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Port Germein’s Mangrove Wildlife

1 Aug

Port Germein’s Mangrove Wildlife

Dear Reader:

 The grey butcherbird is perched on a dead branch on the edge of the mangrove swamp. The powerful bird will use this position to dive on prey in the undergrowth snatching up insects, small reptiles and the nestlings of other birds. Large prey will be jammed in the fork of a branch then eaten; which provides a hint as to how butcher birds acquired their name.

 

Grey butcherbird

 

It is sunset and the light is glorious as it defines the mangrove channels against the pale sand. I am on the northern side of Port Germein where a substantial stand of mangroves merges with the shallow beach. Small schools of fish are heading along these waterways towards the ocean as the tide recedes and an odd crab scuttles across the channel.

 

Lovely light

 

 

As I climb back into the 4WD I can hear the calls of several different kinds of honeyeaters in the nearby scrub. With the windows open I drive slowly along the rutted trail until one of the little birds appears in the upper branches of the bushes. Several frames later I have captured a passable image of a spiny cheeked honeyeater calling to its mate. Often shooting from the vehicle is easier as the wildlife seems more accepting of its presence than that of a large two legged creature stalking through the bush.

 

Spiny cheeked honeyeater singing

 

Spiny cheeked honeyeater in scrub

The next morning I walk in the opposite direction to explore a channel that runs parallel to the shore on the southern perimeter of the township with a spectacular view of the Flinders ranges in the background. There are mangroves and samphire right to the edge of the creek which ends in a dilapidated road bridge that once serviced a crossing into town. A white faced heron is sitting on the weathered planks eyeing the water below for small fish while swallows are nesting under the main span.

 

Look for the heron

 

Mangrove channel and Flinders Ranges

 

 

As I make my way alongside the waterway I notice silken sheet like webs, carpeting the ground between many of the bushes. Some are still glistening from the morning dew. They are used by lattice webbed spiders as a kind of horizontal trap that acts like a sticky labyrinth.

 

Lattice spider web and early morning dew

 

With my mangrove walk completed, I head back into town for a bite at the local cafe. But Port Germein has on last wildlife moment to offer in the form of a wattlebird feeding on some late blooming eucalyptus flowers near the caravan park.

 

Wattlebird feeding on eucalyptus blossom

 

Cheers
BAZ

Footnote

4WD is useful in this area and the walking on the southern edge of town is quite strenuous. The northern reach of mangroves would be suitable for a family or seniors’ excursion.

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.

1 wedge tail 2

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

1 wedgy takes flight

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

Wilpena…. Three Kangaroos and an Emu

26 Jun

Dear Reader:

The hillside behind the cabin is quite steep and the trail leading to its summit zig-zags between rocky outcrops and stands of native pine. Every so often there are depressions and small caves where the rust coloured soil is littered with roo droppings. From the first ridge, the view back across ‘the pound’ is spectacular with the curved formation of peaks that shape this unique environment clearly evident against the deep blue of an outback sky.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lone euro with the ranges in the background

Euro nremains below a particularly steep rockface

Euro remains below a particularly steep rockface

 

A little further up the scree slope the sound of scattering rocks provides a tell-tale hint of movement. I freeze, lift the camera and wait; nothing but the thumping sound of a large animal bounding further up the hillside. Only a kangaroo makes that sound and only a hill kangaroo, sometimes called a wallaroo or euro, would be living in this steep terrain.

Classic euro habitat

Classic euro habitat

 

 

There are three species of kangaroos, as well as their smaller wallaby relatives, living in the Flinders Ranges near Wilpena Pound ; a crater shaped geological formation in South Australia’s northern outback region about five hour’s drive from Adelaide. Each species tends to favour slightly different habitats in this arid, semi desert environment though there is inevitably some overlap in their territories.

This euro has a rustier tinge to its fur

This euro has a rustier tinge to its fur

 

Euros are generally solitary and they prefer rocky outcrops. Their fur is thicker than the other two species and can have a slightl reddish tinge. They are quite stocky, robust kangaroos measuring up to 195 cms from head to tip of the tail with both males and females similar in appearance. Red kangaroos prefer the open plains and males can measure 2.4 metres and always have a rusty coat and distinct facial markings. Female red kangaroos have grey fur with a hint of blue shading and are considerably smaller. The third species, the western grey kangaroo, is less common in the ranges; they look more like a lighter built euro with smoother fur. Western greys are gregarious and prefer woodlands. They are the most common species in the southern part of the state.

