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Whyalla’s Coastal Fringe

25 Jun

Whyalla’s Coastal Fringe

Dear Reader:

The grey kangaroo is bounding along the small levy that cuts across a shallow clay pan near the edge of a tidal flat. It stops monetarily and twitches its mobile ears, looks around, then continues on its way into the scrub alongside the raised earthen mound. I get a few seconds to make a shot and the wary marsupial is gone.

Grey kangaroo

 I am exploring the coastal fringe of Whyalla South Australia’s third most populous city. The steel and regional centre is situated near the head of Spencer Gulf on the Eyre Peninsula about 450 kms from Adelaide. The area is a mixture of mangrove, tidal flats, sandy beach and some small industrial areas that enclose substantial freshwater pools. Several roads lead down towards the coast from the Lincoln Highway and some of the terrain requires 4WD.

Garden centipede

Egyptian beetle 

I take the vehicle across one of the mud flats and have to fight to keep from getting bogged. Slipping the SUV into low range and slowly sliding across the surface I wrestle with the steering until the wheels grip sand on the edge of the levy. Relieved, I get out and survey the quagmire of clay-like debris stuck to the wheel arches. But my close call has led me to a cosy little depression amongst the scrub and I decide to move a few fallen branches and search for invertebrates. After a few minutes I unearth a rather large garden centipede and a few Egyptian or ‘cellar beetles’ as well as some different ant species. After a little macro photography I carefully replace their homes.

Australian pelicans 

Another dirt road takes me past the rifle club and some large freshwater ponds that have attracted a small group of pelicans. The birds appear to be simply congregating and socialising between short forays into the water to feed. Along the edge of the water there are several different species of small waders including dotterels and plovers but they are wary and take flight when I approach.

Crested pigeons 

The scrub alongside the mangrove patches is also home to a variety of birds including singing honeyeaters and fantails. One scrubby eucalypt that has managed to endure decades of salty onshore winds provides shelter for a trio of crested pigeons a species that I often see found foraging in the coastal bush.

View from Hummock Hill 

I head back onto the highway drive back into the city and up to a local lookout. Hummock Hill is a fitting place to end my exploration of Whyalla’s coastal fringe. The site of the first settlement in 1901 it provides panoramic views of the city, coast and surrounding bushland. Hummock Hill also served as a gun emplacement during the Second World War and has lately been developed as an historic site; lovely place to simply take in the rugged beauty that this area has to offer.

Cheers

Baz 

 I have recently spent time in Africa and the link below will allow you to enjoy images and text describing some of my encounters with the wonderful wildlife of Botswana and Zambia. I will attach a new image and notes to accompany each post.

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

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Blackwood’s Wittunga Botanic Park

12 Nov

 

Blackwood’s Wittunga Botanic Park 

Dear Reader:

There is a rainbow lorikeet around fifty metres away from me. The excitable little bird has inverted its body to dip its feathery tongue into a tube shaped eremophila blossom.  Several other species of birds including new Holland honeyeaters and wattle birds are feeding in the same garden beds where there is a smorgasbord of flowers to choose from. Clever planting also attract a variety of butterflies which feed on the nectar and help to pollinate plants by transferring pollen.

 

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Rainbow lorikeet feeding

 

I am walking around the Wittunga Botanical Gardens near Blackwood in Adelaide’s foothills, just a twenty minute drive from the CBD. The busy little township is nestled into bushland where koalas and myriad bird species are common visitors. There are several hotels, bakeries and restaurants in the area and the Belair National Park and Golf course make this an ideal day trip for city residents.

 

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Old church and soldiers’ memorial in Blackwood

 

Leaving the flower beds behind I venture down to the lake that is the central feature of the park. It is surrounded by massive gum trees and there are crows, honeyeaters and a kookaburra perched in some of the branches that overhang the water. But it is a tiny head that emerges from the lake that draws my attention as I watch a Macquarie short-necked turtle swim towards the shore. The side-plate sized reptile clambers up on to a fallen branch and positions itself to catch some warming sunlight.

