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Port Augusta…Arid Lands Botanic Gardens

7 Dec

Dear Reader:

The sand monitor, a kind of goanna, is raised slightly off the ground and peering intently towards me. It doesn’t seem too perturbed by my presence. In fact, I am probably the more excited of the two. It is my first encounter with one of these lizards which can reach a length of around 1.5 metres. Like all monitors, the sand goanna has a forked tongue like a snake allowing it to use scent to detect the distance and direction of its prey. A closer examination through my camera lens reveals that this animal has been injured at some time and is missing part of its front right foot.

Sand monitor

Sand monitor

 

I am in the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens just a few kilometres out of Port Augusta near the head of the gulf. The gardens showcase many of the diverse dry-land ecologies that SA has to offer. Unlike most parks this one is not fenced and the animals that venture into its proximity are wild. Despite its natural status the gardens are well serviced by a modern visitor centre and cafe.

The view from the head of the gulf

The view from the head of the gulf

 

Leaving the sand monitor to its own devices, I walk around the edge of the encroaching scrub towards the extensive eremophila plantings at the back of the centre. Several zebra finches are perched in the branches of a skeletal tree overlooking a small artificial waterhole. I search for the right image, eventually finding a male and female settled on a dead branch; perfectly demonstrating the difference between the sexes.

male and female zebra finches

male and female zebra finches

Purple eremophila

Purple eremophila

 

After spending some time exploring the eremophila shrubs with all their subtle floral variations, I walk around to the northern edge of the gardens. This area includes habitat zones where interpretive signs explain adaptations to climate and terrain as well as Aboriginal use of plants as foods and medicines. While I am reading about how sugarwoods are used as sweeteners and their amazing regenerative powers after bushfires, I hear a rustle in the undergrowth. Only a few metres from where I am standing a pair of or shinglebacks are following each other closely between the ground-covers. Sleepy lizards, as they are sometimes known, are essentially solitary reptiles which can only mean that it is mating season.

 

Shingleback or sleepy lizards

Shingleback or sleepy lizards

 

Whenever I visit these extraordinary gardens I conclude my day with a little culinary treat; a light meal, ice cream or scones with jam and cream. But these are no ordinary delicacies. Many of the flavours are created from the landscape with a distinctly ‘bush tucker’ nuance such as quandong ice cream and native herb flavoured damper.

Looking out from the café across the eremophila garden into the scrub beyond

Looking out from the café across the eremophila garden into the scrub beyond

 

 

Until our next adventure

Cheers

Baz  

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Marion Bay….the edge of Innes

29 Sep

Marion Bay….the edge of Innes

A small group of grey kangaroos is gathered on the edge of the scrub. The large male seems a little nervous. His ears twitch independently as he hops a few metres closer to where I am balancing the camera on an old jarrah fence post. Keeping the females and a half grown joey behind him, the buck stands up to his full height, giving me a clear warning not to come any nearer to his family.

1 Western grey kangaroos resting on the edge of the scrub

Western grey kangaroos resting on the edge of the scrub

I am walking along the fence-line that separates the township of Marion Bay from the Innes National park. We have hired a little holiday home that sits on the very edge of the township with intimate views of the surrounding grassland and scrub. Each morning, while I am eating breakfast on the verandah, I can see a few odd rabbits and a veritable parade of birdlife amongst the shrubs and trees that make up the garden. My favourites are the diminutive silvereyes that perch in the eucalypts and twitter menacingly at the larger birds that dare to invade their territory.

2 The view from the back verandah

The view from the back verandah

2 Silvereye singing in eucalyptus tree

Silvereye singing in eucalyptus tree

 The kangaroos are close to the lower end of the fence-line which runs from the main road up to the coastal cliffs that dominate this section of Marion Bay. As I move towards the coast I nearly step on an ant nest; not just any colony of ants but bulldog ants. These inch long beasties pack quite a bite and are best avoided. Luckily they do not swarm in great numbers like their smaller brethren. Still, photography is undertaken at a respectable distance.

