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Veale Garden’s Bird Life

3 Jul

Veale Garden’s Bird Life

 Dear Reader;

There is a posse of bandits in the trees around me. Noisy miners with their black masked faces and highly social behaviour resemble just that, especially when they are defending their territory. Today it is a magpie that is on the receiving end of their aggressive chattering and aerial sorties. Despite its size, the magpie soon leaves the area and the miners return to their foraging and socialising in the trees.

Noisy Miner glaring at magpie

 

Australian magpie

 

I am in Veale Gardens, a lovely green space that borders South Terrace on the very fringe of Adelaide’s CBD. I have been attending a convention in the Adelaide Pavilion which caters for a range of functions from weddings to corporate events. After a superb lunch I am taking advantage of these charming gardens to enjoy some urban wildlife. Lawns, trees, flower beds, tall trees and a little brook that runs through the area make it ideal for a little environmental decompression on the edge of the city.

Veale Gardens Creek

In one shaded area of the creek there is a small pool that is attracting several different species of water birds. A male and female Pacific black duck are resting on the rocks at the edge of the water.  Nearby a little pied cormorant is perched a little further along the rock wall near a small waterfall. The predatory bird is watching the water intently for prey such as small fish, yabbies and frogs which it will chase underwater using its wings like flippers.

Pacific black ducks

 

Little pied cormorant

 

There are many other bird species around the gardens especially in the tall eucalypts that run along South Terrace. My favourites are the corellas which congregate in the trees and on the well tended lawns probing for bulbs and tubers in the grass. Their raucous calls can be heard as extensive flocks fly over the city to their roosting sites in the late afternoon.

Corella

 

It has been a rewarding lunchtime stroll around the gardens but the convention beckons and it is time to put away the camera and listen to another speaker extolling the benefits of the city’s parklands to the general health and well being of the public…..quite ironic really.

 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.

 

Blackwood’s Wittunga Botanic Park

12 Nov

 

Blackwood’s Wittunga Botanic Park 

Dear Reader:

There is a rainbow lorikeet around fifty metres away from me. The excitable little bird has inverted its body to dip its feathery tongue into a tube shaped eremophila blossom.  Several other species of birds including new Holland honeyeaters and wattle birds are feeding in the same garden beds where there is a smorgasbord of flowers to choose from. Clever planting also attract a variety of butterflies which feed on the nectar and help to pollinate plants by transferring pollen.

 

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Rainbow lorikeet feeding

 

I am walking around the Wittunga Botanical Gardens near Blackwood in Adelaide’s foothills, just a twenty minute drive from the CBD. The busy little township is nestled into bushland where koalas and myriad bird species are common visitors. There are several hotels, bakeries and restaurants in the area and the Belair National Park and Golf course make this an ideal day trip for city residents.

 

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Old church and soldiers’ memorial in Blackwood

 

Leaving the flower beds behind I venture down to the lake that is the central feature of the park. It is surrounded by massive gum trees and there are crows, honeyeaters and a kookaburra perched in some of the branches that overhang the water. But it is a tiny head that emerges from the lake that draws my attention as I watch a Macquarie short-necked turtle swim towards the shore. The side-plate sized reptile clambers up on to a fallen branch and positions itself to catch some warming sunlight.

 

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Central lake and gardens

 

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Macquarie freshwater turtle

 

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Pacific black ducks

At the end of a long cool, wet summer the lake is full of new life. I spot purple swamp hens tending their fluffy black chicks near the reed beds. Several species of frogs are calling; probably spotted marsh frogs and common froglets or perhaps a potty bonk. Two Pacific black ducks are preening their feathers near the water’s edge and Eurasian coots appear to be amorously pursuing each other further from the bank.

 

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Ra venfeeding, they are often mistakenly called crows

 

Various pathways meander around the lake and I choose one that cuts through a stand of massive red gums. A lone raven is strutting around the perimeter of one tree pecking at the bark which is cracked and sloughing off the trunk. The bark of most eucalypts is an important environment for many smaller animals. Insects and spiders find shelter and breed there while larger predators such as birds and lizards find it a fertile hunting ground.

 

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Koala portrait shot

 

Having enjoyed a pleasant walk around the lake while indulging my passion for both wildlife and plants in general I walk back to the car park by way of a small stand of gums that run along the northern edge of the gardens. They are the kind of trees that might be attractive to koalas and I know that these endearing marsupials are common in the Blackwood area. Sure enough, there is one wedged between two branches in what I can only describe as the perfect koala portrait pose; a nice way to finish my walk.