Western grey kangaroos

Western grey kangaroos

 

From the top of the hillside I work my way back down a steep gully to the lower slopes where a couple of euros are feeding on the grass and small shrubs growing close to the roadside. They let me approach to within fifty metres before twitching their ears nervously and bounding off into a stand of native pines at the base of a steep hillside.

A young euro moments before bounding up into the escarpment after its mother

A young euro moments before bounding up into the escarpment after its mother

Female adult euro bounding up into escarpment

Female adult euro bounding up into escarpment

 

The roadside provides a perfect view of both the rugged escarpments that dominate the terrain and the open grassland that characterizes the entrance to the pound. In the distance I can see the outline of several red kangaroos grazing on the grass near an old restored woolshed that serves as a gallery and function centre. They appear to be quite relaxed and as I approach I notice that it is actually a pair of animals; a large male standing close to a resting female.

Red kangaroo male and female

Red kangaroo male and female

Red kangaroo male and female

Art display in the old woolshed

 

I have been quite lucky on my walk, having seen two of the three local kangaroo species and as if to point out that the landscape is inhabited by more than just marsupials a couple of emus run across the walking trail as I am turning for home.

A pair of emus running alongside a walking trail at Wilpena

A pair of emus running alongside a walking trail at Wilpena

 

Satisfied with my morning’s work I head back to the chalets for a shower and lunch at one of the two dining areas. Chalets, dining areas, a well equipped general store and even a small swimming pool for the summer heat; not really roughing it but on the other hand there is abundant wildlife just a stone’s throw away. SA at its very best.

Accommodation Wilpena

Accommodation Wilpena

 

Cheers

Baz

 

The Paralana Trail

29 Jun

Dear Reader 

It’s winter but you’d hardly know it. The afternoon sky is a clear endless blue and though there’s a hint of the approaching night’s cold desert chill, the temperature is still a comfortable 25 degrees. I am in the Arkaroola Wilderness reserve in the Gammon Ranges some 1000 kms north of Adelaide heading towards the Paralana hot springs. After a hearty breakfast in the resort’s dining room we have loaded our gear into Suzuki GV and locked in 4WD for the 30 km trip along one of the most interesting off road adventures in this world heritage region.

Ochre wall

Ochre wall (click to enlarge)

 We have been crawling over the rugged terrain for about 20 minutes and the stony track has opened into a dry creek bed. One section of the embankment is quite extraordinary; a wave shaped deposit of ochre that contrasts sharply with the surrounding bush. This significant deposit was of great importance to the Adnyamathanha people who used it in ceremonies and to trade with other Aboriginal groups.

Rock skink

Unknown skink species (click to enlarge)

 While the others break out a little gas stove to brew a ‘cuppa’ I walk along the creek bed camera in hand. The unseasonably warm weather has brought out a few reptiles that would normally be hibernating at this time of the year. They are wary and the only clue to their presence is an occasional rustle in the undergrowth. Finally, one little skink that is basking on a weathered tree trunk decides that remaining motionless is a better option than retreating, offering me a nice clear shot.

(click to enlarge)

Male mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

Femal mulga parrot feeding on blue bush berries

Female mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

 Just as I am about to make my way back to the vehicle a flash of colour amongst the skeletal branches of a long dead acacia tree catches my eye. I peer through the telephoto and focus on the turquoise plumage of a male mulga parrot. If it is the mating season then the female should be nearby and with a little persistence I find her on the ground feeding on some small yellow berries that are the fruit of a low growing saltbush-like plant.

P1010422

Yellow footed rock wallabies on steep cliff (click to enlarge)

 Refreshed, we resume our drive along the trail, slowly climbing into the hills which provide spectacular views across the Gammons. Following a twisting descent down a narrow track we enter the spectacular Baranarra Gorge with its sheer rock walls and boulder strewn pools of clear fresh water.   Our progress has been slower than planned and it is late afternoon when we start to pick our way along the edge of the water hole. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Looking up I catch sight of a pair of yellow footed rock wallabies precariously perched on the sheer cliff face. Once again, I am reminded of the extraordinary adaptations of these beautiful little animals. With their furry back feet perfectly designed for gripping rock surfaces, long counterbalancing tail and subtle camouflage, they are the Aussie equivalent of mountain goats.

P1010408

Chopper based at Arkaroola Village (click to enlarge)

 Unfortunately our stay must be a short one as the light is starting to fade and we must head back to our home base at the village. Tomorrow we have decided to take a helicopter flight over the area to get an overall picture of the terrain before our next off road foray.

