“It's like a finger pointing away to the moon.
Don't concentrate on the finger
or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
“It’s 115 degrees in the Waterbag”, my dear old Dad was wont to proclaim on scorching hot days. (115 being in degrees Fahrenheit)
We were travelling past Goschen after a week up at the family acres and suffering through a run of days above 40C. This morning it was already 44C and not even yet mid-morning. (And we had at least 4 hours of roadwork ahead of us).
To add to the difficulty there was a strong northerly wind blowing as well. For the geographically and meteorologically challenged, that means the winds are carrying very hot air down from the interior of Australia and a quick look at your average Aussie map will show that there is a lot, mostly, of desert out there. About 70% of the land mass is semi arid or arid. That’s about 5.3 Million square kilometers.
And most of it was concentrating on Goschen.
To be honest, we should have just kept going, a nice cool drink and a pie at the Eaglehawk Bakery was our next stop.
But, well, you never know do you?
However after about 30 mins of blistering wind, little shade and myriad flies, it was time, as they say, to let discretion have the better of the moment, and we sat in the pathetic shade of the old—now badly deteriorating and neglected— Goschen Hall. A quick cuppa, a snack, and, well, we’d be on the road.
Speaking of family, my Mum always used to say, “Nothing like a hot cup of tea on a wretched day.” And as the kettle was always on the stove, the teapot sitting on the side and plenty of rich sugar in the bowl, perhaps she was right about a hot, black, sugar rich cuppa. At least the time taken to sit, sip, enjoy, and talk about things did help to pass the time away.
We’d seen little of the bird life of the area that morning. Unlike a few days before when only time for other commitments dragged us on our journey. More of that on another blog.
As we sat, a tiny blur of wings landed in a tree not far from us.
Had a trip up to the family acres.
No trip that far and yet so close to Goschen can be let go without a side journey down to this great little area.
Goschen Roadside Reserve has gained among the birding fraternity something of a ‘honeypot’ status. And it seems with good reason.
Isolated as it is from the wetlands down the road at Lake Boga and surrounded by wheat paddocks on every side, the little handkerchief of land wedged next to a road junction, provides both a home and a welcome stop over for many species. Continue reading “Venturing into the ‘Hood’. Hooded Robin that is”→
The Goschen Bushland Reserve outside Lake Boga, is renowned among bird obsevers as one of the true ‘honeyspots’ in the Mallee.
Little did I know as a young kid, riding my bike around the area, that I’d be back so many years later to spend time photographing the birds of the area.
We had travelled up to enjoy the BirdLife Werribee—aka Werribee Wagtails— camp out in Swan Hill. Of course one of the spots to visit was Goschen.
On the way up, one of the relatives had informed us, “Goschen now has been fenced off.” or words to that effect, and it sounded as though access was restricted. I had visions of a 3 metre chainwire fence all around the area. And huge gates with those big padlocks that Parks Vic. seems to be able to produce for such occasions.
Like all things, the time was up. All that was left to do was load the car with 2 clothes bags, 6 camera bags as well as a load of ‘take home’ presents.
After days of hot weather, it was a bit of a surprise to wake to find the ground wet. A steady rain had changed the place overnight.
With hugs, kisses, goodbye’s seeyanextimes and the like we waved and drove off into the rain. “Care to go to Goschen?” I asked EE. Ok, but not through the back roads in this wet.
Down the highway, and out along the Lalbert Road we set. (used to be called the Lalbert Road as it went, well, to Lalbert) But now it has a different name. Same Road. Same Direction. Still goes to Lalbert.
But when we arrived at Goschen Roadside Reserve, it was obvious that the rain had set in. And we’d left rain jackets for camera and person at home. (Its going to be 38 C, why do we need to load up the car with Driazabones?)
So in-between incessant showers we ventured out for a look see. Think I mentioned the Brown Treecreeper on her nest, and so we both went very very quietly, and peeked into the opening on the broken old tree. There she was. As Dry as my Drizabone; the one hanging up in the wardrobe at home. Only a quick peek, and then we left her alone. Didn’t need to get her out in the rain.
