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Houseboat 3 Hogwash Bend

31 Mar

Dear Reader:

As we slow the boat and glide slowly towards the riverbank, I spot a pair of Ospreys perched high in the canopy of a massive Red Gum overhanging the river. One takes flight and circles some forty metres above us. I slip the Nikon P900 into sports mode opting for fast shutter speeds over depth of field and fire off a half dozen frames. Hopefully, something will turn out right.

Osprey in flight

It is a glorious blue-sky day. I can think of no place better to be than on the river with good friends and time to do what we please and go where the mood takes us. This morning we are tying up in the Hogwash Bend Conservation Park about 8 Kms east of Cadell.

Houseboat moored

The eagles leave and their air space is replaced by two Australian Pelicans that seem to be utilising a thermal rising off the land. They ride the updraft then slowly descend and land on the water a short distance from our moored craft. Boats often equate to fishing and small discarded carp that are pelican bite size. These glorious birds, with wingspans well over 2 metres, are common companions on the river.

Pelican near houseboat

Having spent a few minutes photographing the pelicans I turn my attention to the park. This is a part of the river where there are a variety of habitats from small billabongs and creeks to cliffs and flat grassy areas. I search a rockface exposed by erosion and find numerous fossils encased in the rough limestone matrix.

Gastropod fossils
Classic Murray scenery

Near the low cliffs there is a wide expanse of low bushes and grasses; ideal habitat for kangaroos. I have noticed a lot of kangaroo droppings on this trip though I have only caught a few fleeting glimpses of the animals themselves. I find a likely spot where I can watch the widest sweep of the terrain, a sit and wait strategy. Luck is on my side. Some ten minutes into my vigil I hear the bushes rustling off to my right and notice a roo feeding. My line of sight is obscured and I change position slightly. The kangaroo’s sensitive ears twitch and it turns towards me. A few seconds to shoot and the nervous animal bounds off.

Western Grey

I have been exploring the park for a couple of hours and it is time to return to the boat for lunch before we change location. For me, it is a chance to scan the shoreline as we cruise along. There are herons and egrets hunting in the shallows. Both Anhingas (snake birds) and cormorants perch on half submerged tree roots and dry their wings after hunting underwater. Occasionally, another craft passes by and we smile and wave sharing a moment that is unique to those who enjoy cruising along this mighty waterway.

Anhinga drying wings

Passing by
Tells a story

I hope these paragraphs and images inspire or a least suggest to you ‘Dear Reader’ that a houseboat adventure might be a reasonable proposition for your next holiday.

Cheers

Baz

Please pass on this blog title and or contact information (URL) to any person or organisation with an interest in taking walks and enjoying wildlife in SA.

Click on this link and see more South Australian stories and pictures in my Weekend Notes articles https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

Houseboat Day 2 Lizards and Falcons

30 Jan

Dear Reader:

The cliffs rise steeply from the river’s surface. There are definite divisions in the strata indicating various periods in geological time. Tree roots, wind, water and the sun have weathered the rocky surface creating shallow caves, overhangs and depressions providing shelter for a variety of wildlife.

 

Typical limestone cliff scenery

We are travelling upstream from Morgan in our rented houseboat towards the little township of Cadell. Named after Francis Cadell, an early steamship navigator and explorer, the town sits in the Cadell Valley which is a Citrus and grape growing region. There is accommodation, a general store, second-hand shops, heritage centre and a ferry crossing.

 

Murray River Ferry at Cadell

The ochre coloured cliffs are home to numerous bird species but photographing them from a moving boat is challenging. I pick out what appears to be a family of raptors huddled in a narrow space near the cliff top and train the powerful lens of my Nikon P900 on the group. It is difficult to get a clear image. Nevertheless, I fire off half a dozen frames to work on later.

 

Fleeting glimpse of a raptor family on the cliff……shot from a moving boat at about 120 metres

Further down the river I notice some larger birds of prey. One is perched near a nest and the other sits on a eucalyptus branch overhanging the water. *They are either young White Breasted Sea Eagles or a juvenile kite species, possibly Whistling Kites.  

