Tag Archives: Australian reptiles

Aldgate Valley Reserve

14 Apr

Aldgate Valley Reserve

The road from Aldgate to the reserve winds through rural and bush country with charming homes and patches of scrub on either side. I pull off the road near an old bridge that crosses Aldgate Creek and walk along the well marked trail listening to the sounds of birds high in the gum trees. Eventually I catch sight of a pair of eastern rosellas as they fly between the topmost branches.

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Eastern rosella

 

Aldgate is one of the principal towns in the Adelaide Hills. It has a village atmosphere with fine eateries and small, locally owned shops. A fascinating 6 km nature walk runs between Aldgate and its neighbour Mylor. The route passes through the Aldgate Valley where southern brown bandicoots have been reintroduced to their native habitat (little marsupials that superficially resemble rats).

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Aldgate Creek

 

From the road bridge I take the path alongside the creek where I find a small footbridge. Several eastern water skinks have taken up residence amongst the wooden slats and one little fellow, who seems to have regrown the end of his tail, poses nicely for a portrait. Most of these smaller skinks drop their tail if grabbed by a predator. This serves a dual purpose as the tail continues to wiggle after being detached, acting as a decoy.

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Eastern water skink

 

Today I have decided to simply explore the area around the reserve and search out some of the animals that inhabit it. A bandicoot would be nice but as they are timid and mainly nocturnal and I am not holding out much hope. On the right hand side of the bridge there is a small orchard and some benches. Several large magpies are strutting around the area and one sits on the bench and glares at me as I walk through the trees.

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Magpie with attitude

 

 

I spend a little more time sitting by the creek watching finches and wrens darting between bushes but the day is getting chilly and the clouds are rolling in. As I step into the car for the drive back home a solitary kookaburra chortles in the trees nearby. Something seems to have disturbed the bird and I take a closer look and find a koala feeding in an adjacent tree.

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Laughing kookaburra

 

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Does my bum look big up this?

I make one last stop back in Aldgate to drop in at ‘FRED’ for a late lunch. So much to choose from; but the Sicilian ciabatta with wilted greens, haloumi, home-made chutney and caramelised onion cannot be resisted.

1 7 wilted greens aloumi chutney ciabaco sicilian armelised onion

One of many choices

 

Cheers

Baz

PS

I will be travelling for the next month and will not post any articles until mid-late May

Take a look over some of the earlier work and find somewhere to take a walk and enjoy our wonderful wildlife.

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Gawler’s Dead Man’s Pass

7 Apr

 Dear Reader:

There are dragonflies and damselflies hovering above the water. Every so often one of the slender damselflies hovers near the bank then attaches itself at right angles to a reed.

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Damselfly

 

The pool of water is left over from the winter rains and sits alongside a causeway that crosses the river just a few hundred metres from Gawler’s main street. The town has a country, colonial feel about it with classic stone buildings and a good smattering of pubs, restaurants and bakeries to fuel up on before exploring the ominously named Dead Man’s Pass.

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Causeway over the Gawler River

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Historic stone buildings in Gawler

 

Well placed signs along the walking and cycling track indicate interesting historical information as well as describing the wealth of fauna that can be encountered along this trail which follows the course of the Gawler River. As I approach a dense clump of reeds I am lucky enough to catch a fleeting glimpse of a red bellied black snake before it disappears into the undergrowth near the river bank.

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Red bellied black snake

 

The edge of the river is bordered by massive red gums that in themselves create a multitude of ecological niches. I sit near the base of one huge tree watching a variety of insects from ants to beetles as they forage along the trunk while a tree skink weaves its way amongst the deeply furrowed bark in search of prey.

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Tree living skink

 

Several metres higher up the tree, a pair of crested pigeons has made a nest on one of the larger limbs. Both birds will share the incubation of the eggs (usually two) which will hatch after about 21 days.

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Crested pigeon

 

The river red gums along the creek also play host to a wide variety of parrot species including cockatoos, rosellas, rainbow lorikeets and the brightly coloured little musk lorikeets. Two of these delightful little birds are checking out a nesting hole where a branch has been removed and I am fortunate enough to capture an image of them contemplating their future real estate.

