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Port Germein’s Mangrove Wildlife

1 Aug

Port Germein’s Mangrove Wildlife

Dear Reader:

 The grey butcherbird is perched on a dead branch on the edge of the mangrove swamp. The powerful bird will use this position to dive on prey in the undergrowth snatching up insects, small reptiles and the nestlings of other birds. Large prey will be jammed in the fork of a branch then eaten; which provides a hint as to how butcher birds acquired their name.

 

Grey butcherbird

 

It is sunset and the light is glorious as it defines the mangrove channels against the pale sand. I am on the northern side of Port Germein where a substantial stand of mangroves merges with the shallow beach. Small schools of fish are heading along these waterways towards the ocean as the tide recedes and an odd crab scuttles across the channel.

 

Lovely light

 

 

As I climb back into the 4WD I can hear the calls of several different kinds of honeyeaters in the nearby scrub. With the windows open I drive slowly along the rutted trail until one of the little birds appears in the upper branches of the bushes. Several frames later I have captured a passable image of a spiny cheeked honeyeater calling to its mate. Often shooting from the vehicle is easier as the wildlife seems more accepting of its presence than that of a large two legged creature stalking through the bush.

 

Spiny cheeked honeyeater singing

 

Spiny cheeked honeyeater in scrub

The next morning I walk in the opposite direction to explore a channel that runs parallel to the shore on the southern perimeter of the township with a spectacular view of the Flinders ranges in the background. There are mangroves and samphire right to the edge of the creek which ends in a dilapidated road bridge that once serviced a crossing into town. A white faced heron is sitting on the weathered planks eyeing the water below for small fish while swallows are nesting under the main span.

 

Look for the heron

 

Mangrove channel and Flinders Ranges

 

 

As I make my way alongside the waterway I notice silken sheet like webs, carpeting the ground between many of the bushes. Some are still glistening from the morning dew. They are used by lattice webbed spiders as a kind of horizontal trap that acts like a sticky labyrinth.

 

Lattice spider web and early morning dew

 

With my mangrove walk completed, I head back into town for a bite at the local cafe. But Port Germein has on last wildlife moment to offer in the form of a wattlebird feeding on some late blooming eucalyptus flowers near the caravan park.

 

Wattlebird feeding on eucalyptus blossom

 

Cheers
BAZ

Footnote

4WD is useful in this area and the walking on the southern edge of town is quite strenuous. The northern reach of mangroves would be suitable for a family or seniors’ excursion.

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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  

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

Wilpena…. Three Kangaroos and an Emu

26 Jun

Dear Reader:

The hillside behind the cabin is quite steep and the trail leading to its summit zig-zags between rocky outcrops and stands of native pine. Every so often there are depressions and small caves where the rust coloured soil is littered with roo droppings. From the first ridge, the view back across ‘the pound’ is spectacular with the curved formation of peaks that shape this unique environment clearly evident against the deep blue of an outback sky.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lone euro with the ranges in the background

Euro nremains below a particularly steep rockface

Euro remains below a particularly steep rockface

 

A little further up the scree slope the sound of scattering rocks provides a tell-tale hint of movement. I freeze, lift the camera and wait; nothing but the thumping sound of a large animal bounding further up the hillside. Only a kangaroo makes that sound and only a hill kangaroo, sometimes called a wallaroo or euro, would be living in this steep terrain.

Classic euro habitat

Classic euro habitat

 

 

There are three species of kangaroos, as well as their smaller wallaby relatives, living in the Flinders Ranges near Wilpena Pound ; a crater shaped geological formation in South Australia’s northern outback region about five hour’s drive from Adelaide. Each species tends to favour slightly different habitats in this arid, semi desert environment though there is inevitably some overlap in their territories.

This euro has a rustier tinge to its fur

This euro has a rustier tinge to its fur

 

Euros are generally solitary and they prefer rocky outcrops. Their fur is thicker than the other two species and can have a slightl reddish tinge. They are quite stocky, robust kangaroos measuring up to 195 cms from head to tip of the tail with both males and females similar in appearance. Red kangaroos prefer the open plains and males can measure 2.4 metres and always have a rusty coat and distinct facial markings. Female red kangaroos have grey fur with a hint of blue shading and are considerably smaller. The third species, the western grey kangaroo, is less common in the ranges; they look more like a lighter built euro with smoother fur. Western greys are gregarious and prefer woodlands. They are the most common species in the southern part of the state.

Western grey kangaroos

Western grey kangaroos

 

From the top of the hillside I work my way back down a steep gully to the lower slopes where a couple of euros are feeding on the grass and small shrubs growing close to the roadside. They let me approach to within fifty metres before twitching their ears nervously and bounding off into a stand of native pines at the base of a steep hillside.

