Archive | Coorong RSS feed for this section

The Murray Mouth

7 Sep

Dear Reader:

There is a magnificent pelican flying low over the estuary with thick scrub and hills in the background. It circles a few times then lands, with surprising grace for such a large bird, amongst a small group of pelicans. They comb the edge of the water hunting for schools of baitfish. The birds then circle their prey driving them into a small ball before scooping the hapless victims up in their flexible net-like bills.

 

Pelican in flight

 

The mouth of Australia’s largest river, the Murray, can be reached or viewed in several different ways. Taking a 4WD along Goolwa Beach is perhaps the most adventurous but sometimes requires some skilful off road manoeuvres in the wet sand and the tides must be taken into consideration. From Hindmarsh Island or the upper reaches of the Coorong it is an eaier boat ride from numerous launch points.  I have used both of these methods to photograph the wildlife of this wonderful location but on this occasion I am lucky enough (because of the kindness of an old friend) to fly over the area giving me a fresh perspective on this unique wilderness location.

 

Aerial view of Murray Mouth

 

After leaving the plane at a nearby property we clamber into an old landcruiser and make our way along the beach towards the mouth. Parking the vehicle tight against the sandhills away from the incoming tide we trek across sand hills into the scrub that divides the ocean from the river. There are numerous small birds in the thickets and I manage to photograph a singing honeyeater perched on a slender twig as it loudly proclaims its territory.

 

Singing honeyeater

 

Back on the beach we drive close to the wave-break watching flocks of plovers scouring the wet sand for worms, molluscs and other tiny invertebrates. They take flight as we approach then quickly settle back into their feeding patterns dodging between the gentle waves as the tide changes.

 

Plover panic

 

I spend a pleasant half hour fishing the river where it empties into the sea and manage to put a few salmon trout into the cooler before driving back to the car park in Goolwa. The little cafe is worth a quick stop for a sausage roll and an ice cream and a chat to some surfers who are enjoying one of the other pleasures that Goolwa Beach and the Murray mouth are famous for.

 

Gnarly dude

Cheers

Baz

 Additional notes

 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.

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

Advertisements

Robe…..raptors, reptiles and rough roads

7 Feb

Dear Reader:

To be entirely honest, the track hadn’t looked too difficult. My tyres were suitably deflated and the little Suzuki had a punchy V6 motor. What the hell! I backed up onto the hard packed dirt road, gunned the motor and headed up the sand dune towards the beach, scaring the daylights out of a pair of emus that had been feeding in the coastal scrub.

A pair of emus feeding in the coastal scrub

A pair of emus feeding in the coastal scrub

 

 

Marker posts driven into the sand had indicated the route was suitable for 4WD but I lost a little traction on the climb and one wheel slipped off the trail. The car slid, the sand pushed up hard underneath and there I was, stuck. Over the next half an hour I tried every way I could think of to get free from the sand trap; brush under the wheels, digging out some of the sand wedged under the chassis and swearing in several languages; all to no avail. I wasn’t going anywhere.

The edge of a coastal dune

The edge of a coastal dune

 

 

Feeling rather stupid and just a tad worried, it was 40C and though I had a water bottle and my mobile phone, it was a good hour’s walk back to the main road. Furthermore, I couldn’t remember seeing any signs of habitation when I had driven from Robe into the Little Dip Conservation Park earlier in the day. But my choices were somewhat limited and so, with my camera slung over my shoulder, I started off to get some help.

Numerous frehwater lakes in the the conservaion park provide a haven for wildlife

Numerous frehwater lakes in the the conservaion park provide a haven for wildlife

 

 

Within half an hour of trudging along the sandy trail I realised this was going to be a hard walk. Every 30 minutes I found a little shade took a sip out of the bottle and rested for 5. Eventually I reached the junction of the trail and the main road back to town. Sitting quietly in the shade of a park information sign, I sipped on my water bottle and waited for a few minutes in the hope that another vehicle might be heading my way. No such luck, but a rather feisty bearded dragon did saunter across the road and give me a long hard stare before disappearing into the scrub.