 

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Lesser-wanderer butterfly

 

Enjoy our city and suburban parks in spring as they really are some of the best in the world.

Cheers

Baz

A North Adelaide Garden Safari

30 Sep

A north Adelaide garden safari 

Dear Reader

There is a tiny spider on the daisy petal. It waits patiently for prey to approach. In an instant the little arachnid pounces and ensnares an unfortunate fly that has wandered too close. The spider drags its victim onto a nearby leaf, binds it in silk and proceeds to enjoy its lunch.

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Flower spider on daisy blossom

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Gotcha

 

I am wandering around the streets of North Adelaide exploring the local gardens and their early spring blooms. However, my real focus is the multitude of little invertebrates such as beetles, spiders, caterpillars that revel in the warmer weather and emerging flowers. To that end I have set my camera on macro and ramped up my observation skills to detect these well camouflaged and often minuscule creatures.

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Bee feeding on cat mint

 

A little further down the road a feline loving resident has planted some cat mint. Today it is not the local ‘mogs’ that are enjoying the plant but honey bees. Half a dozen are hovering around the purple flowers periodically settling to extract the nectar and unwittingly collect pollen to distribute.

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Woolly bear caterpillar

 

In one particular cottage garden the front fence is dominated by a huge yellow euryops bush, a kind of yellow daisy. It seems to be a favourite food for a myriad of mini beasts. A woolly bear caterpillar has munched its way through both leaves and flowers as it prepares to enter the next phase of its life as a chrysalis before eventually morphing into a tiger moth.

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There are many different species of ladybirds

 

Before heading into O’Connell Street and a well earned cup of coffee at one of a dozen restaurants I want to find one last iconic insect species. My chance comes when I notice a tiny spec of red and black on a deep purple native hibiscus flower. It is a ladybug, a familiar insect to both adults and children alike. Despite its benign appearance ladybugs are fierce predators demolishing a plethora of insects that are considered to be garden pests. 

Enjoy our spring gardens and their wildlife

Cheers

Baz  

A Walk in the Botanic Gardens

17 Jun

Dear Reader:

Australian magpies are fascinating birds, gregarious and intelligent with rather an aggressive streak during the nesting season. This one seems a little out of tune to the seasons, it’s not really the time to be constructing a nest at the beginning of winter but here it is collecting material for just that purpose.

 

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Magpie nesting behaviour

 

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Hoverfly

Botanical gardens are wonderful places to observe wildlife especially in the winter months when some animals’ natural habitats can be bereft of food while others will have moved on to the proverbial ‘ greener pastures’. The incredible variety of plants in the gardens ensures that something is always flowering or fruiting which in turn leads to a food web that supports a range of wildlife from birds and mammals to insects and spiders.

 

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Photographer at work

 

Our Botanical Gardens also draws in another species; the nature photographer (Homo sapiens cameralis) and they often migrate great distances to enjoy our wildlife. The gentleman in the picture was a visitor from Asia who was keen to photograph Australian native plants and we had an interesting conversation about the unique ecosystems that he might visit in South Australia.

 

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The lake near the kiosk and restaurant

 

My excursions often include a place to eat and have a break and there are several in the Botanic Gardens. On this occasion I simply sat by the quaint little lake and enjoyed a light snack from the kiosk but more elaborate and substantial meals are available from Cafe Fibonacci and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant. The gardens also house a museum of economic botany, Victorian era palm house, the bicentennial conservatory and many other specialised areas.

 

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Eastern rosella

 

Walking around the lake is always a pleasure and in the warmer months giant carp feed near the banks and freshwater turtles are commonly seen basking on the surface. Today, there are several cormorants drying their wings and a lone rosella foraging for seeds amongst the bare limbs of a tree that sits on a small island in the lake.

 

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Crested pigeon

 

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Maned ducks feeding near the creek

 

From the lake I head east towards the Bicentennial Conservatory crossing over a small creek where a pair of maned ducks and a crested pigeon are foraging in the lush grass that borders the waterway.

 

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Self portrait in glass

 

My last encounter is with another one of those hominid species that frequent the gardens. Indeed, it is my own reflection as I pause to photograph the fascinating glass sculpture entitled ‘Cascade’ by Australian artist Sergio Redegalli,  which dominates the southern end of the conservatory.

 

Cheers

Baz

Xmas Gums

26 Dec

Xmas Gums

Dear Reader;

The New Holland honeyeater is perched on the topmost branch of the white flowering gum in my backyard. Every few minutes it takes to the air and chases an insect that has inadvertently flown too close to its ‘operating zone’. But hawking for prey like this takes an energy toll on the little bird, requiring frequent refuelling at the nectar rich flowers that also serve to attract its insect prey.

