Tag Archives: wading birds

Breakout Creek’s Herons

22 Jun

 

Dear Reader

It is a typically South Australian winter’s afternoon; cool, clear and sunny with a light breeze coming off the ocean.

5 heron poised to strike

Grey faced heron poised to strike….click to enlarge image

4 heron and yabbie

Heron and yabbie (freshwater crayfish)….click to enlarge image

 

The white faced heron is hunting amongst the shallow reed beds and rocks along the edge of the river bank. It moves slowly, carefully placing each of its long, spindly legs before freezing to stare into the water in search of prey. The long neck coils back slowly and then with disarming speed the dagger beak flashes into the water to snatch an unsuspecting yabbie. The bird rearranges the unlucky crawfish in its beak then strides onto the causeway to enjoy its catch.

3 white faced heron in flight

White faced heron in flight….click to enlarge image

 

Over the next few minutes I watch the heron as it continues to hunt in the same area. I am trying to capture some images that depict its hunting style but the wader is becoming more nervous and eventually takes to the air.

Breakout Creek looking south

Breakout Creek looking south….click to enlarge image

 

I am at Breakout Creek, a section of the Torrens where the river broadens and significant environmental work has been done to improve aquatic habitats. Over the years I have seen water rats, lizards, frogs, possums as well as a wide variety of birds in this area. It is a favourite destination when I go for a bike ride along Linear Park and one that I would recommend to any visitor who enjoys the outdoors and a little mild exercise. Free bikes are available at the weir near the golf course and the ride to Breakout Creek and back is an easy one hour pedal.

7 greater egret

Greater egret….click to enlarge image

 

From the causeway I cycle back towards the city for a couple of hundred metres then dismount where the reeds are thickest. Between a small island and the bank a lone greater egret is hunting, half concealed by the brush. Like the grey face the egret uses its long bill to snatch small prey from the water and while I am watching it snaps up several small fish.

2 Nankeen night heron

Nankeen night heron….click to enlarge image

 

Close by the reed bed some tall eucalypts overhang the creek and, as luck would have it, there is a far more unusual heron roosting in the topmost branches. The nankeen night heron is a nocturnal hunter and it spends the days resting before hunting for its prey when the sun goes down. This one is becoming a little more active as it is now late afternoon. Night herons are one of my favourite birds and though they are not exactly rare along the river seeing one is a bit of a treat.

6 red ochre grill

Red ochre grill….click to enlarge image

 

Three herons in one day (egrets are a kind of heron )……nice; but the day is not done and I have planned to meet a friend for dinner at the Red Ochre Grill, a fabulous restaurant adjacent to the weir, golf course and bike hire station where I started my ride. Their menu, which sources local ingredients and is a kind of upmarket take on the bush tucker concept, is certainly something to look forward to.

 

Until next time

Baz    

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Burnside’s Hidden Creek

6 May

Dear Reader: 

The wattle bird seems to be totally absorbed and indifferent to my presence as it feeds on the tiny white lerps that dot the leaves of a creek-side eucalyptus tree. Usually these large members of the honeyeater group are quite nervous and hard to approach. This one, however, is determined to provide me with a ringside display of its acrobatic ability as it hangs upside down and hops from branch to flimsy branch in pursuit of its lunch. The tiny white lerps look like an arborial version of measles. In fact they are the early stage of a parasitic bug called a psyllid, an introduced insect pest that sucks the ‘juice’ from the trees.

A wattle bird pecks tiny insects from the leaves of a blue gum near the river bank

A wattle bird pecks tiny insects from the leaves of a blue gum near the river bank.

 

I am walking along the banks of second creek in the Michael Perry Botanical Reserve. This charming little park is easily accessed from a small lane called Andrew’s Walk at the southern end of Hallet Road, in the hills face suburb of Burnside. The shady banks, trickling stream and little ponds have a European flavour to them affording a cool retreat in the drier summer months. Before setting off on my short walk to investigate the creek’s wildlife I made a couple of crucial stops to provision my pack for a bite to eat on the river bank. At the nearby Stoneyfell Winery I found a fine bottle of white while ‘Taylor Blend’, a fashionable little eastern suburbs coffee shop on Hallett Road, provided a wide selection of gourmet paninis and local beesting cake. When one has to sit by a river bank for an hour or so to wait for the wildlife it might as well be done in style.