 

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Central lake and gardens

 

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Macquarie freshwater turtle

 

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Pacific black ducks

At the end of a long cool, wet summer the lake is full of new life. I spot purple swamp hens tending their fluffy black chicks near the reed beds. Several species of frogs are calling; probably spotted marsh frogs and common froglets or perhaps a potty bonk. Two Pacific black ducks are preening their feathers near the water’s edge and Eurasian coots appear to be amorously pursuing each other further from the bank.

 

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Ra venfeeding, they are often mistakenly called crows

 

Various pathways meander around the lake and I choose one that cuts through a stand of massive red gums. A lone raven is strutting around the perimeter of one tree pecking at the bark which is cracked and sloughing off the trunk. The bark of most eucalypts is an important environment for many smaller animals. Insects and spiders find shelter and breed there while larger predators such as birds and lizards find it a fertile hunting ground.

 

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Koala portrait shot

 

Having enjoyed a pleasant walk around the lake while indulging my passion for both wildlife and plants in general I walk back to the car park by way of a small stand of gums that run along the northern edge of the gardens. They are the kind of trees that might be attractive to koalas and I know that these endearing marsupials are common in the Blackwood area. Sure enough, there is one wedged between two branches in what I can only describe as the perfect koala portrait pose; a nice way to finish my walk.

 

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Lesser-wanderer butterfly

 

Enjoy our city and suburban parks in spring as they really are some of the best in the world.

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.

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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.

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Red track, green scrub and blue coast

 

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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.

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Point Lowly lighthouse

 

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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.

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Pacific gull hunting

 

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Wood swallow on guttering

 

 

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

 

Until our next adventure

Cheers

Baz

Swan Reach……Riverside Wildlife Over Lunch

23 Apr

Dear Reader: From where I am sitting I can see the little skink scurrying around the old tree trunk searching in the tiny crevices and under the bark for insects. But the diminutive reptile does not have a stress free existence. Just metres away, a blue winged kookaburra sits patiently on the branch of a massive river gum watching for prey. And this snack sized critter needs to be more than just a little vigilant.

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A small tree skink searching for prey

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Laughing kookaburra on a tree branch overlooking the balcony

  However, it is not the outback that is the setting for this natural drama, but a cliff-top pub on the Murray River. We have just driven up through the Adelaide hills, past Springton and then across the mallee country to Cadell before crossing the river on a ferry. Now, over a couple of excellent pub meals; my calamari schnitzel and TC’s lamb roast, we are enjoying a spectacular view across the river from the dining room of the Swan Reach Hotel.

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The pub viewed from the ferry

  Leaving my travel companion to muse over the dessert menu I scramble down a winding pathway to the river bank and walk along a riverside trail under the steep ochre cliffs. The crumbling sedimentary formations are the remnants of an ancient seabed that covered the area millennia ago. Close inspection reveals the fossil remains of many marine creatures including shellfish and sea urchins. There are also more recent intrusions into the rocks such as bird and insect nests as well as numerous holes and crevices that are home to ants, spiders and various other invertebrates.

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Ochre cliffs and blue sky

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Native wasp near fossil imprints

  As if to illustrate this point, a mud daubing wasp lands on the rocks just as I am photographing some fossil remnants and proceeds to scrape away at a nest site. Who says you can’t train bugs to cooperate?

  The trail is overshadowed by huge river gums and as I look up into the branches another world of wildlife reveals itself. Several rosellas, peck, preen and call on the extremity of a hollow tree branch that reaches over the water and a brown hawk lands in the uppermost branches to survey the river.

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Lorikeets preening in nesting hole

 

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Golden orb spider with a smaller male just visible under her back left leg

  A little closer, suspended from a lower branch, a large orb weaver spider checks its web for lunch. The large female is watched intently by her tiny suitor who tries to get close enough to mate with a bride who will, given half a chance, kill and devour him.

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View from the dining room with the ferry just visible on the far bank

  However, dessert beckons and it’s time to leave the riverside dramas and get back to the dining room and the little skink that lives by the balcony.   Cheers Baz

Mt Lofty on a Winter’s Day

12 Jul

Dear Reader:

Last weekend was cool and clear, perfect winter weather for a visit to Adelaide’s highest point, Mt lofty. The bush covered peak is a mere twenty minutes drive from the city along the SE freeway and the viewing deck and restaurant are surrounded by tall eucalypts that are home to a variety of wildlife.