Bearded dragons tend to freeze when threatened relying on their camouflage to avoid predators

Bearded dragons tend to freeze when threatened relying on their camouflage to avoid predators

 

 

Suitably unrefreshed and distinctly grumpy, I started along the road back to Robe. Earlier in the day and in stark contrast to my present predicament, I had been enjoying a civilised meal of local crayfish and salad in a boutique restaurant. After a couple of kilometres I noticed a swamp harrier that had settled on a fence line after scanning the fields for prey. The fence ended  in a cattle grid  near a long driveway that led to a farmhouse that I had not seen earlier. It was one of those typically Australian country homes, old sandstone with return verandahs that spoke of generations of farmers that worked this rugged landscape.

A swamp harrier rests on a fence post

A swamp harrier rests on a fence post

 

 

It turned out that I was in luck. The farmer, who was tired of rescuing inexperienced off roaders, kindly offered me a drink and some sandwiches. When I told him I was in the park photographing wildlife for a children’s book on reptiles he shared some of the interesting encounters with native animals he had experienced recently. Ten minutes turned into a couple of hours and because of our mutual interest in natural history, he offered to use the farm truck to haul me off the dune.

The kindness of strangers

The kindness of strangers

 

As we approached my SUV I noticed the curved imprint of a large snake that had taken shelter under the front of the vehicle. Now that would have made a good shot!!

A brown snake flicks out its forked tongue to pick up chemical signals given off by prey.

A brown snake flicks out its forked tongue to pick up chemical signals given off by prey.

 

 

With the car back on track we sat in the scrub and had a cold drink before I headed back for a shower and a good night’s rest. Offering to pay for my rescue did not seem appropriate. Instead, I promised to send him some copies of the wildlife books I had recently written for his grandchildren and to stop in for coffee the next time I headed down to Robe and the limestone coast.

Many of Robe's restaurants, galleries and B&Bs are based in classic old buildings

Many of Robe’s restaurants, galleries and B&Bs are housed in classic old buildings

 

 

Until our next excursion

BAZ

PS

I think the raptor is a swamp harrier; any help on this identification would be appreciated

B

Two out of Three ‘aint Bad

15 Apr

  The red bellied black is sunning itself on the track about forty metres in front of us. It hasn’t caught the scent of the dog yet or reacted to the vibrations created by our footsteps. We stop and watch it for a few seconds and that change in rhythm seems to alert the snake. Suddenly, a grey faced heron that is feeding amongst the samphire plants that line the foreshore of the lake, takes to the air. That is warning enough for the reptile and in the blink of an eye it has disappeared into the wetland. My companions are relieved, the dog is unaware and I must admit to being a little disappointed. They walk on ahead while I sit on a pine railing near the last point of sighting and watch. Sometimes a little patience pays off and after a few minutes I see just enough of the snake to fire off a single frame before it weaves its way deeper into the swamp.

Red bellied black snake hunting

Red bellied black snake hunting

  These rather striking snakes are quite common in the cooler wetland areas of southern Australia. They grow to around 2 metres in length and their diet includes a variety of small mammals, amphibians, fish and reptiles including their own species. They are related to the deadlier and more aggressive brown and tiger snakes that also occur in this area. Red bellied blacks produce between 5 and 18 young which are delivered in a membranous sac; they are considered to bear live young rather than produce eggs.

5 lake alexandrina

Lake Alexandrina on the shores of Milang

  My encounter with the black snake occurs along a dirt track on the edge of the small town of Milang, on the shore of Lake Alexandrina. With a population of just 500 Milang is a charming reminder of the bygone era of paddle steamers and rural living. The little township is a pleasant twenty minute drive from the rural centre of Strathalbyn. It is accessed by both sealed and unsealed roads which pass through rolling farmland and vineyards. With a caravan park, wharf, general store, designated walking trail and several historic sites; Milang is a great place to spend a couple of laid back days in the South Australian countryside.

