Tag Archives: white faced heron

Just Cruising 1

1 Jun

Just Cruising 1

Dear Reader:

There is a white faced heron picking its way precariously along the bow rail of the boat; probably heading for the shrimp bucket. In the meantime, two welcome swallows are resting on the mooring rope while they take a rest from their aerial, acrobatic insect hunts. These are two of the animals that make our houseboat a temporary home as we journey along the river.

 

Curious Heron

 

To date my blogs have always been about South Australia but the next few posts will stray just a little from my own state and take you just over the border to Mildura in Victoria. From this thriving community I will share some observation taken on a week-long houseboat trip along the Murray. The wildlife and scenery are much the same as in SA as we are cruising along a section of the river which runs close to all three states SA, Victoria and NSW.

 

Typical riverside scenery

 

Houseboats are a wonderful way to explore the river. They come in all shapes and sizes from luxury models with saunas, ensuite bathrooms and satellite television through to old fashioned paddle sided boats with two rooms and a basic kitchen. We travelled in rather luxurious style which I can fully recommend; and travelling in a group certainly made it a reasonably inexpensive holiday option.

 

A classic

 

Wildlife along the river is seasonal and dependent on a variety of conditions such as drought and ambient river levels. The long dry that we have experienced this year meant that the wildlife was sporadic and took a little effort to locate. However, as we varied our moorings between townships and bush there was always something to see when I took a walk and looked carefully.

What the????

 

At a bush mooring near the confluence of the Darling and Murray I spent a couple of hours walking through the scrub bordering the river. Whilst sitting on a log near a clump of acacia bushes some small bugs with ‘eye-lash- like’ antennae caught my attention. I spent a good half hour trying to get a reasonable shot. Sometimes the little things can be the most interesting and challenging to photograph.

 

Nesting Apostle bird

 

The rewards of exploring a new and unfamiliar region are many including the chance to encounter species that are rarely observed or at the best seen fleetingly at home. An apostle bird nesting in the eucalypts that shaded our mooring at Coomeala was a prime example. Locals told me that they are quite common but it was the first time I had seen one and to capture and image of it nesting was quite a thrill.

Sandra gets the double

 

There were many more encounters on this trip and they certainly warrant further posts under the heading ‘Just Cruising’ which seems to capture the mood of my week exploring the mighty Murray while relaxing with friends.

 

Cheers

Baz

 

Additional notes

This is an easy excursion which is quite suitable for families and seniors with toilets, barbecues and numerous facilities aboard.

 

 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 try to attach a new image and notes to accompany each post.

https://wildlifemomentssa.blogspot.com

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Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

11 Jul

Port Wakefield…more than a tank of gas and a snack on the road

Dear Reader:

For more years than I care to remember I have stopped at Port Wakefield to fill up the car and grab a quick roadhouse snack before continuing on to the York Peninsular, Flinders Ranges or the mid north towns and wineries. Today is the exception and I must admit to being more than a little surprised to discover what this small town has to offer. As always, my first objective is the natural history of an area and this one has quite a  diverse offering of environments all of which are easy to access.

 

2b

Silver gull

As I sit in a little park next to a natural saltwater lagoon, which is used as a swimming pool in the warmer weather, a flight of silver gulls sweeps in low over the saltbush and samphire flats that stretch to the horizon. They are, no doubt, attracted to the bacon and egg pie that I am enjoying or perhaps it is the vanilla slice that is reserved for later. Instead they settle next to a car where a family is enjoying some chips…seagulls and chips… how South Aussie can you get? 

1a

Enjoying the boardwalk across the lagoon

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Local source of a great pie

 From the seagulls in the car park I make my way across a little footbridge that crosses the tidal pool and follow an interpretive trail along the creek. The signage explains the peculiarities of the mangrove trees, the importance of seagrass meadows and how the coastal saltbush can withstand seasonal inundations of salt water. There are also images of common coastal birds; two of which, a little black cormorant and a pied cormorant, I photograph near the sluice gate that maintains the water level.

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Little black cormorant perching on sluice gate

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Pied cormorant on embankment near mangroves

 I walk along a raised boardwalk for a hundred metres giving which gives me an excellent view of the mangroves, saltbush and creek. Then as I turn back towards the car I hear the unmistakable call of a singing honeyeater which is conveniently perched on a dead tree branch near a restored stone section of the old wharves. And, just to finish my walk on a positive note there is a white faced heron hunting along the stonework causeway on the water’s edge.

5b

Singing honeyeater a common coastal species

5c

White faced heron stalking prey near the stone embankment

Driving back to the main highway I notice a lovely colonial building with an antiques sign out the front. I chat to the owners as I browse through the treasures and find that the town has many lovely old buildings and a fascinating place in our colonial history. Today I am in a hurry to get home after a couple of days in the bush but on asking where I can get some more information they refer me to a website, (portwakefield.sa.au)

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The antique shop is one example of the many fine heritage buildings

Leaving Port Wakefield I have one overriding thought in mind. Next time I come this way I’ll take a little more time to have a closer look at this historic little town and explore its coastal melange of habitats in more detail.

