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South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula underwater

2 Dec

Dear Reader:

 I am snorkelling along the edge of the reef just off Aldinga Beach. The water is shallow and warm with just a light breeze ruffling the surface. Below me the terrain changes from seagrass to sand with a little outcrop of rocky reef in between and I am intent on photographing the variety of marine organisms that inhabit these different habitats.

 

A patch of reef near the seagrass beds

 

The reef has numerous invertebrates clinging to, and encrusting its wide variety of niches and a biscuit star is my first sighting. This pentagonal little seastar can be found on reefs and rocky surfaces and has a number of colour variations between light orange to reddish. It has quite large overlapping plates on its surface and has an arm radius up to 7cms.

 

Biscuit star alongside sea snail on reef

 

Leaving the little patch of reef behind I start to scour the seagrass bed where it meets the sand patches. My choice of location pays dividends as I disturb a blue swimmer crab that has been hunting in the seagrass.

 

Blue swimmer crab does not want to be photographed

 

Blue swimmer crabs have large pincers on their two front legs and paddles on the rear pair. They can be seen moving along the bottom in weedy and sandy areas but often bury themselves in the soft sand and mud. These large crabs can be quite aggressive when approached and feed on live animals as well as scavenging. They are migratory appearing from September to April in SA waters. Taking female Blue Swimmer Crabs with eggs and animals under 11 cms is illegal and there is a personal bag limit of 20 crabs per day. These restrictions help preserve the numbers of this commercially and recreationally valuable species.

These invertebrates are just two of my many encounters on the reef and the bushland around the Fleurieu Peninsula and I shall continue this story in my next post.

Cheers

Baz

Notes:

Over the next few months I will be writing a book about the wildlife of the Fleurieu Peninsula. My posts will reflect the research I am doing and provide more detailed information about each animal that I encounter.

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Hoseshoe Bay’s Coastal Wonders

1 Oct

Dear Reader:

The Soldiers Memorial Gardens overlooks Horseshoe Bay; one of the most picturesque locations on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Well kept lawns are surrounded by flower beds and fronted by massive Norfolk Island Pines that attract a wide variety of wildlife.

 

View of Bay from gardens

 

Today the grassed areas have just been mown and two beautiful, red-rumped parrots are feeding on some seed heads that have been scattered by the mower. Male birds are more colourful than the females with brighter plumage and a red splash of colour on the lower back. The gardener seems to have also stirred up some insects which are being vigorously hawked by a lively little wagtail.

 

Red rumped parrot

 

Wagtail

Near the gardens a track runs along the coast towards the jetty and then along the face of boulder strewn cliffs. Several wattle birds are gathering nectar from coastal blooms of agapanthus and I can see both terns and silver gulls patrolling the wave break in search of prey.

 

Wattle bird feeding

 

Local jetty and cliffs

 

There are rocky outcrops at both ends of Horseshoe Bay and small islands in the mouth. These are home to a myriad of sea creatures. Sweep, drummer and zebra fish are just a few of the fish species that abound here. The rugged, algae dominated rocks also provide habitats for a wealth of invertebrates including: crayfish, crabs, sea snails, sponges and starfish…to name but a few.

 

Sea snail (gastropod) probably a pheasant shell species

 

From a high point on the coastal path I have a good view of the bay and I take some time to sit and eat a snack from the Local Port Elliot bakery. Behind me I can hear the call of singing honeyeaters and in front the gentle rushing sound of the incoming tide and surf on the rocks….. a fine way to finish my visit to Horshoe Bay.

 

Singing honeyeater

 

Coastal walk and view of islands in bay

 

 Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

This is an easy walk which is quite suitable for families and seniors with public toilets, food outlets and parking nearby.

 

 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

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

A Walk Around West Lakes

14 Mar

Dear Reader: Once upon a time when I was several decades younger and people thought less about the environment, there was a mangrove swamp behind the dunes near Tennyson Beach. The government of the day and even the general public cared little for mangroves and even less for anything described as a swamp. Consequently, they allowed developers to ‘liberate’ this area from its unproductive state and create a new suburb in its place. The result was West Lakes. For some, the loss of this unique wetland was an environmental tragedy as such areas are important nurseries for many marine species and significant wild places to be cherished.