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New Holland honeyeater

 

This is just one of the little wildlife scenarios that play themselves out during the Christmas season in the gum trees that grace my backyard. The smaller tree comes into flower in early December reaching its peak around Xmas day. The larger tree has flowered earlier but seems to harbour a wealth of tiny leaf and bark insects throughout the early summer months. Together, they attract a wide range of birds providing an interesting holiday spectacle; especially if one has scored a new camera from Santa.

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A tale of two gums

 

New Holland honeyeaters aren’t the only species of honeyeater that feeds in my garden. The more timid white plumed variety also samples the blossoms and hawk for insects. However, at this time of year they are almost finished raising their final brood for the season and the young ones are being schooled in the art of bug catching by the adults. Peering through my long lens into the shadows of the taller tree I am lucky enough to capture two images of a chick waiting for food then being fed a bug by its parent.

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White plumed honeyeaters

 

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Have a bug or two junior

 

In a wonderful coincidence, there is also a family of wattle birds in the same tree and a fully fledged chick is sitting on a branch demanding to be fed. I watch carefully, trying to time my shots to coincide with the exact moment the adult shoves some insect offering down its waiting gullet. Of course, some leaves get in the way and the light intensity drops at the crucial moment but that’s wildlife photography.

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Wattle bird and chick

 

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A gullet full of whatever

 

With a Xmas drink and a mince pie resting on the outdoor table next to my cameras I scan the foliage of the smaller tree for a final shot or two. Two colourful creatures oblige; a rainbow lorikeet is tearing apart a blossom emerging from a gum nut and a swallowtail butterfly is probing the mature flowers for nectar.

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Rainbow lorikeet

 

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Dingy swallowtail

 

Cheers and Seasons greetings

Until next year

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  

Tea Tree Gully’s Camellia Nursery

5 Jul

Dear Reader:

It is a cool crisp morning, and to be perfectly honest, I am not in the mood for a long drive. Instead, I have decided to visit a local nursery just a few kilometres away, where the North East Road starts its climb into the Adelaide Hills.

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Newman’s nursery front entrance

 

As I park the car next to the entrance I am immediately struck by the contrast in lighting conditions. The path following the little creek that leads from ‘Newman’s Camellia’ nursery to the ‘Tea Tree Gully Hotel’ is in deep shade whereas the hills on the opposite side of the road are bathed in sunlight. An afternoon walk might have offered better lighting for photography but the wildlife always seems more active in the morning.

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The path begins

 

Climbing out of the car I glance up at the hillside above the little creek and to my surprise and delight I notice the hunched outline of a koala wedged between the branches of a huge gum tree; not what I was expecting this close to a suburban area.

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Koala in tree

 

The trail starts just a few metres from the nursery entrance and meanders alongside the small watercourse for a mere 500 metres before broadening to a neatly manicured lawn enclosed by trees and shrubs. A varied collection of plants flank the path; including arum lilies, several lovely camellias, indigenous wattles and melaleucas as well as the ever-present, towering eucalypts.

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A rogue camellia alongside the path

 

Small birds are continually flitting through the bushes though I am only able to catch fleeting glimpses of them. Some are definitely female blue wrens and I suspect that the tiniest ones are thornbills. Eventually, a small brownish bird settles in a low, flowering shrub some 50 metres away. I fire off a series of shots which, on review, reveal a glorious eastern spinebill.

1a Eastern spinebill  foraging in shrubs

Eastern spinebill foraging in flame heath bush

 

At the end of the trail half a dozen magpies are foraging for grubs in the well tended lawns. Several enormous gums tower over the grass and a pied currawong is perched on one of the topmost branches with a seed pod hanging from its beak. Another bird joins it, they seem nervous, jumping between branches before flying off, possibly to a nesting site.

1a Currawong with food approaching nest

Currawong approaching nest with food

The walk back is equally eventful with both rosellas and lorikeets feeding on berries in the scrub along the edge of the trail but capturing a sharp image in the shadows and overcast conditions is somewhat challenging.

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Tapas

 

 

Newman’s nursery has a charming little restaurant with both inside and alfresco dining areas which afford a fine view of the hillside on the other side of the road. While I enjoy the delights of a tapas snack I notice several tiny finches feeding on the liquid amber trees that decorate the front of the nursery. From my outside table the birds are just within camera range and using the long lens I am able to identify them as European goldfinches.

 

1a European goldfinch in liquid amber tree

European goldfinch in liquid amber tree

 

Until next time

Baz

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