AD A view from the top  (click to enlarge)

A view from the top (click to enlarge)

A selection of walking trails and bike tracks converge on the summit and earlier in the year I had spent some time walking along their lower sections photographing wildlife. However, on this occasion I had decided to see if the distribution of species was different at a slightly higher altitude in the cooler months.

AG Mt Lofty summit - Copy

Mt Lofty summit (click to enlarge)

The summit was quite busy with a smattering of mountain bikers and walkers using the trails and dozens of casual visitors simply enjoying coffee and the view from the observation deck and glass fronted dining areas. As I knelt down by my pack to select a lens I heard the chattering call of some blue wrens that were flitting between some nearby bushes and diving into the undergrowth. I watched their antics for a few minutes before heading off on one of the shorter trails that circle the summit.

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Male blue wren surveying his territory(click to enlarge)

AH White backed magpie (click to enlarge)

White backed magpie (click to enlarge)

After walking for several minutes I noticed a sizeable magpie foraging for grubs amongst the grass and rocks. As I paused to take a few shots a group of Japanese tourists stopped and asked about the different birds in this area. We spent an enjoyable few minutes chatting and comparing their native species to ours; it transpired that they were an ornithological party on a study tour.

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Native heath (click to enlarge)

AB Rosella feeding in the trees (click to enlarge)

Rosella feeding in the trees (click to enlarge)

A little further along the trail the greens and browns of the understory were enhanced by small patches of bright red flowers belonging to one of the hardy little heaths that flowers in the winter months. But the real splash of colour on this winter’s day was a colourful Adelaide rosella that was feeding on berries high in the branches above me. This was quite unusual as virtually every rosella I have observed feeding has been foraging on the ground for seeds and tubers.

AA Large male koala near the restaurant entrance - Copy

Large male koala near the restaurant exit (click to enlarge)

Mount Lofty, as I have pointed out, is a prime tourism site and in keeping with this status it provided one final surprise. A large male koala, that seemed to be extending a farewell gesture of pure Australiana, was comfortably tucked into the forked branches of a large gum tree alongside to the exit path.

Cheers

Baz

Mount Barker’s Wetland Wonders

8 Jun

Dear Reader;

It is a glorious autumn day, perfect for a little bird-watching and a stroll around the water.

 

The tiny plover has been edging around the reed beds for the last ten minutes, finally coming out of the dense cover around the lake to probe the mud for worms and other avian niceties. The colourful little wader seems more confident and continues to feed just forty metres from where I am concealed in the undergrowth; a little too close to bull ant nest for comfort. Eventually it comes close enough for me to fire off a couple of shots before taking off abruptly, spooked by a pair of maned ducks cruising low over the water.

 

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Black-fronted plover (click to enlarge)

 

I am at the Laratinga wetland on the edge of Mount Barker, the largest town in the Adelaide Hills. The word Laratinga comes from the indigenous name for the Mt Barker Creek and near the entrance of the wetlands there is magical series of portraits that relate episodes within the timeline of the original inhabitants of the area, the Peramangk people. Mount Barker is a busy regional centre with plenty of places to buy fresh local ingredients for making up a picnic lunch to enjoy while you wander around the wetlands observing the diverse collection of plants and animals that live there.

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Portraits at the wetlands (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

Leaving my hiding place on the edge of the lake, I follow one of the many trails that zigzag through the reserve. Near the edge of another patch of reeds a small flock of ibis are feeding in the shallows. Their distinctive curved beaks and greater size means they might be feeding in the same habitat as the little plover but their prey will be distinctly different. Such a variety of beaks, feet and size is one of the reasons that so many different species of birds can feed together in the same area without destroying the food supply. But the wetland is not reserved for wildlife enthusiasts and a jogger runs a little too close to the flock causing the them take to the air. Despite this being a fairly recent wetland, constructed by the council to filter water naturally, wildlife and people live quite harmoniously and the birds soon return to their chosen spot and resume dining.

