Friday, June 5, 2009

Qld tropics

This coral head has christmas tree worms and in the foreground of the photo is a clam. The mantle(the fleshy lip) of the clam can be very brightly coloured , iridescent blues and greens are common. These clams are in the giant clam family, can grow to as big as 1.5m(5ft), and live for as long as 200 years. All this family have a symbiotic relationship with an organism called zooxanthellae(a type of microscopic algal cells) which live on the mantle (the fleshy exposed lip). These cells produce food for the clam by means of photosynthesis and provide it with nearly all its nutritional requirements. Many corals also have this relationship with zooxanthellae. The coral in the front of the photo is hard coral and the spongy looking finger like projections at the very back of the photo are soft coral. When it is feeding it looks very different.-(like in the next photo)

The tiny tentacle like arms you can see here belong to individual coral polyps. Corals are made up of colonies of these. Much of the time all that we see of coral is the skeleton, some hard which are made of limstone secreted by each polyp, and some soft which are generally sort of spongy. This is soft coral, when the polyps are out like this they are feeding, they capture tiny bits of plankton floating in the water. Usually they feed at night and when the day is dull. Even though they look plant like they are primitive colonial animals (some of the earliest to evolve!) and there are hundreds of different species of them mainly living in the worlds tropical oceans.

Many of the really fascinating things that we see diving are invertebrates and tiny. The pretty blue whirls you can see in this picture are actually double sets of tentacles, which are used for catching tiny particles of food, that belong to creatures known as a Christmas Tree worms.(There are two worms in this pic.) If you look closely you can see a little door-the operculum, that can close over and conceal the worm completely in an instance if the worm feels threatend in any way. It can be infuriating trying to take a close up photo of them as one move too suddenly and they're gone. They come in many different colours and on a white coral head they look really beatiful and just as colourful as christmas decorations. Who would have thought that a worm could be pretty.

Green turtle swimming in the warm waters off Lowe Isles.

Turtles are not only sea creatures. There are many types of freshwater turtles, often seen swimming in water bodies in throughout Australia, but more commonly seen in the tropics with the warmer year round temperature. This one was warming itself in the sun along side a lagoon near Port Douglas in Qld. It is a Saw-Shelled turtle and this species has aparantly come to regard the introduced Cane Toads as a food source! Sometimes these turtles are seen wandering aparantly nowhere near water, maybe searching for a new water body ( if theirs has dried up) or sometimes they travel to new water bodies to find a mate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sea Turtles

This hatchling has made it safely to the waters edge without being attacked by a gull or a reef egret. Even so its troubles are just beginning- it now has to dodge multiple predators, including a school of black-tipped reef sharks that patrol the shore line waiting for them to enter the water. Only when many of these little turtles reach the water at the same time do they have much chance in making it into the open oceans. Turtles are a fairly common sight when we dive but we only ever see full grown or nearly full growns ones, never smaller ones.

Sea turtles come ashore to lay their egss in the sand. They usually do it at night time but this one must have started late. While she is busy covering her eggs she inadvertantly uncovers some turtle hatchlings that were layed earlier in the season. This is a Green turtle. This species is the most popular for eating in other parts of the world. This is at Heron Island where they are Before Heron Island was a national park, in its early days turtles were hunted to make soup.

A Hawksbill Turtle taking time out for a rest on the bottom. These turtle are found in warm temperate and tropical seas the world over. This one was photographed at Heron Island in Qld where they are classed as vunerable. Worldwide they are considered to be critically endangered. They feed mainly on sponges but will aslo eat soft corals, sea grass and molluscs. In other parts of the world they are exploited for their shell.