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Nesting musk lorikeets

 

My morning exploring the park on the outskirts of this charming country town has been most rewarding and I am sure that Gawler’s historical and ecological diversity will be the topic of more posts in the future.

 

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.

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

 

 

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

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Myall and eucalypt canopy with shrubs and saltbush understory

 

 

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

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Wild Dog Rocks rising from the bush

 

 

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

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Mayall tree surrounded by salt bush with acacia to the left

 

 

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

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Australian magpie proclaiming territory

 

 

 

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

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Grey kangaroo in saltbush

 

 

 

 

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

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Spiny cheeked honeyeater feeding in an eremophila

 

 

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

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Sand goanna or Gould’s monitor foraging through understory

 

 

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

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Almost locust for lunch

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Cheers

Baz

The Paralana Trail

29 Jun

Dear Reader 

It’s winter but you’d hardly know it. The afternoon sky is a clear endless blue and though there’s a hint of the approaching night’s cold desert chill, the temperature is still a comfortable 25 degrees. I am in the Arkaroola Wilderness reserve in the Gammon Ranges some 1000 kms north of Adelaide heading towards the Paralana hot springs. After a hearty breakfast in the resort’s dining room we have loaded our gear into Suzuki GV and locked in 4WD for the 30 km trip along one of the most interesting off road adventures in this world heritage region.

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Ochre wall (click to enlarge)

 We have been crawling over the rugged terrain for about 20 minutes and the stony track has opened into a dry creek bed. One section of the embankment is quite extraordinary; a wave shaped deposit of ochre that contrasts sharply with the surrounding bush. This significant deposit was of great importance to the Adnyamathanha people who used it in ceremonies and to trade with other Aboriginal groups.

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Unknown skink species (click to enlarge)

 While the others break out a little gas stove to brew a ‘cuppa’ I walk along the creek bed camera in hand. The unseasonably warm weather has brought out a few reptiles that would normally be hibernating at this time of the year. They are wary and the only clue to their presence is an occasional rustle in the undergrowth. Finally, one little skink that is basking on a weathered tree trunk decides that remaining motionless is a better option than retreating, offering me a nice clear shot.

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Male mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

Femal mulga parrot feeding on blue bush berries

Female mulga parrot (click to enlarge)

 Just as I am about to make my way back to the vehicle a flash of colour amongst the skeletal branches of a long dead acacia tree catches my eye. I peer through the telephoto and focus on the turquoise plumage of a male mulga parrot. If it is the mating season then the female should be nearby and with a little persistence I find her on the ground feeding on some small yellow berries that are the fruit of a low growing saltbush-like plant.

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Yellow footed rock wallabies on steep cliff (click to enlarge)

 Refreshed, we resume our drive along the trail, slowly climbing into the hills which provide spectacular views across the Gammons. Following a twisting descent down a narrow track we enter the spectacular Baranarra Gorge with its sheer rock walls and boulder strewn pools of clear fresh water.   Our progress has been slower than planned and it is late afternoon when we start to pick our way along the edge of the water hole. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Almost immediately I hear the rattle of small rocks skittering down a steep rock face. Looking up I catch sight of a pair of yellow footed rock wallabies precariously perched on the sheer cliff face. Once again, I am reminded of the extraordinary adaptations of these beautiful little animals. With their furry back feet perfectly designed for gripping rock surfaces, long counterbalancing tail and subtle camouflage, they are the Aussie equivalent of mountain goats.

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Chopper based at Arkaroola Village (click to enlarge)

 Unfortunately our stay must be a short one as the light is starting to fade and we must head back to our home base at the village. Tomorrow we have decided to take a helicopter flight over the area to get an overall picture of the terrain before our next off road foray.

Cheers

Baz

Two out of Three ‘aint Bad

15 Apr

  The red bellied black is sunning itself on the track about forty metres in front of us. It hasn’t caught the scent of the dog yet or reacted to the vibrations created by our footsteps. We stop and watch it for a few seconds and that change in rhythm seems to alert the snake. Suddenly, a grey faced heron that is feeding amongst the samphire plants that line the foreshore of the lake, takes to the air. That is warning enough for the reptile and in the blink of an eye it has disappeared into the wetland. My companions are relieved, the dog is unaware and I must admit to being a little disappointed. They walk on ahead while I sit on a pine railing near the last point of sighting and watch. Sometimes a little patience pays off and after a few minutes I see just enough of the snake to fire off a single frame before it weaves its way deeper into the swamp.

