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Port Elliot to Goolwa…A Wildlife Drive

20 Jul

Scrub and dunes between Coorong National Park and Goolwa Beach

Dear Reader:

A lone Silver Gull is perched on the parking sign next to the Flying Fish Café on Port Elliot’s picturesque Horseshoe Bay. Two hours should be more than enough for a fish and chips lunch while watching a few brave souls taking a dip in the chilly winter waters.

Parking restrictions…seagulls only

Across the bay, a fisherman is unfolding a chair and setting his lines for a leisurely afternoon’s angling. Perhaps he will catch a squid or some Flathead as we enjoy the same species on a plate and without the effort.

Horsehoe Bay’s old Jetty

I am taking a drive along the southernmost part of the SA’s lovely Fleurieu Peninsular between the towns of Port Elliot and Goolwa. This area is well known for fishing, surfing and whale watching in the winter months when Southern Right Whale migrate through these waters from the Southern Ocean.

Goolwa Beach and photographer

My next stop is Goolwa Beach, a long sandy stretch of several kilometres ending at the mouth of the Murray River. If the tides are right, I will be able to take my SUV onto the beach between sand hills and surf; a really rewarding experience. I am in luck and able to drive some distance towards the mouth. There are a few tiny waders dodging the surf while feeding on worms and other invertebrates beneath the wet sand but they quickly fly away as I get close enough for a shot. A pair of Pacific Gulls are more accommodating and I get a good series of images using full extension of the Nikon P900 zoom.

Fun in the surf…Pacific Gull style

About a kilometre along the beach there is a sign indicating a track that crosses the dunes ending up at the Coorong National Park near the Goolwa barrages which separate seawater from freshwater. This area is my next destination and I must drive back along the beach and skirt the town to reach the park.

Beach crossing to the barrages

The part of the Coorong National Park I am exploring is just past the barrages and consists of shallow mud flats, reed beds and small islets; an ideal collection of habitats for a wide range of aquatic birds. There are Black Swans in the distance, an unusual Musk Duck a couple of hundred metres offshore and a White-faced Heron hunting in the grasses and pools next to the road. Meanwhile, Singing Honeyeaters warble in the scrub between the park and the ocean beach which we were driving along just fifteen minutes earlier. However, the most exciting birds in the area are a couple of quite different raptor species which are swooping and hovering close to the shoreline. The larger bird is a Whistling Kite and the smaller, a female Nankeen Kestrel.

Singing Honeyeater not singing

Whistling Kite

Lunch and a couple of lucrative wildlife drives have made the day a success. However, the coastal town of Goolwa has many other attractions and I spend a further relaxing hour pottering around galleries and other small shops. To finish the day, I buy a bun and coffee at the Original  Goolwa Bakery on Dawson Street (established in 1912) before heading home via Strathalbyn and Mount Barker; two more SA towns with much to offer an enthusiastic nature photographer.

Goolwa’s Artworx Gallery

Cheers

Baz

Additional notes

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

Please pass on this blog title and or contact information (URL) to any person or organisation with an interest in taking walks and enjoying wildlife in SA.

Click on this link and see more South Australian stories and pictures in my Weekend Notes articles

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

Hindmarsh Island ……Part 1

29 Mar

 

Hindmarsh Island ……Part 1

Dear Reader:

The bridge over the Murray River to the island is sleek and modern. Where it terminates there is a small layby and a short track going back under the concrete stanchions. A line of posts edges into the river. Probably part of the old ferry structures. Every few minutes, Australian Pelicans land on the old wooden posts and rails resting or watching for prey in the water.

 

Hindmarsh Island Bridge

After a while, the pelicans move off and land in the water near a reed patch. Another bird joins them and they start to swim in a roughly circular formation. They seem to be hunting; possibly herding small fish. My thoughts are confirmed when the birds tighten the circle and simultaneously dip their heads and long beaks into the water. The manoeuvre is repeated several times. Their movements are very graceful, almost like watching synchronised swimming or ballerinas with fluffed up tutus.

 

Pelicans up

Pelicans down

I am on Hindmarsh Island; Kumerangk in the language of the First Nations People who live in this area, the Ngarrindjeri. The island is an hour and a half drive SE of Adelaide near the town of Goolwa. It is flat and low with extensive areas of pasture, some scrub and a modern housing development with associated marina. There are numerous roads both paved and dirt criss-crossing the island. Hindmarsh Island is significant both in South Australia’s settler history and Ngarrindjeri history and culture and the creation of the bridge was the subject of friction between First Nations People and the SA government.

 

Fishing the channel

I continue driving for another ten minutes, past the marina turnoff on my right then the take one of several unsealed roads to my left which brings me to a shoreline where there is a small group of houses. Two fishermen are working the channel and I stop and chat with them for a few minutes about the marine and terrestrial wildlife in the area.

 

Orb weaver at work

Lovely, golden grass and patches of coastal scrub carpet this area and offer shelter to a range of animals. I spot some wrens and other small birds and catch a fleeting glimpse of a reptile near the muddy shore. Lizard or snake? Not sure. However, it is an Orb Weaver spider constructing its complex web that intrigues me. I watch the industrious little animal for some time and capture some reasonable close-up images.

 

Lapwing, Ibis, swans

My next stop is a couple of kilometres down the sealed road at a small group of shacks. There are short jetties poking out into the channel and most of them seem to be favourite roosting areas for both Black and Pied cormorants. Where the muddy shoreline and Samphire swamp meet, I can see numerous wading birds including: Spoonbills, Pied Stilts, Sandpipers and Masked Lapwings. In the slightly deeper water, a large flock of Black Swans are feeding.

