Tag Archives: marine fish

Myponga to the Beach

2 Apr

Dear Reader:

The drive from the little Fleurieu town of Myponga to the beach some 10 kms away is rather unique. It takes in views of the local reservoir, bushland and sweeping rural scenes before descending towards a picturesque beach characterised by a small creek and the skeletal remains of an old wooden jetty. All the way along this route there is a proliferation of wildlife if you take the time to stop and look around.

 

Mypnga resevoir

The old jetty and rocky beachfront

 

My first wildlife encounter on the drive from the township to the beach was a pair of grey kangaroos feeding along the banks of the reservoir. One animal seemed unperturbed by my presence and cocked its head cheekily as I closed in to capture an image.

 

Curious roo

 

Further along the well graded dirt road I noticed numerous parrots in the eucalypts, they appeared to be feeding on gum nuts and blossoms. One pair of crimson rosellas caught my eye. They are wary birds and hard to approach so I tried for a distance shot in the shaded heart of the trees. Their glorious red plumage allowed them to dominate the background making for a rather nice image.

 

Crimson rosellas

 

Birds posing against the rugged background seemed to be a recurring theme and an Australian magpie perched on the end of a weather beaten branch provided the next wildlife moment. However, as I stopped the car and stepped out to take my picture I noticed the field behind the bird was dotted with the grey brown shapes of kangaroos. There must have been over twenty of them leisurely grazing on the freshly cut pasture.

 

The mob

 

It would have been easy to stop at this point and simply focus on the terrestrial wildlife but my heart was set on doing a little snorkelling when I reached the beach. It was a warm day and the cool water would provide some welcome relief.

 

Toothbrush leatherjacket

Wrasse species in algal fronds

 

My decision proved to be worthwhile and without going into too much detail I spent a good hour photographing colourful fish amongst the rocky inshore reef and algal beds. A wonderful finale to my day notwithstanding a much anticipated trip to the Myponga Bakery on the way home for a meat pie and vanilla slice.   

 Cheers

Baz

Additional notes

This is an easy drive which is quite suitable for families and seniors with public toilets, barbecues, food outlets, parking and other facilities at Myponga.

My work is also published in Weekend Notes

 

  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

Advertisements

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

Reef and Cliff

25 Mar

The crumbling cliffs drop steeply to a narrow beach where a tangle of dried out seaweed marks the extent of the last high tide. From the beach, a flat limestone platform gently slopes into the ocean. The once smooth surface is scarred with shallow pools, sand patches and bubble weed. A line of white foam marks the outer fringe of the shelf where a sudden increase in depth creates a series of smaller reefs and ledges. These features provide a range of diverse habitats for an assortment of marine life.

3 cliff beach and reef

The view from the cliff top

 

 

The first animal that I meet, on my swim across the shallows, is a fiddler ray which has come in from the seagrass meadows beyond the edge of the reef. It is hunting on the limestone platform; using its keen senses to locate molluscs that are buried in the sandy patches. Like all rays, its mouth is located on the underside of the body and its back is camouflaged to confuse predators that might attack from above. I follow the ray for a few minutes approaching quite close as it lies near a patch of bubble weed. Unlike stingrays, fiddlers do not have a barbed spine on the tail for defence and seem to be quite placid animals.

2 fiddler ray red

Fiddler ray near bubble weed

 

 

The ray follows a series of narrow cracks in the rocky surface where shore crabs often leave the shelter of their burrows to hunt on the incoming tide. The narrow crevices are also home to hoards of tiny anemones that extend their stinging tentacles to trap the tiny organisms that live in the water.

4 Pale anemones amongst seaweed

Anemones in a rock ledge surrounded by seaweed that keeps them wet on the receding tide

 

 

The limestone reef and high cliffs with their spectacular coastal views are the main attractions of the coastal community of Aldinga. The town is a comfortable 50 minutes drive from Adelaide along the main South Road. A traditional Aussie pub and bakery close to the access road from the highway provide great local meals and there are numerous houses for hire along the coastal strip that overlooks the gulf. Several parking bays on top of the cliffs with steps that lead down to the beach and reef make accessing this location very easy. The area is also a marine park and various signs explain the exact nature of restrictions for divers and fishers.

 

rock crab  aldinga 2

Shore crab that has emerged from its shelter to feed

 

After following the ray for a while I swim to the seaward edge of the reef and start exploring its perimeter. The limestone is honeycombed with undercut ledges, caves and crevices. Almost immediately I encounter a large strongfish or dusky morwong; a common species that lives in the seagrass meadows. The fish is well over a metre long and appears to be resting before heading into deeper water to feed.

1 strongfish in cavern red

Strongfish or dusky morwong sheltering under a rocky ledge on the edge of the reef

 

 

I have been in the water for over an hour and have photographed a wide variety of marine life apart from the species mentioned. Now it is my turn to follow their example and ‘grab a bite to eat’ back at the pub before driving home confident that there is still much to see on subsequent visits to this spectacular local ecosystem.

Cheers

Baz

On the Edge of the Blue Line

25 Dec

On the Edge of the Blue Line

The sand is golden with a uniform, rippled pattern to it; like the sole of an old fashioned sneaker. Every few metres small clumps of grassy weed appear until finally the sand merges into an endless green meadow of seagrass. Seagrasses are not algae but true plants with leaves, roots and in most species, flowers. They form a crucial ecosystem in the shallow waters of Gulf St Vincent. As I hover above the dense mass of leaves, a school of tiny silver fish lifts out of their embrace, swims a few metres then blends back into the shelter of the meadow.

