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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

 

Arkaroola’s Emus

19 Apr

Dear reader 

This last week has been quite exciting. Old friends visited from Texas and, as is our custom, we headed to one of the most remote areas of the state to indulge our passion for wildlife and wild places. My choice was Arkaroola a place that I had visited many years ago on an indigenous cultures study tour and an environment I was eager to experience again.  

Arkaroola is a world heritage listed site in the northern Flinders Ranges 600kms north of Adelaide. It is a landscape of harsh granite peaks and deep, enchanting gorges; a favourite haunt for off road drivers, bush walkers and naturalists. Despite its isolation, facilities at the visitor centre are first class providing accommodation, a restaurant, supplies and fuel.

C Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

The road from Wilpena in the southern part of the ranges to Arkaroola is largely unsealed and traverses an iconic selection of Australian arid zone bushland ranging from wide brown plains and grassland to forested scrub. The road is traversed by numerous ephemeral creeks some of which wind back into interesting rocky gorges. Each time I have driven this route the wildlife that I have encountered has been different; flocks of parrots and red kangaroos one year, sightings of a variety of lizards and raptors another. However, it was my last drive north that was most memorable.

B Driving to Arkaroola

Driving to Arkaroola

The first section of the road from the classical little outback town of Blinman with its pub, art gallery and general store, was largely uneventful. A few wedge tailed eagles soared on thermals in the distance and a couple of small flocks of corellas and galahs screeched at us as they took flight from larger eucalypts in the dry creek beds. The only kangaroos were road kill victims.

A Blinman    the last outpost before a long bush drive

Blinman the last outpost before a long bush drive

Around 50 kms north of the town we drove a little way up one of the creek beds clattering over the flat rock and sand in 4WD then parked in the shade of some taller gum trees for a bite to eat. Almost immediately, a male Eeu guiding his procession of chicks, emerged from behind some bushes where they had been feeding. As we approached he sauntered off up the creek with feathery rump swaying and his little family ‘in tow’.

EA Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Emus are the world’s third largest bird after the African ostrich and Australasian cassowary; they grow to a height of 2 metres and can weigh almost 40 kgs. Emus run at speeds over 60 kph. This bird had to be a male as only males incubate the eggs and care for the young.

A Emu bad hair day

Emu bad hair day

This was the first of many encounters over the next few days. Perhaps the most unforgettable was just a few kilometres outside of Arkaroola. We were rounding a sharp bend in the road when a pair of emus suddenly appeared on the road hurtling towards us. The pair seemed oblivious to our presence and wholly engrossed in some kind of emu ‘high jinks’. They pushed and shoved at each other while still running, one falling sideways, rolling over then leaping into the air to continue the game. We skidded to a halt and watched them cavort privileged to see such a candid display of exuberant animal behaviour. After a minute or so they settled down and wandered up a rocky together slope feeding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The boys are back in town

Our final emu encounter occurred near one of the few permanent waterholes in the region. Two large birds suddenly appeared from the scrub and ran alongside the vehicle for a couple of hundred metres then abruptly cut across us and headed for a stand of tall eucalypts. We pulled over and walked slowly down to the trees and watched them join up with another group and start drinking. In the soft evening light, the scene was really quite unforgettable and the Emus though aware of our presence, did not seem uncomfortable allowing us to capture some memorable images.

D Group of Emus at waterhole in the evening

Group of emus at waterhole in the evening

Cheers

Baz

Brachina’s Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies

14 Jan

Dear Reader

Today I would like to take you on a brief trip through time n one of my state’s most spectacular environments.

Hundreds of millions of years ago sediments were deposited on an ancient seabed. Over the following millennia, the sediments were compressed to form layers of rocks. In turn, the rocks were uplifted and folded creating a formidable mountain range. Eventually, the relentless action of wind, heat and water wore down the mountains and carved deep gorges through them. The result of this timeless process is the Flinders Ranges, one of the world’s oldest geological formations. Rising from the semi desert landscape some 400 Kms NE of Adelaide; they are a pleasant day’s drive through the rolling hills and open plains of the mid north’s wine and wheat districts.

Flinders Ranges emerging from arid plains as seen from the Leigh Creek Road

I have visited the Flinders many times and the rugged beauty and abundance of wildlife throughout the area never fails to impress me. However, on my most recent excursion I had a specific location and target in mind. Brachina Gorge crosses the ranges from east to west cutting through the layers of rock and revealing a unique insight into our planet’s ancient history. The 30 kms of rutted dirt track is crossed by several creeks and the geological history is traced by a series of interpretive signs. But Brachina’s rock formations are more than a glimpse into the past; they are home to one of Australia’s most beautiful marsupials-the yellow footed rock wallaby.

Layers of sedimentary rock in Brachina Gorge

Small populations of yellow footed rock wallabies (Petrogale Xanthopus) are found in rugged areas of northern South Australia. Like all wallabies they use their long tails for balance rather than locomotion. Their fur is thick especially on the feet where it provides cushioning and grip in the precipitous terrain they prefer. Yellow footed rock wallabies grow to around 60 cms in height and weigh7-13 Kgs They feed on vegetation such as grasses and forbes and sometimes graze on trees and shrubs during hard times. They are mainly active during the late afternoon and early morning.

Yellow footed rock wallaby with joey in pouch

I entered the gorge from the Leigh Creek road on the western aspect of the ranges; and slipped my SUV into high range as there had been a little rain and the track was a little tricky. The flat terrain, where the creek flows out of the hills, quickly gave way to steep sloping rock walls and bush covered hillsides that characterise the Flinders’ gorges. After a few kilometres I stopped by a shallow pool of semi permanent water where a variety of grasses and low bushes were growing along the water’s edge. A jumble of rocks had fallen from the cliff face above creating some small caves and easy access to the shallow pools of water, the perfect environment for these agile little marsupials.

Classic yellow footed rock wallaby environment

For the best part of an hour I sat amongst the vegetation, camera in hand watching and listening. The light was beginning to fade a little and I my optimism was dwindling with it. Eventually I caught sight of a slight movement high above the rock-fall as a wallaby hopped from one boulder to the other-a long shot even with the 24X lens. I shifted my position to get a better angle and to my delight and embarrassment noticed a yellow foot feeding by the creek not 5 metres from where I was crouched. It must have been there for some time and seemed oblivious or indifferent to my presence.

Yellow footed rock wallaby feeding

For the next ten minutes I watched and waited as the wallaby nibbled on the grasses and bushes surrounding the creek. I squeezed off quite a few shots and was about to call it a day when a second animal hopped onto a flattish boulder and stared pointedly at me. As I moved slightly it froze and gave me ample opportunity to capture a few more images. Sadly, I was reminded why these exquisite little animals came so close to extinction. Early settlers hunted them for their pelts and found them easy prey as their first reaction to a threat is to freeze and ironically, rely on camouflage provided by their subtly shaded fur.

Yellow footed rock wallabies showing camouflage in afternoon light

By the time I had finished photographing the wallabies, the sun was low in the sky and driving along bush tracks at night is not the safest of activities as kangaroos, emus, cattle and sheep seem to be drawn to headlights. I packed up and headed on to Wilpena an hour’s drive to the west. A sophisticated tourist development in a natural amphitheatre of towering cliffs, it would provide the perfect base to hunt for yellow footed rock wallabies in some other locations.

The track through Brachina Gorge with Wilpena in background

Cheers

Baz

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