3 Bulldog or inch ant

Bulldog or inch ant

As I approach the top of the cliffs the vegetation changes dramatically. Low scrubby bushes and thick ground covers with patches of tussock like grasses provide an ideal habitat for a range of small birds I can hear them in the thick cover but only catch fleeting glimpses. Then suddenly my luck changes and a glorious little wren hops out and sits on the very fence-line I have been following. In Adelaide I have often photographed superb blue fairy wrens and I am more than thrilled to see them here in this coastal environment. It is only later when I look at the image more carefully that I realise this little wren is actually a variegated fairy wren; a species I have never photographed.

4

Variegated fairy wren

 

 Where the fence meets the edge of the limestone cliffs there is a wooden viewing bay that provides an ideal bird watching platform. In the few minutes that I stand and survey the beach below several species of water birds fly past; including a white faced heron, silver gulls and a pacific gull. Looking back across the scrubby verge towards the rather expensive houses that front the esplanade I start planning my next trip to Marion Bay; perhaps a sea view this time.

5 silver gull in flight

Silver gull in flight

6 Coastal viewing platform with views of cliff and beach

Coastal viewing platform overlooking the beach

 An afternoon stroll along the fence-line completed my thoughts turn to dinner. The award winning Marion Bay Tavern is just the place to head as the sun is setting on my rather fruitful day on the edge of Innes. Made from materials that reflect the area, including corrugated iron, reclaimed jetty pylons and jarrah timbers, the restaurant boasts an eclectic menu specialising in fresh local seafoods. But my choice this evening is a pizza cooked in a wood oven fashioned from a classic old rainwater tank.

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Wood oven South Aussie style

 

Take a drive down to this wonderful area sometime

Cheers

Baz

Check out Geotravelling a new site that I have attached that celebrates the natural, cultural and urban diversity of our planet through my travel photographs.

Chinaman’s Creek on a cloudy day

3 Aug

Chinaman’s Creek on a cloudy day

Dear Reader:

It is a cool, overcast afternoon; not ideal for wildlife watching or photography. Nevertheless, I have organised a weekend trip north to Port Augusta to investigate the Arid Zone Botanic Gardens during the winter months. As an added bonus, I hope to explore a shallow mangrove creek some 20kms south of the town that a friend has suggested as an interesting wildlife stop off en route.

1 wedge tail 2

Wedge – tailed eagles are Australia’s largest raptors with a wingspan over 2 metres

1 wedge tail 1. Australia's largest raptor with a wingspan over 2 meters

Wedge-tailed eagle about to fly

1 wedgy takes flight

In flight

 

 

As I approach the Chinaman’s creek junction I notice a pair of wedge-tailed eagles in the skeletal branches of a mallee tree. The birds seem quite relaxed as they survey the low scrub that stretches towards the coast. I let the car roll to a stop and gingerly climb out careful not to let the door bang shut. There is good cover between the birds and myself and I fire off a couple of shots before one bird senses the movement and takes to the air.

2 Galahs iin bush near wheat fields

Galahs in bush near wheat fields

2 Cockatoo near the park's entrance

Cockatoo near the park’s entrance

 

The stretch of unsealed road that stretches towards the coast is flanked on both sides by scrubby farmland that supports sheep and some wheat fields. Small groups of rose breasted cockatoos are perching in the branches alongside the road. They occasionally take flight into the fields to dig out tubers and possibly ravage a few of the crops; lovely birds to watch but not always popular with farmers.

4 Dirt trackinto the coservation park about 5 kms from the highway

Dirt track into the conservation park about 5 Kms from the highway

4 Visitors to the park

Visitors to the park

 

Where the cleared land gives way to forest and denser scrub, a fence and sign announces the Winninowie conservation Park which incorporates Chinaman’s Creek. Despite the remoteness of the area we meet a couple of 4X4s complete with camping trailers and stop to chat with the drivers for a few moments. They have been camping by the creek for a few days and had some success fishing the mangrove flats on the receding tide for whiting and mullet.

