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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.

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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

Tea Tree Gully-An Afternoon in San’s Garden

12 Jun

Dear Reader:

Sometimes, it is not about four wheel drives, walks in the bush or diving on a reef. Sometimes, South Australia’s wildlife wonders are the common animals and plants that live  right under our noses in the backyard. Last weekend I grabbed a pie and a doughnut from the local shop, pulled out the recliner and watched the antics of the local critters in my friend’s garden. I hope you enjoy the pictures and a few minor, explanatory observations.

Spotted dove snoozing on the garage roof

Spotted dove snoozing on the garage roof

To initiate proceedings, a spotted dove landed on the garage roof, much to the consternation of a local cat, who sat and stared at it for a few minutes, decided it was too much work then nonchalantly strolled off to find easier prey.

New holland honeyeater feeding on orange honeysuckle

New holland honeyeater feeding on orange honeysuckle

Oleander seeds pods

Oleander seeds pods

New holland honeyeater catching insect in mid flight

New holland honeyeater catching insect in mid flight

While the dove dozed the high energy brigade arrived in the form of a squadron of new holland honeyeaters who proceeded to feed on various blossoms, hawk for insects and in one bizarre instance; pull apart the seed pods of an oleander. Fair enough if it was nesting season but a little hard to fathom at the beginning of winter!!

Hover fly grabbing a suck to eat

Hover fly grabbing a suck to eat

Bee on lavender

Bee on lavender

The winter months are not too conducive to insect life but a few ‘die hards’ do persist and the lavender and daisies played host to quite a number of bees and hover flies respectively.

Noisy miner surveys the garden with a bandit glare

Noisy miner surveys the garden with a bandit glare

Whatever the season my little bandit friends are always around with their masked faces and grey plumage. A small flock of noisy miners did the afternoon rounds, harassing the other birds and making their presence felt; arguing as much with each other as the other species.

Singing the team song in the old gum tree

Singing the team song in the old gum tree

Strutting his stuff on the back lawn

Strutting his stuff on the back lawn

Just as I was settling for a little snooze when the warbling (carolling) call of white backed magpies brought me to my feet. I walked around to the front garden to see a trio of the large black and white birds high in the crown of a roadside eucalypt loudly proclaiming their territory. Then, the largest and obviously most confident bird flew down into the garden only a few metres away to search for grubs.

Quinnus muchsuddliusforaging in the fairy garden

Quinnus cuddlius foraging in the fairy garden

Back to recliner, pictures taken, lunch finished; book or snooze again beckoning…when the most active of all the garden’s wildlife toddled in and a restful, lazy afternoon dissipated like an early morning mist evaporating when the sunshine arrives.

Enjoy your own gardens

Baz

A Walk Around West Lakes

14 Mar

Dear Reader: Once upon a time when I was several decades younger and people thought less about the environment, there was a mangrove swamp behind the dunes near Tennyson Beach. The government of the day and even the general public cared little for mangroves and even less for anything described as a swamp. Consequently, they allowed developers to ‘liberate’ this area from its unproductive state and create a new suburb in its place. The result was West Lakes. For some, the loss of this unique wetland was an environmental tragedy as such areas are important nurseries for many marine species and significant wild places to be cherished.

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Nearby mangrove swamp demonstrates what the area looked like before development

  History aside, West Lakes remains a worthwhile place to visit and walking around the man-made lake on a fine autumn afternoon still provides many interesting wildlife encounters. Instead of samphire swamp and mangrove forest, the edge of the lake is defined by fine sand and a ruler straight concrete edge which steps down into the water. Despite its artificial nature, marine invertebrates and small fish still feed on the algal growth that clings to this constructed shoreline. And on occasions I have even seen nudibranchs, a kind of sea slug with a prominent flower like gills on their backs, grazing on the concrete surfaces.

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West Lakes today

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A grazing nudibranch species

  Because the lake has a less diverse ecology than the original swampland, there are fewer fish species; although sizeable bream, mullet and even the occasional mulloway make it a popular venue for anglers. In fact, the people who live on its shore often feed the resident bream and have quite large schools living near their private jetties and landings. These fish are generally off limits to the fishers but school children who snorkel off the West Lakes Aquatic Centre get quite a thrill when an instructor lures a school from a nearby pontoon.

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Large bream close to the shoreline

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School student snorkelling near the aquatics centre

  The fish, crabs and sundry other creatures inevitably attracts predators. Because of the intakes that feed water in from the sea, sharks are virtually unheard of in the lake system and the main hunters are seabirds. Pelicans and cormorants are common and the ubiquitous silver gulls carry out their indispensible clean up duties along the shoreline.

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Little pied cormorant drying its wings on a pontoon

  Various paths and roads follow the course of the lake system. Walking or cycling along them in the evening and early morning is best for wildlife encounters. However, even at midday when the sun is up and all is relatively quiet on the wildlife front, the well-tended gardens along the fringe of the lake still attract a wide variety of common urban birds as well as insects and the occasional lizard.