A young euro moments before bounding up into the escarpment after its mother

A young euro moments before bounding up into the escarpment after its mother

Female adult euro bounding up into escarpment

Female adult euro bounding up into escarpment

 

The roadside provides a perfect view of both the rugged escarpments that dominate the terrain and the open grassland that characterizes the entrance to the pound. In the distance I can see the outline of several red kangaroos grazing on the grass near an old restored woolshed that serves as a gallery and function centre. They appear to be quite relaxed and as I approach I notice that it is actually a pair of animals; a large male standing close to a resting female.

Red kangaroo male and female

Red kangaroo male and female

Red kangaroo male and female

Art display in the old woolshed

 

I have been quite lucky on my walk, having seen two of the three local kangaroo species and as if to point out that the landscape is inhabited by more than just marsupials a couple of emus run across the walking trail as I am turning for home.

A pair of emus running alongside a walking trail at Wilpena

A pair of emus running alongside a walking trail at Wilpena

 

Satisfied with my morning’s work I head back to the chalets for a shower and lunch at one of the two dining areas. Chalets, dining areas, a well equipped general store and even a small swimming pool for the summer heat; not really roughing it but on the other hand there is abundant wildlife just a stone’s throw away. SA at its very best.

Accommodation Wilpena

Accommodation Wilpena

 

Cheers

Baz

 

Whyalla to Point Lowly…a top coastal drive

16 May

Dear Reader:

The road from Whyalla to the Point Lowly intersection has dense mallee scrub on both sides. Kangaroos are not uncommon but hard to spot amongst the grey, green foliage. Sometimes a kite or eagle can be seen gliding on a thermal, scouring the scrub for prey.

Low Scrub Whyalla

Classic scrub with acacia in bloom

 

 

 

As I turn right and head towards the coast the landscape changes. The trees and bushes give way to stretches of saltbush and dried out shallow salt pans. Not much can survive in this country but I have seen emus foraging along these coastal badlands. I am not disappointed; catching sight of a fully grown male with his adolescent chicks just a few hundred metres from the fence-line.

1

Adult emu with a half grown chick in saltbush

 

 

The road turns quite sharply heading back down the peninsula. The salt bush landscape reverts back to low coastal scrub. This ecosystem is characterised by acacias and smaller eucalypts where various parrots, wrens and honeyeaters are feeding along the edge of the road. A sandy track leads down to the beach where a small group of shacks nestle into the scrub, all with a wonderful view back across the shallow gulf to Whyalla.

2

Red track, green scrub and blue coast

 

3

Whyalla across the bay

 

 

After my beach side detour I drive back onto the main road and continue on to my destination. Point Lowly and the associated LPG gas complex of Point Bonython are part of the 12 kilometre Freycinet trail that winds around Fitzgerald Bay. The trail which is ideal for cycling, walking or driving, features interpretive signs that explain Aboriginal and European history as well geological and biological features.

6

Point Lowly lighthouse

 

9

Gulls and cormorants

 

 

However, my trip today is simply exploratory and I will leave the trail for another time. Just a wander around the lighthouse, shoreline and nearby scrub will suffice. And the local sights more than live up to expectations. A mixed group of gulls and cormorants is roosting on a rocky outcrop while a pacific gulls glides above the inshore rockpools. Near the lighthouse a glorious little wood swallow perches on the guttering of a local shack expectantly watching a family BBQ.

8

Pacific gull hunting

 

12

Wood swallow on guttering

 

 

My appetite whetted for the next visit I turn the car and head back.

 

Until our next adventure

Cheers

Baz

Wild Dog Walk

2 Jan

Wild Dog Walk

Dear Reader:

The drive from Port Augusta to Whyalla is almost gun barrel straight for much of the seventy kilometre journey. Low scrub and salt bush plains dominate the landscape. Small birds occasionally flit across the road and for the keen observer; kangaroos and emus can be spotted foraging in the bush. But first impressions can be misleading and more careful look at this unique environment reveals a plant ecosystem quite different from the eucalyptus dominated vegetation closer to Adelaide.

IMG_5449 crop red

Entrance to the park (click to enlarge all images on this post)

 

 

The ground is hard pack red earth and salt bush, acacia and eremophilas form the lower layers beneath canopy of western mayall trees with an occasional eucalypt thrown in for good measure. The affect is a subtle interplay of greens and greys that typifies this harsh but beautiful countryside.

Wild Dog Walk

Myall and eucalypt canopy with shrubs and saltbush understory

 

 

Around 50 kms from Port Augusta and just 10 kms from the outskirts of the steel town of Whyalla, the park is announced by a signpost and bush track that leads off to the right. The trail is part of the Whyalla conservation park and the road leads to a rocky outcrop known as Wild Dog Rocks. A local Aboriginal story relates how a medicine man flung dingos, who had killed a child, off the north eastern edge of the rocks.

IMG_5465 red

Wild Dog Rocks rising from the bush

 

 

This story and information about the plants in the area is presented as a series of signs along a short trail that circumnavigates the outcrop. The mayall trees, lichens, various shrubs and grasses are all represented and provide the walker with a better understanding of this rugged ecosystem.