6 Chinaman's creek jetty at low tide

Chinaman’s creek jetty at low tide

9 Momentary glimpse of a sacred kingfisher

Momentary glimpse of a sacred kingfisher

 

A few minutes later we pull into the camping area. There is a scattering of permanent shacks and a small jetty that is completely exposed at low tide. I change from shoes to gum boots, from experience I know that this mud sticks like glue, and start to walk along the edge of the little creek. I can hear singing honeyeaters in the mangroves and catch flashes of colour from other unidentifiable species that flit amongst the thick foliage. But the birds are some distance away and the overcast conditions make photography all but impossible.

6 Chinaman's creek jetty at low tide

Chinaman’s creek jetty at low tide

 

 

I notice thousands of small burrows honeycombing the edge of the intertidal zone. Each is home to a small shore or mangrove crab. In the creek I can see roving schools of silver baitfish eagerly eyed by a pair of herons that are stalking the fringe of the mangroves.

4 As a pair of emus head towards the trees a grey kangaroo pops its head up

As a pair of emus head towards the trees a grey kangaroo pops its head up

 

Our time at the creek is limited. The clouds are thickening and a few fat raindrops have bounced off my camera lens. As we leave the park has a few more wildlife surprises that make me grit my teeth over the poor lighting conditions. A gorgeous sacred kingfisher perches on a long-dead coastal acacia bush and a group of grazing emus wanders across the saltbush dominated plain. Later, when examining this image in detail I discover that there is another participant in the scene; a grey kangaroo that was feeding close to them.

5 The creek at low tide with mangrove forest and Flinders Ranges in the background

The creek at low tide with mangrove forest and Flinders Ranges in the background

 

It has been an interesting first look at this coastal environment with its varied habitats and I look forward to further visits in the warmer, lighter months ahead.

 

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

11 Jul

Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

Dear Reader:

For more years than I care to remember I have stopped at Port Wakefield to fill up the car and grab a quick roadhouse snack before continuing on to the York Peninsular, Flinders Ranges or the mid north towns and wineries. Today is the exception and I must admit to being more than a little surprised to discover what this small town has to offer. As always, my first objective is the natural history of an area and this one has quite a  diverse offering of environments all of which are easy to access.

 

2b

Silver gull

As I sit in a little park next to a natural saltwater lagoon, which is used as a swimming pool in the warmer weather, a flight of silver gulls sweeps in low over the saltbush and samphire flats that stretch to the horizon. They are, no doubt, attracted to the bacon and egg pie that I am enjoying or perhaps it is the vanilla slice that is reserved for later. Instead they settle next to a car where a family is enjoying some chips…seagulls and chips… how South Aussie can you get? 

1a

Enjoying the boardwalk across the lagoon

1

Local source of a great pie

 From the seagulls in the car park I make my way across a little footbridge that crosses the tidal pool and follow an interpretive trail along the creek. The signage explains the peculiarities of the mangrove trees, the importance of seagrass meadows and how the coastal saltbush can withstand seasonal inundations of salt water. There are also images of common coastal birds; two of which, a little black cormorant and a pied cormorant, I photograph near the sluice gate that maintains the water level.

5

Little black cormorant perching on sluice gate

4

Pied cormorant on embankment near mangroves

 I walk along a raised boardwalk for a hundred metres giving which gives me an excellent view of the mangroves, saltbush and creek. Then as I turn back towards the car I hear the unmistakable call of a singing honeyeater which is conveniently perched on a dead tree branch near a restored stone section of the old wharves. And, just to finish my walk on a positive note there is a white faced heron hunting along the stonework causeway on the water’s edge.

5b

Singing honeyeater a common coastal species

5c

White faced heron stalking prey near the stone embankment

Driving back to the main highway I notice a lovely colonial building with an antiques sign out the front. I chat to the owners as I browse through the treasures and find that the town has many lovely old buildings and a fascinating place in our colonial history. Today I am in a hurry to get home after a couple of days in the bush but on asking where I can get some more information they refer me to a website, (portwakefield.sa.au)

6

The antique shop is one example of the many fine heritage buildings

Leaving Port Wakefield I have one overriding thought in mind. Next time I come this way I’ll take a little more time to have a closer look at this historic little town and explore its coastal melange of habitats in more detail.