Cheers

Baz

Port Germein ….A Long Walk Out to Sea…Field Notes

8 Mar

General description of location

Port Germein is a  small country town just north of Port Pirie which is  a major regional centre about 2½ hours from Adelaide

Lies near the top of Spencer Gulf and is in the shadow of the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Town has a pub with excellent food, a general store and campground

Small local population of around 250

A long jetty, once used to load grain clippers, it extends from the shore to over a mile out to sea and most of the beach is exposed at low tide

Good fishing, crabbing and general coastal wildlife walks

6 jetty and ranges red

View back to the ranges from the end of the jetty

Notes

Season:

Late summer

Weather:

Mild morning temperature around 18 ºC at 0900.

Forecast temperature 35°C later in the day

No wind and clear skies

5 blue bee red

Blue bee on coastal heath

While walking from the house where I am staying to the jetty I spot some blue bees, an Australian native species, feeding on a coastal bushes with small blue flowers

They tend to feed on blue and white blossoms

Note to self

Identify some of the coastal vegetation before next PT Germein post

3 blue swimmer crab red

Blue Swimmer crab in net

I stroll along the jetty and notice a variety of small wading birds feeding on the sand/mud flats, some are searching out small pools of residual water

A young couple near the end of the jetty are crabbing and they have caught half a dozen Blue Swimmer Crabs which are common at this time of year

A group of Pied Cormorants and Common Terns are perching on some battered poles which remind us that the jetty was once longer

A family have used a tractor to tow out a small boat and launch it as the tide comes in

The view from the end of the jetty of the foreshore and Ranges is spectacular.

 

12end  of jetty red

Terns and Cormorants at the end of the jetty

I return to the shore and walk along coastal path that weaves between low bushes and stretches of beach

There are honeyeaters and finches in the bushes and a Ring Necked Parrot preens itself on a branch

Near a rocky outcrop close to a garden I come across a Bearded Dragon sunning itself

There are also quite a few White Plumed Honey Eaters feeding on blossoms in Eucalypt trees that grow in gardens near the coastal walk

After sipping nectar some are hawking for insects.

5 white plumed honeyeater red

White Plumed Honeyeater feeding in eucalyptus tree near the foreshore

A ten minute walk from the end of town, the coastal scrub and samphire give way to stands of mangrove and a whole new coastal ecology emerges

A White Faced Herons stalk small fish and crustacean in the shallow channels and a White Browed babbler fluffs up its feathers in one of the mangrove trees

These mangroves are part of a south Australian system that marks the southernmost extent of mangrove communities in the world

Small fish can be seen schooling in some of the deeper channels

This is a nursery area for many commercial species.

8 mangrove pool red

Mangrove pool

15

White Faced Heron hunting in the mangroves

I head back to town for a schnitzel and a beer at the local pub and the promise of a drive to Telowie or Port Germein Gorge in the afternoon to look for rock wallabies and eagles.

Cheers

Baz

Photo Reflections 2

16 Nov

Dear Reader:

South Australia is an extraordinary place to live and work especially if you are a wildlife writer and photographer. Our fauna is both diverse and fascinating and en route to any destination there are always interesting country towns, world class wineries or vast rural properties to explore. This blog is a reflection of those attributes and is a collation of images and notes that remind me of the reasons I live and work here.

A Camping near Arkaroola

Camping near Arkaroola

 

Arkaroola is a world heritage wilderness area approximately 700 kilometres north of Adelaide. Its geology, Aboriginal heritage and wildlife make it a premier destination for off roaders, photographers and those who simply like a taste of real outback life.

B Nankeen night heron

Nankeen night heron

The wetlands around the Adelaide region have a core of commonly sighted species that include a variety of waterfowl, pelicans, ibises, swamp hens and swallows; to mention but a few. The nankeen night heron is one of the less frequently encountered birds which made photographing this one, as it hid in a willow overhanging a lake near my home, a special moment.

C Vines near McClaren Vale

Vines near McLaren Vale

 

The coast road that runs south from Adelaide along the Fleurieu Peninsula is a drive I have made countless times on the way to a dive site. On this occasion I was drawn to the dormant vines that stood in stark contrast to the overcast sky and yellow oxalis flowers.

D Biscuit star

Biscuit star

 

Sometimes the simplest creatures, the ones encountered countless times, catch your attention. Perhaps it is the light or just the way the animal is positioned. This common biscuit star caught my eye as it crept along the edge of a rock face covered in algae and a melange of encrusting organisms.