Mr Hooded Robin was out in the rain. Think he was enjoying the change. And the White-browed Babblers seemed to have a dislike for every Singing Honeyater they came across. Speaking of Singing Honeyeaters, one was sizing up a small pool of water on the former tennis court, now ‘Burn-out’ spot for the local(?) petrol heads. They are probably also responsible for slowing wrecking the Goschen Hall. It has stood for nigh on 100years and served the community faithfully and now its being torn apart one small bit at a time. Pity on the mentality of those responsible.
So in the end, the rain won, and we drove back toward the highway with thoughts of Eaglehawk pies on our mind. And. EE pointed. Look, its a Rainbow Bee-eater. And it was. Enjoying the rain. But the weather was so dark, it looked like a London fog out there. Would have been great with a bit of sunshine about then.
Stopped at the Rail Crossing outside Kerang. In the first tree nearest to the rail line is the nest of a Wedgetailed Eagle. No one home today, but the tree was providing shelter for a Whistling Kite.
So to home, loads of emails, much work to sort images and the like, clean gear and ponder the next journey.
After our success in the early morn at Goschen, Mr An Onymous and I decided that a return visit could just about be squeezed in. So we left early again.
Followed the backroads out of town, turned a corner, and there in the scrub by the side of a the road was a white and black flash sitting in the morning sun. It was a…. So stop car, reverse back, and lo and behold it was one of two Pied Butcher Birds. Before you could say ‘car door slam’, we were both out of the car and had a few shots before the sound of the car door slamming reached the Butcher bird. Looked great in that wonderful horizontal light described yesterday. Good start.
On to Goschen, and this time I’d decided camera on tripod was my friend, and out came the Wimberley Gimbal head. Best photo accessory I’ve ever purchased. Makes wielding a long lens a dream as it take all the weight and keeps all the flexibility. Besides I can risk slower speeds and use the Tele Converters. No down side and all positive. Thanks Mr Wimberley.
And there was plenty to see. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Singing, Black, Hooded Robin male, and his lovely lady. Brown Treecreepers and one that had nested in a broken hollow tree about a metre off the ground.
The Hooded Robin, was perhaps the most co-operative and managed to find a variety of poses for us.
Had a bit of time to play with the range of Teleconverters in the kit. I don’t use TC’s over long distances, anything over about 30m or so. The 1.4 always works a treat. And with the 300mf/2.8 its a very useful 420mm f/4. Really a handhold pleasure. The 1.7 can be a hero, or zero. Over shorter distances and supported on a bean bag or tripod, I find I’ve a very useful 500 f/4.5 lens. I think its just a bit too long for old bloke nerves, as handhold, so don’t use it that way much. The TC20Eiii, is a really good combination for 600mm f/5.6. At close distance, say 15 m or so, a small bird near fills the frame and feather detail is excellent. Not all lenses seem to work so well with the TC20.
I’d promised lunch and coffee at a pistachio farm on the way back and so we set off along the old road to Woorinen South. Not much has changed on this road in 40 years, and we ambled along in the hope that we’d find some birds among the roadside trees. Wow. Two young Wedgetailed Eagles threw from the tree just off the side and try as I might I couldn’t find an opening among the trees to pull over to get some views. They circled the field beyond the road and then with measured wingbeats rose to find a thermal, and as fast as you could say “They are going to disappear’, they did.
To tell all, the farm was closed and we headed back to Swan Hill to find a coffee shop a little off the beaten track. Most interesting interior lined with pages from old 50s and 60s magazines. And tables decorated with Mum’s old cookbooks. There was the McAlpine Flour cookbook that probably held pride of place in our kitchen way back when.
As we arrived back the resident Blue-faced Honeyeaters demanded their share of my time and a few pleasant moments with them, hunting through the trees filled in the time to afternoon tea and family stuff.
My mate, Mr An Onymous and his family had also travelled up for the week and we met up and chatted over a few cold sherbets as to a plan for the following day.
