Aquarium in Miniature

Where's Mr Pincy?

I’ve always been fascinated by rock pools, especially as  a child. I think its because they are small and close up enough for a child to relate to, like a little microcosm of the under sea world. They also have that mystical feel about them. A world in miniature where you might find mermaids or monsters in the dark corners and crannys. Most of all they have an appeal because kids simply like poking  around in places that seem forbidden, curious as to what might lurk within. On the weekend I was dropped off on some rocks at a special picnic spot in the Royal while the tinny went back to fetch the rest of the family. This gave me fifteen minutes of blissful solitude, fossicking around on the shore looking for something interesting. I came across these perfectlly square little pot holes, obviously carved out by man a long time ago as footings for some kind of mooring or wharf side structure, now long rotten away. Since then marine life has moved in and I was delighted to see that a number of little crabs, of different colours and sizes had made these potholes their home. I was as excited at this gorgeous little “mini aquarium” as I would have been twenty years ago as a child. How many crabs can you see?

Smiling Assasin?

After this I scrambled up the rocks and had a wander into the bush where I saw a few more less obvious signs of life. Any chance of mammalian sightings probably blown away by the weekend river boating traffic or passing bushwalkers. However, what I did see will bring me back at a quieter time to try my luck at meeting the animal responsible for the cube shaped droppings pictured below. Answers on a postcard for a trip in the tinny!

An Animal With a Funny Shaped Bottom?

Where There's Bees There's Bears?

Why Dr Google is No Substitute for a Field Guide

Move along now

On our last outing in the tinny we spotted a small flock of cormorants hanging out on the ruins of an old sandstone wharf that would have once belonged to a house at the water’s edge, now long gone. I zoomed in and snapped away with the camera before they decided they’d had enough of the intrusion and took flight. Cormorants are a true amphibious bird, often popping their heads up next to your boat when you least expect, having surfaced from their latest foraging mission, only to spy you and just as quickly disappear again.

People are often unsure of the difference between a cormorant and a shag (the kind of shag that sits on a rock) but in actual fact they belong to the same family (Phalacrocoracidae) of which there are some forty species.  Shag was a name sometimes used by sailors and explorers for those species which had a crest on top of their head.  Cormorants can often be seen with their wings outstretched, drying out their feathers which in some species are less oiled than in other coastal birds.

Anyway, when I got home and started web based research on exactly what species of cormorant we’d seen, I realised I’d be there a long time sifting through pages and pages of amateur commentary on cormorants (perhaps a bit like this blog!). There must be something about the way we work these days, glued to the computer, that instinctively makes us turn to “Dr Google” as our primary source of information, when its not always the most reliable or fastest source of truth. Often it’s a case of information overload which results in our questions going unanswered, as is still the case with my Hawkesbury jellyfish.

Shags on a Rock

A couple of days after returning from our trip,  I borrowed a copy of Simpson and Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia and I had within minutes, confidently identified the photographed birds as the Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos,(let me know if you take a look at my photos and think otherwise).

The field guide helped me identify the bird by being able to compare its bill size, colour, plumage, flocking and flying habits and geographic location with that of similar looking cormorant species. It also helped me to eliminate the others by highlighting features it did not have. Although I would have had to observed them for longer to see this for myself,  I also learned that the Little Pied Cormorant “appears to be the only Australian cormorant which soars in thermals.” You may also be interested to know that its cousin the Little Black Cormorant fishes cooperatively with Australian Pelicans; now that I’d love to see in action!

When I was a child I collected the Collins pocket guides to all sorts of things including birds of Britain, farm animals, pond life etc. so in Simpson and Day I have rediscovered an old friend in the field guide, something that does exactly as its name suggests. Field guides provide you with information in the field when you really need it. So Simpson and Day will be accompanying me on my next tinny trip, and hopefully teaching Tess that Google is not the only source of truth! To all those twitchers and wildlife watchers out there, what are your Australian field guide recommendations?

Magic Eye....Taking Flight

Have You Seen This Jellyfish?

On a recent tinny trip in the Upper Hawkesbury River (NSW) we spotted masses of orange hued jellyfish very close to the surface. They ranged in size from about 10-30cm and had finger like tentacles or “arms”. My initial research makes me think they might be “Blue Blubbers” (based on the nature of the tentacles) or perhaps the Australian Spotted.

They were quite difficult to photograph on a sunny day with all the reflection on the surface of the water, but they were very beautiful, especially when seen in such large numbers. My efforts at identifiying the exact species using the internet have not been very conclusive so I think I am going to have to visit the library. If anyone knows what species they are I’d love to hear from you.

Pittwater Pelicans

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago when we went for a quick run in the tinny from Church Point on Pittwater. Pelicans are one of my favourite birds, particularly because they are one of the few really big birds that you can regularly get close up to and not like any bird I’ve seen in the UK when I lived there. So for me they are quintessentially Aussie (even though I know you get pelicans on other continents).

 I sometimes wonder what they did before the invention of large roadside streetlamps which are obviously the perfect size for a pelican landing, and so I’m going to call them “peli-pads” from now on. Whilst i was taking snaps of this one there was a bit of a breeze making the lamp sway and I could see him balancing himself by curling and then lifting his enormous grey webbed feet over the edge of the lamp. I wish I could have caught that on film. Anyway I think he is really beautiful and very photogenic!

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