E Hoverfly on blossoms

Hoverfly on blossoms

 

Hoverflies are one of the most common invertebrates in our gardens. These agile little insects hover, flit and settle on a variety of flowering plants. They seem to be in constant motion. On an afternoon stroll through the Botanic Gardens an accommodating hoverfly settled on a nearby blossom giving me just a split second to get down low and capture this image which emphasises its startling compound eyes.

F Echidna foraging

Echidna foraging

 

Echidnas roam the length and breadth of Australia but they are not commonly seen. This one was trundling through the bush in the Adelaide Hills close to a termite mound that it had been ripping apart. It was the sound of the little spiky battle tank that gave away its location. Stealth does not appear to be part of their defensive repertoire. You don’t need to be furtive when you are armed with a plethora of sharp spines.

 

I hope you enjoyed this little reflection

Baz

Moralana Trail-Outback Wildlife With A Little History Thrown In

2 Nov

Dear Reader:

The sky is endless blue, interrupted by just a few cotton-wool clouds. High above the ranges I can see the outline of a wedge tail eagle spiralling on a thermal as it searches for prey. Once these majestic raptors were a common sight throughout the Flinders but with the decimation of the rabbit population their numbers have dropped. Today they hunt for more indigenous prey; wallabies, lizards and road kill from the many tracks that meander through the ranges. As I carefully steer the vehicle around another corrugated, gravelly bend, I catch site of a kangaroo standing motionless in the long grass. Easing to a stop, I wind down the window and take a closer look through a telephoto lens. The powerful, compact body and rusty brown tinge to its fur immediately mark it as a euro or hill kangaroo; a species that lives amongst the rocky outcrops rather than on the plains.

a Euro or hill kangaroo watches the watchers near the track

Euro or hill kangaroo watches the watchers near the track

 

I am driving the Moralana trail, a 30 km dirt track that cuts across the Flinders Ranges, 40 kms south of the iconic bush resort of Wilpena Pound. The track is flanked by the jagged peaks of the pound on one side and the Elder Ranges on the other.  It is an easy drive compared to the trails that follow the gorges further north yet there is a proliferation of wildlife ranging from flocks of cockatoos to echidnas and several species of kangaroos.

b Driving along the trail with the Elder Ranges in the background

Driving along the trail with the Elder Ranges in the background

 

We leave the euro feeding on some low bushes and continue our drive. A few kilometres further on, half hidden amongst a stand of pale barked eucalypts, I notice a rough cut log corral by the roadside. Closer examination reveals a plaque explaining that the structure is a restored ‘cueing’ or shoeing station. In the 1870s it serviced the bullock trains that hauled native pine logs which were then cut for the construction of the overland telegraph. The corral is just one of the many historic sites that remind us of the hardy pioneers who lived and worked in the Flinders during the state’s early years. After a long day’s driving, the cueing station seems a perfect place to stop for a late lunch and enjoy home baked meat pies and sausage rolls, purchased earlier in the day at a country bakery on the drive from Adelaide.

c Old bullock yard near Arkaba Station

Old bullock yard near Arkaba Station

 

The afternoon sun is dropping low in the sky and it is unwise to drive these tracks in the evening as the roos become more active and 50 kgs of kangaroo smashing into a vehicle does neither animal nor car much good. I ease my foot down on the accelerator, the dust billows behind us and we continue our journey along the track. We catch sight of more kangaroos in the distance; they are probably western greys or reds. Suddenly, a pair of emus emerge from thick scrub alongside the road and for a few minutes the huge birds keep pace with the car before heading back into the bush. According to the map we are only a few kilometres from the junction with the Wilpena road when we slow for a broad, dry watercourse that cuts across the road. I turn the car into the creek and engage 4WD. We bump and slide over the round pebbles and avoid the larger boulders as we drive a couple of hundred metres along the creek and venture out for a final forage in the bush. We are not disappointed. On the dried out bank, wedged into a tight crack between some flat rocks, we come across a sleepy lizard which, judging from the snail shells close to its refuge, has made this little niche its home base for some time.

d A shingleback or sleepy lizard sheltering under a lichen scarred rock

A shingleback or sleepy lizard sheltering under a lichen scarred rock

 

The sun is low now, the light soft but Moralana has one more moment in store for us. Close to the junction with the bitumen road, a small herd of wild horses are grazing near the fence-line. Whether these are true brumbies (Australian wild horses) or stock that is herded periodically for riding, I am not sure… but whatever their origin the very presence of these elegant animals was the perfect parting gift.

e Wild horses grazing near a creekline

Wild horses grazing

 

From the Flinders

Regards

Baz

 

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