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Weeroona’s Wildlife

10 Aug

Dear Reader:

The roadside view makes the pair of ibis look like some multi headed ying-yang version of a bird as one looks up while the other dips its beak into a puddle. They are part of a larger group that has been feeding in the samphire wetlands that border the road to the island.

 

Pair of ibis

 

Strictly speaking Weeroona island is more like a raised peninsula; cut off from the mainland by swampy ground that only floods in severe weather conditions coupled with high tides. Situated between Port Pirie and Port Germein (about two hours drive from Adelaide) the island is a weekend destination for many locals. There are a wide variety of dwellings from beachside shacks to luxury homes scattered around the island. Surrounded by stands of mangrove and with stretches of beach mudflat and cliffs the periphery of this tiny island is a Mecca for coastal wildlife.

 

Island life

 

As I reach the island I notice a small park with children’s play equipment, shelter and barbecues. Nearby there is a boat ramp and a walking trail that skirts the mangroves. A school of mullet are feeding in the shallows and I can hear the calls of mangrove warblers and herons in the tangles of trunks and leaves that crowd the water’s edge. The view from the park back across the mainland to the lower Flinders is spectacular with low clouds enveloping the crest of the hills.

 

Mangrove channel

 

Driving around the island only takes a few minutes but there are several minor roads and tracks leading down to the sea that are well worth exploring. Along one small trail I have an uninterrupted view of the skeletal remains of an old fishing boat and a mixed accumulation of pied and black cormorants on a small exposed beach.

 

What a wreck

 

It has been a brief but exhilarating drive around the little island and I will make sure to set more time aside on my next foray into the area. But Weroona leaves me with one final avian gift. Just as I am about to drive back to the main highway a pair of masked lapwings decide to walk along the path near the walkway. Today the light is good and I manage to get a nice detailed shot of one of these wary coastal birds purposefully strutting along the gravel track.

 

Masked lapwing

 

 

Cheers

Baz

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Whyalla’s Coastal Fringe

25 Jun

Whyalla’s Coastal Fringe

Dear Reader:

The grey kangaroo is bounding along the small levy that cuts across a shallow clay pan near the edge of a tidal flat. It stops monetarily and twitches its mobile ears, looks around, then continues on its way into the scrub alongside the raised earthen mound. I get a few seconds to make a shot and the wary marsupial is gone.

Grey kangaroo

 I am exploring the coastal fringe of Whyalla South Australia’s third most populous city. The steel and regional centre is situated near the head of Spencer Gulf on the Eyre Peninsula about 450 kms from Adelaide. The area is a mixture of mangrove, tidal flats, sandy beach and some small industrial areas that enclose substantial freshwater pools. Several roads lead down towards the coast from the Lincoln Highway and some of the terrain requires 4WD.

Garden centipede

Egyptian beetle 

I take the vehicle across one of the mud flats and have to fight to keep from getting bogged. Slipping the SUV into low range and slowly sliding across the surface I wrestle with the steering until the wheels grip sand on the edge of the levy. Relieved, I get out and survey the quagmire of clay-like debris stuck to the wheel arches. But my close call has led me to a cosy little depression amongst the scrub and I decide to move a few fallen branches and search for invertebrates. After a few minutes I unearth a rather large garden centipede and a few Egyptian or ‘cellar beetles’ as well as some different ant species. After a little macro photography I carefully replace their homes.

Australian pelicans 

Another dirt road takes me past the rifle club and some large freshwater ponds that have attracted a small group of pelicans. The birds appear to be simply congregating and socialising between short forays into the water to feed. Along the edge of the water there are several different species of small waders including dotterels and plovers but they are wary and take flight when I approach.

Crested pigeons 

The scrub alongside the mangrove patches is also home to a variety of birds including singing honeyeaters and fantails. One scrubby eucalypt that has managed to endure decades of salty onshore winds provides shelter for a trio of crested pigeons a species that I often see found foraging in the coastal bush.

View from Hummock Hill 

I head back onto the highway drive back into the city and up to a local lookout. Hummock Hill is a fitting place to end my exploration of Whyalla’s coastal fringe. The site of the first settlement in 1901 it provides panoramic views of the city, coast and surrounding bushland. Hummock Hill also served as a gun emplacement during the Second World War and has lately been developed as an historic site; lovely place to simply take in the rugged beauty that this area has to offer.

Cheers

Baz 

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

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

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

Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

11 Jul

Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

Dear Reader:

For more years than I care to remember I have stopped at Port Wakefield to fill up the car and grab a quick roadhouse snack before continuing on to the York Peninsular, Flinders Ranges or the mid north towns and wineries. Today is the exception and I must admit to being more than a little surprised to discover what this small town has to offer. As always, my first objective is the natural history of an area and this one has quite a  diverse offering of environments all of which are easy to access.