1

Blue line as seen from the sand hills near Henley Beach

 

I am snorkelling off Henley which is better known as a fashionable beachside cafe strip rather than a dive destination. I decided to arrive a little early and enjoy a cup of coffee while I waited for the sun to get high enough for underwater photography. The water is clear and the ocean warm and inviting at this time of year and it is just a short swim from the local jetty to the blue line where the sand and seagrasses merge. The lush tangle of gently waving blades that surround me are home to one of the planet’s richest marine environments. It is a place where whiting, mullet, blue crabs, giant rays and squid (to mention just a few inhabitants) find food and shelter for themselves and their young.

2 Seagrass meadows

Seagrass meadow

 

I swim a little further into the seagrass until I locate a patch of sand with some darker detritus around its edge, indicating that something might have dug into the substrate. I stir the sand with the tip of my dive knife…nothing…I swim a few metres further and repeat the process. On the third attempt I get a result. A dinner plate sized blue swimmer crab bursts out of the sand with pincers extended and full of aggression. These crabs are prolific along the upper gulf in the summer months providing a valuable commercial fishery and great sport for recreational fishers and divers.

5 Blue swimmer crab

Blue swimmer crab

 

Experience has taught me that the boundary between seagrass and sand is an ideal place to observe different animals. Because I am wearing extra weights I am able to rest effortlessly on the bottom in this zone and wait for something to happen. Over the next few dives my strategy pays off as a small group of juvenile King George whiting settle close to me as they search for worms and molluscs between weed and sand.

4 Juvenile King George whiting

Juvenile King George whiting

 

A little further offshore small sand patches occur regularly in the seagrass meadow. Often there are a few rocks colonised by brown or green algae and even variations in seagrass species in these areas and these slight variations in terrain frequently produce the greatest diversity of marine life. My first sand patch does just that. Lying close to the bottom, I let my eyes adjust to the light and moving shadows produced by the tidal flow and rippling surface. Just a few centimetres from my lens a seahorse clings to a blade of eelgrass using its tail and tiny fins to move in time with the swaying miniature forest of the underwater meadow.

3 Big bellied seahorse

Big bellied seahorse

 

I have been in the water for over an hour and I am getting a little chilly and besides a cappuccino and breakfast roll beckon back at the Henley Square where many a tourist sips coffee unaware of the glorious marine world just a short swim away.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

 

Life Under the Port Noarlunga Jetty

21 Jan

Dear reader

This week has been hot with temperatures hovering around the mid 30s- perfect weather for a dip in the ocean. Although our urban beaches are perfect for swimming it is the more rugged coastline further south that always attracts my attention. As a keen snorkeler and underwater photographer the cliffs, headlands and rocky reefs, interspersed with fine, sandy beaches, create a tempting environment for anyone interested in marine life.

Port Noarlnga jetty showing growth of mussels and beach

Port Noarlnga jetty showing growth of mussels and beach

Consequently, last Saturday morning found me donning my summer wet suit and sliding into the water under the Port Noarlunga jetty; a favourite dive location only a 45 minute drive south of Adelaide’s CBD. Like many of South Australia’s jetties; this one is the legacy of bygone days when wooden ketches collected grain from coastal farming communities. The old wooden structure juts out from a sheltered beach and is sandwiched between low limestone cliffs and an estuary. Two hundred metres out to sea it intersects a reef that runs parallel to the shore. Although the reef is a marine sanctuary there is limited fishing allowed along the first three quarters of the jetty. Most divers go to the end of the jetty and drop straight onto the reef. However, on this occasion I had decided to swim under the jetty and look at the way the environment and marine life changes with depth and proximity to the reef.

starfish on jetty pile amongst coraline algae and green algae red

Starfish on jetty pile amongst coraline algae and green algae

 The first few metres were quite a surprise. I had expected bare sand and little life. Instead I found quite a community of organisms in the shallow warm water. Small schools of mullet and yellowfin-whiting and some bream were patrolling the sandy bottom searching for small crustaceans and worms. A few large razorfish, a fan shaped mollusc that buries its pointed end in the sand, protruded amongst the small outcrops of rock and sparse seagrass patches while several sand crabs scuttled for cover in the weed as I swam over them.

Razorfish amongst seagrass

Razorfish amongst seagrass

In the shallow zone, the jetty piles are constantly exposed to air and sun as the tides and winds vary. Only a few grey snail shells and worm tubes clung to them finding moisture and protection in the cracks in the wood. As the water became deeper a coating of small black mussels shaded the grey wood of the piles and a mixed growth of algae, sea squirts, sponges and other encrusting organisms started to appear. In the open water schools of baitfish would occasionally appear in tightly choreographed formations; a group strategy evolved for minimising successful attacks by predators. Closer to the surface, I caught sight of the occasional garfish and even a small group of squid chasing after a fisherman’s lure.

Squid in open water following lure

Squid in open water near the jetty attracted by angling lures

As I approached the end of the jetty, the character of the environment changed dramatically. The growth of invertebrates covering the wooden supports had thickened and a veritable garden of different organisms of every texture and colour imaginable competed for space and food. Small patterned fish and shrimps darted amongst these marine jungles and an occasional starfish also moved slowly though them in search of prey. The baitfish had been replaced by a mixed school of sea sweep and old wives.

School of sea sweep with a few striped old wives

School of sea sweep with a few striped old wives in the background

When I reached the end of the jetty I used the aluminium dive ladder to climb out and sat for a while on the wooden walkway and watched a few divers exploring the reef. A quick glance at my dive watch indicated that I had been in the water for well over an hour. The time had passed quickly and I had been more than pleasantly surprised by the marine life under the jetty….worth another visit.

Cheers

Baz

Baz

%d bloggers like this: