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Athelstone … a river walk…field notes and images

15 Oct

Athelstone … a river walk…field notes and images

 

Dear Reader: I hope that you enjoy the field notes and images from my day exploring the lower reaches of the Torrens Gorge near Athelstone. I will be using this style from now on as it allows me to share more observations and thoughts with you.

 

Spring 12/10/2015

A cool morning with a little cloud cover and patches of blue sky

Drove from city to Gorge Road intersection then to Athelstone, approx 20 minutes

Stopped in at bakery to get steak pie, apple tart and fruit juice

Photographed historic community centre, lovely roses on display

Spoke to history officer

Quite a few colonial buildings in the area worth visiting

Started walk from the mining road 2.8 Kms from Athelstone Council chambers, just past stone and fibre house on RHS of main road, parked near the causeway (ford)

Followed old, narrow bitumen road along left bank of Torrens heading up the gorge (upstream) towards historic aquaduct

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Council chambers

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Stone and fibre home by turn off

 

Trail to aquaduct only 800 meters

Not going to walk off impending lunch this way

Walked slowly, stop, look and wait

Can hear small birds twittering in scrub to the left

Several little wrens fossicking in leaf litter

They appear to be different species as one has a blue tail

All are females as fairy wren males of the most common species have patches of bright blue plumage

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Female superb fairy wren

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Male superb fairy wren

 

Koala in dense foliage of a non native tree, unusual

There are several gums nearby, perhaps this tree is shadier

Tree creeper (possibly white throated) feeding probing for insects on a eucalyptus tree, seems to be favouring old and dead branches

Note the huge feet for gripping and providing stability

Hard to get a clear shot

Switch to shutter priority to stop action 1/1600 should do

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Koala

White throated treecreeper

White throated treecreeper

 

Reach the aquaduct

Note the signage about its history

State listed heritage item in 1980

Operated continuously for 138 years carrying water from Hope Valley Reservoir

There is a deep pool below

Scan the edge of the water and several logs for fresh water turtles…nothing

A water skink is basking on one of the flat rocks

As I approach and take a couple of shots it disappears into the undergrowth

I have often photographed these little reptiles and never seen one in the water swimming

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Aquaduct

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Eastern water skink

 

Start return walk to car

Expansive views of the gorge rising on the SE side

Several cyclist ride past on the main road above the river

They use the steep road for training

Concentrate on the other side of the path on return walk

Yellow tail black cockatoos fly above

See and hear a lot of Rosellas in taller trees

Manage to get a shot of a crimson feeding on berries in tree top

Stop to look at interesting gum trunk with red sap oozing from it

Like the colours and texture

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Bark patterns and gum resin

Back at car

Drive to park about 1 kilometre out of Athelstone to walking trails in parkland area, still has Torrens flowing through

Lunch on a bench watching some magpies haggling over territory

A Good morning’s work

Cheers

Baz

Hallet Cove….a scrub and coastal walk

3 Apr

The walk from the park’s entrance is striking with the ocean forming a sapphire backdrop to the greens and greys of the scrub. Along the edge of the track stands of eucalypts dominate an understory of acacias, banksias and native grasses. Near the top of the trail, several wattle birds are feeding on a late autumn splash of flowers in the crown of a flowering gum. The largest of all the honeyeaters, these birds have a grating call reminiscent of an out of tune bagpipe.

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View from the park entrance

 

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Wattle bird

 

 

I scramble further down the track listening to the twittering of scrub birds in the bushes. It is difficult to identify any particular species and almost impossible to photograph them. After walking for a couple of hundred metres, I catch a glimpse of some wrens and miner birds deep in the labyrinth of foliage. Where the trail runs alongside a small creek at the foot of the hill, a singing honeyeater is perched on an exposed branch, finally providing one easy target.

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Singing honeyeater

 

 

Hallet Cove Conservation Park runs parallel to the coast about half an hour’s drive south of the city centre. It encompasses a range of habitats from sclerophyll forest to coastal heath and a classic wave cut platform below the cliff face. In addition to a healthy population of native animals the park has extraordinary geological and marine features that I will explore more fully in a later post. 