The brook cascades over a small ford made from slate and sandstone rocks

The brook cascades over a small ford made from slate and sandstone rocks

 

Leaving the wattle birds to finish their meal I work my way along the creek, pausing frequently to try and catch sight of the small birds that I can hear chirping and rustling deep in the cover of the reed beds. Without warning a grey faced heron explodes from the tangle of branches a couple of metres in front of me. The birds wheels in flight and settles on a branch high in a nearby pine tree where it can keep a sharp eye on its human intruder. As I point the camera at the perching water bird I catch site of a pair of Kookaburras in a huge eucalypt further up the opposite embankment. Two predatory birds; now it’s time to take a look for the prey animals that sustain them.

A white faced heron watches the creek from its vantage point in a pine tree

A white faced heron watches the creek from its vantage point in a pine tree

 

The first interesting small animal that I notice is a water skink which is sunning itself on a log. Being mid autumn I am surprised to see a reptile as most would now be ‘dug in’ for the winter months ahead. As I sit quietly and prepare to watch the lizard, a green eyed dragonfly lands on a boulder in the middle of the creek. And, where the water has formed a small clear pool I can see tiny fish or tadpoles swimming close the reeds and water striders skating across the surface: like my lunch, a gourmet larder for a range of feathered predators.

A water skink basking on a log amongst the reeds

A water skink basking on a log amongst the reeds

A dragonfly pauses for a moment on a warm rock in the creek

A dragonfly pauses for a moment on a warm rock in the creek

 

A fence marks the end of the reserve and I cross the creek to return on the northern bank. The tiny reed birds still elude me but in a shady stretch of water a single black duck is swimming against the current as it dabbles for food. A common enough species in southern Australia but the light is particularly good and on reviewing the shot it seems to encapsulate the mood of this lovely little waterway.

Black duck are common along the waterway

Black duck are common along the waterway

 

Until the next time

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.

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.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

JET

A Drive Along the Beach

20 Mar

Dear Reader

At the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula the rocky cliffs and granite outcrops of Victor Harbor and Port Elliot subside into a long stretch of pristine sandy beaches. They are the product of aeons of erosion and define the area where Australia’s longest river, the Murray; meets the ocean. The beach is easily accessed from the old river port of Goolwa and the short 5 Km drive along its length is only possible in a  4WD vehicle, Even then, it is best to keep a close eye on the tide and have a little experience driving in soft, sandy conditions.

Four wheel drive entry to Goolwa Beach

Four wheel drive entry to Goolwa Beach

Over the last few weeks I have made the trip several times to photograph and observe the wildlife that lives along the tidal zone and in the windswept dunes. Twice, I reached the river mouth and once I had to turn back as the high tide and churned up sand made the going a little too difficult for my SUV.

Goolwa beach near the Murray mouth showing different environments

Goolwa beach near the Murray mouth showing different environments

The surf breaks for several hundred metres out to sea along this beach and sometimes you can be lucky enough to see a dolphin or the dark outline of a whaler shark hunting for Australian salmon or mulloway in the waves. However, most of the time it is the caspian terns that dominate the open ocean as they dive for schools of baitfish or rest on the wet sand ready to set off and hunt again.

You've done something different with your hair

You’ve done something different with your hair

In the shallow surf break a dozen different species of waders can be seen each exploiting its own niche with its specialised beak and hunting style. Diminutive sanderlings and dotterels race along the sand in between the wave fronts gleaning tiny invertebrates and worms too small to see. Small groups of oystercatchers use their broadened beaks to dig out cockles and prise them open while avocets use their slightly upturned bills to catch tiny crustaceans and other invertebrates swimming in the shallow water. In fact, what at first glance appears to be an homogenous continuum of beach; is in reality, a collection of micro habitats or niches, each exploited by its own particular species of bird.

Pied Oystercatchers feeding in the surf

I hope you enjoyed this jaunt along the beach and stay tuned for more South Aussie  adventures.

Cheers

Baz

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