If this global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate what is in our own backyard, literally. Lockdowns all over the world have forced people to stay home and the lack of international travel has led us to seek adventure within our own cities. I have been very fortunate throughout the pandemic not to be subjected to too strict of a lockdown, but with a penchant for adventure and travel, I had to get my fix from somewhere. After months of hiking, walking, diving and general observations, I have come to the conclusion that Adelaide is a stunning city filled with so much wildlife. I decided to dedicate this blog to this great city and the wonders that can be found within.
I have mentioned before in a previous blog, the awe that I have for Australian eucalyptus (or gum) trees. They are so full of character with their gnarly, often intertwined trunks and branches. However, looking past the beauty of the tree, you can often find a koala sitting in amongst the branches enjoying his daily dose of eucalypt leaves.
While I find these mammals utterly adorable, you would be forgiven for thinking they were the infamous drop bear that live in Australia. Koalas have massive sharp claws with opposable thumbs that they use to climb trees and the noise they make is far more reminiscent of a wild boar than a koala, although it is impressive that they can produce such a sound for their size! These marsupials are from the order Vombatiformes which includes the Vombatidae family (wombats) and Phascolarctidae (koalas), this means the closest relative to the koala is the wombat (Beck et al., 2020). Koalas do not have very good vision, although I could have sworn he looked right at me when I took the above photo, but they make up for this by having superior hearing and sense of smell. The eucalyptus leaves koalas eat are actually toxic to most animals, which means koalas have a uniquely accessible food source as they are able to break down these toxins themselves using a specialised digestive system that removes the toxins as waste products (https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/living-with/koalas/facts).
Beyond a koalas wild grunting you might be able to hear some laughing, and while you may think is directed at you (as I often have), it is actually the call of a kookaburra. Kookaburras are a type of kingfisher and their distinctive laughing call can be heard above all other calls as they try to ward off other birds from their territory. These birds’ mate for life and live out their days in the hollows of trees (https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Dacelo-novaeguineae). While kookaburras make the top tier of my favourite birds, they get pipped at the post by the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus). These birds are just stunning, they have a beautiful call too which is highly contrasted to their distant cousins the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), who often sound like they are screaming at you for something you did wrong. Yellow-tailed black cockatoos feed on native tree seeds and various insect larvae, however, the introduction of exotic pine species has seen these birds change their foraging behaviour to include tearing open pine cones and extracting the seeds (https://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/yellow-tailed-black-cockatoo).
Lets not forget the plethora of reptiles that are seen on every kind of hike and in backyards, which totals around 245 species! (https://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/reptile-keys), including this little common garden skink (Lampropholis guichenoti),which I returned to some nice shrubs after finding it near my backdoor.
There is as much to be found out at sea as on land. I recently completed my Advanced Open Water dive, finding myself at one of the deep dive sites in Adelaide. I hope I have already sufficiently shared my love of seagrass with you, so no need to delve into that more here- even though I did see a meadow of Halophila…. There was also a spider crab, so I am warranted to mention seagrass again!
The deep water dive I got to try off the South Australian metropolitan coastline was the Glenelg dredge. This vessel was primarily used to dredge the port river before it was decommissioned in 1984 and deliberately sunk 6.5km off the coastline in 1985 to form an artificial reef (https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/topics/heritage/maritime-heritage/visiting-maritime-heritage-places/ships-graveyards/Glenelg) . As you can see, this was highly successful in bringing life to this part of the ocean with the multitude of fish and sedentary marine life clinging to the available surfaces of the vessel. This was an amazing dive, so much intricate life in one place and so much to explore.
I hope I have sufficiently captured your interest in the wildlife here in South Australia or made you realise how much is in your very own backyard. If you have ever wondered how you can contribute to supporting wildlife in your home city, you can start an inaturalist account and record your observations. This is a free app, available for download on most platforms and allows you to upload pictures of your observations that the wider community can then scientifically identify for you. I have started an account (although I am not as active in uploading observations as I want to be) and it is super quick and easy to do. This is a user friendly app and the data collected is freely available to use, this means you can provide data to scientists for a multitude of species which allows us to determine how rare/endangered species are, where they are living (their habitat range) and where important populations may be hanging out. This is the greatest citizen science initiative I have seen, so get involved https://www.inaturalist.org
Beck, R. M. D., Louys, J., Brewer, P., Archer, M., Black, K. H. & Tedford, R. H. (2020). A new family of diprotodontian marsupials from the latest Oligocene of Australia and the evolution of wombats, koalas, and their relatives (Vombatiformes). Sci Rep, 10, 9741.