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The track winds through the scrub near a creek bed

   

 

I meet a group of elderly walkers on a small bridge that crosses the creek where the path starts to climb towards the top of the cliffs. As they tramp across the wooden planks a large water skink runs across, pausing momentarily before disappearing over the edge into the reeds.

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Skink on the bridge

 

 

Climbing southward up the track I take note of the dramatic changes in terrain. The hillside that rises from the cliff tops is dominated by low wind-swept shrubs and grasses and the coastline is defined by the wave cut platform. Near the edge of the cliffs, two magpies are probing the undergrowth with their long, powerful beaks. Suddenly the birds become agitated and take to the air. I look around for the source of their distress and catch sight of a kestrel hovering high above them. But this kestrel has made an error of judgement that soon becomes apparent as the maggies take it on in an aerial dogfight.

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Minding my own business

 

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Kestrel hunting

 

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Not on my turf

 

 

The final section of my trail follows the boardwalk along the top of the cliffs. I can see pacific gulls foraging in the rock-pools on the exposed shore and a colony of cormorants roosting on a rocky outcrop out to sea.

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Cormorants on offshore outcrop

 

 

After following the contours of the hillside for a kilometre the boardwalk slopes down to a stretch of beach, finally terminating at a car park and local eatery…The Boatshed Cafe. Simply grabbing a croissant and soft drink to eat on the beach or choosing a light meal from the excellent menu is an ideal way to wind up a morning stroll.

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Descent to the beach and cafe

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this little adventure

Cheers

Baz

Robe…..raptors, reptiles and rough roads

7 Feb

Dear Reader:

To be entirely honest, the track hadn’t looked too difficult. My tyres were suitably deflated and the little Suzuki had a punchy V6 motor. What the hell! I backed up onto the hard packed dirt road, gunned the motor and headed up the sand dune towards the beach, scaring the daylights out of a pair of emus that had been feeding in the coastal scrub.

A pair of emus feeding in the coastal scrub

A pair of emus feeding in the coastal scrub

 

 

Marker posts driven into the sand had indicated the route was suitable for 4WD but I lost a little traction on the climb and one wheel slipped off the trail. The car slid, the sand pushed up hard underneath and there I was, stuck. Over the next half an hour I tried every way I could think of to get free from the sand trap; brush under the wheels, digging out some of the sand wedged under the chassis and swearing in several languages; all to no avail. I wasn’t going anywhere.

The edge of a coastal dune

The edge of a coastal dune

 

 

Feeling rather stupid and just a tad worried, it was 40C and though I had a water bottle and my mobile phone, it was a good hour’s walk back to the main road. Furthermore, I couldn’t remember seeing any signs of habitation when I had driven from Robe into the Little Dip Conservation Park earlier in the day. But my choices were somewhat limited and so, with my camera slung over my shoulder, I started off to get some help.

Numerous frehwater lakes in the the conservaion park provide a haven for wildlife

Numerous frehwater lakes in the the conservaion park provide a haven for wildlife

 

 

Within half an hour of trudging along the sandy trail I realised this was going to be a hard walk. Every 30 minutes I found a little shade took a sip out of the bottle and rested for 5. Eventually I reached the junction of the trail and the main road back to town. Sitting quietly in the shade of a park information sign, I sipped on my water bottle and waited for a few minutes in the hope that another vehicle might be heading my way. No such luck, but a rather feisty bearded dragon did saunter across the road and give me a long hard stare before disappearing into the scrub.

Bearded dragons tend to freeze when threatened relying on their camouflage to avoid predators

Bearded dragons tend to freeze when threatened relying on their camouflage to avoid predators

 

 

Suitably unrefreshed and distinctly grumpy, I started along the road back to Robe. Earlier in the day and in stark contrast to my present predicament, I had been enjoying a civilised meal of local crayfish and salad in a boutique restaurant. After a couple of kilometres I noticed a swamp harrier that had settled on a fence line after scanning the fields for prey. The fence ended  in a cattle grid  near a long driveway that led to a farmhouse that I had not seen earlier. It was one of those typically Australian country homes, old sandstone with return verandahs that spoke of generations of farmers that worked this rugged landscape.