Seeing as there were a few pressing family events that needed attention, and because it was going to be a hot day, we decided an early morning start at Goschen would be the go. By 6:30am the car was loaded, with drinks, cameras and bodies. We set off. The simplest run, is to follow the sealed roads, but we opted, (well I was driving) to go out past the Airport and then pick up one of the backroads to Goschen. From yesterday, you’ll recall that we travelled that way often on pushbikes in the sweet savour of youth.
Besides from previous years, we’d had a bit of raptor success out near out mate Steve’s place and nothing ventured…
We had just turned past the airport when I spotted an Australian Kestrel, in the early morning sunshine. At this stage the sunlight was running horizontal with the ground. “Fishfryer” lighting for the studio buffs. Hadn’t realised, we parked on the major highway to somewhere, as the amount of cars going by was a bit awkward both from parking and photographing points of view. Mr An, got busy, while I tried to park the car off the roadway. No mean feat on a tiny country road, built for tractors and harvesting toys.
I’d also been ‘clever’ enough to attach a TC1.7 to the 300mm to ‘save’ time, and now was having trouble handholding the 500mm resultant lens. In the end, either because of boredom with the game, or because it saw prey, the Kestrel departed, and we moved on to Goschen.
Mostly the pictures tell the rest of the story. A huge flowering gum near the old tennis court played host to a variety of honeyeaters, and we spent quite a bit of time just enjoying their antics.
Then back on to the main road and a detour to the Little Murray Weir. Another of my childhood pastimes. Last year we’d been lucky and got some great shots of a Sacred Kingfisher on a wire here, and to both our surprises, as we stopped the car, a blue flash went by and there on the wire was. A Sacred Kingfisher. How do you account for that bit of co-incidence.
On the way back to the main road, I saw a number of small birds dive into a box-thorn bush, and slowed, then stopped. Look as I might, I couldn’t see any, and Mr An was getting coffeitis by then, until. Out from the tree behind the bush, rose a beautiful Wedge-tailed Eagle, before I could say, “Did you see the Wedget…..” He was out of the car and had the first 6 shots off. It took a circuit round the paddock, located a thermal, and before you could say, “It’s found a thermal’, the black and brown bird had risen on those wonderful wings to an amazing height.
Suitably impressed we retired for coffee.
Last week with family events and holidays on mind, we travelled north toward Swan Hill. One of the highlight ‘honeypot’ birding sites on any birders list of must do’s is The Goschen Bushland Reserve only a few minutes drive from said Hill.
Tim Dolby in “Where to See Birds in Victoria” devotes 2 pages to the little bushland area with an excellent overview by Greg Oakley.
When I was a little tacker, the concept of Goschen being a “birding highlight” never occurred to me. It was a place where the PMG, (Telstra) had planted a very tall communications tower. As little blokes, we’d ride our bikes out there to gaze heavenward at the stark red and white tower against the blue sky. Perhaps we dreamed of climbing to the top, but were stopped by a huge (when we were little), razor-topped security fence. Probably just as well.
Tis only a short drive down the road from Swan Hill, and with a bit of careful planning, one can stay off sealed roads and enjoy the backcountry sandy roads and the chance of seeing birds along the roadside trees.
So we motored north. Of course a bonus is that the road to Goschen travels through Eaglehawk in Bendigo, and of course a stop off at the Eaglehawk Bakery, for a famed “Mulga Bill” pie is not to be missed. This time as it turned out others of the travelling family had the same idea and we met up in the bakery. I’m not the only one on WordPress with a penchant for the Mulga Bill pie as “Almost Always Ravenous” has a page here.
Then a slowish trip along the highway out of Bendigo, particularly between the 18 and 19 kilometre posts. There is almost always a speed camera car buried in the shade among the trees here, 5 times out of our past 6 passings. First time was a$180.00 view. I’d failed to notice the 100km roadsigns as was tooling along like a freeway. Duh. Mind, this time I went by at a sedate 75km.
