilets and sheltered areas make this both an ideal family destination and wildlife oasis in the dry desert countryside that surrounds Whyalla.

 

Wetlands view

 

 

Further along the trail clumps of native grasses and flax lilies provide shelter and food for quite different kinds of wildlife. Native blue bees flit between the blossoms where their vibrating wings shake loose pollen. Hidden strategically in the grass blades, a well camouflaged dragon lizard waits patiently for any unwary bee or other insect to venture within its kill zone.

 

Blue banded bee

 

Dragon waiting

The extensive grassed areas provide yet another habitat for those animals that prefer to feed or congregate in open spaces. Parrots, ibises and ducks often relish these open areas but today it is a flock of black-tailed native hens that are foraging on the grass. They are nervous and hard to approach and getting a reasonable shot takes a little patience.

 

Black-tailed native hens

 

 

 

As my walk draws to a close I notice two delicate little waders close to each other as they feed along the shoreline. A black-winged stilt with its needle-like beak and a smaller red-kneed dotterel are both feeding in the same area but their different beak shapes means that they are not in competition.

 

Dotterel and stilt

 

The wetlands are just off the Lincoln Highway at the southern end of Whyalla. From there it is a short drive into the town or down to the marina which is famous for the pods of dolphins that come up to the walkways to help themselves to any fish discarded by anglers returning to the marina……or perhaps just to enjoy the company of another intelligent species.

 

Next stop

 

Take a drive out west sometime and enjoy this unique part of our State

Cheers

Baz  

 

Additional notes

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

 

 I have recently spent time in Africa and the link below will allow you to enjoy images and text describing some of my encounters with the wonderful wildlife of Botswana and Zambia. I will attach a new image and notes to accompany each post. The link does not work well on mobile phones and is best followed through a computer or tablet.

https://silkstone627.wixsite.com/mysite

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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.

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

Port Augusta…Arid Lands Botanic Gardens

7 Dec

Dear Reader:

The sand monitor, a kind of goanna, is raised slightly off the ground and peering intently towards me. It doesn’t seem too perturbed by my presence. In fact, I am probably the more excited of the two. It is my first encounter with one of these lizards which can reach a length of around 1.5 metres. Like all monitors, the sand goanna has a forked tongue like a snake allowing it to use scent to detect the distance and direction of its prey. A closer examination through my camera lens reveals that this animal has been injured at some time and is missing part of its front right foot.

Sand monitor

Sand monitor

 

I am in the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens just a few kilometres out of Port Augusta near the head of the gulf. The gardens showcase many of the diverse dry-land ecologies that SA has to offer. Unlike most parks this one is not fenced and the animals that venture into its proximity are wild. Despite its natural status the gardens are well serviced by a modern visitor centre and cafe.

The view from the head of the gulf

The view from the head of the gulf

 

Leaving the sand monitor to its own devices, I walk around the edge of the encroaching scrub towards the extensive eremophila plantings at the back of the centre. Several zebra finches are perched in the branches of a skeletal tree overlooking a small artificial waterhole. I search for the right image, eventually finding a male and female settled on a dead branch; perfectly demonstrating the difference between the sexes.

male and female zebra finches

male and female zebra finches

Purple eremophila

Purple eremophila

 

After spending some time exploring the eremophila shrubs with all their subtle floral variations, I walk around to the northern edge of the gardens. This area includes habitat zones where interpretive signs explain adaptations to climate and terrain as well as Aboriginal use of plants as foods and medicines. While I am reading about how sugarwoods are used as sweeteners and their amazing regenerative powers after bushfires, I hear a rustle in the undergrowth. Only a few metres from where I am standing a pair of or shinglebacks are following each other closely between the ground-covers. Sleepy lizards, as they are sometimes known, are essentially solitary reptiles which can only mean that it is mating season.

 

Shingleback or sleepy lizards

Shingleback or sleepy lizards

 

Whenever I visit these extraordinary gardens I conclude my day with a little culinary treat; a light meal, ice cream or scones with jam and cream. But these are no ordinary delicacies. Many of the flavours are created from the landscape with a distinctly ‘bush tucker’ nuance such as quandong ice cream and native herb flavoured damper.

Looking out from the café across the eremophila garden into the scrub beyond

Looking out from the café across the eremophila garden into the scrub beyond

 

 

Until our next adventure

Cheers

Baz  

Marion Bay….the edge of Innes

29 Sep

Marion Bay….the edge of Innes

A small group of grey kangaroos is gathered on the edge of the scrub. The large male seems a little nervous. His ears twitch independently as he hops a few metres closer to where I am balancing the camera on an old jarrah fence post. Keeping the females and a half grown joey behind him, the buck stands up to his full height, giving me a clear warning not to come any nearer to his family.