A swamp harrier rests on a fence post

A swamp harrier rests on a fence post

 

 

It turned out that I was in luck. The farmer, who was tired of rescuing inexperienced off roaders, kindly offered me a drink and some sandwiches. When I told him I was in the park photographing wildlife for a children’s book on reptiles he shared some of the interesting encounters with native animals he had experienced recently. Ten minutes turned into a couple of hours and because of our mutual interest in natural history, he offered to use the farm truck to haul me off the dune.

The kindness of strangers

The kindness of strangers

 

As we approached my SUV I noticed the curved imprint of a large snake that had taken shelter under the front of the vehicle. Now that would have made a good shot!!

A brown snake flicks out its forked tongue to pick up chemical signals given off by prey.

A brown snake flicks out its forked tongue to pick up chemical signals given off by prey.

 

 

With the car back on track we sat in the scrub and had a cold drink before I headed back for a shower and a good night’s rest. Offering to pay for my rescue did not seem appropriate. Instead, I promised to send him some copies of the wildlife books I had recently written for his grandchildren and to stop in for coffee the next time I headed down to Robe and the limestone coast.

Many of Robe's restaurants, galleries and B&Bs are based in classic old buildings

Many of Robe’s restaurants, galleries and B&Bs are housed in classic old buildings

 

 

Until our next excursion

BAZ

PS

I think the raptor is a swamp harrier; any help on this identification would be appreciated

B

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

An Island in the Lake

17 Dec

Dear Reader:

Sunday morning is for bike riding. A time to drop my little point and shoot into the non-lycra shorts, haul the mountain bike out of the shed, and cycle through Adelaide’s extensive parklands or along the linear park trail which follows the Torrens River.

Torrens lake with Popeye and pelican

Torrens lake with Popeye and pelican (click to enlarge all images on this page)

On this particular morning I thought it would be nice to ride around the Torrens Lake which sits on the northern edge of the city by the picturesque Adelaide oval. There is always a wide variety of wildlife on the banks of the lake and my long-time photographic adversary, the water rat, can sometimes be found near the tiny island opposite the paddle boats. In fact, on my last excursion around the lake I caught sight of one of the elusive little rodents paddling into the reeds that form the bulk of this tiny refuge.

Island with convention centre in the background

Island with convention centre in the background

Unfortunately my journey past the island yielded no results on the water rat front but it did turn up a couple of quite unexpected visitors; a pair of nesting mudlarks with fully fledged young and a long necked turtle basking on a partially submerged tree branch. However, as the island is a good 40 metres from the bank and the targets fairly small, capturing good, clear images was always going to be a problem. Nevertheless, I fired off a series of shots as the birds and certainly the turtle might be gone before I could return later in the day armed with a DSLR and long lens.

Snake neck turtle basking

Snake neck turtle basking

Several hours later, in somewhat overcast conditions, I parked my car by the weir alongside the golf course and iconic Red Ochre restaurant at the northern end of Memorial Drive and walked along the path towards the little island. The banks along this part of the lake are thick with tall reeds and both purple swamp hens and dusky moorhens use them for shelter and nest building materials.

Purple swamp hen with chick near reed bed

Purple swamp hen with chick near reed bed

Despite many distractions, I finally reached the section of bank opposite the island and set about photographing the magpie family. The adults were fossicking for grubs in the muddy banks close to where I was sitting and feeding the young as they squawked for food in the crowded nest. Below the nest, a pair of black cormorants perched delicately on a dead branch stretching out the­­ir wings to dry after hunting carp in the lake.