 

Cheers

Baz

Wild Dog Walk

2 Jan

Wild Dog Walk

Dear Reader:

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

IMG_5449 crop red

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

 

 

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

Wild Dog Walk

Myall and eucalypt canopy with shrubs and saltbush understory

 

 

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

IMG_5465 red

Wild Dog Rocks rising from the bush

 

 

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

Mayall tree

Mayall tree surrounded by salt bush with acacia to the left

 

 

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

IMG_5517

Australian magpie proclaiming territory

 

 

 

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

IMG_5454 crop sharpen red

Grey kangaroo in saltbush

 

 

 

 

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

IMG_5494 crop red spiny cheeked honey

Spiny cheeked honeyeater feeding in an eremophila

 

 

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

IMG_5771 goanna red

Sand goanna or Gould’s monitor foraging through understory

 

 

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

IMG_5512 red

Almost locust for lunch

 

 

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

IMG_5478 red

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

 

 

 

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

 

Cheers

Baz

Moonta Bay: above and below the water

21 Sep

Dear Reader:

It is a lovely afternoon and I am sitting on the balcony of a friend’s beach house gazing across the calm waters of Moonta Bay. The light is soft and despite an unseasonably hot spring day there is a gentle sea breeze ruffling the bushes and coastal grasses on the edge of the steep cliffs that drop down to the beach. I have been watching a pair of rabbits cautiously emerging from their burrows in the soft sand; endearing little creatures but unwelcome guests in this area where they eat the native plants and damage the delicate balance of the cliff top ecology.

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

As night approaches and the sun drops below the horizon the rabbits become more active. A flock of gulls flies in V formation across the skyline and I retreat into the study to avoid some early season mosquitoes and reflect on my day. The sunset is quite spectacular and provides some inspiration to set pen to paper.

Moonta Bay at sunset

The journey from Adelaide across the flat coastal plains and scrub hedged wheat fields  was an easy couple of hours. I stopped at a local pub and grabbed a bite to eat then pushed on to Moonta. With only one night at my disposal I spent the early part of the afternoon wandering amongst the old mine ruins. A little gecko clung miraculously to the smooth surface of an old mine bucket and a pair of swallows had made a neat little nest behind a wooden beam that protruded from a square stone tower. But strangely it was the colours in the rocks that caught my attention as they hinted at the wealth of copper that was extracted from this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

throughout the old quarry the rocks are stll tinged with the coper ore

Throughout the old quarry many of the rocks are tinged with the copper ore

From the mine it was a short drive down to the seashore and jetty with its art deco styled motel and restaurant nestled into the low cliffs. A stroll along the stained hardwood planks out to the end where it curves to run parallel to the shore brought back childhood memories of weekends fishing and playing cricket on the huge expanse of beach that is exposed when the tide recedes. But on this occasion the child’s rod and line were replaced by camera and notebook. Near the shoreline I stopped by a rocky outcrop to watch a pied cormorant hunting amongst the weed and rock-pools; its body seeming to take on the fluid persona of the water as it twisted and turned in search of small fish and crabs.

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

 A little further along the jetty, where the shallow water starts to turn darker hinting at the meadow of seagrass beneath, a flotilla of seabirds were patrolling; an indication  that there might be baitfish in the area. With this in mind I trotted back to the car and donned my snorkelling gear to take a closer look. I was not disappointed as several schools of small fish were congregating in the deeper water beyond the rocky outcrop. 

A school of baitfish congregate below the jetty

A school of juvenile mullet feeding below the jetty

The sunset is well over and the  forecast indicates fine weather with calm seas for the next few days.  I’ll probably do a little more snorkelling near the rocky outcrop before walking along the coastal trail to watch the seabirds and search for reptiles and insects.

 

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

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