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Nearby mangrove swamp demonstrates what the area looked like before development

  History aside, West Lakes remains a worthwhile place to visit and walking around the man-made lake on a fine autumn afternoon still provides many interesting wildlife encounters. Instead of samphire swamp and mangrove forest, the edge of the lake is defined by fine sand and a ruler straight concrete edge which steps down into the water. Despite its artificial nature, marine invertebrates and small fish still feed on the algal growth that clings to this constructed shoreline. And on occasions I have even seen nudibranchs, a kind of sea slug with a prominent flower like gills on their backs, grazing on the concrete surfaces.

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West Lakes today

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A grazing nudibranch species

  Because the lake has a less diverse ecology than the original swampland, there are fewer fish species; although sizeable bream, mullet and even the occasional mulloway make it a popular venue for anglers. In fact, the people who live on its shore often feed the resident bream and have quite large schools living near their private jetties and landings. These fish are generally off limits to the fishers but school children who snorkel off the West Lakes Aquatic Centre get quite a thrill when an instructor lures a school from a nearby pontoon.

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Large bream close to the shoreline

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School student snorkelling near the aquatics centre

  The fish, crabs and sundry other creatures inevitably attracts predators. Because of the intakes that feed water in from the sea, sharks are virtually unheard of in the lake system and the main hunters are seabirds. Pelicans and cormorants are common and the ubiquitous silver gulls carry out their indispensible clean up duties along the shoreline.

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Little pied cormorant drying its wings on a pontoon

  Various paths and roads follow the course of the lake system. Walking or cycling along them in the evening and early morning is best for wildlife encounters. However, even at midday when the sun is up and all is relatively quiet on the wildlife front, the well-tended gardens along the fringe of the lake still attract a wide variety of common urban birds as well as insects and the occasional lizard.

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Bottle brush in lakeside gardens

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Gaura in lakeside gardens

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New Holland honeyeater feeding in garden

  Finally, a couple of considerations for those contemplating a walk around the lake. Start at the aquatics centre off Military road as there is a nice little cafe overlooking the water. And take a look at the Tennyson Dunes just across the road from the lake. They separate the urban zone from the seashore and are yet another wonderful South Aussie environment to explore… (see ‘Seaside Dragons’…30th Dec 2012)   Until next time Cheers Baz

Henley Square……Crabs, Coffee and Coastline

13 Jan

Dear Reader:

The morning is warm and still with hardly a breath of wind. Although the water is not as clear as I would have liked it is worth putting on a mask and flippers to explore the shallows alongside the jetty.

Henley jetty on a summer's day

Henley jetty on a summer’s day (click to enlarge all images)

 

 

As I swim into the shadows beneath one of the jetty piles I can just make out a school of sizeable bream with a few silver whiting scattered amongst them. They are massing near the wooden posts directly below several fishermen who have empty buckets and a look of ‘no luck today’ on their faces.

 

School of bream under the  jetty

School of bream under the jetty

 

 

The wind is strengthening a little which often stirs up the sand and makes underwater photography challenging to say the least. It is time to switch to macro settings and look for small organisms on the sandy bottom. Numerous furrows snake across the undulating sand like roads through desert dunes. I follow one trail and probe the end point gently with my dive knife to see if I can reveal the perpetrator…no luck. But my digging does annoy a swimmer crab half buried in the sand only an arm’s length away. The little creature immediately strikes an aggressive pose angling up towards me with nippers spread and ready to attack.

Sand crab, note the swimming paddles on the rear legs and the faint furrow in the sand made by a sea snail

Sand crab, note the swimming paddles on the rear legs and the faint furrow in the sand made by a sea snail

 

Anemone, sea squirt and green algae attached to a jetty pile

Anemone, sea squirt and green algae attached to a jetty pile

 

 

I spend a few more minutes exploring the various organisms that cling to the jetty piles. Satisfied with a few close up shots of anemones and sea squirts, I head for the change rooms and outdoor shower to wash off my gear. And then, the all important decision…. which of the beachside al fresco restaurants for coffee and breakfast? Henley Square at the foot of the jetty is one of Adelaide’s favourite beachside haunts where you will invariably find an eclectic collection of walkers, cyclists, fishers and even the odd naturalist; all enjoying the coastal ambience and quality restaurants.