A school of Strawberry Hussar swim past me and as they do everyone of them checks me out. Their movement is so well coordinated that as I swim between them they part, keeping about a metre away all the time and keeping the distance of a few cm between each other. They all change direction almost simultanously and they never even come close to bumping into one another. It is fascinating to watch the way these groups move as if aware of the position of every other individual around them. If we could learn to do this as well as them, many road accidents could be a avoided.
Semi-circle Angel Fish, Heron Island.
A Bat Fish and Strawberry Hussar at "The Bommie" dive site taken late in the afternoon.
This is a photo of me and my husband/dive buddy, Dale taken a few years ago when we last visited Heron Island.
Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef is one of my favourite places to visit. It is a coral cay, only about 1km long and maybe no higher than a few metres anywhere on the island. It is a wonderful place to go diving and beachcombing.
This frog (a Growling Grass Frog) is being held by frog expert Ray Draper, who has been testing this species of frog for Chytrid Fungus across the SW of Victoria. For each frog tested (handled) a new pair of gloves is worn to ensure that we are not passing the fungus from one individual to another. To test them a cotton bud is used and it is simply rubbed over an area of skin and a swab taken and analysed. It only takes a few moments and the frog is released straight back into its habitat. The actual test costs $30 for each swab. This is being done to try and track the progress of the disease as it is decimating frog numbers both here and other places around the world. Even though this frog looked healthly it may have been carrying the fungus. (It takes a certain set of conditions to enable it to become active on the frogs- but we dont understand what they are as yet. Once it is active it causes the eventual death of the frog by suffocating it.) This photo was taken at a WaterWatch educational day organised by the Corangamite CMA.
Growling Grass Frog in a garden pond at a farm property between Geelong and Ballarat. There were another three of these large frogs in the vegetation close by around the pond.
This frog is a Litoria raniformis. It is one of a number of endangered frog species in this area. I have included the latin name as it seems to have a number of different common names such as Growling Grass Frog, Green or Warty Swamp Frog or Southern Bell Frog depending on where you look it up. They are being affected badly by the Chytrid fungus and so have gone from being one of the most common frogs in Vic to one of the more uncommon. These frogs hunt and eat other frogs. Most frogs have hearing that picks up the calls of members of their own species best(so they can hear each other in ponds full of many different species of frogs all calling together.) whereas these guys can hear everyone and this enables them to hunt down other frogs to eat!
Superb fairy-wrens are found nearly all through Victoria and the east of NSW. Only the males have the really bright blue colours. The females are more brown with a reddish patch around the eye. They feed mainly on insects.
Rain clouds like these are a welcome sight in times of ongoing drought, however we never seem to get enough. While many other parts of the country have significant rain and floods, this SW area of Vic is still waiting. This is farmland near Geelong.
Here is a closeup of his face. Male adult elephant seals have an enlarged nose(hence the name elephant seal) but this one is still so young that it hasnt grown yet. Because they are wild animals and we dont want them to become use to people; a distance of about 5m has to be maintained. This photo and the previous photos were taken with a telephoto lens (as are most of the photos on this site).
This is a young elephant seal that visited various spots around the Bellarine Peninsula a few years ago. Here he is laying on a concrete boat ramp.
Eastern Beach sunrise taken from the yatch club.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A flock of yellow-tailed black cockys drinking from a farm trough near Lake Connewarre.

Echidnas are primitive egg laying mammals that feed on ants and termites. They are so primitive that they don't have nipples, the milk that it feeds its young is exuded straight through the skin. They are fairly common here and there is no shortage of food for them in the bush. They dig into ant nests and then using their really long sticky tongue they just lick the ants out of all the nooks and cranies. This one was trying its luck under a neighbors carport.

If echidnas become aware of something out of the ordinary they dig into the ground so that the only part of them that is exposed is there spines. No animal would want to mess with one of these. The spines are made from modified hairs and are extremely sharp.

Sometimes in late spring we have baby blue-tongue lizards in our back yard. This is one from a few years ago.
Long-billed corellas have become a more common sight in this area (SW Vic)over the past few years. This one was part of a small flock at Moddewarre.
Terns like these young crested terns are found all around Australia's coastline.
This is another waterbird sometimes seen at Aireys Inlet wetland and on the Anglesea River. It is a Eurasian Coot.
Cormorants take advantage of exposed rocks at low tide while they rest and dry out untill it's time to go fishing again.
This wetland is near Warnambool and was taken just after sunrise on a foggy morning.
With their vibrant reb beak and charcoal black feathers these swans are really rather striking to look at.
Black swans are Australia's only native swan and are seen on wetlands throughout vic.(that is when there is water in the lakes! ) Some years there are thousands of blacks swans at Lake Connewarre and Swan Bay on the Bellarine Penisula.
This photo was taken at the small wetland in AireysInlet where swamphens, coots, ducks and sometimes blackswans can be seen.
Spoonbills wade through the shallows skimming their beaks from side to side under the water to catch the invertebrates and small fish on which they feed.
Swan Bay at Queenscliff is a great place to see waterbirds like these Spoonbills looking for a feed at low tide.