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A Hot Semaphore Sunday

4 Mar

A Hot Semaphore Sunday

Dear Reader:

As I walk along the Semaphore jetty I can see several anglers working the shallows for silver whiting. Further along, another fisherman is jigging for squid. His bucket is half full of small baitfish and an opportunistic silver gull is sitting on the railing eying the contents as breakfast. The angler is unaware of his feathery adversary and a few minutes later the gull grabs a fish and heads off down the jetty.

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Silver gull

 

Semaphore is one of Adelaide’s original coastal suburbs and the jetty has been part of Adelaide’s beach scene for well over 100 years. It was originally used to moor pilot and customs craft. A coastal pathway follows the beachfront behind the dunes allowing visitors partial access to this protected area of sensitive coastal vegetation. The Esplanade, near the start of the jetty, is dominated by the iconic Palais Restaurant and Function Centre which was built in 1922. This Semaphore landmark has served as a bathing pavilion, dance hall, surf life saving club and kiosk before renovations in the 1990s.

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Lovely morning light

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View of the jetty and dunes over the function centre pavilion

 

Closer to the shore a young Pacific gull sits on a lighting fixture watching the antics of its smaller cousins and keeping a watchful eye on the ocean ready to patrol the shoreline in search of its next meal.

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Juvenile Pacific gull

 

It is getting warm by the time I walk off jetty on to the beach where I have left some snorkelling gear with a family who are enjoying the solitude of an early morning dip. The water is clear and there is little tidal movement as I enter from the beach. I follow the jetty poles out to sea as they provide shelter and food for a diverse collection of marine animals. It is not long before I notice a large blue swimming crab foraging near the bottom. We play a game of tag around the pole as the aggressive crustacean uses its powerful pincers to keep me at a distance.

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Agro blue swimmer crab

 

Half an hour in the water is enough to cool me off and I still want to walk along the pathway to search for birds and reptiles in the dunes before it gets too hot. Most of the bird life has sought shelter from the sun but I do encounter one singing honeyeater amongst the grasses that bind the loose sand of the dunes. Along one of the trails to the beach, a sleepy lizard emerges from under a coastal acacia bush to eye me suspiciously before disappearing amongst the ground cover.

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Singing honeyeater

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Shingleback or sleepy lizard, a kind of large skink

 

Over the next half hour I stroll down couple more paths and sit quietly amongst some of the coastal scrub watching for tell tale signs of animal life. Numerous doves peck amongst the ground covers and a group of wattle birds squabble noisily in one of the larger shrubs. However, as midday approaches the sun and heat has obviously taken its toll on both me and the wildlife and it is time for a cold drink and lunch. Needless to say, the Palais adequately provides both and as I look across the dunes from my table by the window, enjoying a delicate dessert, I reflect on how much I always enjoy my visits to Semaphore.

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What more do I need to say

 

Cheers

Baz

Clarendon…A Bend in the River

15 Jan

Clarendon…A Bend in the River 

Dear Reader:

From where I am standing, half hidden amongst the reeds, I can see that the river is quite high after some recent rainfall and the water fowl are making the best of it. Both maned and Pacific black ducks are dabbling along the sheltered banks. Any ducklings seem to have reached maturity and left the area though some of the other water birds such as purple swamp hens and dusky moorhens are still tending their chicks.

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Maned ducks

 

 

Riverbend Park is exactly what its name implies. Situated at Clarendon, just a two minute walk from the main street, it is a glorious little reserve with an abundance of habitats and wildlife. There are steep cliffs, reed beds, deep pools and shallow riffles. Wildlife aside, the township with its colonial feel, lovely old homes and good eateries, is a destination in itself and certainly worth the forty minute drive from the city.

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Bend in the river

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Classic old home

 

As I stroll along the well grassed banks of the park I notice several species of honeyeaters flitting across the water. The birds seem to be attracted to a huge river gum, gorging themselves on the insects sheltering beneath its peeling layers of bark. Positioning myself behind a nearby bench I rest the camera on a bean bag for stability and fire off a few shots, eventually capturing an image of a white plumed honeyeater hunting for bugs.

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Plumed honeyeater

 

 I follow a well worn dirt road downstream from the car park towards some crumbling cliffs that rise up from the river bank. Unable to go any further, I sit and wait for a while with the camera resting on my lap. There is movement in the undergrowth all around me and after a few minutes I catch sight of a small water skink making its way down to the water.

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Water skink

 

After spending a couple of hours in the park, it’s time to indulge in lunch at the local bakery. I take the short walk over the ford then up a well worn path to the main street. Half way up the path I can hear the high pitched twittering of blue wrens. Back out with the camera for one last time! The decision is justified as both a male and female leave the shelter of the bushes to forage on the ground for their avian version of my long anticipated lunch.

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Female blue wren

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male blue wren

 

Cheers

And

Enjoy the New Year!

Baz

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

B9

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

B13

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

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