We’ve done our week up at the family acres, and enjoyed some great family time. Super fun to catch up with the relatives and share memories, food and great conversation. But. The heat was not enjoyable. Funny, we all noted as little kids, we were much too busy running under the sprinkler on the lawn and enjoying cold drinks to really notice how hot it actually was.
Don’t start me on ‘global warming’. It was always hot, with many days over 100 F, (38C) so not much has changed.
We had the opportunity to fit in a bit of bird photography, and choose the early morning cool as the best time. Evenings are good too, but there is always a lot of dust in the air and the colour temperature brings white balance complications.
One spot at the Murray Downs Golf Resort is a haven for Rainbow Bee-eaters and White-breasted Woodswallows. They congregate there in large numbers, so it was a good place to start.
Been away for the bulk of this past week. Up at the Family Acres. We stayed at the Murray Downs Resort in Swan Hill. Really nice and quiet, and just a few km out of town.
Like all good resorts, probably enough to do without having to make the tourist mecca trip. And a lovely golfcourse built in.
But, of course not being the sporty type, golf doesn’t mean, clubs, balls and keeping score. It means wide open green areas, water, trees, bushes and … birds.
So each morning we managed to be up at Sparrows call, and walk around the course, before the golfers began their pilgrimages.
In return we got to see among other things, White-winged Choughs, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Pied Butcherbirds and a host of the usual suspects.
With the Goschen Roadside Reserve about 20 minutes away, it should have been a great birding week.
So photography was banned. Well at least frowned on. So I snuck into the deep pockets of my Breakaway jacket, a D810, sans its L Bracket, and in the other pocket, the 300mm f/4 PF with a 1.4 TC attached. Not much help for general photography but at least it covered some of the birds at the golf course.
The White-winged Choughs have adapted quite well, thank you, to the rolling sand hills, saltbush and thin mallee scrub, nestled between the sweeping grassy greens of the golf course. Able to enjoy both the richness of their old habitat and the pleasures of the new.
I managed to spend two sessions, a mid morning, and a late evening with a couple of the families. They are so used to people zooming past in carts, or walking by with bags and clubs that a dude walking quietly with a camera seemed quite harmless. So within a few minutes I was accepted into the family, and they worked around me nonchalantly. Even the ever present “Lookout” bird relaxed enough for closeups.
Blogging 101 was also concentrating on the family of bloggers.
But a lot of it was about branding, id, making themes that people will follow, or seek out and developing a feature to enrich readership, as my eyes glaze over….
So I came to the conclusion “Family Matters”. Those who graciously have clicked the Follow button or come over from another link are welcome here as family, and the time shared is as much important to me as the enjoyment of the birds.
So there is not going to be a ‘sustainable purely personal blog of random musings benefitting from a hint of structure.. ” here anytime in the foreseeable future.
Just me sharing our best time with the birds and hoping you enjoy it as much.
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.
Family gig took up much of the morning, so another trip to Goschen was pretty much ruled out.
“Gardener Ed, (he works the gardens at the Murray Downs Resort), has some birds you should go and see.” So a chat with Ed, and yes its true he does have birds, and yes we would be welcome to go look see, so 11am, on the dot Mr An Onymous and I assembled in the carpark and then followed Ed back to look at his collection. And a fine find it was too. An was pretty happy as he managed to score a couple of tail feathers from Red-tailed Cockatoos.
Ed lives out at Woorinen South, and we’d only driven through there the previous day, so now we did the “explorer” thing and drove round to see the Lake, the Football Ground, and the Water supply. Pretty exciting stuff. Even saw where I’d skinned me knee as a little tacker climbing in an old Malle Pine.
Now this sort of driving may seem a bit out of place and fraught with the possibility of getting lost, but the area was originally blocked off for soldier settler blocks, and so the roads all either run north/south or east/west, so its really just driving on a checkerboard. We rounded a corner and there in the sky was a Black Kite, first for the day, so pretty excited we stopped, got out and started to photograph the bird as it leisurely sweep over the crops. First mistake. Second mistake was doing it just outside the driveway of the local Neighbourhood Watch. Before we’d managed to get 2 frames exposed, said NW was in the vehicle and coming down the track to see, what we were doing. Now I’ve little time for explaining to folk that don’t want to listen that “We’re photographing birds, Mate!” That is NOT, I have discovered the answer to the question of “What the …..##$%% do you think you’re doing, and what .###%%% right do you have to do it here!!!!!&&&&###”
Now I’ve also been made aware it’s not much point debating the issue of the lack(?) of “Bill of Rights” in Australia, and that the correct lawful response to such demands is,”I believe this to be public land, and as you have not identified yourself as a member of a constituted law enforcement agency, I am minding my own business.” Too may verbs and nouns in that sentence for your average NW. Besides which, NW carry things like shotguns and work on a different set of rules “Shot first and ask questions afterward“.
