Tag Archives: Australian wetlands

Wynne Vale Dam Walk

17 Feb

The sulphur crested cockatoos are perched up high in the river gums that surround the dam. Their loud and raucous calls fill the air and drown out the sounds of the other birds that live and feed around the water’s edge. Every few minutes some of the large, white parrots fly down into the acacia bushes that grow along the pathway in search of food. They tear off some of the brown, elongated pods and fly back into the higher branches where they manipulate them with their feet and beaks to extract the seeds.

Acacia pods with seeds exposed

Acacia pods with seeds exposed


Sulphur crested cockatoo eating acacia seeds

Sulphur crested cockatoo eating acacia seeds



Wynne Vale Dam is just a fifteen minute bike ride north of Tea Tree Plaza along the Dry Creek trail which can be easily accessed from the bridge over Ladywood Road near the Modbury Hotel. It is a great way to break up the shopping chores or get some exercise after lunching at one of the nearby hotels and restaurants. The small lake is part of a stormwater reclamation and creek improvement project and is surrounded by a track with viewing platforms, interpretive signs and a sizeable earthen dam on the southern edge.

Wynne Vale Dam from the viewing platform

Wynne Vale Dam from the viewing platform



After watching the birds feeding for a few minutes I climb back on my bike and cycle round to the other side of the dam. Leaving the pathway I shift the mountain bike into low gear and pedal along an exposed stretch of the embankment bumping over a tangle of roots that radiate from a stand of partly submerged trees. Their skeletal trunks and branches are the perfect vantage points for a white faced heron to scope out its prey and a freshwater turtle to bask in a patch of early morning sunshine. White faced herons are quite common along the banks but the turtle is a more unusual sighting.

White faced heron survey its kill zone

White faced heron surveys its kill zone


Short necked turtle on a tree branch

Short necked turtle on a partially submerged tree branch



Just as I start to move off to my next location I catch site of a medium sized bird roosting high in one of the old willows that overhang the water. It is a nankeen night heron. Easily recognised by their cinnamon plumage and shorter powerful, beaks these herons tend to stay hidden during the day feeding in the morning, evening and sometimes at night; a behaviour that is referred to as crepuscular.

In the winter months the water level rises considerably covering the embankment

In the winter months the water level rises considerably covering the embankment


Nanakeen night herons feed on aquatic invertebrates and small fish

Nankeen night herons feed on aquatic invertebrates and small fish



After photographing the heron I cycle around the lake once more to make sure that I haven’t missed anything too obvious then head back down the western side of the creek. Where the dam ends and the creek re-emerges there is a line of exceptionally tall river gums. And there, right in my line of vision, are two koalas climbing up into the branches. Koalas, nankeen night herons and a turtle on one short ride. Not a bad morning’s work.

A pair of koalas climbing. Probably an adult fmale and mature joey.

A pair of koalas climbing. Probably an adult female and mature joey.



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Mount Barker’s Wetland Wonders

8 Jun

Dear Reader;

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


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



Black-fronted plover (click to enlarge)


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


Portraits at the wetlands (click to enlarge)




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


Ibis in flight (click to enlarge)



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


Superb blue wren (click to enlarge)




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.

1 Female fairy wren in scrub

Female fairy wren in scrub

5 Typical wetland  habitat

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.

2 Watershed restaurant

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?

4 Dotterel feeding on muddy embankment

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.

6 Pelicans showing different wing positions in flight

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.






Misty Morning Rats

9 Jun

 This year, the first few days of winter have been a little cloudy with a light mist over the city in the early hours. It is the kind of weather that encourages a cup of coffee, at the Par 3 Cafe by the Torrens Weir, before my weekend bike ride around the river trail. But the cool quiet mornings do have one distinct advantage. Some of the more reclusive creatures that inhabit the river banks seem a little less wary and easier to find; most notably…The Australia water rat…one of my favourite species.


AFF Torrens Weir in winter feeding the river below

Torrens weir in winter feeding the river below


As you can imagine, misty mornings, shy wildlife and carrying a camera on a bike does present a few challenges. My digital SLR and long lens are too heavy and the low light conditions push the compact super zoom that I can comfortably wear on my hip, to its absolute limits. Consequently, please excuse a couple of the rather grainy images that I have included later in this post. However, the mere fact that I was able to capture these pictures encourages me to share them and their story with you.


AA Willy Wagtail lookin for insects amongst the reeds

Willy wagtail looking for insects amongst the reeds



Over the many years that I have walked or cycled around our permanent creeks and wetlands I have only caught the occasional glance of Australian water rats. The tell tale ‘V’ shaped wake that they leave and their low profile in the water make them unmistakable. Unfortunately, after a brief appearance they invariably dive or disappear into the tangle of reeds and grasses on the water’s edge. It is also quite easy to confuse them with common rats, which swim well and often live close to waterways. Unlike their terrestrial cousins, water rats are a little more robust have a slightly blunter face with a heavier covering of whiskers. Their back feet are also webbed and they have a white tip to the tail.


AG Common rat scavenging close to the river

Common rat scavenging close to the river


Back to my tale of coffee and misty mornings; last Saturday I had cycled from home to the weir and was peddling along the track that runs south above the river when I noticed a classic ‘V’ shaped wake in the water. I quickly dismounted, whipped off my helmet and gloves and pulled out my camera. The water rat swam upstream diving periodically and I was able to walk slowly along the trail watching it for around 5 minutes. Eventually it disappeared into the undergrowth near the bank but not before another one paddled close by affording me a rather unique photo opportunity. However, as I mentioned at the start of this piece, the light conditions were far from perfect and my target animals were the best part of a 100 metres away. A lot of frames and little Photoshop produced the two images you can see here.

AC Australian Water Rat sheltering under the bank edit 2

Australian water rat sheltering under the bank


AD Australian water rats swimming across the river

Australian water rats swimming across the river

Encouraged, I returned the next day and sat quietly on the bank for the best part of an hour, hoping for a repeat performance. I did see one water rat for a brief moment but I could not focus rapidly enough to get a clear image. At this point, the coffee beckoned and I cycled back to the weir stopping a couple of times on the way to enjoy the winter’s early scattering of leaves on the river bank and watch a pair of silver gulls wading in the water cascading over the sluice gates.


AH Early winter leaves on the river bank

Autumn leaves on the river bank

AE Australian silver gull looking for prey in the overflow

Australian silver gull foraging in the overflow

Now that I know there are several water rats in the area I am determined to travel the same path on foot over the next few months with my DSLR to see if I can improve on these pictures. But for now I am thrilled to have seen the little animals foraging in the wild and to have captured a few simple images.


Until next time


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