Tag Archives: Australian pelicans

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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Naturally Bonython Park

1 Nov

Naturally Bonython Park

Dear Reader

There are two rainbow lorikeets perched halfway up a red gum. They are exploring a potential nesting hole. First one bird pokes its head in then the other. Their house hunting is accompanied by much squawking, head bobbing and an occasional nip at each other. Just when they seem to have decided that this is the right site, a magpie lands on the branch just above them and both parrots take flight.

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Rainbow lorikeets at nesting hole

 

I am in Bonython Park by the Torrens River; downstream from the weir and opposite the Coca Cola factory on Port Road. Below me cycle and walking trails surround the waterway and a small causeway and larger train bridge cut across the river. The park abuts the holding paddocks for the police greys by the old jail and includes wide expanses of green space, a shallow paddling lake, kiosk and children’s playgrounds.

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Bonython Park Kiosk

 

 

From the recreational area I walk down to the pathway then head back upstream towards the train-bridge and city. The river bank is cloaked in tall reed beds and I can hear numerous small birds moving and calling in the jungle of stalks and leaves. There are several grassy areas that are free from the reeds and they provide opportune places to sit and observe the river’s wildlife.

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Purple swamp hen

 

Coots, moorhens and purple swamp hens are common along this stretch of water. The coots and moorhens tend to be in the water paddling close to the cover of the reeds. The swamp hens are more often seen in amongst the tangle of plants by the bank where they use their elongated feet to walk gingerly on the fallen reeds that form a mat on the water’s surface.

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Downstream view from railway bridge

 

The view from the bridge to the ford provides a good oversight of the river and eucalyptus trees that line the banks. However, the bridge is also a perfect shelter for a number of different animals. Over the years I have watched water rats foraging here and even a fox that was taking shelter during a rain storm. Today it is an eastern water skink that makes an appearance as it forages amongst the old wooden foundations of a pathway that runs under the bridge.

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Eastern water skink

 

Downstream from the bridge there are several islets made from debris that has floated down the river during recent floods. Several pelicans have claimed this territory as a resting place and are squabbling over squatters’ rights. They duel with their beaks, neither giving way, while disturbing a group of black cormorants that are using the same area.

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Pelican agro

 

I am almost back to where I started when I find one last target for my camera. Two swallows are perching on a papyrus stem where they are making forays over the water to hawk insects. Swallows are not the easiest birds to photograph as they are incessantly on the move but this pair has cooperated even though they are still at the extreme range of my equipment.

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Resting swallows

 

Cheers and enjoy the spring

BAZ

Fur, Feathers and Football

2 Aug

Dear Reader:

Winter in Adelaide brings its own special pleasures. The hills lose their brownish tinge, the sea is wilder, different flowers are in bloom and the wildlife changes as some species head to warmer climes and others replace them. But to many Adelaideans, winter also heralds the footy (AFL) season and a rather spectacular upgrade to the already picturesque Adelaide oval has added a new dimension to the watching this uniquely Australian sport. The venue has also brought up to 50 000 spectators to the banks of the Torrens Lake on a weekly pilgrimage to support their teams.

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Footy fans on the new bridge to the stadium

Today the crowd is flowing over the lake on the glass and steel bridge with their silver, black and teal scarves whipping in the breeze while I am under it with the teal wing flashes of a black duck locked into my viewfinder. Just a few moments earlier I had also been on the receiving end of a severe telling off from a pied cormorant that took exception to my presence near its favourite fishing spot on the river bank.

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Black duck

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Get away from my patch

I had cycled into town just prior to the match to take some pictures of the new stadium to promote it as one of the many attractions the city boasts. As I walked along the river bank I was distracted by the abundance of winter wildlife and the various animals’ indifference to the huge influx of people above them. And the thought occurred to me; if a few fans arrived early or stayed later they could take in some of the natural wonders that the city has to offer as well as enjoying the sport.

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Australian water rat heading back into the lake.

Leaving the cormorant to its protestations, the duck to its scratching and the crowd to their game, I decide to work my way along the eastern bank of the lake towards the weir. No more than two meters in front of me I can see the tell tale V shape ripples of an Australian native water rat hunting close to the dock that fronts the rowing club. The little mammal hops up on the wooden edge every few minutes to eat a freshwater mussel, yabbie or frog that it has caught. An extraordinary encounter with a very shy Australian native mammal.