More please

More please

 

Mudlark or Murray magpie forging in the bank for grubs to feed young

Mudlark or Murray magpie forging in the bank for grubs to feed young

 

Little black cormorant drying wings

Little black cormorant drying wings

After about 30 minutes, a large black swan that had been cropping the grass nearby waddled over to keep me company. Swans can be aggressive and this one certainly had something in mind as it settled no more than a metre away and glared at me intently. Over the years I have often observed large groups of birds congregating around a local personality who       I refer to as John Swan. He does not feed them but simply spends time with the birds; perhaps this particular swan mistook me quietly sitting on the bank for John. Finally the swan’s enthusiasm waned and it nonchalantly wandered off to crop the grass leaving me to finish documenting the tiny island’s wildlife community.

What's your problem

What’s your problem

Enjoy the festive season

Cheers

Baz

The Paralana Trail

29 Jun

Dear Reader 

It’s winter but you’d hardly know it. The afternoon sky is a clear endless blue and though there’s a hint of the approaching night’s cold desert chill, the temperature is still a comfortable 25 degrees. I am in the Arkaroola Wilderness reserve in the Gammon Ranges some 1000 kms north of Adelaide heading towards the Paralana hot springs. After a hearty breakfast in the resort’s dining room we have loaded our gear into Suzuki GV and locked in 4WD for the 30 km trip along one of the most interesting off road adventures in this world heritage region.

Ochre wall

Ochre wall (click to enlarge)

 We have been crawling over the rugged terrain for about 20 minutes and the stony track has opened into a dry creek bed. One section of the embankment is quite extraordinary; a wave shaped deposit of ochre that contrasts sharply with the surrounding bush. This significant deposit was of great importance to the Adnyamathanha people who used it in ceremonies and to trade with other Aboriginal groups.

Rock skink

Unknown skink species (click to enlarge)

 While the others break out a little gas stove to brew a ‘cuppa’ I walk along the creek bed camera in hand. The unseasonably warm weather has brought out a few reptiles that would normally be hibernating at this time of the year. They are wary and the only clue to their presence is an occasional rustle in the undergrowth. Finally, one little skink that is basking on a weathered tree trunk decides that remaining motionless is a better option than retreating, offering me a nice clear shot.

(click to enlarge)

Male mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

Femal mulga parrot feeding on blue bush berries

Female mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

 Just as I am about to make my way back to the vehicle a flash of colour amongst the skeletal branches of a long dead acacia tree catches my eye. I peer through the telephoto and focus on the turquoise plumage of a male mulga parrot. If it is the mating season then the female should be nearby and with a little persistence I find her on the ground feeding on some small yellow berries that are the fruit of a low growing saltbush-like plant.

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Yellow footed rock wallabies on steep cliff (click to enlarge)

 Refreshed, we resume our drive along the trail, slowly climbing into the hills which provide spectacular views across the Gammons. Following a twisting descent down a narrow track we enter the spectacular Baranarra Gorge with its sheer rock walls and boulder strewn pools of clear fresh water.   Our progress has been slower than planned and it is late afternoon when we start to pick our way along the edge of the water hole. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Looking up I catch sight of a pair of yellow footed rock wallabies precariously perched on the sheer cliff face. Once again, I am reminded of the extraordinary adaptations of these beautiful little animals. With their furry back feet perfectly designed for gripping rock surfaces, long counterbalancing tail and subtle camouflage, they are the Aussie equivalent of mountain goats.

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Chopper based at Arkaroola Village (click to enlarge)

 Unfortunately our stay must be a short one as the light is starting to fade and we must head back to our home base at the village. Tomorrow we have decided to take a helicopter flight over the area to get an overall picture of the terrain before our next off road foray.

Cheers

Baz

Two out of Three ‘aint Bad

15 Apr

  The red bellied black is sunning itself on the track about forty metres in front of us. It hasn’t caught the scent of the dog yet or reacted to the vibrations created by our footsteps. We stop and watch it for a few seconds and that change in rhythm seems to alert the snake. Suddenly, a grey faced heron that is feeding amongst the samphire plants that line the foreshore of the lake, takes to the air. That is warning enough for the reptile and in the blink of an eye it has disappeared into the wetland. My companions are relieved, the dog is unaware and I must admit to being a little disappointed. They walk on ahead while I sit on a pine railing near the last point of sighting and watch. Sometimes a little patience pays off and after a few minutes I see just enough of the snake to fire off a single frame before it weaves its way deeper into the swamp.