 

Eagle or Kite…..let me know please

The reeds and branches that line the edge of the river are home to a variety of waterbirds including: Black Ducks, Dusky Moorhens, Purple Swamp Hens, Pied Cormorants and Anhingas often called Snake birds. I focus on an Anhinga resting on a fallen branch.

 

Anhinga perching….note the webbed feet and spear-like beak

We moor the boat near a wide bend in the river and set up for an evening barbecue. I take a walk along the river bank and find a quiet place to sit and wait for the wildlife to appear; an approach that often pays dividends. I can hear the twittering of wrens and finches the rustling of other small animals in the undergrowth. Several small skinks appear on a log but they are too quick and timid for me to get a clear image. Moments later a Shingleback lizard emerges from leaf litter. Unaware of my presence the lizard comes quite close to me. When I lift the camera to get a shot it turns to face me, opens its mouth wide extending it bright blue tongue in a defensive display.

 

Shingleback or Sleepy lizard

Leaving the lizard to its meanderings in search of food and with a similar thought in mind I return to the boat for our evening barbecue. Full of steak, sausage and salad I go back through the days images and to my delight and surprise the raptors I photographed turn out to be Peregrine Falcons.

 

Peregrine Falcon at distance on the cliff face

Two days out and I have encountered quite a lot of wildlife. Who knows what the next day will bring.

Cheers

Baz

*If anyone can identify these birds please contact me and I will change the text accordingly

Additional notes

This is an easy boat trip which is quite suitable for families and seniors and only a current driving licence is required to operate a houseboat.

Please pass on this blog title and or contact information (URL) to any person or organisation with an interest in taking walks and enjoying wildlife in SA.

Click on this link and see more South Australian stories and pictures in my Weekend Notes articles

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

Houseboat Adventures Morgan Day 1

2 Jan

Dear Reader:

The road is ‘dead set’ straight for kilometre after kilometre. Expanses of saltbush and mallee scrub border the highway. While driving I scan the bush for wildlife. Crows perch on branches, an occasional parrot flies in front of the vehicle and there is the inevitable road-kill. I ease my foot onto the brake and pull over. Hundreds of meters across the saltbush, on the woodland fringe, I can see a pair of emus. My Nikon P900 is an excellent tool for locating an image at this range but even the 83X zoom is challenged when it comes to getting a good clear shot.

 

Emus at distance

I am driving to Morgan, an historic town on the River Murray about 160 kms from Adelaide. Morgan was a busy river port during the 1800s with hundreds of paddle steamers delivering goods prior to the advent of railways and more recently motor vehicle transport. However, this colourful history has given rise to Morgan’s current attractions; heritage docks, museum, renovated paddle steamer, historic trails and two wonderful, old pubs.

 

Books and bric a brac

Sandra at the helm

 

I am meeting friends for a week-long houseboat trip exploring this stretch of the river. Each afternoon we will pull into the bank at a different location, stay there overnight then head off again in the morning. For my companions it is an ideal way to spend some down time away from their busy lives. For me, it means long walks to explore and photograph each location, editing images and writing up notes as well as capturing images from the boat as it cruises along.

 

Whale vertebrate fossils

 

Our boat docked

Before we leave Morgan I take a stroll along the river bank towards the old wharf. It seems like a good place to look for animals that thrive close to human habitation. I can see swallows hawking across the water and picking off insects in the air but they rarely settle and photographing them in flight takes a better photographer than me. However, I do manage to spot a beautiful Eastern Water Skink catching the late afternoon sun.

 

Wharf, cliffs and old paddle-steamer being restored

 

Eastern Water Skink

Pleased with my final image, I head back to the boat for dinner and a pleasant evening socialising with friends before we set off up-stream in the morning to another location and a fresh adventure.

Cheers

Baz

Additional notes

Only a driving license is required to operate a houseboat. We used Foxtail Houseboats and were more than pleased with their level of service.

Please pass on this blog title/contact information (URL) to any person or organisation with an interest in taking walks and enjoying wildlife in SA.

Click on this link and see more South Australian stories and pictures in my Weekend Notes articles

https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/651267/

Houseboat 2

14 Jul

Houseboat 2 

Dear Reader:

Following up my last post I would like to continue my review of our houseboat trip along the Murray from Mildura.

