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 June 30th 2020
There are numerous cormorants resting alongside the St Kilda channel which leads out into the ocean. Some are sitting on rocks watching the water for schools of small fish, while others are perched on mangrove branches drying their wings. However, it is a lone bird high on a skeletal branch that catches my eye. Contrasted by the blue sky behind and with feathers fluffed up to dry, it is a lovely image and a good way to start my walk.
St Kilda is a small township about a 45-minute drive from Adelaide's CBD. There is a boat ramp and channel out into the Barker Inlet as well as a mangrove boardwalk, small breakwater, extensive adventure playground and a well-supplied general store aptly named Tackle 'N' Tucker.
The tide is ebbing which exposes mud and seagrass flats on both sides of the low breakwater that runs parallel to the boat channel. I can see some boaties heading out along the channel, while a shore fisherman follows the gravel path alongside the rocks as a flight of swans graces the sky above me.
Scanning my long lens across the exposed shoreline, I pick out a variety of birds feeding in the exposed low tidal zone. There are Silver Gulls and Herons searching remnant pools for fish and crabs. Still further away are some smaller shorebirds, probably Plovers or Stints, probing for worms and shellfish. Each species has different features from the shape and length of their beaks, feet and legs to the way they hunt. Such diversity ensures that they can all hunt in the same area without interfering with each other or depleting food supplies too much. A wonderful example of nature in balance.
My next stop is the Mangrove Boardwalk and I need to go to the bait and food shop to get a key to the gate which involves leaving a small retrievable deposit. There is a couple of hundred metres of gravel pathway atop an old embankment leading to the boardwalk which snakes through the dense mangroves for around 500 metres. It used to go further but storms destroyed some sections which are awaiting repairs.
A wide variety of insects, spiders and birds live in the mangrove forest and numerous shell species cling to the strange, perforated roots that protrude from the mud. They are called pneumatophores and are attached to the larger, spreading root system beneath the mud. Their function is to help gas exchange in this waterlogged environment. This process is explained, along with many other interesting facts about mangroves, by numerous interpretive signs. There are also several small platforms and hides which make the walk truly immersive and give great insight into the nature and importance of this unique environment.
As I stand quietly, taking in the sights, sounds and yes, smells of the mangrove forest, I notice a small grey bird flitting between the branches. I think it is a Grey Fantail but it is hard to be certain. I move along the boardwalk and the bird seems to follow. Perhaps I am stirring up insects for it to feed on. My feathered companion stays close for the next few minutes and eventually I get a clear shot which confirms my earlier identification.
After returning the key and with a hot pie in hand from 'Tackle 'N' Tucker' I make my way past the adventure playground to some grassed areas surrounded by native bush plantings where I can see the usual suspects; Magpies, Wagtails, Crested Pigeons and honeyeaters. One pigeon has landed on the tram rail which reminds me that St Kilda also boasts a tram museum. In short, there is something for everyone in this fascinating coastal location.
There are public toilets, barbecues, parking and other facilities adjacent to the playground and this area is dog friendly. The boardwalk is a bit slippery and care must be taken. Dogs are not allowed in this environment.