Red bellied black snake hunting

Red bellied black snake hunting

  These rather striking snakes are quite common in the cooler wetland areas of southern Australia. They grow to around 2 metres in length and their diet includes a variety of small mammals, amphibians, fish and reptiles including their own species. They are related to the deadlier and more aggressive brown and tiger snakes that also occur in this area. Red bellied blacks produce between 5 and 18 young which are delivered in a membranous sac; they are considered to bear live young rather than produce eggs.

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Lake Alexandrina on the shores of Milang

  My encounter with the black snake occurs along a dirt track on the edge of the small town of Milang, on the shore of Lake Alexandrina. With a population of just 500 Milang is a charming reminder of the bygone era of paddle steamers and rural living. The little township is a pleasant twenty minute drive from the rural centre of Strathalbyn. It is accessed by both sealed and unsealed roads which pass through rolling farmland and vineyards. With a caravan park, wharf, general store, designated walking trail and several historic sites; Milang is a great place to spend a couple of laid back days in the South Australian countryside.

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Common brown snake in strike position

  Leaving the black snake to its swampy refuge, I walk further down the trail and to my astonishment I catch sight of a long slender tail protruding from the edge of the grass verge. I freeze and ‘ever so carefully’ step forward until ‘snake two’ is immediately below me. It is almost completely obscured by a tangle of grasses and reeds. I watch it for a few minutes trying to angle my camera for a worthwhile shot. No luck; the common brown snake; the second most venomous land snake in the world; remains motionless, using its colouration and shape to stay hidden. I step back to change the angle fractionally and when I glance back through the viewfinder the snake is gone…without the slightest sound it simply disappeared into the grass.    

Dirt track between swamp and township

Dirt track between swamp and township

I have been photographing wildlife in South Australia for many years and I rarely see venomous snakes. To see two of the resident three species in the space of 15 minutes is extraordinary to say the least. Needless to say I did not run into a tiger snake on my return walk along the track.  

Cheers Baz

A Golden Day

24 Nov

 

Dear Reader:

The track is quite steep and the scrub dense. I can hear birds calling and catch fleeting glimpses of tiny finches foraging deep in the bushes. At the same time a group of lorikeets are feeding on eucalyptus blossoms in the canopy. But the birds are wary on this warm spring morning and keep moving out of camera range. Periodically, the eroded openings of narrow mine shafts, fenced off for safety, appear on both sides of the trail. I stop to reflect on the men who worked these dangerous tunnels armed only with buckets, ropes and spades. At the top of the hill, where I started my walk, a restored miner’s cottage and the weathered skeletons of a rock crusher and derrick suggest that the area had once been the centre of a sizeable mining operation.

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Mining equipment

 

I am at the Barossa Goldfields about 40 kms from Adelaide between Williamstown and Gawler. At its peak in 1870, the lure of gold attracted around 4000 hopeful souls to these hills and over 25000 ounces of the precious metal was extracted. The site has been carefully restored by volunteers and is in the Para Wirra National Park; a worthwhile stop en route to the Barossa wineries if you care to take the back roads rather than the main highway. There is a network of well marked trails to suit walkers of all abilities and many excellent interpretive signs that cover everything from local geology to the everyday life of the original miners.

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Cicadas

At the bottom of the trail there is a small creek still flowing from this year’s ample winter rains and as I cross it a kookaburra takes flight from a low branch where it had been watching for prey. The air is warm and buzzing with the calls of cicadas. I find a small eucalypt that seems to have more than its share of the ‘noisy little buggers’ and sit quietly in its shade for the next half hour trying to get a half decent shot.

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Wattle bird

 

As the trail climbs back out of the gully the terrain changes; the thick scrub gives way to more open grassland interspersed with stands of tall eucalypts. In the distance I catch sight of a pair of western grey kangaroos but they bound off over a ridge as I approach them. A scattering of rosellas are feeding in the grass and a wattle bird squawks defiance at a group of miner birds that are encroaching on its territory.