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Bottle brush in lakeside gardens

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Gaura in lakeside gardens

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New Holland honeyeater feeding in garden

  Finally, a couple of considerations for those contemplating a walk around the lake. Start at the aquatics centre off Military road as there is a nice little cafe overlooking the water. And take a look at the Tennyson Dunes just across the road from the lake. They separate the urban zone from the seashore and are yet another wonderful South Aussie environment to explore… (see ‘Seaside Dragons’…30th Dec 2012)   Until next time Cheers Baz

Willunga’s Blue Bees

13 Dec

 

Dear Reader:

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in the charming little country town of Willunga just south of Adelaide, in the McLaren Vale wine region. I was updating some illustrations in one of my wildlife books and needed some photographs of honeyeaters feeding on different coloured flowers. We stayed in a heritage B&B on the edge of the town with a lovely garden featuring stands of agapanthus, native hibiscus and several large bottle brush trees. Throughout the day a variety of birds, including both new Holland and white plumed honeyeaters, used their elongated beaks to probe the blossoms and hawk for insects.

1 Willunga has many fine old colonial buildings

Willunga has many fine old colonial buildings

 

As well as honeyeaters the plants attracted more than their fair share of bees. Between sips of wine and a nibble of cheese (doing it tough that day) I watched them flit from one blossom to another gathering nectar and collecting a dusting of pollen on their legs. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of one bee flying more erratically than the others, it seemed to hover for a second then repeatedly zoom off in different directions; like a miniscule attack helicopter. Every so often it would land but only for a short time before resuming its unpredictable flight pattern.

2 New Holland honeyeater probing bottle brush flowers for nectar

New Holland honeyeater probing bottle brush flowers for nectar

 

I moved my chair a little closer to the native hibiscus, where the little insect seemed to be spending most of its time, set the camera to macro zoom and started to track it through the lens. The bee was certainly smaller than the honeybees that were also doing the rounds of the blossoms and it appeared to have a bluish tinge. I fired off a couple of frames and took a closer look on the review screen. It was certainly not a honeybee. Over the next hour and a half several of the little blue bees appeared at different times and I managed to get a series of images that I could use to identify them. I suspected they were native bees which I had heard of but knew very little about.

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Honeybee feeding on a blue agapanthus

 

My guess was correct. The little insect was a blue banded bee (Amegilla cingulata). Blue banded bees are actually far more common than I realised and are found throughout SE Asia. They contribute to the pollination of many commercial crops with their unique ability to buzz pollinate; the result of intense wing vibrations when they cling to flowers.

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Blue banded bee hovering in front of native hibiscus blossom

 

Unlike honey bees these native bees are not colonial with females building burrows in dried up river banks or even soft mortar in urban housing. Their sting is mild and they are not aggressive. Interestingly, these blue bees collect most of their nectar from blue flowers and since my initial sighting I have found them on the lavender and agapanthus in my own garden. They have obviously been there for years and I had never even noticed; yet another lesson in observation.

Cheers

Baz

 

 

 

Photo Reflections 1

21 Jul

Dear Reader;

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, South Australia has a diverse selection of landscapes and wildlife. When you add our temperate climate and clear skies to the mix, it becomes abundantly obvious that this is a place well suited to wildlife photography. In this post, and a few more in the future, I will share some of my favourite wildlife encounters and the images they produced. They will not always be my most technically correct pictures but they will be the ones that invoke my fondest memories.

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Telowie Gorge; a classic dry creek habitat

 

Echidnas are the hedgehogs of Australia. They trundle along like little battle tanks searching for termite mounds which they rip apart with their powerful front claws. They are in fact monotremes, a peculiar group of mammals that lay eggs; their closest relative is the platypus one of the world’s most bizarre creatures. This particular echidna was wandering across a dirt track on Kangaroo Island and paid little attention to me as I followed it for several hundred metres into the thick bush.

A Echidna trundling across dirt track

Echidna trundling across dirt track

 

Zebra finches are found throughout South Australia. They tend to frequent dense bushland where there is a lot of cover. The males are more distinctly marked and brightly coloured than the females. I lay cramped in a thicket of acacia bushes for over an hour watching a group of these colourful birds waiting for the opportunity to capture an image that demonstrated the difference between the sexes. As you can see I was eventually rewarded for my efforts when a pair landed on a nearby branch.

B Male and female zebra finches

Male and female zebra finches

 

As a wildlife photographer I spend a considerable amount of time flat on the ground, half covered in dust and leaf litter. It is therefore inevitable that sometimes I will share these times and spaces with the critters that call them home. However, I was not quite so philosophical when a sizeable forest scorpion decided to co-habit the log I was balancing my camera lens on. We spent an awkward few minutes together before the little arachnid decided that it was more comfortable under the log where it had been peacefully residing before a large hominid disturbed its rest.

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An inquisitive scorpion

 

One of the most difficult tasks I face as a wildlife writer is to adequately describe with words and pictures the environments that I explore. The edge of the Aldinga reef is one of my favourite haunts. The shallow limestone reef breaks the surface at low tide and falls away sharply several hundred meters offshore to sandy bottom dominated by algae and seagrasses. The actual edge is well defined with a series of crevices and caves that provide a wonderful habitat for a variety of fish including drummer, leatherjackets and magpie perch. On my last dive I took a dozen pictures trying to describe this characteristic environment eventually capturing the one you see here which included all the essential elements; algal growth, three species of fish and the rocky edge of the reef.  

D The edge of the reef

The edge of the reef

 

I hope that you enjoyed these images and the little stories that accompanied them.

 

Cheers

Baz 

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