Mayall tree

Mayall tree surrounded by salt bush with acacia to the left

 

 

Depending on the season a wide variety of wildlife frequents this arid zone. Parrots, honeyeaters, magpies and delicate little finches are just a few of the birds that live in the dense shrubs and grasses. And if one walks carefully, stops frequently to look and listens for a tell tale rustle there are reptiles to be found, ranging from tiny skinks, large monitors and even the occasional brown snake.

IMG_5517

Australian magpie proclaiming territory

 

 

 

Despite the complexity and diversity of this ecosystem it remains a harsh and unforgiving environment. There is little food and plants bloom infrequently due to the low rainfall. A visitor needs to be patient to locate the wildlife and as always the early morning and late afternoon are when the animals are more active and far more easily encountered.

IMG_5454 crop sharpen red

Grey kangaroo in saltbush

 

 

 

 

I set aside three hours to explore this park and stopped several times on the way to the rocky outcrop where I walked a couple of hundred metres into the bush and sat quietly for a few minutes. One the first occasion I flushed out a grey kangaroo that paused for a split second to look at me before bounding through the salt bush into the scrub. The second time I watched some butcher birds and a magpie squabbling loudly over territory.

IMG_5494 crop red spiny cheeked honey

Spiny cheeked honeyeater feeding in an eremophila

 

 

At Wild Dog Rocks I spent quite a long time watching small birds flitting between some flowering shrubs. Photographing them was challenging to say the least. I noticed that several birds seemed to return frequently to one particular bush allowing me to set up and capture a few long range images. The birds turned out to be spiny cheeked honeyeaters a species I had not seen before.

IMG_5771 goanna red

Sand goanna or Gould’s monitor foraging through understory

 

 

With evening approaching I made one last foray into the scrub at the foot of the rocks and sat amongst a stand of mayall trees where there was a clear view of a small clearing. After a few minutes I heard the unmistakable rustle of a larger animal moving across the leaf litter. Suddenly a sand goanna appeared, the metre long monitor lizard was moving slowly with its long forked tongue frequently flicking out as it searched for prey. As the goanna approached dozens of locusts, that had been hidden amongst the undergrowth, took flight before they were added to the lizards eclectic menu.

IMG_5512 red

Almost locust for lunch

 

 

From the park to the city of Whyalla is a short drive. Here you can wash off the red dust and enjoy the pleasantries of hotels, regional shopping, restaurants, coastal activities and a fine golf course.

IMG_5478 red

The shapes, colours and textures of the arid zone are summed up in this imge

 

 

 

Have a great start to the New Year and I hope you have the chance to explore this interesting region sometime soon.

 

Cheers

Baz

Photo Reflections 2

16 Nov

Dear Reader:

South Australia is an extraordinary place to live and work especially if you are a wildlife writer and photographer. Our fauna is both diverse and fascinating and en route to any destination there are always interesting country towns, world class wineries or vast rural properties to explore. This blog is a reflection of those attributes and is a collation of images and notes that remind me of the reasons I live and work here.

A Camping near Arkaroola

Camping near Arkaroola

 

Arkaroola is a world heritage wilderness area approximately 700 kilometres north of Adelaide. Its geology, Aboriginal heritage and wildlife make it a premier destination for off roaders, photographers and those who simply like a taste of real outback life.

B Nankeen night heron

Nankeen night heron

The wetlands around the Adelaide region have a core of commonly sighted species that include a variety of waterfowl, pelicans, ibises, swamp hens and swallows; to mention but a few. The nankeen night heron is one of the less frequently encountered birds which made photographing this one, as it hid in a willow overhanging a lake near my home, a special moment.

C Vines near McClaren Vale

Vines near McLaren Vale

 

The coast road that runs south from Adelaide along the Fleurieu Peninsula is a drive I have made countless times on the way to a dive site. On this occasion I was drawn to the dormant vines that stood in stark contrast to the overcast sky and yellow oxalis flowers.

D Biscuit star

Biscuit star

 

Sometimes the simplest creatures, the ones encountered countless times, catch your attention. Perhaps it is the light or just the way the animal is positioned. This common biscuit star caught my eye as it crept along the edge of a rock face covered in algae and a melange of encrusting organisms.

E Hoverfly on blossoms

Hoverfly on blossoms

 

Hoverflies are one of the most common invertebrates in our gardens. These agile little insects hover, flit and settle on a variety of flowering plants. They seem to be in constant motion. On an afternoon stroll through the Botanic Gardens an accommodating hoverfly settled on a nearby blossom giving me just a split second to get down low and capture this image which emphasises its startling compound eyes.

F Echidna foraging

Echidna foraging

 

Echidnas roam the length and breadth of Australia but they are not commonly seen. This one was trundling through the bush in the Adelaide Hills close to a termite mound that it had been ripping apart. It was the sound of the little spiky battle tank that gave away its location. Stealth does not appear to be part of their defensive repertoire. You don’t need to be furtive when you are armed with a plethora of sharp spines.

 

I hope you enjoyed this little reflection

Baz

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