Our boat

 

Some of the most spectacular features of Murray cruising are the glorious sunsets. A few clouds a little dust in the air and suddenly dusk is transformed into a spectacular light show. Throw in some red cliffs and the results are unbelievable. It can seem like the whole sky is on fire.

Sunset on fire

 

Colour abounds in other ways too. Some of the most striking parrots inhabit the woodlands and scrub that border the river. My favourites are the rosellas which can be wary and difficult to get near enough to photograph. Luckily this yellow rosella was too absorbed in feeding to take much notice of me.

 

Yellow Rosella feeding

 

We passed by several little towns on our trip and each bore witness to the Murray’s heyday when the river was the main form of transport between the states and a flotilla of paddle steamers plied their trade along its length. Today these classic country towns support local dry land farming and serve as tourist hubs.

Wentworth, historic building

 

Colourful parrots are not the only birds that inhabit the river bank. There are some serious predators too. Pelicans fish singularly or in groups along the shallow banks and both whistling kites and white bellied sea eagles perch on overhanging branches to hone in on prey with their incredible eyesight. On the mammalian side there are water rats that hunt for molluscs along the river bank as well as introduced foxes and wild cats. And from a reptilian perspective a variety of lizards from water skinks to goannas and snakes live in the reed beds and tangled branches that line the waterway.   

Eastern water skink

 

 Travelling along the river would not be complete without a little fishing. Carp abound and some of them are quite large but most fishers hope for a catch of native fish such as Callop and Cod which are much rarer. On this trip ‘Pete” who had fished the river for years caught his first Murray Cod; a beautiful 65 cm specimen which was duly released though the smile on his face took the best part of a week to disappear.

At last

 

And so ends my discourse on Murray house-boating for this year. But, stick around for a further twelve months a there will be another trip to report on.

 

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

Just Cruising 1

1 Jun

Just Cruising 1

Dear Reader:

There is a white faced heron picking its way precariously along the bow rail of the boat; probably heading for the shrimp bucket. In the meantime, two welcome swallows are resting on the mooring rope while they take a rest from their aerial, acrobatic insect hunts. These are two of the animals that make our houseboat a temporary home as we journey along the river.

 

Curious Heron

 

To date my blogs have always been about South Australia but the next few posts will stray just a little from my own state and take you just over the border to Mildura in Victoria. From this thriving community I will share some observation taken on a week-long houseboat trip along the Murray. The wildlife and scenery are much the same as in SA as we are cruising along a section of the river which runs close to all three states SA, Victoria and NSW.

 

Typical riverside scenery

 

Houseboats are a wonderful way to explore the river. They come in all shapes and sizes from luxury models with saunas, ensuite bathrooms and satellite television through to old fashioned paddle sided boats with two rooms and a basic kitchen. We travelled in rather luxurious style which I can fully recommend; and travelling in a group certainly made it a reasonably inexpensive holiday option.

 

A classic

 

Wildlife along the river is seasonal and dependent on a variety of conditions such as drought and ambient river levels. The long dry that we have experienced this year meant that the wildlife was sporadic and took a little effort to locate. However, as we varied our moorings between townships and bush there was always something to see when I took a walk and looked carefully.

What the????

 

At a bush mooring near the confluence of the Darling and Murray I spent a couple of hours walking through the scrub bordering the river. Whilst sitting on a log near a clump of acacia bushes some small bugs with ‘eye-lash- like’ antennae caught my attention. I spent a good half hour trying to get a reasonable shot. Sometimes the little things can be the most interesting and challenging to photograph.

 

Nesting Apostle bird

 

The rewards of exploring a new and unfamiliar region are many including the chance to encounter species that are rarely observed or at the best seen fleetingly at home. An apostle bird nesting in the eucalypts that shaded our mooring at Coomeala was a prime example. Locals told me that they are quite common but it was the first time I had seen one and to capture and image of it nesting was quite a thrill.

Sandra gets the double

 

There were many more encounters on this trip and they certainly warrant further posts under the heading ‘Just Cruising’ which seems to capture the mood of my week exploring the mighty Murray while relaxing with friends.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

This is an easy excursion which is quite suitable for families and seniors with toilets, barbecues and numerous facilities aboard.

 

 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 try to attach a new image and notes to accompany each post.

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

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

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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