I am an Australian natural history writer and photographer. My aim is to encourage people to venture outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of our planet.
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Published September 2nd 2020
I am walking through an avenue of massive red gums. The age of the trees is evident from their size and the multitude of old and hollowed out branches. These natural shelters provide wonderful nesting opportunities for a range of birds as well as possums. I can hear the raucous, squabbling cries of cockatoos in the branches high above me. I scan the canopy for the birds and find a pair of Galahs and a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo screeching at each other. I suspect they are discussing the local real estate and who has nesting rights. A little higher in the branches, a third Galah is bouncing around with a leafy twig in its beak. I am not quite sure whether this is a mating gift, lining for a nest or simply Galah entertainment.
Oaklands Wetlands, in the city of Marion, is a remarkable urban space with a variety of attractions for both wildlife enthusiasts and families. There are shelters, gas barbecues, open grassed areas and a skate/bike park as well as nearby toilets. The area is dog friendly, has numerous walking paths and viewing areas plus ample parking.
At the end of the avenue, I take a path leading to one of the many ponds that make up the wetland. I catch sight of a fluffy, little water bird gliding effortlessly across a patch of open water towards the reed beds. It stops, for looks around then disappears below the water in an instant. Twenty seconds later, the bird reappears and the process starts again. I have always thought of these little birds as 'plip birds', that being the sound the water makes as they dive. In reality, they are Australasian Grebes. Observed closely, through a long lens or binoculars, they have lovely, subtle plumage and quite distinct yellow markings on their heads.
This path skirts around the edge of the ponds to a little peninsula with a bench and some flowering gums. It provides a great vantage point for shooting images of birds amongst the reeds and I am lucky enough to see a Eurasian Coot feeding a chick. The coots must have bred mid-winter, which is unusual.
A series of stepping stones leads off this small islet, balancing on one I catch a glimpse of a colourful White Cheeked Rosella in an overhanging branch. It has been feeding on blossoms and seems indifferent to my presence; most unusual as rosellas are usually very skittish.
Life seems idyllic for the birds that live in the wetlands but nature has a way of evening up the score. High on a dead branch overlooking one of the smaller ponds I can just make out the unmistakable lines of a raptor. After sharpening the image later at home and with the aid of a bird ID book, I discover that it is an Australian Hobby. Hobbies are close relatives of the Peregrine Falcon. They are mainly aerial hunters taking small birds and insects in flight.
Before returning to the car I take one last stroll down the 'Avenue d' Eucalyptus' in search of some wildlife that does not have feathers. Despite being a warm day, it is still winter which means insects and spiders are in short supply and daylight is not the best time for possums. My only hope is to probe under the bark or scan the leaf litter for small skinks that might be taking advantage of the sunshine. I am lucky, as I gently lift some bark a Marbled Gecko scuttles out, freezes for a few seconds before finding another piece of bark to shelter under.