Red bellied black snake hunting

Red bellied black snake hunting

  These rather striking snakes are quite common in the cooler wetland areas of southern Australia. They grow to around 2 metres in length and their diet includes a variety of small mammals, amphibians, fish and reptiles including their own species. They are related to the deadlier and more aggressive brown and tiger snakes that also occur in this area. Red bellied blacks produce between 5 and 18 young which are delivered in a membranous sac; they are considered to bear live young rather than produce eggs.

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Lake Alexandrina on the shores of Milang

  My encounter with the black snake occurs along a dirt track on the edge of the small town of Milang, on the shore of Lake Alexandrina. With a population of just 500 Milang is a charming reminder of the bygone era of paddle steamers and rural living. The little township is a pleasant twenty minute drive from the rural centre of Strathalbyn. It is accessed by both sealed and unsealed roads which pass through rolling farmland and vineyards. With a caravan park, wharf, general store, designated walking trail and several historic sites; Milang is a great place to spend a couple of laid back days in the South Australian countryside.

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Common brown snake in strike position

  Leaving the black snake to its swampy refuge, I walk further down the trail and to my astonishment I catch sight of a long slender tail protruding from the edge of the grass verge. I freeze and ‘ever so carefully’ step forward until ‘snake two’ is immediately below me. It is almost completely obscured by a tangle of grasses and reeds. I watch it for a few minutes trying to angle my camera for a worthwhile shot. No luck; the common brown snake; the second most venomous land snake in the world; remains motionless, using its colouration and shape to stay hidden. I step back to change the angle fractionally and when I glance back through the viewfinder the snake is gone…without the slightest sound it simply disappeared into the grass.    

Dirt track between swamp and township

Dirt track between swamp and township

I have been photographing wildlife in South Australia for many years and I rarely see venomous snakes. To see two of the resident three species in the space of 15 minutes is extraordinary to say the least. Needless to say I did not run into a tiger snake on my return walk along the track.  

Cheers Baz

Springtime Turtles at Maggie’s Farm

7 Sep

Dear reader

Its early spring in South Australia and everything natural has started to flourish after a rather damp winter. To celebrate the season’s change I decided to take a drive out to Maggie’s in the Barossa Valley. Only an hour’s drive from the city, the Barossa is a favourite destination for urban South Australians. It is characterized by gently rolling hills and open bush-land where fine old homesteads sit amongst seas of vines. The land is not only conducive to what is arguably the finest wine growing area in Australia but also to wildlife. There is always a diverse pageant of bird life and even the odd kangaroo or fox to be seen on the way to visit a winery or two, which makes a drive through the valley a rewarding way to spend a spring afternoon.

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Open bushland and vines

Maggie Beers is a little pheasant farm situated in the heart of the valley. Maggie is a gourmet chef and she produces a range of fine homemade products ranging from pates and cheeses to ice cream and cooking oils. Visitors to the farm can sit on the decking or in a country styled dining room overlooking a charming little pond while sampling delicacies from quaint wicker baskets. The water is surrounded by tall eucalypts and an olive grove, which attract a variety of birds including rosellas, galahs and waterfowl but Maggie’s special wildlife treat resides in the pond not around it.

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Maggie Beer’s from across the lake

 

As I sat nibbling my pate and biscuits sipping a glass of red I caught sight of my first pond critter. At first it was a mere ripple in the water that caught my attention then two little dark nostrils appeared As the ripples drew closer I could see the little turtle clearly through the water. It was coming to the surface to breathe and probably warm its reptilian body in the sun before heading back to the bottom to search for yabbies, worms and other invertebrate goodies.

