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The Murray Mouth

7 Sep

Dear Reader:

There is a magnificent pelican flying low over the estuary with thick scrub and hills in the background. It circles a few times then lands, with surprising grace for such a large bird, amongst a small group of pelicans. They comb the edge of the water hunting for schools of baitfish. The birds then circle their prey driving them into a small ball before scooping the hapless victims up in their flexible net-like bills.

 

Pelican in flight

 

The mouth of Australia’s largest river, the Murray, can be reached or viewed in several different ways. Taking a 4WD along Goolwa Beach is perhaps the most adventurous but sometimes requires some skilful off road manoeuvres in the wet sand and the tides must be taken into consideration. From Hindmarsh Island or the upper reaches of the Coorong it is an eaier boat ride from numerous launch points.  I have used both of these methods to photograph the wildlife of this wonderful location but on this occasion I am lucky enough (because of the kindness of an old friend) to fly over the area giving me a fresh perspective on this unique wilderness location.

 

Aerial view of Murray Mouth

 

After leaving the plane at a nearby property we clamber into an old landcruiser and make our way along the beach towards the mouth. Parking the vehicle tight against the sandhills away from the incoming tide we trek across sand hills into the scrub that divides the ocean from the river. There are numerous small birds in the thickets and I manage to photograph a singing honeyeater perched on a slender twig as it loudly proclaims its territory.

 

Singing honeyeater

 

Back on the beach we drive close to the wave-break watching flocks of plovers scouring the wet sand for worms, molluscs and other tiny invertebrates. They take flight as we approach then quickly settle back into their feeding patterns dodging between the gentle waves as the tide changes.

 

Plover panic

 

I spend a pleasant half hour fishing the river where it empties into the sea and manage to put a few salmon trout into the cooler before driving back to the car park in Goolwa. The little cafe is worth a quick stop for a sausage roll and an ice cream and a chat to some surfers who are enjoying one of the other pleasures that Goolwa Beach and the Murray mouth are famous for.

 

Gnarly dude

Cheers

Baz

 Additional notes

 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

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Family Life at Walker Flat

11 Oct

The road from Mannum to Walker Flat is a classic Australian drive. With low hills to the left and the river on the right it winds past limestone cliffs and mallee scrub. It is a short drive of no more than 30 kms but there is ample opportunity to get out of the car and wander around in the scrub or capture a panoramic shot of the river. The countryside is typical of the Murray Mallee zone. Mallee are smallish eucalypts that have numerous trunks growing from the same base. They are of uniform height and stretch for kilometres in an unbroken forest. The hills are predominantly limestone based and where the river cuts through them it exposes a wonderful array of fossils.

walkers flat cliffs

Limestone cliffs a Walker flat

 

 

As you come down the hill into Walker Flat the river takes a sweeping bend exposing ochre coloured cliffs that rise abruptly from the water. There is small community of shack owners, a general store and places to camp, launch a boat or cross the river on an old fixed line ferry. The area has several billabongs; backwaters fed by floods; and it was these that I had come to explore. Even as I drove down from the low hills to meet the river I could see a flock of pelicans cruising along the main channel of the river.

Pelican feeding as a group

Pelicans feeding as a group

 

Camera in hand, I walked along a dirt trail that followed the course of a large billabong that was bordered by thick stands of reeds and some old eucalypts. My quick reconnaissance was useful and I located a dozen different bird and insect species in the first few minutes. However, the wildlife seemed very wary and scattered at my approach. Accordingly, I resorted to my favourite strategy for capturing images under these circumstances and found a quiet spot with a clear view in every direction, settled down and waited.

little wattlebird

A little wattlebird, one of the many bird species along the billabong

Within twenty minutes or so the rhythm of the river bank seemed to return to normal. So long as I didn’t make any sudden movements or sounds most of the wildlife seemed to view me as a part of the environment and I, in turn, started to notice the hidden things that were going on all round me. Twenty metres in front of me the reeds began to move and a purple swamp hen emerged delicately grasping the plants with his outrageously huge feet. I eased the big lens up slowly for a better look and to my surprise the adult was accompanied by two fluffy, black chicks. Over the next few minutes I was privileged to watch the adult cutting up reed stalks with its powerful beak and feeding them to the young. Later, another swamp hen appeared and took the chicks further into the reeds indicating that both parents were involved in rearing their brood.