I like the roads from Bendigo to Swan Hill. Flat, long straight runs, and on good days, plenty of raptors at work. So it’s easy to see where they are and their action. Slowed down again just at the Kerang Rail Crossing. A pair of Wedgetails have a nest in the closest tree to the road. The young are now fledged, but off in the field we saw one of them hard at work.
Turning from the highway at Lake Boga, we followed the backroads to Goschen Bushland Reserve. It was just early in the afternoon, and quite hot. Any respectable birds were resting out of the heat.
But in a short time there, as it was only a recce for the days to come, we found Hooded Robins, Brown Treecreepers, White-browed Babblers, a number of different honeyeaters and some beaut looking Blue-bonnet Parrots.
So on to the domicile for the week. We stayed at the Murray Downs Resort, which is part of the Murray Down Golf Club. Great little rooms in the shade of the lovely trees in the landscape.
And while I was unloading the car: 2 clothes bags, 6 photo kits, I spied a Blue-faced Honeyeater in the agapanthus garden. Quick as, out came the 300mm and a nice shot against the light. Good way to start I thought.
We had to take a trip back up to the family acres during the week. (Astute readers will see the euphemism in there).
On the way back we left early in the morning from Swan Hill, and after some family duties (again an euphemism), we headed on down to the Goschen Bushland Reserve. This little clump of trees and shrubs is a truly outstanding area for birds and no matter what time of year, there will always be something to find. We took the back way down which gets us onto the Woorinen Road and is a very pleasant drive among the trees and wheat lands, if somewhat dusty.
After about three hours, (no euphemism in there), we had seen an array of birds and EE had nailed some new species. Including the Rainbow Bee Eater.
Top of the day however was a pair of Hooded Robins. (those who’ve followed here before will know there is pair we’ve photographed there previously), and they had only in the past day or so fledged at least two young. We got a good look at one of the young, but in the end Mum was getting quite distressed and doing a ‘broken wing’ display on the ground so we moved out of the area.
Next turned up the Rainbow Bee Eaters. These are the most stunningly coloured birds and the metallic colours simply sparkle in the light. I’d not noticed before how hard that is to record with the camera. Plenty of White-browed Wood-swallows were nesting, and I managed to locate a female on a nest. Well to be truthful, I was stalking a Hooded Robin, and walked right past her nest. She quickly regained composure, I took a shot and moved away. I really dislike disturbing them. There were also plenty of Masked Wood-swallows as circulating as well, and no doubt nests to looked after. A few Brown Treecreepers and some Singing Honeyeaters, lots of White-plumed, and EE remarked its funny to drive all this way to photograph whats in our backyard.
And of course as is the case, the Black Honeyeater was no where to be seen. Another chance another time.
As we drove out we spotted some young new fledged Willie Wagtails, and by the road way several White-browed Babblers, but it was time to go and so we moved on.
Just as we crossed the railway line at Kerang, on a most conspicuous tree, we noted a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a nest. Too much traffic behind to stop and go back, so we had to be content with what we had, and journey on to Eaglehawk, and the Eaglehawk Bakery for a “Mulga Bill Pie”. Worth the drive. (No euphemism in there)
One of Victoria’s prime birding locations is a tiny woodland reserve in the Mallee, called Goschen Roadside Reserve.
Situated just outside of Lake Boga, it is a remnant piece of scrub between the vast wheat lands of the Mallee and the irrigation farming near the Murray River. It started out as the site for a small country township, but for reasons, it never was completely established. A school, and a community hall a playing field and a tennis court marked most of the human activity in the area.
But due to its location it does indeed seem to be home to an outstanding number of species. There is a huge telecommunications tower in the same stretch of scrub, and as little tackers we’d ride our bikes out to gaze at the amazing structure. (Well when you were a little bloke growing up in a country town, there wasn’t all that much else to do!)
We, EE and I had by family business, the necessity to travel up that way recently, and after some pondering, we decided to stay over in Swan Hill, and well, Goschen is really on the way if you take the back roads to Swan Hill. Problem solved.