 

Cheers

Baz

Old Noarlunga….A River Walk

17 Apr

Dear Reader;

As I pull the SUV into the parking area I can hear the sound of cockatoos and corellas foraging in the recreation area just a cross the road. At the beginning of the walking trail several monarch butterflies are hovering around a stand of late flowering eucalypts. They are all part of a sudden surge of activity following recent morning showers; a welcome distraction after a long hot summer and a dry start to autumn.

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Corellas feeding

 

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Monarch butterflies

 

 

There are several marked trails that I can take from the park but today I am simply following the bitumen path along the river front to get some idea of the terrain and wildlife. This side of the river is bordered by the little township of Old Noarlunga and the area is quite significant in terms of South Australian history. For thousands of years it was a meeting place for the Kaurna people who lived along the river banks in natural caves or dome shaped dwellings. Later, during the early years of European settlement the area was a rest stop for bullock trains and some of the timbers and bricks in the park are remnants from the old Horseshoe Inn that burnt down in 1987.

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One of the larger pools

 

 

On the far side of the river, the summer brown hills rise steeply and there is mixture of native scrub and cleared grazing land. A wood and cable bridge links the two banks and a small group of students appear to be carrying out some kind of environmental survey on the opposite bank.

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Footbridge across the river

 

 

The river is at its lowest during this time of the year; a series of large pools linked by pebble strewn shallows where the water flows slowly. At the far end of one pool a white faced heron is hunting stealthily amongst the rocks. Every so often the bird jabs its long beak into the water to grab, what appears to be, some kind of large insect larvae.

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Grey faced heron hunting

 

 

After a while I decide to rest on a large tree stump above one of the larger pools and simply watch the water. Near the reed beds I can make out the shapes of some sizeable bream cruising between the bank and several submerged logs in the middle of the river. At the end of the pool there are large black cormorants perched on branches that overhang the water. Surprise!!! They are also watching the fish.

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School of bream in shallow water

 

 

A few hundred meters further up the track there is a side road that leads to The Old Noarlunga Hotel. In the warm weather a drink and lunch are a welcome break before I head back on the other side of the river. As I start to pack away the camera, a flash of grey catches my eye. A large bird flies along the river bank and lands in the trees quite close to where I am standing. Pulling the camera back out, I walk slowly towards the target keeping a large tree in line for cover. It turns out that the bird is an Australian bittern, a heron-like species that is not often seen in the daylight hours.

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Old Noarlunga Hotel

 

bittern

Australian bittern

 

 

Half an hour later, refuelled and rehydrated I shoulder arms and head back down to the river to explore the other bank. But that area will be the subject of a future post, perhaps in the springtime, when the character of the river will have changed again.

 

Cheers

Baz

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.

 

 

Thanks for reading this post.

I hope you enjoyed it.

Tell a friend who might be interested.

Cheers

Baz

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    

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

Mangrove Wildlife

9 Aug

Dear Reader:

The city of Port Adelaide is a working port that includes a power station, shipyards and fine old buildings that date from the early colonial days when sailing ships transported goods and settlers to the new colony. Yet only a few kilometres from this industrial zone is a haven for wildlife both above and below the water. Mangroves once dominated this area but land clearing, to establish new beachside suburbs, decimated this crucial coastal environment. Eventually local communities and conservationists finally put pressure on the government to preserve what was left.

AH Power station near the mangrove area

Power station near the mangrove area

This weekend I grabbed a camera and spent a leisurely hour walking around the Port taking in the sites and enjoying some seafood at one of the oldest hotels in the state. Early in the afternoon I drove a couple of kilometres to the Garden Island boat ramp where mangroves still dominate the shoreline of the Port River. This complex system of intertidal mudflats, seagrass meadows and the thick cover of mangrove trees supports a vital nursery area for many of the fish, prawn and crab species that live in St Vincent’s Gulf; Adelaide’s marine backyard and larder.

AG Puemataphores  in the mangrove forest

Puemataphores in the mangrove forest

 

As I walked along the little jetty that skirts the edge of the mangroves I chatted to a couple of fishers working the incoming tide. They had spotted a pod of dolphins cruising along one of the channels a little earlier in the afternoon and a pair of pied cormorants were boldly eying their bucket of baitfish as we spoke. The jetty also provides an excellent view into the mangroves and within a few minutes I had spotted a white faced heron perched on a low branch hunting for crabs. Nearby, a glorious little golden whistler was searching for insects near the entrance to a tidal creek.

AA Whitefaced heron hunting deep in the mangroves

White-faced heron hunting deep in the mangroves

AC Golden whistler in thorny bushes on the edge of the mangroves

Golden whistler in thorny bushes on the edge of the mangroves

 

Because the tide was out I had the perfect opportunity to walk into the mangroves and take a closer look amongst the tangle of limbs and bizarre little pneumatophores that protrude like blackened fingers from the forest floor. The sticky mud between these gas absorbing extensions of the root system was pock marked with little crab holes. It took some patience and a mini war with a squadron of mosquitoes before I caught a crab in the open and managed to capture an image.

AD Mangrove crab in samphire at the edge of the mudflat

Mangrove crab in samphire at the edge of the mudflat

 

A little itchy and with my boots liberally coated with dark mud, I decided to call it a day. Later in the year I will return to another area of mangroves a little further down the coast and share some more images and notes about the extraordinary animals that exist in this harsh and unusual habitat.

Cheers

BAZ   

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