Cafe culture on a sunny morning

Cafe culture on a sunny morning

 

Coastal strip of dune vegetation including the pine used as vantage point by a nankeen kestrel

Coastal strip of dune vegetation including the pine used as vantage point by a nankeen kestrel

 

 

 

Refuelled and refreshed by my morning dip I walk south along the bikeway that skirts this section of coastline. Between the beach and the path there is a long stretch of low coastal dunes that have been revegetated over the last decade providing an interesting ecosystem that is home to a variety of plant and animal species.

Nankeen kestrel in flight. one of the more common raptors that feeds mainly on ground dwellers but will attack other birds

Nankeen kestrel in flight. one of the more common raptors that feeds mainly on ground dwellers but will attack other birds

 

 

Several small groups of sparrows and some honeyeaters are flitting through the foliage but they seem extremely nervous. The reason for their apprehension soon becomes obvious as a nankeen kestrel perches on a tall pine tree to survey its hunting zone. The bird of prey, however, does not go unnoticed by a pair of noisy miners that dive bomb the predator and force it to take to the air again.

Blue bees are a small native species that have a more errtic, zippy flight pattern than common honey bees

Blue bees are a small native species that have a more erratic, zippy flight pattern than common honey bees

 

A spcies of White butterfly feeding on coastal blooming plants

A species of white butterfly feeding on coastal blooming plants

 

 

The temperature is rising and the chance of spotting larger animals diminishing as the day progresses and they seek shelter from the sun. I turn back towards the jetty and focus my attention on the unique coastal plant life and the bees, wasps and butterflies that feed on the various flowering shrubs. Near one of the sandy tracks that lead down to the water a thick stand of acacias, with delicate blue flowering grasses growing amongst them, is attracting native blue bees and several varieties of butterflies. Tricky images to capture as the bees are speedy, erratic little creatures and the butterflies are only landing on the blossoms for a few seconds.

Despite their bulk pelicans are graceful in flight.

Despite their bulk pelicans are graceful in flight.

 

Australian pelicans have a wingspan of around 2 metres

Australian pelicans have a wingspan of around 2 metres

 

 

By the time get back to the square I am ready to sit under one of the square’s cafe umbrellas and sip a long cool drink while watching the locals enjoying another warm South Aussie day at the beach. It’s hot now and time to drive home and sort my pictures. I slip the camera strap over my shoulder ready to leave as one final image presents itself. An Australian pelican glides in low over the water and gracefully deposits itself on one of the jetty light poles and glances in my direction…..thanks!!

 

Until we chat again

Baz  

Rapid Bay’s Misty Morning Predators

5 Jul

Dear Reader:

The road drops sharply from a cloud enveloped ridge top to the beach then emerges from the mist alongside a small creek. The sky is clearer close to the ocean and I can see the familiar outline of the steep cliffs and the twin jetties that jut out into the gulf. It is a chilly winter’s morning and my hands are cold as I organise my back pack and cameras ready for a stroll along the seafront.

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The creek at Rapid Bay (click to enlarge)

Two large birds are flying slowly along the beach front; in the early morning light they seem to resemble pacific gulls, a fairly common species along this part of the coast. I track the seabirds with my long lens and fire off a series of shots and quickly review them. Although the light mist obscured the birds’ features to the naked eye the captured images reveal a pleasant surprise. The wing feathers, tail shape and characteristically curved beak indicate a far more interesting and less common bird….the white breasted sea eagle. A little further down the coast I can see the eagles rise up on a thermal alongside the cliffs as they soar in tight spirals before resuming their beach patrol.

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White breasted sea eagle (click to enlarge)

The beach with its high cliffs, creek and mining jetty define one of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s most interesting and historic locations; Rapid Bay.  It was here that Adelaide’s original surveyor Colonel Light anchored his brig ‘The Rapid’ in the sheltered bay uttering the words “I have hardly seen a place I like better”.  Only 100 kms south of Adelaide, Rapid Bay is a prime location for divers and anglers. It is also  holds a significant place in the lore of several local Aboriginal peoples; a feature of the area that I will explore in more depth at a later date.

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Anglers on the jetty (click to enlarge)

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Southern calamari (click to enlarge)

From the beach front I walk along a short dirt road to the jetty. A couple of fishers tell me that a sea lion has been hunting in the shallows between the new and old jetty. After a few minutes a sleek grey shape twists and turns in the water only a dozen metres away and a whiskery face pops up, surveys the surface and is gone as suddenly as it appeared. The anglers tell me that they have tossed a couple of squid to it and that the sealion has been around the jetties for the last couple of days.