So with a quick flourish of cameras, we abandoned the Black Kite and resumed the safety of the car. NW proceeded slowly, (almost wrote menacingly) out of the driveway and headed in our direction. I slowly, and politely, turned back on the roadway and looked straight ahead as we passed him. NW went down to the corner, (read above if you are geographically embarrassed at this point) turned around, and slowly followed us back along the road. Then after stopping at his gate to be sure we were really leaving the area, turned back into said driveway. Mr An and I pondered that at least we’d given him something to do for the morning.
Enough excitement in that area, so we proceeded to cross the Murray Valley Highway, and were now deep into Murraydale. This area was for the most part still well watered, and the home of a thriving dairy and beef industry.
The roads running east/west eventually run into the Murray River; only 5-10 Kilometres away as the Crow flies. So we tried several of the roads to see if we could find some good views along the river.
First up we found a pair of Australian Kestrels, hard at work trying to move on (I believe) a Brown Falcon. So it was pretty certain they had young in the area.
We were discussing the merits of Round Hay bales vs Square Hay bales, (You can see immediately what a wonderful travelling companion I have), when a Whistling Kite made an appearance over the tree line. More stopping, but no NW this time, so all was well. Now some of the tracks don’t run to the river. They end up in a farmer’s front yard, so while Mr An looked for birds, I tried to keep us from visiting long lost members of the family. EE’s family had a long association with Murraydale. The elders of the clan had worked a dairy farm as far back as the 1930s, and several of the latter part of the clan had run as share–farmers out here. One still had a caravan parked on the riverside on one of the properties. On the other hand trying to explain, “We’re photographing birds, Mate!, and we are related to…… “, or “Oh, I went to school with your brother Peter ,” didn’t seem to have any more ring of likely success, so I tried to avoid the driveways. Besides, farmers have bigger guns, and dogs with really, really sharp teeth.
We turned on to The River Road, and went past the Abattoir. “Why are we going down here?” quizzically asked. “For Black Kites’, I replied. “But there’s hardly likely to be any down here”. As one black kite flew by the front windscreen, then another lifted over the road, and by the time I’d stopped we had 5 or more Kites circling quietly over the road. “Oh”.
We eased on down the road to the turn-around area for the stock-trucks, and then climbed up on to the river bank. Then. Out of the trees on the other side, a White-bellied Sea Eagle threw, gathered speed across the river and went over the treetops above us. I am pretty convinced it’s done this manoeuvre more than once, as it flew across the paddock, found a thermal, and in seconds was heavenwards. Taking with it the flotilla of Black Kites. Again, have to say, not sure they were in pursuit, as it was a no contest, those huge wings just pick up the air. The grins on both of our faces said it all. I gained points as bird finder and expedition leader, and Mr An had a new story to tell of Sea Eagles over the inland Murray.
Update***The shots show it in brown plumage and its certainly a juvenile.
Time for a coffee, and after circling a roundabout of decision making, both figuratively and literally, we were soon reunited with family and I enjoyed a Vienna Coffee and fired up Flickr on the Macbook Air.
Warning, this post is full of anthropomorphic observations, if the thought of creatures having feelings and thought processes like humans is not your scene, click away now.
I make no effort to hide the fact, that “I like Choughs”. Their communal actions and activities are a constant source of inspiration and amusement to me.
Mr An Onymous and I had a bit of time after dinner while everyone was taking their evening dip in the Resort Pool, or sipping on those drinks with the cute little umbrellas attached. We thought a walk across the golf course open forest area would be a good way watch the sun go down. And we’d seen some White-winged Choughs there the night before, so armed with the photography hardware we sallied forth. Bumped into one of the Resort staff who pointed out where the 4 or 5 Eastern Grey Kangaroos come down to feed on the grasses, and I didn’t have the heart to explain that back home they are in plague proportion and considered a nuisance. Still, the right words. “Oh, Kangaroos, wow, that is amazing, fancy seeing them in the bush”, seemed to work.
We very soon found a family group feeding across an open paddock, and they were engrossed in digging down into the sandy soil to extract a white prize. (no not a golf ball). It might have been a grub, or a shell, or a seed. Just hard to tell. But it seemed to me they were able to pinpoint where to dig. It wasn’t random.