2 brown snake

Common brown snake in strike position

  Leaving the black snake to its swampy refuge, I walk further down the trail and to my astonishment I catch sight of a long slender tail protruding from the edge of the grass verge. I freeze and ‘ever so carefully’ step forward until ‘snake two’ is immediately below me. It is almost completely obscured by a tangle of grasses and reeds. I watch it for a few minutes trying to angle my camera for a worthwhile shot. No luck; the common brown snake; the second most venomous land snake in the world; remains motionless, using its colouration and shape to stay hidden. I step back to change the angle fractionally and when I glance back through the viewfinder the snake is gone…without the slightest sound it simply disappeared into the grass.    

Dirt track between swamp and township

Dirt track between swamp and township

I have been photographing wildlife in South Australia for many years and I rarely see venomous snakes. To see two of the resident three species in the space of 15 minutes is extraordinary to say the least. Needless to say I did not run into a tiger snake on my return walk along the track.  

Cheers Baz

Coorong

28 Jul

Dear Reader

This week’s posting is about one of my favourite wildlife refuges: a place that rivals any of the habitats that I have visited over many years of travelling and one that is in my own backyard.

AA Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

The Coorong is around two hours drive south east of South Australia’s capital city Adelaide. It consists of a 150 km, slender spit of land of land that runs parallel to the coast enclosing an extensive chain of brackish, shallow lagoons and salt pans. Impressive scrub covered dunes, battered by the heavy seas of the southern ocean on the seaward side, run the length of the narrow peninsular. At its north-western end the Coorong is fed by the River Murray which enters into two large lakes-Albert and Alexandrina. The unusual word ‘Coorong’ is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘kurangh’ which means ‘long neck”

AC Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

The region’s unique landscape of sand dunes, tussock grasses, low scrub and jagged limestone outcrops, is a haven for wildlife. Kangaroos, wombats, emus and an abundance of parrots and honeyeaters are just a few of the many native species that inhabit the thick, low bush that borders the lagoons and cover the towering dunes. An extraordinary number and variety of wading birds regularly gather in the Coorong. Enormous Australian Pelicans glide majestically along the waterway or spiral high on thermals before settling back on the water to fish. Tiny Mongolian Dotterels, which have travelled over 10 000 kilometres to avoid the northern winter, feed on the beachfronts between the crashing waves while avocets and curlews probe for shrimp and worms in the shallow limestone pools and mudflats. In total, over 400 species of birds, both residential and migratory, are found in this internationally recognised wetland.

AB Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Such a rich and diverse environment did not escape the attention of Australia’s original inhabitants and for around 40 000 years the Coorong has been home to the Ngarrindjeri (pronounced Nuh-run-jerri) people. They hunted kangaroos, emus and reptiles in the scrub as well as fishing and harvesting shellfish in the lagoons. Today the Ngarrindjeri still live in the area and practise many of the ancient skills that have been handed down through countless generations by ceremonies and stories. Those visitors who wish to learn more about the Coorong’s rich Aboriginal heritage can stay in lovely studio apartments, camp out, or park a caravan at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge with its sweeping views of the park and bush-tucker walks or canoe trips lead by local guides.

AD Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Despite its wild and lonely character the Coorong National Park is an easy day trip from Adelaide. Ideally, you would hire an off road vehicle in the city and take the coast road south then meander back north on a variety of tracks that parallel the highway to the mouth of the River Murray and the twin lakes of Alexandrina and Albert. From there you can join the main road back to the city and even drop into one of the regional wineries if time permits. However, if wild places are your passion and you feel the Coorong’s scenery and history are worth a longer stay there are a variety of established bush campsites as well as budget cabins, units and bunkhouses in the area. A slightly more upmarket approach is to book into one of the self-contained lakeside cottages at the historic homestead of Poltalloch on Lake Alexandrina. From there you can arrange guided tours of both the Coorong and lakes or use your own vehicle or boat to explore the area.

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near  lake Alexandrina

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near lake Alexandrina

I hope that one day, Dear Reader, you will come and visit this extraordinary place.

Cheers

Baz

%d bloggers like this: