Readers’ wildlife photos

March 20, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Rodney Graetz in Australia. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

A Wetlands story.

Australia is the driest of all occupied continents; the central latitude of Australia is the same as that of the Sahara Desert.  Accordingly, the majority of Australians live close to permanent water, choosing either the ocean, or the inland rivers and wetlands.  Because we are an urbanised nation, and seven of our eight capital cities are coastal, oceans and their beaches are our first choice.

A beach environment is always vibrant, but the repetition of waves and tides does not easily generate any long-lasting appreciation.  Because it is daily renewed, a memory of yesterday can be as fleeting as your footprints.

In contrast, my preference is the tranquillity of freshwater bodies, the rivers, and lakes – the wetlands.  Here the most important cycle is the slow and noiseless day-night cycle, and much of the surroundings suggest timelessness, such as these centuries-old trees.

And, even with an approaching death, it can be interesting and informative.

With tranquillity, beauty comes easily.  Such as the visual delight of the mirroring by water, as here on a small scale.

And likewise, on a larger scale:

Calm waters can soften the visual impact of a gathering of dead trees.

And duplicate the sky colours as Earth rotates away from the Sun.

In southern Australia, the boundary between land and water is usually sharp, static, and hugged by trees (Eucalyptus species) whose dense wood makes for long-lived, bleached remains.

In northern Australia, in the many extensive tropical wetlands, the land-water boundary is neither sharp nor static, and the bordering trees are varied and mostly short-lived.  One of their compelling attractions is the (edible) aquatic plants, the ‘water lilies’, which decorate their surfaces (Nymphaea species?).

All wetlands are nutrient-rich islands of fertility, and thus productivity, typified by this gathering of waterbirds – mostly (sleeping) Plumed Whistling Ducks .

Regrettably, people have initiated serious, lasting problems for wetlands, particularly in northern Australia.  The churned, dried mud these Burdekin Ducks are resting on was pushed up by feral pigs rooting for plant or animal material.  Non-aboriginal Australians introduced domestic pigs which have now joined a lengthy list of serious invasive pests.

The yellow light of a setting sun contrasts the dark clouds of a coming storm.  A beautiful, unspoiled floodplain?  No.  The little palm tree-like plants in the foreground, and patchily across the floodplain, are an introduced plant (Mimosa pigra) that is now a very serious weed invading large areas of floodplains and wetlands.  How to eradicate it is not yet determined but one of its spreading agents can be minimized.

This is the principal weed spreading agent, the Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalis bubalis).  Deliberately introduced into tropical Australia for tropical meat and milk production, which with abandonment in the 1850s, have quickly grown into huge feral populations.  Scroll down for their Australian history in this link here.

The buffalo’s preferred habitat is the floodplains and wetlands.  Strongly social animals, their collective wallowing – to avoid the high midday temperatures and mosquitos – generate swimming pool sized eroded pits.

The combined effects of buffalo grazing and wallowing is deeply destructive of both wetland vegetation and soils.  The totality of their destruction is shown by this fence line contrast between no buffalo (LHS) and buffalo (RHS).

The current estimated feral buffalo population in northern Australia is 200,000 animals.  Mustering for sale (back to Asia) and culling by shooting (from helicopters) continues to be the only large scale management options.  On the much smaller scale is trophy hunting with clients from Europe, and the USA.  I use this borrowed image to illustrate just how massive the buffalos can become, and why they can be lethal animals.  From the hunter’s hats and suntans, can you pick which of the two men is an American?

Finally, a personal note.  About 35 years ago, I was surveying buffalo damage (on foot) in northern Australian wetlands where buffalos were thick on the ground.  To survive a buffalo charge I was ordered to carry a weapon at all times, so my colleagues provided this massive 44 calibre handgun.  Their user advice was simple: (1) wait until the charging buffalo is about 3 metres (10 feet) away, then try a double-handed, head shot; (2) if unsuccessful, then drop the handgun and quickly climb a tree.  Workplace conditions were really interesting back then.  I borrowed 3 (black-edged) photos to complete this story.

11 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Your love and respect for your country and its wildlife is terrific, Rodney. And your photos are gorgeous.

  2. Excellent, informative commentary and illustrative photos. When NASA was first putting together its program to search for life on Mars, the mantra was “follow the water”. Thanks, Rodney.

  3. The advice on being charged by a buffalo reminds me of this misremembered bit on meeting a bear in the woods.
    1. Make yourself small and try and creep away.
    2. Don’t run. It’ll provoke him and he’s much faster.
    3. Don’t climb a tree. He loves that. You’ll be easy meat.
    4. If he catches you – play dead. Don’t fight or try to escape.
    5. If he starts to eat you it’s time to fight. Won’t do you any good – but who wants to be eaten without putting up a struggle.

  4. Never occurred to me that Australia is the same distance from the equator as the Sahara. Thanks for that nugget of info. Presumably this explains the Nullarbor Plain.

  5. Great photos and nice summary of my impression of Australia: “And, even with an approaching death, it can be interesting and informative.”

  6. Fascinating story. I love the mirror images photos.
    I especially liked the photo that shows the contrast of the destruction of the buffalo compared to where they don’t graze.
    Shooting a buffalo at 10 feet away sounds too close to figure out if you hit them or not.
    I’d be up the tree at the first sighting.

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