One found a top from a take-away coffee, and seemed to be amused by it, and went to no length of trouble to make sure no one took it away from it. In the end, no coffee, no food, and just left it standing. Those engaged in the digging would find a ‘white thing’ and then run across the paddock to be the first to pop it into the ever waiting beaks of the 3 or 4 young they were looking after. Much wing folding, spreading and Chough babbling accompanied the activity. By now they treated us with disdain, and just carried on feeding.
Then with a clatter, they all headed for the forest. Mr An and I looked at each other, but couldn’t conclude why they left, so, we followed.
Light was now really fading, we found them inside the forest having met up with first one other company, and then another, up to 40 birds in total I guesstimated.
They took to the trees for a quick preening session, and then reassembled on the ground. What happened next is best seen from the photos.
3 birds seemed to take centre stage and call the meeting to order. Then one of the others “St Paul”, delivered the “Vespers” message. To our amazement, the 40 or so birds all stood round in a rough half circle and seemed to listen intently to what was being said. Meeting over the three families began to prepare to roost for the night.
This involved much wing hugging, chatting and preening. It also resulted in the very first Chough Scuffle I’ve seen. One bird was trying to go with a particular group, and it became obvious that its perfume, politeness, dress sense or general demeanour were unacceptable by the group. A real scuffle followed and one emerged with a beakful of feathers! Disgruntled the looser skulked away to find some where else to roost for the night.
All the others in the group wigwagged appreciation and then flew off to find a spot.
Now finding a spot to roost sounds easy, but not for Choughs. Its all in the order of who sits next to who on the branch. Much calling, wing waving and downright pushing and shoving ensued. It was obvious that ‘she’ didn’t want to be next to ‘him’ and this one only wanted to roost next to that one. And so it went.
In the end Five Choughs on a branch is the limit, and the next one to land bent the branch so much that all were put to flight.
By now the light had gone, and they did a final sweep over a Pied Butcher Bird and her two offspring. Moving them along out of the area.
Last seen and heard setting into the tops of some gum trees.
Choughedness, something I’ll never understand, but will be pleased to learn more.
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.
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)
These days when we stay in Swan Hill, we’ve taken to using the Caravan Park onsite Cabins. All the mod cons with none of the towing. Australia Day weekend in the country is a grand event, and Swan Hill put on a Breakfast morning to celebrate, with bands and speeches and dignitaries and all the fun of the fair.
Not to be outdone, the local Little Corella population has taken to roosting along the trees around the confluence of the Murray and Little Murray (Moorabool) Rivers. Now One Corella is noisy, ten are a bit loud, 100 are shrill, but Ten Thousand, (I didn’t count, but thousands is such an easy term to bandy about when the sky is filled with White, Calling Corellas), is a veritable crescendo. What a lovely way to be woken up. Well that’s what I thought. Others thought a little less kindly. But, that didn’t stop, hinder, slow down, or in anyway impede these masters of the air in their morning recital.
Down the river they flew, then up the river, then down the river, then across the island, and back up the river. Yep, they’re awake. Awesome.
Inflight photography doesn’t get much easier than this. Turn on camera. Point somewhere, press shutter, delete all the bad ones. Easy ah?
In the middle of all the noise, a lone Nankeen Night Heron made is silent trek up the river at evening, and then down again in the morning. Saw it but. Missed it with the camera each time. We (An Onymous and I,) snuck out the backgate to follow it to its roost. Cool as the gate has a security code, and we didn’t think to remember it. After all its numbers and stuff, and well, not very photographically inclined. So after several attempts at all the combinations we could think of (5), we simply walked around the long way in the evening sun and found a pair of Galahs at work in a tree.
Meanwhile the Corellas, (did I mention them?) were making their 39th trip up or down the river depending on which way they had previously flown.
Dorothy in the meantime had spotted a Whistling Kite that had gotten itself down below the tree line and was making its way lazily up the river (ought to be a song about that), until the next round of Corellas met it half way. Now with a white screeching avalanche headed at you, there is not much room or time to manouver and the poor old Whistling Kite got a right going over by the flock(s). Score Kite 0, Corellas, 18,497, and that was just the first round.
So with another chop sizzling on the bbq in the evening light we watched and listened to the Corellas make their 123rd trip up the river. Or down, depending on which way they hadn’t previously flown.
Nice way to spend Oz day. Good on ya.
All the blank space down here represents Little Corellas in flight. Add your own sound.