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Ibis in flight (click to enlarge)

 

 

Although I have caught a fleeting glimpse of a couple of turtles in the shallow pools and the undergrowth has more than healthy population of insects; it is the bird life that is dominating my walk around the wetlands. The reeds that encircle the water are a veritable cathedral of birdsong. I can hear the twitter of finches and reed warblers in the tangle of greenery and occasionally catch sight of one of the tiny birds flitting amongst them. Finally a superb blue wren makes a more prolonged appearance as it perches on a reed stem giving me just enough time for one last shot before I leave.

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Superb blue wren (click to enlarge)

 

Cheers

Baz

Red Earth Wildlife

28 Jun

Dear Reader

South Australia’s capital Adelaide is a wonderful starting point for long country drives that take you through a variety of landscapes ranging from seemingly endless wheat fields to rugged coastline and dense bushland. The  city sits in the curve of the Mount Lofty Ranges. It has a fine Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool wet winters. However, as you travel further west both the terrain and the climate change dramatically. The grassy plains and forests give way to saltbush, desert and scrubland. Even the earth beneath your feet looks different, the browns and greys turn to a rusty red, a signature feature of this iron rich land.

AB Bush track and old sheep fencing near Whyalla

Bush track and old sheep fencing near Whyalla

I have travelled west on many occasions to visit family on the Eyre Peninsula. They live in Whyalla, the state’s largest city after Adelaide. Whyalla lies on the coast and is a steel making centre where the iron rich rock that paints the landscape its terra cotta shades is mined, processed and exported to all corners of the globe. The city is well positioned for exploring the rugged Eyre Peninsula and has good accommodation as well as excellent fishing and interesting mangrove stands along the shallow foreshore. However, it is the nearby rugged bush landscape and hardy desert creatures that carve out an existence from it, that never fail to inspire me when I visit.

AB Different layers of arid scrub on Eyre Peninsula

Different layers of arid scrub on Eyre Peninsula

My last visit a little, at the end of this summer, was particularly rewarding. We had been without significant rain for well over a month which often brings the wildlife closer to the town where there is casual water and food, albeit not quite their natural diet, around parks and other public spaces. As many desert animals are crepuscular or nocturnal they tend to head back into the shelter of the surrounding bush during the day when the light is better for photography. This behaviour results in a narrow window of opportunity, during the early morning and late afternoon, for wildlife watching.

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Red Kangaroo in semi desert terrain near Whyalla

 

A morning drive along one of the narrow bush tracks, used by local farmers to repair fencing, brought me to a large clearing and a brief encounter with a huge male red kangaroo. He was alone and grazing on some low shrubs and grasses and moved slowly into the bush as I approached. Several of the smaller grey coloureds females bounded across the track as I moved further along the trail and I caught a passing glimpse of an emu way picking its way through some stands of Myall trees. For the next hour the wildlife viewing was much the same, a few roos in the distance and the occasional bird of prey and flights of parrots flushed out of the surrounding bush.

hite-browed Wood Swallow perched near its nest in a fence post

White-browed Wood Swallow perched near its nest in a fence post

 

Later in the evening I drove along a different trail and had to engage low ratio 4WD to scramble my SUV across some steep shale covered sections. But it was well worth it when I climbed out and walked slowly through a particularly promising section of scrub. Crouching low in the bushes I spotted a couple of white browed wood swallows, a species I had never photographed and certainly a beautiful little bird and one superbly adapted to this green grey outback country.  

AF Tawny frogmouths group camouflagedin Myall Scrub in the late afternoon

Tawny frogmouths group camouflaged in Myall Scrub in the late afternoon

 

Satisfied with my afternoon’s work, I checked the ground for ants, scorpions or other pain inducing critters, sat down under an old, weathered Myall tree and pulled out my drink bottle. Sitting quietly in the bush is a treat for a city guy and I was going to enjoy some time alone before driving back for dinner.  However, it turned out that I was not alone in my choice of resting places. Perched on one of the branches, no more than three metres from away, was a family of tawny frogmouths; an insectivorous, nocturnal species unique to Australia that has an owl like appearance and the most amazing camouflage that I have ever seen. The birds were seeing out the daylight hours in the shade and paid me no heed as remaining still is a crucial part of their survival strategy. A final series of images to end an amazing morning in the bush.

Cheers

Baz

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