1 Western grey kangaroos resting on the edge of the scrub

Western grey kangaroos resting on the edge of the scrub

I am walking along the fence-line that separates the township of Marion Bay from the Innes National park. We have hired a little holiday home that sits on the very edge of the township with intimate views of the surrounding grassland and scrub. Each morning, while I am eating breakfast on the verandah, I can see a few odd rabbits and a veritable parade of birdlife amongst the shrubs and trees that make up the garden. My favourites are the diminutive silvereyes that perch in the eucalypts and twitter menacingly at the larger birds that dare to invade their territory.

2 The view from the back verandah

The view from the back verandah

2 Silvereye singing in eucalyptus tree

Silvereye singing in eucalyptus tree

 The kangaroos are close to the lower end of the fence-line which runs from the main road up to the coastal cliffs that dominate this section of Marion Bay. As I move towards the coast I nearly step on an ant nest; not just any colony of ants but bulldog ants. These inch long beasties pack quite a bite and are best avoided. Luckily they do not swarm in great numbers like their smaller brethren. Still, photography is undertaken at a respectable distance.

3 Bulldog or inch ant

Bulldog or inch ant

As I approach the top of the cliffs the vegetation changes dramatically. Low scrubby bushes and thick ground covers with patches of tussock like grasses provide an ideal habitat for a range of small birds I can hear them in the thick cover but only catch fleeting glimpses. Then suddenly my luck changes and a glorious little wren hops out and sits on the very fence-line I have been following. In Adelaide I have often photographed superb blue fairy wrens and I am more than thrilled to see them here in this coastal environment. It is only later when I look at the image more carefully that I realise this little wren is actually a variegated fairy wren; a species I have never photographed.

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Variegated fairy wren

 

 Where the fence meets the edge of the limestone cliffs there is a wooden viewing bay that provides an ideal bird watching platform. In the few minutes that I stand and survey the beach below several species of water birds fly past; including a white faced heron, silver gulls and a pacific gull. Looking back across the scrubby verge towards the rather expensive houses that front the esplanade I start planning my next trip to Marion Bay; perhaps a sea view this time.

5 silver gull in flight

Silver gull in flight

6 Coastal viewing platform with views of cliff and beach

Coastal viewing platform overlooking the beach

 An afternoon stroll along the fence-line completed my thoughts turn to dinner. The award winning Marion Bay Tavern is just the place to head as the sun is setting on my rather fruitful day on the edge of Innes. Made from materials that reflect the area, including corrugated iron, reclaimed jetty pylons and jarrah timbers, the restaurant boasts an eclectic menu specialising in fresh local seafoods. But my choice this evening is a pizza cooked in a wood oven fashioned from a classic old rainwater tank.

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Wood oven South Aussie style

 

Take a drive down to this wonderful area sometime

Cheers

Baz

Check out Geotravelling a new site that I have attached that celebrates the natural, cultural and urban diversity of our planet through my travel photographs.

Normanville’s Back Blocks and Coastal Walk

17 Sep

Normanville’s Back Blocks and Coastal Walk

 

Dear Reader:

The grey kangaroo is huge, a fully grown male with a couple of smaller females close by, half hidden in the scrub. As I approach, he rises up to his full height and eyes me with intent. I take half a step closer and he turns and shuffles closer to the fence. Then, with a single, effortless bound he clears it and disappears into the scrub further down the hillside.

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Fully grown male, grey kangaroo

 

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Up and over

I am in an older part of Normanville on a hillside behind the beach houses and new developments. Large blocks of land are quite common here. Some still retain vestiges of the original pre-farming vegetation. Landowners with an interest in wilderness conservation have re-established endemic plants on many plots that in turn attract a plethora of native wildlife from ‘roos’ and kookaburras to colourful rosellas and even the odd echidna.

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Grevillea species growing under the pink gums

 

Near the top of this particular block there is a stand of gnarled old pink gums where little crescent honeyeaters and several grey currawongs are sheltering from the light showers that are sweeping in from the sea a couple of kilometres away.

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Grey currawong in pink gum

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Crescent honeyeater sheltering from rain

 

Beneath the canopy of the trees there is a wide variety of native shrubs and ground covers that support both small birds and insects. Despite the cool weather I manage to find some shield bugs amongst the berries and flowers of a pink Geraldton wax bush. And in the branches above them a crimson rosella is calling to its mate in anticipation of a warmer spring day when they will be searching for nesting holes.

Common gum tree shield bug on Geraldton wax bush

Common gum tree shield bug on Geraldton wax bush

 

From the scrubby hillside I drive back down to the coast stopping in at the Normanville Hotel for a locally caught seafood meal; calamari, whiting and scallops. The beach is only five minutes from the hotel and I park where a coastal pathway sweeps around to Carrickalinga heads, an area that I frequently dived during my youth.