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Australian pelican foraging along the bank

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Black swan in nest made from twigs, reeds and debris

Closer to the weir the reeds are quite dense providing a perfect habitat for Australian pelicans and black swans. The pelicans forage along the banks for fish and invertebrates while the swans have constructed a nest alongside some protective netting that is being used to re establish native aquatic plants.

My winter walk along the Torrens has been more than a little rewarding and I am looking forward to a cup of coffee at the little café by the weir where I will check on the footy scores while I can still hear the  intermittent roars of the crowd in the background.

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

Salisbury’s Urban Wetlands

3 Jan

 

Dear Reader:

The saltbush and thorny wattle bushes that surround the bark chip path are thick and impenetrable. All around me I can hear the hum of insects and the twittering of unknown birds. Eventually I catch sight of a small bird perched in some bushes about twenty metres in front of me. The light is poor despite the sunny day and the shot is far from ideal. I wait for a few minutes. Finally the little bird breaks cover and sits on an exposed branch. It is still moving so the image will not be perfect but I fire off a few frames in the hope that one will help me to identify it.

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Female fairy wren in scrub

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Typical wetland habitat

 

A little further along the trail I cross a footbridge and a wide expanse of shallow water confronts me. A collection of wading birds are feeding on an exposed mud-bank. They see me and start to behave nervously. I capture a single image just moments before the birds scatter; some disappear into the reeds while others take flight and head deeper into the wetland.

2 Various species of water birds on an embankment

Various species of water birds on an embankment

 

I am in the Greenfields Wetlands near Mawson Lakes where I work as a teacher. This complex of lakes, reed beds and low scrub is part of a chain of wetlands that filter stormwater for re-use in the Salisbury area a few kilometres north of Adelaide. This particular area has been carefully rejuvenated over several decades turning wasteland into a natural wetland zone where the wildlife is wary. Even common ducks disperse as I approach rather than simply paddling away as they might in the urban part of the creek that passes through my school. The wildlife is not only cautious but more diverse and one gets a real sense of being in the field, despite the traffic and housing only a hundred metres away.

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Watershed restaurant

 

My next wildlife encounter tests both observation skills and patience. I detect a slight movement on a mudflat near some reeds. I look a little closer and can see nothing. I wait, searching through the telephoto. Eventually, what appeared to be a brownish patch of decaying plant matter moves ever so slightly. It is a little black-fronted dotterel that has been foraging along the edge of the creek. A few more minutes pass more before the bird feels confident enough to resume its previous feeding pattern and I have to move carefully and slowly to capture an image. This is the kind of photography that I love. Perhaps it rekindles some lost predatory instinct…who knows?

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Black-fronted dotterel feeding on muddy embankment

 

My final wetland moment is really quite unexpected. As I leave the trail and head up to the little restaurant that sits alongside the wetland there is a flurry of wings and water behind the reeds to my right. A flock of Australian pelicans lifts into the air. My camera is in standby mode and by the time it has re-started the birds are climbing rapidly. I hastily track them in flight and fire off a series of shots. Later when I review the images I am delighted to find that one picture shows three birds with their wings in different flight position.

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Pelicans showing different wing positions in flight

 

As the light starts to fade I return to the Watershed Cafe, hand in my trail key and enjoy coffee and dessert on the deck overlooking the main lagoon. A tough way to end my day.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

JET

Wine, Whales and Pelicans at the Bluff

26 Oct

Dear Reader: 

I am at ‘The Bluff’, a granite outcrop near the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Comfortably tucked into a wicker chair on the balcony of the ‘Whalers Inn’,  I am enjoying a plate of local calamari and nursing a fruity white from one of our coastal vineyards. The restaurant is only ten minutes drive from the centre of Victor Harbor, the south coast’s largest town.

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A view from the restaurant

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Calamari with soy, lemon and wilted greens

My field glasses and camera are within easy reach and every few minutes I scan the horizon beyond Wright Island for a tell-tale blow, breach or the raised fluke of a Southern Right Whale. I can just make out one animal a few kilometres out to sea and I am hoping that it will make its way closer inshore. Only a few days ago two adults and a calf were frolicking in the bay just a few hundred metres from where I am sitting. In fact, well over 40 whales have been seen during the last month. Southern Rights regularly migrate with their calves en route to their Antarctic feeding grounds at this time of year.

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Rocky outcrops and an offshore island

 

No such luck. The whale heads further out to sea and I know that it is late in the season and the chance of another sighting is slim. I shift my focus to the rocky foreshore where jagged outcrops of dark rock trail into the sea. A strong offshore breeze is ruffling the feathers of a group of caspian terns that are precariously clinging to the rocks. Over the last few hours they have been alternately patrolling the rolling swell between Wright Island and the mainland searching for baitfish then resting on the shoreline.

