Wrestling with the enigma that is Goschen

"The oftener one sees,

the better one knows;

the better one knows,

the more one loves."

Charles Kingsley

We’ve been up to the family acres for the annual family pilgrimage. Somehow or other the January time frame suits this sojourn and regardless of the weather we journey up.
Swan Hill is the destination and of late we’ve been staying across the river (That would be the Murray River for the geographically embarrassed), at the Murray Downs Golf Resort.

When I was but a mere broth of a lad, the area was mostly salt bush and mud flat, but good old ingenuity, and the application of many hundreds of thousands of dollars has transformed the area to a fine golfclub resort.  And the side benefit for the average birder is that the many water features and trees has provided a suitable haven for many of the birds of area. But, more of that on another blog methinks.

A few kilometres down the road from Swan Hill is a small isolated patch of scrub, that is now incorporated into the “Goschen Roadside Reserve”.

And is wont of those in the Parks department it is now suitably fenced off to keep undesirables on the outside and protect that which is on the inside. Not that there is much to protect anymore.

And so begins the enigma. Goschen was to be a little township that happened after the first world war. (Yes, it should be in caps, but really does it deserve such honour?) Many such small communities were established.  But, the one thing about Goschen is— Lack of Water (in caps because, well, it’s the singularly most important part of the enigma)

Drive just 5 more minutes down the road and you’ll come over a sandy rise and all is green before you.  The result of irrigation. Water. And the rich farming area of grapes, stone fruit and citrus.  Just 5 minutes.  Had the water extended out to Goschen, then all would have been different and hopes and dreams would have turned to riches, instead of just being blown away like the dust.

To their credit, the early settlers and the government officials of the time, did try.  A school, community hall, cricket field and tennis courts were all part of the scheme and were built.  Now all that remains is a plaque for the school—and some of the old concrete flooring in the toilets—the community hall rapidly deteriorating as the fencing off has protected it somewhat from vandalism, and also meant it is ignored by the fence erectors. A search among the long grass to the east will also find the remains of the concrete cricket pitch.

The years past and the area, as often happened began to revert to its ordinary existence. And the area became a little haven for birds both local and migrants.

And another challenge. An area that can be an honeypot on occasions and frustratingly quiet on others. It’s not just a seasonal thing, nor a food thing. It’s Goschen.


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+ It is So Hot +

“It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. 
Don't concentrate on the finger 
or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
 Bruce Lee

“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.

A Hooded Robin

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Venturing into the ‘Hood’. Hooded Robin that is

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.
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With Werribee Wagtails at Goschen

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.


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Goschen Diary Day #3

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.

Pied Butcher Bird in the early morning sunshine
Pied Butcher Bird in the early morning sunshine
Red-rumped Parrot: Male
Red-rumped Parrot: Male
Inquisitive Singing Honeyeater.  It wants to know what is going on over the other side of the bushes. One too many Brown Treecreepers no doubt
Inquisitive Singing Honeyeater. It wants to know what is going on over the other side of the bushes. One too many Brown Treecreepers no doubt
Brown Treecreeper being politely asked to move on.  It didn't the hint.
Brown Treecreeper being politely asked to move on. It didn’t the hint.
Always good to have a feather readjustment after an altercation with Treecreepers.
Always good to have a feather readjustment after an altercation with Treecreepers.
Male Hooded Robin, with an ant.  I think they clip the head off and gain moisture from the body.
Male Hooded Robin, with an ant. I think they clip the head off and gain moisture from the body.
Hey, take my photo.  Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater looking for its 15 minutes of fame.
Hey, take my photo. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater looking for its 15 minutes of fame.
Mr Elegance. Hooded Robin
Mr Elegance. Hooded Robin
Ms Elegance. Female Hooded Robin in fence line.
Ms Elegance. Female Hooded Robin in fence line.
Blue-faced Honeyeater, with cobweb design accoutrements.
Blue-faced Honeyeater, with cobweb design accoutrements.