 

2b

Silver gull

As I sit in a little park next to a natural saltwater lagoon, which is used as a swimming pool in the warmer weather, a flight of silver gulls sweeps in low over the saltbush and samphire flats that stretch to the horizon. They are, no doubt, attracted to the bacon and egg pie that I am enjoying or perhaps it is the vanilla slice that is reserved for later. Instead they settle next to a car where a family is enjoying some chips…seagulls and chips… how South Aussie can you get? 

1a

Enjoying the boardwalk across the lagoon

1

Local source of a great pie

 From the seagulls in the car park I make my way across a little footbridge that crosses the tidal pool and follow an interpretive trail along the creek. The signage explains the peculiarities of the mangrove trees, the importance of seagrass meadows and how the coastal saltbush can withstand seasonal inundations of salt water. There are also images of common coastal birds; two of which, a little black cormorant and a pied cormorant, I photograph near the sluice gate that maintains the water level.

5

Little black cormorant perching on sluice gate

4

Pied cormorant on embankment near mangroves

 I walk along a raised boardwalk for a hundred metres giving which gives me an excellent view of the mangroves, saltbush and creek. Then as I turn back towards the car I hear the unmistakable call of a singing honeyeater which is conveniently perched on a dead tree branch near a restored stone section of the old wharves. And, just to finish my walk on a positive note there is a white faced heron hunting along the stonework causeway on the water’s edge.

5b

Singing honeyeater a common coastal species

5c

White faced heron stalking prey near the stone embankment

Driving back to the main highway I notice a lovely colonial building with an antiques sign out the front. I chat to the owners as I browse through the treasures and find that the town has many lovely old buildings and a fascinating place in our colonial history. Today I am in a hurry to get home after a couple of days in the bush but on asking where I can get some more information they refer me to a website, (portwakefield.sa.au)

6

The antique shop is one example of the many fine heritage buildings

Leaving Port Wakefield I have one overriding thought in mind. Next time I come this way I’ll take a little more time to have a closer look at this historic little town and explore its coastal melange of habitats in more detail.

 

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

Mangrove Wildlife

9 Aug

Dear Reader:

The city of Port Adelaide is a working port that includes a power station, shipyards and fine old buildings that date from the early colonial days when sailing ships transported goods and settlers to the new colony. Yet only a few kilometres from this industrial zone is a haven for wildlife both above and below the water. Mangroves once dominated this area but land clearing, to establish new beachside suburbs, decimated this crucial coastal environment. Eventually local communities and conservationists finally put pressure on the government to preserve what was left.

AH Power station near the mangrove area

Power station near the mangrove area

This weekend I grabbed a camera and spent a leisurely hour walking around the Port taking in the sites and enjoying some seafood at one of the oldest hotels in the state. Early in the afternoon I drove a couple of kilometres to the Garden Island boat ramp where mangroves still dominate the shoreline of the Port River. This complex system of intertidal mudflats, seagrass meadows and the thick cover of mangrove trees supports a vital nursery area for many of the fish, prawn and crab species that live in St Vincent’s Gulf; Adelaide’s marine backyard and larder.

AG Puemataphores  in the mangrove forest

Puemataphores in the mangrove forest

 

As I walked along the little jetty that skirts the edge of the mangroves I chatted to a couple of fishers working the incoming tide. They had spotted a pod of dolphins cruising along one of the channels a little earlier in the afternoon and a pair of pied cormorants were boldly eying their bucket of baitfish as we spoke. The jetty also provides an excellent view into the mangroves and within a few minutes I had spotted a white faced heron perched on a low branch hunting for crabs. Nearby, a glorious little golden whistler was searching for insects near the entrance to a tidal creek.

AA Whitefaced heron hunting deep in the mangroves

White-faced heron hunting deep in the mangroves

AC Golden whistler in thorny bushes on the edge of the mangroves

Golden whistler in thorny bushes on the edge of the mangroves

 

Because the tide was out I had the perfect opportunity to walk into the mangroves and take a closer look amongst the tangle of limbs and bizarre little pneumatophores that protrude like blackened fingers from the forest floor. The sticky mud between these gas absorbing extensions of the root system was pock marked with little crab holes. It took some patience and a mini war with a squadron of mosquitoes before I caught a crab in the open and managed to capture an image.

AD Mangrove crab in samphire at the edge of the mudflat

Mangrove crab in samphire at the edge of the mudflat

 

A little itchy and with my boots liberally coated with dark mud, I decided to call it a day. Later in the year I will return to another area of mangroves a little further down the coast and share some more images and notes about the extraordinary animals that exist in this harsh and unusual habitat.

Cheers

BAZ   

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