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Sleepy lizard or shingleback skink

As the track takes a sharp bend I come across a sign that indicates a short cut back to the cottage and car park where I started my journey. It seems an opportune time to sit under a tree and take a ‘swig’ from my water bottle. However, I am not the only one who finds this a convenient resting place. I hear a faint rustling sound by my feet and a sleepy lizard materialises between a couple of rocks, its pine cone scales shiny and dark in the dappled light.

 

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Grevillea flowers

 

I leave the lizard to its shady refuge and continue on my way, happy with my wildlife sightings and ready to wind up a successful morning’s trek. Close to the cottage another trail head appears. This track drops down sharply into a gully and I can see that the terrain has changed yet again. The soil is gravelly and grass trees, grevilleas and a variety of small plants with yellow, lilac and orange flowers, decorate the understory.

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Grasshopper species

The ever present eucalypts are a smaller more gnarled species. A few cicadas still buzz in the trees but on closer examination I can see a variety of other insects in the scrub including a glorious little cricket with ‘pink-camo-splotches’.

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Grass tree amongst stand of low growing eucalypts

 

I walk a couple of hundred metres further and realise that this trail is worth more than a cursory glance- but not today. And so ‘Dear Readers’ I look forward to another hike around the goldfields and the opportunity to share whatever I find with you.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

 

Springtime Turtles at Maggie’s Farm

7 Sep

Dear reader

Its early spring in South Australia and everything natural has started to flourish after a rather damp winter. To celebrate the season’s change I decided to take a drive out to Maggie’s in the Barossa Valley. Only an hour’s drive from the city, the Barossa is a favourite destination for urban South Australians. It is characterized by gently rolling hills and open bush-land where fine old homesteads sit amongst seas of vines. The land is not only conducive to what is arguably the finest wine growing area in Australia but also to wildlife. There is always a diverse pageant of bird life and even the odd kangaroo or fox to be seen on the way to visit a winery or two, which makes a drive through the valley a rewarding way to spend a spring afternoon.

AG Open bushland and vines

Open bushland and vines

Maggie Beers is a little pheasant farm situated in the heart of the valley. Maggie is a gourmet chef and she produces a range of fine homemade products ranging from pates and cheeses to ice cream and cooking oils. Visitors to the farm can sit on the decking or in a country styled dining room overlooking a charming little pond while sampling delicacies from quaint wicker baskets. The water is surrounded by tall eucalypts and an olive grove, which attract a variety of birds including rosellas, galahs and waterfowl but Maggie’s special wildlife treat resides in the pond not around it.

B Maggie Beer's from across the lake

Maggie Beer’s from across the lake

 

As I sat nibbling my pate and biscuits sipping a glass of red I caught sight of my first pond critter. At first it was a mere ripple in the water that caught my attention then two little dark nostrils appeared As the ripples drew closer I could see the little turtle clearly through the water. It was coming to the surface to breathe and probably warm its reptilian body in the sun before heading back to the bottom to search for yabbies, worms and other invertebrate goodies.

A Enjoying good food and wine while watching the wildlife

Enjoying good food and wine while watching the wildlife

The turtle stayed on the surface for at least 10 minutes stretching out its long snake neck and paddling closer to the shallows by the edge of the decking. Before the indulgences of dessert and coffee were complete I had watched half a dozen snake necked turtles appear and disappear in the area where I was sitting.

D Turtle in shallow water emerging to take a breath

Turtle in shallow water emerging to take a breath

Freshwater turtles belong to the family Chelidae and there are 24 species living in Australia’ rivers and wetlands. Interestingly, there are no land-living tortoises in Australia.  Maggie’s pond turtles are eastern long-necked tortoises (Chelodina longicolis). They grow to a carapace (shell) size of around 25cms and the neck can be a little over half the size of the carapace.

C underwater view of freshwater turtle swimming

Underwater view of freshwater turtle swimming

 

Watching wildlife in such ‘trying circumstances’ requires both stamina and endurance but my next step epitomized the daring and courage of the dedicated wildlife writer and photographer. Yes, you guessed it ‘Dear Reader’, I left the safety of my secure hide, shouldered a camera and walked around the pond. The goal: to try and get a little more insight into the behaviour of the turtles and see if there were any interesting birds in the trees.  