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Crested terns resting between forays

 

A little closer to the town, between a stand of huge Norfolk pines, there is a boat ramp and every so often anglers motor in from the deeper water and tie up at the dock. Several large granite boulders lie close to the channel and a couple of Australian pelicans have been patiently ensconced on their smooth surfaces eyeing each craft in the hope of a fishy handout. They are not too fussy and a few mullet, salmon trout or even some unused bait usually makes their wait worthwhile. While I finish my calamari the birds are rewarded by a boatie and his family of pelican friendly kids.

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Australian pelican

 

There are, of course, the usual silver gulls flying, scavenging and wading in the shallows in search of any kind of food from a discarded potato chip to an unwary shore crab. But amongst their sleek silver forms I catch sight of a larger yellow beaked gull. It is a pacific gull, a less common species in this area, and it is wading in the shallows searching for prey in one of the tiny beaches that form between the rocky outcrops.

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Pacific gull

 

As the afternoon wears on and the temperature climbs, I finish my glass of wine, pay the bill and stroll down to the car. The sea is inviting and my snorkelling gear and underwater camera are in the back. Today I have dined well, photographed a diverse collection of seabirds, watched whales on a dazzling blue ocean, and now I have the chance of encountering some slightly smaller varieties of marine life in a great dive location.

That encounter will be the subject of a future blog.

Cheers

Baz

 

Family Life at Walker Flat

11 Oct

The road from Mannum to Walker Flat is a classic Australian drive. With low hills to the left and the river on the right it winds past limestone cliffs and mallee scrub. It is a short drive of no more than 30 kms but there is ample opportunity to get out of the car and wander around in the scrub or capture a panoramic shot of the river. The countryside is typical of the Murray Mallee zone. Mallee are smallish eucalypts that have numerous trunks growing from the same base. They are of uniform height and stretch for kilometres in an unbroken forest. The hills are predominantly limestone based and where the river cuts through them it exposes a wonderful array of fossils.

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Limestone cliffs a Walker flat

 

 

As you come down the hill into Walker Flat the river takes a sweeping bend exposing ochre coloured cliffs that rise abruptly from the water. There is small community of shack owners, a general store and places to camp, launch a boat or cross the river on an old fixed line ferry. The area has several billabongs; backwaters fed by floods; and it was these that I had come to explore. Even as I drove down from the low hills to meet the river I could see a flock of pelicans cruising along the main channel of the river.

Pelican feeding as a group

Pelicans feeding as a group

 

Camera in hand, I walked along a dirt trail that followed the course of a large billabong that was bordered by thick stands of reeds and some old eucalypts. My quick reconnaissance was useful and I located a dozen different bird and insect species in the first few minutes. However, the wildlife seemed very wary and scattered at my approach. Accordingly, I resorted to my favourite strategy for capturing images under these circumstances and found a quiet spot with a clear view in every direction, settled down and waited.

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A little wattlebird, one of the many bird species along the billabong

Within twenty minutes or so the rhythm of the river bank seemed to return to normal. So long as I didn’t make any sudden movements or sounds most of the wildlife seemed to view me as a part of the environment and I, in turn, started to notice the hidden things that were going on all round me. Twenty metres in front of me the reeds began to move and a purple swamp hen emerged delicately grasping the plants with his outrageously huge feet. I eased the big lens up slowly for a better look and to my surprise the adult was accompanied by two fluffy, black chicks. Over the next few minutes I was privileged to watch the adult cutting up reed stalks with its powerful beak and feeding them to the young. Later, another swamp hen appeared and took the chicks further into the reeds indicating that both parents were involved in rearing their brood.

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Purple swamp hen cutting up reed stalk near chicks

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Purple swamp hen feeding a chick with cut up reed morsel

 

My next encounter was a tad closer. A variety of large dragonflies and their more delicate cousins the damselflies had been continuously flitting across the water just a few metres away. They appeared to be in a mating phase with an occasional pair joined head to tail, which is part of the reproductive process. Others were obviously hunting smaller insects while a few seemed to be establishing some kind of territory by chasing off rivals of the same species.

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Wandering percher dragonflies mating in flight

Emperor dragonflies mating

 

Between the dragonflies and purple swamp hens feeding their family my patience seemed to have paid off and re-confirmed an old but well tried approach to wildlife photography. Better to let the target come to you than chase it.

 

Until next time

Baz

 

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