We stopped of in Bendigo at the Eaglehawk Bakery for a pie. The Eaglehawk bakery folk have taken the “Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk” story, (thanks Banjo), and made it part of their marketing strategy and a Pennyfathing bike is located in the store. (for those unfamiliar with Bill’s attempt to ride this new fangled thing, look it up.).
They also have added a Mulga Bill pie to the pie routine, lots of big lamb pieces with a rosemary sauce. And you thought pies were fast food take-away tucker. So with a pie, a cup of Mint chocolate and a few minutes rest from the travel, things were looking good.
An hour or so later we were entering the heart of Goschen. The old hall is starting to look a bit the worse for wear, and someone had helped themselves with the help of their angle grinder to the posts that held up the tennis court fence, but the birds were active. Lots of very noisy Rufous Songlarks, each proclaiming its share of the paddock. We quickly found a Hooded Robin, and it was obvious he was working hard to feed a female, but we didn’t locate her. In the middle of all this two blokes in a ute arrived and wanted to know what we thought we were doing? Some local community watch! They were worried that the hall might have been under threat from vandals, and had come by to check it out. After a bit of discussion and realising we were pretty harmless, if some what weird to be looking for birds out there, satisfied they went back to more useful endeavours. Turned out they’d been students at the local Goschen school, all those years ago.
We went on to Swan Hill, stayed overnight at the Riverside Caravan park and had a stroll in the late afternoon light along the river and watched the thousands of Little Corellas make their noisy journey in to roost in the river bank trees for the night. On the way back we saw hidden in the willows on Goat Island a Nankeen Night Heron, so that was a bonus
Next day had us on the way to Balranald, and the family acres. We stopped in town for a coffee, and a bun, and yep, picked up a couple of pies for later on. Can never be to careful about that. The trip was worth it to the pie shop alone. The secret of a great pie is in the pastry, and Balranald Bakery hasn’t lost that art. Yum.
While the coffee was draining I looked out the window to spy a Black Kite sweeping down the main street, under powerline height. To the Camera. And chased it round the corner, as it was making its run up the next street. Nothing like a Black Kite in a country town to bring you down to size.
On the return in the morning we again popped in to Goschen, and this time a huge flock of both Dusky and White-browed Woodswallows had arrived. Maybe 50-60 birds.
Mr Hooded was still on the go, and some Singing and Spiny-cheeked but no Black Honeyeaters. Another flyover by a bunch (hard to call them a flock) of Black Kites and it was time to make the road sing as we dashed to Glenrowan, but, that’s another story.
The little map dot name “Goschen” has quite a reputation among birdos who are in the know.
This little area of scrub only a couple of football grounds around has at various times of the year an opportunity to spot a large number of species without much trouble. See some of the many blogs that tell tales. See Ian Smissen’s recent post.
It is not far from Lake Boga, and only 15 minutes drive from Swan Hill. We were bound there for a family weekend event. (Some would use the term Holiday, but I cannot understand why!)
Mr An Onymous and his lens were there as well, so we plotted a day at Goschen. Only trouble was the weather. The day we travelled up it was 40C. About 120 in the water bag as my old Dad used to say. So we went to Goschen early early in the morning.
And inspite of the heat, and the overcast sky the birds did play a bit of a treat for us. A Hooded Robin pair were probably the single highlight. But that is not forgetting the Honeyeaters, and Treecreepers and an Australian Hobby. A small flock of Budgerigars were a nice addition to the day. We also did a bit of a diversion down to the Tresco Nature Reserve (Its about 10 mins from Goschen) and scored some Blue-faced Honeyeater as Blueb-bonnet Parrots for our efforts.
Being an ex local lad, I figured we’d follow some back roads to Kerang, pick up a pie at Gray’s Bakery and have lunch there. One of the back roads is called just that. Back Quarry Road. Its really only a link for the farm machinery between paddocks, but has a good stand of mallee on one side.
The new lens played a great note and he got a super series of a Pied Butcher Bird being fee. Also a few Mallee Ringnecks and Blue Bonnets.
We made a futile attempt at Lookout Lake, and ended up at the pie shop. Sure enough still great pies after all those year. Sign said 200metres to Bakery. It took us about 3 goes round the block to figure it out. Sort of missed the big building labelled “Bakery”. No wonder we can’t find birds.