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Australian sealion (click to enlarge)

I watch the men jigging for squid for a few more minutes before returning to the car which is parked near the creek. As I pack up my gear I can hear the sound of finches in the bushes and reeds but it is difficult to focus on the tiny birds especially in these low light conditions. While I am concentrating on the tiny birds a large raven appears on the nearby embankment with a piece of squid in its beak and proceeds to tear the rubbery flesh apart while keeping a wary eye on me and croaking out a few warning calls to any other would be scavengers that might fancy a calamari entree.

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Little raven (click to enlarge)

Eagles, sealions, squid and even a dolphin that cruises past as I leave the jetty; it has been a morning of predators and scavengers both aquatic and aerial. And now it is my turn to grab a bite to eat. Leonard’s Mill, a renovated flour mill, is one of my favourite dining spots and on the main highway to town a mere 15 kms from the Rapid Bay turn off. Their calamari is on the menu as salt and pepper squid and best enjoyed with a fine white wine from the local vineyards.

Cheers

Baz

Port Willunga’s Natural Charms

24 May

There is a pair of pigeons nesting along the limestone cliffs. They are billing and cooing and puffing up their feathers if rival birds come anywhere near their territory. Unbeknown to the loving pair a far greater menace, in the form of kestrel, is circling high above, scanning the cliff face for a tasty pigeon treat. Luckily for the nesting pair, the hunter overlooks them or perhaps the angle of attack is too steep and the cliffs too perilous.

Lucky pigeons

Lucky pigeons……click to enlarge

 

I am walking along Port Willunga beach just 40 minutes from Adelaide; a glorious little stretch of white sand that lies below ochre limestone cliffs and bounded by the Aldinga reef to the south and Gull Rock to the north. The reef is a marine sanctuary that showcases a wide variety of the state’s diverse aquatic life. And the beach is a rich repository of the South Australia’s pastoral history where the sea scoured remnants of an old wheat jetty, built in 1853, protrudes from the shallow water. Despite its idyllic setting, Port Willunga also harbours a darker history with no less than five ships being wrecked in the vicinity. The most famous of these was the Star of Greece whose skeleton can still be explored just 500m offshore.

The view from the beach

The view from the beach…..click to enlarge

 

 

Leaving the fortuitous pigeons to their parental duties I kick off my shoes and walk through the water amongst the old jetty piles. The wood is bleached white and worn by wind, sand and rain. Tenacious little limpets cling to the timber and a shore crab scuttles past my feet. Looking back across the beach I can see the rough hewn caves that were dug into the cliffs to house fishing dingies and give shelter to the hardy men who made a living from these waters.

Drummer, leatherjackets, sweep and a moonlighter on the edge of the reef....click to enlarge

Drummer, leatherjackets, sweep and a moonlighter on the edge of the reef….click to enlarge

 

Warm clear water, a fine day and good light….thinks….twenty minutes later I am snorkeling along the edge of the reef. The water is fairly shallow and the marine life prolific. A school of zebra fish swims close to me and large dusky morwong and magpie perch feed along the undercut shelves that define the reef’s edge. At the end of one rocky outcrop a number of different species are congregating where the reef and the adjacent seagrass meadow intersect. I dive to the bottom and hold onto the rocks to steady myself and fire off a couple of shots. Later when I review the images they seem to reflect both the environment and the moment. An hour in the water and I’m getting a little chilly and its time to go back, this time I walk across the shallow rocky platform exploring the many tidal pools.

A casual lunch outside or fine dining inside....click to enlarge

A casual lunch outside or fine dining inside….click to enlarge

 

 

The change rooms at the end of the car park make getting out of the wet suit easy and the short walk up the slope to the restaurant, named after the hapless Star of Greece, gives me a good view north and south along the coast. Often I have caught sight of a pod of dolphins cruising the calm gulf waters but not today; just a few fishers and an optimistic body surfer are enjoying the water. However, after a strenuous swim and a walk along the beach my priorities have changed from natural history to lunch and the boutique restaurant, once a fish and chip shop that I frequented as a lad, beckons. Fresh seafood, quality local produce and wines; a typically South Aussie way to finish my day.

 

Cheers

Baz

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