 

Fascinating ecosytem

 

The morning’s drive and my initial exploration of the island have been quite productive and after I find a place to sit and have a bite to eat, provisioned from one of Goolwa’s many fine bakeries, I will head over to the Murray Mouth and Mundoo Channel to continue my day at Hindmarsh Island…………to be continued.

Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

This is an easy drive and walk which is quite suitable for families and seniors. Hindmarsh Island is dog friendly except for the Conservation Parks.

Please pass on this blog title and or contact information (URL) to any person or organisation with an interest in taking walks and enjoying wildlife in SA.

Click on this link and see more South Australian stories and pictures in my Weekend Notes articles

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

Robe, a South Eastern Wonder

11 Apr

Dear Reader:

It is early evening and I am walking along the beach looking for traces of animals washed up on the high tide. An old 4WD is slowly making its way towards the far end of the bay; probably some fishers preparing for an evening’s angling. 

 

Four wheel sunset

I am exploring some of the terrain in the state’s south east around Robe. I have been here on several occasions; as a marine science student examining the difference between marine life in this cooler thermocline and later as a snorkeler catching crayfish. The region is significantly different to Adelaide’s coastal environment. Not only is the water cooler and deeper close to the shore but also the limestone nature of the coast makes for quite different seascapes. 

 

Sea Sweep love the rough oxygenated water

The charming coastal township of Robe is a lovely destination. The centre of the cray-fishing industry in South Australia; it is built around a sheltered marina. The town is a mixture of heritage buildings converted into small businesses such as cafes, craft shops and accommodation and some later modern residences and shops. There is an excellent caravan and camping area and the town is close to wineries, coastal conservation areas and farmland. All of which make it an ideal tourist destination. 

 

Sheltered marina

Nearby Nora Creina Bay is a perfect example of the rugged limestone coast which the region is named after. The rocks are sharp and pitted with hardy coastal plants clinging to any area which is sheltered or can trap water. Below the surface of the bay lies a myriad of small caves and crevices that support an abundance of marine life. There are holiday shacks in the area and a sheltered bay where cray boats often anchor.

 

Limestone coastal environment

 

Even the drive down to Robe was a wonderful experience as I was able to enjoy the wonders of the Coorong National Park which flanks the highway for around 100 kms. There are numerous trails that wind into the area which is characterised by shallow lagoons, steep sand hills and low scrub. These iconic environments host a wide variety of wildlife and I was lucky enough to see numerous birds of prey and several different reptile species as well as a diverse selection of wading bird species that migrate here to feed during the harsh northern hemisphere winters. 

 

Brown falcon

 

Bearded Dragon

The sun has almost disappeared and the beach is empty and to be perfectly honest it is getting just a little chilly. It is definitely time to head back into town and try some of that fresh caught cray washed down with a local wine. 

 

Local Rock Lobster locally called Crayfish

Cheers and stay safe in these unpredictable days

Baz

Equipment

The land images were taken with a Canon Eos system

The underwater shot was taken with a Canon Powershot G7 and U/W housing

See more South Australian stories and pictures in Weekend Notes

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

 I have recently spent time in Africa and the link below will allow you to enjoy images and field notes describing some of my encounters with the wonderful wildlife of Botswana and Zambia. I will try to attach a new image and notes each month.

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

By the Barrage

17 Dec

By the Barrage

Dear Reader:

A stately Australian Pelican glides across the water between the barrage and the reed beds.  This stretch of water is home to a wide variety water birds, fish and insects and even the occasional water rat.

 

Barrage and Pelican

 

Goolwa’s barrages are an intricate set of barriers between the freshwater expanses of Lake Alexandrina and the ocean. They are used to control the saline ocean water that once extended far up river under certain conditions. Locks in the barrage allows boats to pass through them giving fishers and other ‘boaties’ access to the Coorong; a long shallow waterway that runs parallel to the open ocean.

 

View from the track

Returning after collecting cockles

A paved road accesses the area with numerous interpretive signs explaining the history and purpose of this barrage which about five minutes from the Goolwa wharves taking Admiral Terrace which leads into Riverside Drive and then Barrage Road. Where vehicle access stops there is a small car park and a sign-posted track that leads over the sand-hills to Goolwa Beach; well known for its surf fishing and proliferation of cockles that are gathered for both food and bait.  

 

Pied Oystercatchers

 

I take the sand hill track over to the beach. There are several species of birds on the beach including; Plovers, Silver Gulls and the occasional Pacific Gulls and Common Terns patrolling the shallow waters looking for food. But it is a pair of Pied Oystercatchers that catch my eye as they delicately balance on one in the wet sand near the waterline.

 

Singing Honeyeater

Dune beetle

 

On my walk back across the dunes I focus on the numerous species of bushes, grasses and spreading ground covers that hold the dune ecosystem together. The wildlife is sparse in these harsh conditions but I do manage to find a large ‘weevil-like’ beetle foraging in some grasses and there are quite a few Singing Honeyeaters calling from the tops of bushes. There are also numerous tracks and droppings from kangaroos, rabbits and reptiles. I suspect that there is more action in the nocturnal hours.

 

Little Raven

Trudging through the dunes has been quite tiring; it is approaching lunch time and the wonderful bakeries of Goolwa beckon; or perhaps a pub lunch at the hotel.  As I climb into the car and head back along the lake one last animal  draws my attention. A raven is sitting on some weathered branches fluffing up its feathers and the light seems just right. Normally the all black birds are hard to photograph and the colours and reflections off their feathers seem incorrect. Down with the window, engine off to reduce vibration, rest the camera on the door frame and gently press the button. Voila… and now for lunch!!

 Cheers

Baz

 Additional notes

This is an easy drive which is quite suitable for families and seniors with parking and other facilities nearby. The walk across the sand hill track is quite strenuous though relatively short

 

See more South Australian stories and pictures in Weekend Notes

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

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

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

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