A stop at the Kerang Ibis rookery seemed sensible, and as soon as we got of out the car the call of a Whistling Kite pair echoed across the carpark. We located them well down the ‘nature’ track by the lake. Too many trees for great shots, but lovely to hear them exchanging calls.
Last stop for the day was the Little Murray Wier, and again the big lens was working hard. And a Nankeen Night Heron and then a patient Sacred Kingfisher rounded out a nice day.
Ont the way back past the Swan Hill Aerodrome (I was thinking Kestrels) we came across Steve (who drives harvesters at Quambatook-, but that’s another story) and his front yard. In the air above said driveway was a couple of Whistling Kites. Nice. We went back out in the late evening sunshine on spec. and. There were Ten Kites up over the recently cut wheat/hay/lucern. Spect– tack-ular.
Goschen even in the middle of a heat wave still had enough to keep us busy.
It had been awhile since we’d made a pilgramige to the WTP, and Mr An Onymous had wanted an opportunity to try out the new lens. All 300mm of it.
So it seemed in view of the really hot days, an early morning and then somewhere nice for lunch and a coffee, preferably inside and with air-conditioning made a lot of sense.
We went down along the area east across Little River from the Bird Hide. The track takes a bit of a run along the narrow edge between land and sea, and usually has a 50metre section that is, well, rough. Its just a collection of rocks that the waves pound remorselessly. As such, ok with the Landcruiser and the high clearance, but nigh on impossible in the little car. However on this trip we discovered that the water rates had been making good use of themselves and the kind people at WTP had managed to get a surface over the short section and it is among the best parts of the roads down there. Excellent. Thanks to all as it save me heaps of time not having to double back to get around the former rough area.
We parked and waited. No Sea-eagles, but a pretty obliging Golden-headed Cisticola with its nesting activities kept us busy for quite awhile. We even parked on the new tarmac, and photographed waders as they worked among the rocks and sand. Nice one.
Down near the area called The Borrow Pits, we came across a couple of recently flown Black-shouldered Kites. Guess they’ve only been out a week or so, still have the beautiful cinnamon and ginger chest and head feathers. Mum and Dad are still providing food and it was interesting to watch a couple of food passes.
And on the way back some Whiskered Terns entertained us with their antics as they swept along the bunds catching the tiniest of insects.
And the big lens proved its worth with the shot of the day an Australian Hobby in brake, dive and turn mode with all the feathers out, and the tail spread at different angles as it made an amazing change of direction. My lens missed it completely. But. More power to him.
We’re off again to Goschen at the end of the month.
It’s a long drive to Goschen, but it has a great reputation among birders for being a bit of a honey-pot.
Our schedule meant we were going in early February, amongst the hottest times of the year and late in the breeding cycle, so we didn’t have much hope of being overwhelmed with birds.
But even though it was windy, hot and humid, with a little bit of patience we were rewarded with a number of interesting birds.
Bee-eaters, Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, White-browed Scubwrens in abundance, Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel, White-plumed Honeyeaters, and a bunch of the usual suspects. The Black Honeyeater was a dipper, so perhaps next time.
Heard lots of quail but didn’t see a single one. Also heard a Red-capped Robin but only a few bars of a song and searching led to another no show. Perhaps I just imagine them now?
The Goschen hall held two live Welcome Swallows flitting about inside, and around the inside area and the old stage areas, over a dozen dead birds. Pretty recent, as they had not deteriorated. There didn’t seem to be any sign of damage to them. Lots of teacandles on the floor, but no patterns, so the coven weren’t there. Strange about the swallows though.
While we were driving about, we startled two very large Grey Kangaroos, who in turn startled us by their sheer size and their speed in going away. Needless to say by the time I had uttered some anglo-saxon expletives, the photo moment was gone. As were the ‘roos.
Here is a Singing Honeyeater. It seemed to interested in the ‘beeping’ noise from the car when the seatbelt warning was going.