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Enjoying good food and wine while watching the wildlife

The turtle stayed on the surface for at least 10 minutes stretching out its long snake neck and paddling closer to the shallows by the edge of the decking. Before the indulgences of dessert and coffee were complete I had watched half a dozen snake necked turtles appear and disappear in the area where I was sitting.

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Turtle in shallow water emerging to take a breath

Freshwater turtles belong to the family Chelidae and there are 24 species living in Australia’ rivers and wetlands. Interestingly, there are no land-living tortoises in Australia.  Maggie’s pond turtles are eastern long-necked tortoises (Chelodina longicolis). They grow to a carapace (shell) size of around 25cms and the neck can be a little over half the size of the carapace.

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Underwater view of freshwater turtle swimming

 

Watching wildlife in such ‘trying circumstances’ requires both stamina and endurance but my next step epitomized the daring and courage of the dedicated wildlife writer and photographer. Yes, you guessed it ‘Dear Reader’, I left the safety of my secure hide, shouldered a camera and walked around the pond. The goal: to try and get a little more insight into the behaviour of the turtles and see if there were any interesting birds in the trees.  

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Turtle basking on the surface

 

Apart from simply enjoying some different views of the turtles and being serenaded by a pair of affectionate sulphur crested cockatoos, my walk did not provide any new insights though one large turtle did appear to be munching a tadpole or small fish when it surfaced.

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A pair of affectionate sulphur crests

On balance, a day sipping wine, eating fine food and photographing turtles did not seem to be a bad way to kick off spring.

Until next time

Baz

Waterfall Gully’s Aquatic Skinks

27 Apr

In the driest state on the driest continent water is, as you can imagine, the most precious of commodities. To be entirely honest, Adelaide has a wonderful climate but in summer we can go for many weeks without a drop of rain. During this time the few spring fed creeks that flow down from hills become a refuge for a wide variety of wildlife.  

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Waterfall above the creek

Frogs, native fish, fresh water crustaceans, aquatic lizards and certain bird species all need this permanent source of water. The spectacular little falls that have carved out Waterfall Gully on the city’s eastern fringe feeds one of the few environments where water dependent wildlife can survive the harsh summer months. At the foot of the falls; a restaurant, walking trails, and car parking sit adjacent to the creek making it a wonderful place for hikers, casual visitors and naturalists alike. 

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A spotted marsh frog amongst the reeds

 After a particularly dry start to autumn I decided to drive out to Waterfall Gully to assess how the wildlife was coping with the conditions. A friend told me that he used to see quite lot of water skinks in the area years ago. I had only caught the occasional glimpse of the little lizards while cycling around the Torrens Lake in the city or on the banks of the Murray. This seemed like the perfect time to try to get some better images of these fascinating little reptiles. 

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The creek provides a secure environment for many creatures including snakes, lizards, frogs and fish

Water skinks, actually the eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii) grows to around 30cms in length. They hunt for small invertebrates in and around permanent water. These lizards are territorial and males and females look alike. Up to 9 well developed young are born in the summer. They are common prey for Kookaburras, snakes and feral cats. Like most skinks, eastern water skinks can drop their tail when grabbed as an escape strategy and often have shortened or partly re-grown tails.

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Eastern water skink basking on a rock in the late afternoon

 On my first trip I drove up the narrow road to Waterfall Gully and parked the car close to the creek below the falls. Within a few minutes I had spotted my first lizard. It was sitting on a flat rock in the middle of the creek and had a substantial part of its tail missing. Around one in ten of the skinks that I saw that afternoon were missing parts of their tails.

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This little lizard got away but not without losing part of its tail

 As I walked towards the waterfall I noticed that the skinks were quite abundant throughout the creek and its banks. Some were tucked into the undergrowth while others were foraging amongst leaves and twigs that had accumulated between the rocks in the creek bed. I did not see any swimming though a few were partially immersed in water, apparently waiting for prey.

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An eastern water skink foraging in the creek bed

 I returned to Waterfall Gully several times over the next few weeks to watch the water skinks and try to capture some better images. On my last excursion I sat quietly by a section of creek for over half an hour watching the lizards, small birds and insects that lived there. The wildlife had survived the ‘big dry’ quite well it seemed.

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Perhaps I’ll focus on the insects next time

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