Tag Archives: shingleback lizard

Monarto Zoo’s Native and Exotic Animals

2 Jun

Dear Reader

There’s something wrong with the first few images; lions do not usually recline under eucalyptus trees and my blogs are about South Australian wildlife. However, Monarto Zoo’s impressive array of wildlife and ideal safari setting certainly merit an article or two from this writer.

 

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Aussie lions

 

When I travelled to Botswana’s Okavango Delta a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see many of Africa’s iconic species. Unfortunately I never encountered hyenas. As you can see from the following shots of two young animals racing around in a space that could easily be an African veldt, Monarto went some way towards rectifying that disappointment.

 

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Spotted hyenas

 

Monarto Zoo is about an hour drive from Adelaide along the Princes Highway. It is a vast (1500 hectares) open range zoo with over 50 exotic and native animals, most of them displayed in open range settings. Visitors tour the enclosures in special buses with volunteer guides who provide expert information. There are excellent tourist facilities including a cafe, picnic areas and special ‘behind the scenes’ tours that can be pre-arranged.

 

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Viewing areas

 

After my predator experiences from the safety of elevated viewing platforms and many other wonderful encounters with plains animals from giraffes to Mongolian wild horses, I had a bite to eat and set off on one of the many walking trails that wind through the park’s natural bushland.

 

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Walking trails and bushland

 

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Visitor facilities

 

I now switched my focus from exotic species back to native animals. Along one of the trails that ran through a display on sustainable, native gardens I caught sight of a shingleback lizard. The dry sclerophyll scrub was also home to numerous small common dwarf skinks that I had not encountered before.

 

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Shingleback in native garden area

 

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Common dwarf skink in leaf liitter

 

Emus and grey kangaroos roamed freely in certain regions of the park and in one smaller, closed off area yellow footed rock wallabies enjoyed a boulder strewn habitat. A variety of birds including: honeyeaters, wrens, finches, various parrots as well as the usual suspects like magpies, crows and birds of prey, were also common throughout the trees and open spaces.

 

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Emus

 

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Yellow footed rock wallaby

 

This unusual combination of exotic animals in extensive natural enclosures alongside bushland that can be accessed by walking trails made my day at Monarto exciting at so many different levels and certainly a special place to visit whatever your wildlife preferences.

 Cheers

Baz

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  

A Golden Day

24 Nov

 

Dear Reader:

The track is quite steep and the scrub dense. I can hear birds calling and catch fleeting glimpses of tiny finches foraging deep in the bushes. At the same time a group of lorikeets are feeding on eucalyptus blossoms in the canopy. But the birds are wary on this warm spring morning and keep moving out of camera range. Periodically, the eroded openings of narrow mine shafts, fenced off for safety, appear on both sides of the trail. I stop to reflect on the men who worked these dangerous tunnels armed only with buckets, ropes and spades. At the top of the hill, where I started my walk, a restored miner’s cottage and the weathered skeletons of a rock crusher and derrick suggest that the area had once been the centre of a sizeable mining operation.

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Mining equipment

 

I am at the Barossa Goldfields about 40 kms from Adelaide between Williamstown and Gawler. At its peak in 1870, the lure of gold attracted around 4000 hopeful souls to these hills and over 25000 ounces of the precious metal was extracted. The site has been carefully restored by volunteers and is in the Para Wirra National Park; a worthwhile stop en route to the Barossa wineries if you care to take the back roads rather than the main highway. There is a network of well marked trails to suit walkers of all abilities and many excellent interpretive signs that cover everything from local geology to the everyday life of the original miners.

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Cicadas

At the bottom of the trail there is a small creek still flowing from this year’s ample winter rains and as I cross it a kookaburra takes flight from a low branch where it had been watching for prey. The air is warm and buzzing with the calls of cicadas. I find a small eucalypt that seems to have more than its share of the ‘noisy little buggers’ and sit quietly in its shade for the next half hour trying to get a half decent shot.

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Wattle bird

 

As the trail climbs back out of the gully the terrain changes; the thick scrub gives way to more open grassland interspersed with stands of tall eucalypts. In the distance I catch sight of a pair of western grey kangaroos but they bound off over a ridge as I approach them. A scattering of rosellas are feeding in the grass and a wattle bird squawks defiance at a group of miner birds that are encroaching on its territory.

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Sleepy lizard or shingleback skink

As the track takes a sharp bend I come across a sign that indicates a short cut back to the cottage and car park where I started my journey. It seems an opportune time to sit under a tree and take a ‘swig’ from my water bottle. However, I am not the only one who finds this a convenient resting place. I hear a faint rustling sound by my feet and a sleepy lizard materialises between a couple of rocks, its pine cone scales shiny and dark in the dappled light.

 

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Grevillea flowers

 

I leave the lizard to its shady refuge and continue on my way, happy with my wildlife sightings and ready to wind up a successful morning’s trek. Close to the cottage another trail head appears. This track drops down sharply into a gully and I can see that the terrain has changed yet again. The soil is gravelly and grass trees, grevilleas and a variety of small plants with yellow, lilac and orange flowers, decorate the understory.

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Grasshopper species

The ever present eucalypts are a smaller more gnarled species. A few cicadas still buzz in the trees but on closer examination I can see a variety of other insects in the scrub including a glorious little cricket with ‘pink-camo-splotches’.

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Grass tree amongst stand of low growing eucalypts

 

I walk a couple of hundred metres further and realise that this trail is worth more than a cursory glance- but not today. And so ‘Dear Readers’ I look forward to another hike around the goldfields and the opportunity to share whatever I find with you.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

 

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