IMG_2791

Purple swamp hen cutting up reed stalk near chicks

IMG_2793

Purple swamp hen feeding a chick with cut up reed morsel

 

My next encounter was a tad closer. A variety of large dragonflies and their more delicate cousins the damselflies had been continuously flitting across the water just a few metres away. They appeared to be in a mating phase with an occasional pair joined head to tail, which is part of the reproductive process. Others were obviously hunting smaller insects while a few seemed to be establishing some kind of territory by chasing off rivals of the same species.

wandering percher

Wandering percher dragonflies mating in flight

Emperor dragonflies mating

 

Between the dragonflies and purple swamp hens feeding their family my patience seemed to have paid off and re-confirmed an old but well tried approach to wildlife photography. Better to let the target come to you than chase it.

 

Until next time

Baz

 

One ‘Ticked Off ‘ Tiger Snake

16 Feb

 Field Notes

Dear reader

Sometimes life gets a little too busy and the pressures of work and family don’t allow me time to sit down, sort through my notes and put together a polished article. So I have simply edited my field notes in the hope that they will stand alone as an enjoyable account of my brush with one of Australia’s deadliest reptiles.

Setting

Late Summer, midday, on the banks of the river Murray near Mannum about 100kms NE of Adelaide. A smallish town, good pub with excellent view of river and great meals. Some nice antique and bric-a-brac shops, historic paddle steamer and houseboats to hire.

Notes

  • A pleasant drive from the city through the foothills.
  • Parts of the countryside is still green from good winter rains.
  • The rain shadowed plains on the other side of the ranges are quite dry and you can see the course of the river from the granite outcrops near Palmer.

    Clssical Murray river environment showing billabongs

    Clssical Murray river environment showing billabongs

  • We crossed the river on the Mannum ferry and drove along the edge of one of the billabongs.
  • Several small boats and a kayaker cruised past enjoying the sheltered environment away from the main channel.
  • The river level is high and there is quite a lot of debris along the bank.
  • There are numerous waterbirds foraging in the shallows and some parrots in the trees and I spotted a water skink on a concrete jetty near a bed of reeds.

    Pelicans feeding in the shallows near reeds

    Pelicans feeding in the shallows near reeds

  • I decided to explore a tangle of reeds and driftwood that was caught in the roots of one of the large river gums that grow on the edge of the bank.
  • As I pushed through some of the reeds I heard the distinct rustle of a fairly large animal moving away from me.
  • A sizeable tiger snake shot out from under a small log to my right and headed towards the water.
  • I froze momentarily so as not to alarm it unduly and steady myself to take a picture if it stopped-as opposed to freezing because it scared the .#$%%^&&  out of me.
  • Tiger snakes are one of the top ten most venomous snakes on the planet and can be rather aggressive when threatened. They feed on a variety of small riverside animals ranging from frogs and lizards to mice and birds. A large tiger snake can measure up to 2 metres. There are several varieties and the namesake stripes are not always obvious.
  • The snake paused after a few seconds and turned to face me.
  • It was about 3-4 metres away but looked unnervingly close through the telephoto lens.
  • The reptile had moved into the shadows and a quick review of my shots revealed a mottled and shady image.
  • I popped up the flash and fired another couple of frames.
  •  The snake did not like that and reared into a strike position as the second burst of light was emitted.
  • The results were startling, a Tiger Snake, mouth agape and fangs visible.

    Tiger snake striking

    snake striking

  • Time to leave and not annoy the tiger anymore
  • We continued to drive along the river bank track enjoying the scenery and had no more serious reptilian encounters other than a couple more skinks

    Water Skink near the river bank

    Skink near the river bank

  • Stopped  at the Pretoria Hotel on the banks of the main river
  • Great food, plenty of it and a glorious view of the river from the glass fronted dining room
  • Some pelicans feeding close to the river bank
  • Crossed back on the ferry then drove along the river towards Walker Flats to take in the views of the cliffs and an interesting stretch of Mallee scrub.

    Crossing the Murray at Mannum on the ferry

    Crossing the Murray at Mannum on the ferry

  • We have previously observed wombats here, foraging near the road in the late afternoon.
Wombat in sandy terrain within Mallee scrub near the river
Wombat in sandy terrain within Mallee scrub near the river

Cheers

Baz

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