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Late afternoon view of Carrickalinga heads from Normanville

 

The sun is getting low now and there are sparrows and honeyeaters settling in for the night in the bushes that flank the path. I can just make out a cormorant resting on the rocky foreshore shaking water from its wings before finding a place to roost. Sometimes this half light produces some of the more striking images that I have captured in the wild and today is no exception. I find a pair of crested pigeons perching on a skeletal branch with the grey sea and sky as their backdrop. They are my final memory of yet another memorable day spent enjoying South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.

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Crested pigeons near walking trail to Carrickalinga

 

Take a drive down the coast sometime and enjoy this special place and its wildlife!!!

Cheers

Baz

Chinaman’s Creek on a cloudy day

3 Aug

Chinaman’s Creek on a cloudy day

Dear Reader:

It is a cool, overcast afternoon; not ideal for wildlife watching or photography. Nevertheless, I have organised a weekend trip north to Port Augusta to investigate the Arid Zone Botanic Gardens during the winter months. As an added bonus, I hope to explore a shallow mangrove creek some 20kms south of the town that a friend has suggested as an interesting wildlife stop off en route.

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Wedge – tailed eagles are Australia’s largest raptors with a wingspan over 2 metres

1 wedge tail 1. Australia's largest raptor with a wingspan over 2 meters

Wedge-tailed eagle about to fly

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In flight

 

 

As I approach the Chinaman’s creek junction I notice a pair of wedge-tailed eagles in the skeletal branches of a mallee tree. The birds seem quite relaxed as they survey the low scrub that stretches towards the coast. I let the car roll to a stop and gingerly climb out careful not to let the door bang shut. There is good cover between the birds and myself and I fire off a couple of shots before one bird senses the movement and takes to the air.

2 Galahs iin bush near wheat fields

Galahs in bush near wheat fields

2 Cockatoo near the park's entrance

Cockatoo near the park’s entrance

 

The stretch of unsealed road that stretches towards the coast is flanked on both sides by scrubby farmland that supports sheep and some wheat fields. Small groups of rose breasted cockatoos are perching in the branches alongside the road. They occasionally take flight into the fields to dig out tubers and possibly ravage a few of the crops; lovely birds to watch but not always popular with farmers.

4 Dirt trackinto the coservation park about 5 kms from the highway

Dirt track into the conservation park about 5 Kms from the highway

4 Visitors to the park

Visitors to the park

 

Where the cleared land gives way to forest and denser scrub, a fence and sign announces the Winninowie conservation Park which incorporates Chinaman’s Creek. Despite the remoteness of the area we meet a couple of 4X4s complete with camping trailers and stop to chat with the drivers for a few moments. They have been camping by the creek for a few days and had some success fishing the mangrove flats on the receding tide for whiting and mullet.

6 Chinaman's creek jetty at low tide

Chinaman’s creek jetty at low tide

9 Momentary glimpse of a sacred kingfisher

Momentary glimpse of a sacred kingfisher

 

A few minutes later we pull into the camping area. There is a scattering of permanent shacks and a small jetty that is completely exposed at low tide. I change from shoes to gum boots, from experience I know that this mud sticks like glue, and start to walk along the edge of the little creek. I can hear singing honeyeaters in the mangroves and catch flashes of colour from other unidentifiable species that flit amongst the thick foliage. But the birds are some distance away and the overcast conditions make photography all but impossible.

6 Chinaman's creek jetty at low tide

Chinaman’s creek jetty at low tide

 

 

I notice thousands of small burrows honeycombing the edge of the intertidal zone. Each is home to a small shore or mangrove crab. In the creek I can see roving schools of silver baitfish eagerly eyed by a pair of herons that are stalking the fringe of the mangroves.

4 As a pair of emus head towards the trees a grey kangaroo pops its head up

As a pair of emus head towards the trees a grey kangaroo pops its head up

 

Our time at the creek is limited. The clouds are thickening and a few fat raindrops have bounced off my camera lens. As we leave the park has a few more wildlife surprises that make me grit my teeth over the poor lighting conditions. A gorgeous sacred kingfisher perches on a long-dead coastal acacia bush and a group of grazing emus wanders across the saltbush dominated plain. Later, when examining this image in detail I discover that there is another participant in the scene; a grey kangaroo that was feeding close to them.

5 The creek at low tide with mangrove forest and Flinders Ranges in the background

The creek at low tide with mangrove forest and Flinders Ranges in the background

 

It has been an interesting first look at this coastal environment with its varied habitats and I look forward to further visits in the warmer, lighter months ahead.

 

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

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