AF Turtle basking on the surface

Turtle basking on the surface

 

Apart from simply enjoying some different views of the turtles and being serenaded by a pair of affectionate sulphur crested cockatoos, my walk did not provide any new insights though one large turtle did appear to be munching a tadpole or small fish when it surfaced.

E A pair of affectionate sulphur crests

A pair of affectionate sulphur crests

On balance, a day sipping wine, eating fine food and photographing turtles did not seem to be a bad way to kick off spring.

Until next time

Baz

Coorong

28 Jul

Dear Reader

This week’s posting is about one of my favourite wildlife refuges: a place that rivals any of the habitats that I have visited over many years of travelling and one that is in my own backyard.

AA Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

Drying fishing nets on a Coorong beach

The Coorong is around two hours drive south east of South Australia’s capital city Adelaide. It consists of a 150 km, slender spit of land of land that runs parallel to the coast enclosing an extensive chain of brackish, shallow lagoons and salt pans. Impressive scrub covered dunes, battered by the heavy seas of the southern ocean on the seaward side, run the length of the narrow peninsular. At its north-western end the Coorong is fed by the River Murray which enters into two large lakes-Albert and Alexandrina. The unusual word ‘Coorong’ is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘kurangh’ which means ‘long neck”

AC Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

Wind blown trre amongst grasses with the shallow salt pans in the background

The region’s unique landscape of sand dunes, tussock grasses, low scrub and jagged limestone outcrops, is a haven for wildlife. Kangaroos, wombats, emus and an abundance of parrots and honeyeaters are just a few of the many native species that inhabit the thick, low bush that borders the lagoons and cover the towering dunes. An extraordinary number and variety of wading birds regularly gather in the Coorong. Enormous Australian Pelicans glide majestically along the waterway or spiral high on thermals before settling back on the water to fish. Tiny Mongolian Dotterels, which have travelled over 10 000 kilometres to avoid the northern winter, feed on the beachfronts between the crashing waves while avocets and curlews probe for shrimp and worms in the shallow limestone pools and mudflats. In total, over 400 species of birds, both residential and migratory, are found in this internationally recognised wetland.

AB Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Pelican in flight cross the shallow waters of the Coorong

Such a rich and diverse environment did not escape the attention of Australia’s original inhabitants and for around 40 000 years the Coorong has been home to the Ngarrindjeri (pronounced Nuh-run-jerri) people. They hunted kangaroos, emus and reptiles in the scrub as well as fishing and harvesting shellfish in the lagoons. Today the Ngarrindjeri still live in the area and practise many of the ancient skills that have been handed down through countless generations by ceremonies and stories. Those visitors who wish to learn more about the Coorong’s rich Aboriginal heritage can stay in lovely studio apartments, camp out, or park a caravan at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge with its sweeping views of the park and bush-tucker walks or canoe trips lead by local guides.

AD Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Sleepy or shingleback lizard amongst Coorong dunes

Despite its wild and lonely character the Coorong National Park is an easy day trip from Adelaide. Ideally, you would hire an off road vehicle in the city and take the coast road south then meander back north on a variety of tracks that parallel the highway to the mouth of the River Murray and the twin lakes of Alexandrina and Albert. From there you can join the main road back to the city and even drop into one of the regional wineries if time permits. However, if wild places are your passion and you feel the Coorong’s scenery and history are worth a longer stay there are a variety of established bush campsites as well as budget cabins, units and bunkhouses in the area. A slightly more upmarket approach is to book into one of the self-contained lakeside cottages at the historic homestead of Poltalloch on Lake Alexandrina. From there you can arrange guided tours of both the Coorong and lakes or use your own vehicle or boat to explore the area.

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near  lake Alexandrina

A battered old 4WD cruises along the beach at sunset near lake Alexandrina

I hope that one day, Dear Reader, you will come and visit this extraordinary place.

Cheers

Baz

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