The season for the Rainbow Bee-eaters visit to the southern end of the country is drawing to a close. Time for them to journey back to more tropical locations.
Each year we have been fortunate enough to enjoy their company, and cheery calls, in a number of locations.
They come to breed, and steepish creeklines are among their favourite spots. This season however, partly because of the dry winter, and partly because of unyielding high temperatures, which no doubt affected their food supply, we did not see the same numbers in the normal places.
One area in particular out near Bacchus Marsh, normally would support perhaps 15-20 pairs, this year it was a much lower number.
Surprisingly at first they arrived in quite good numbers, and we saw at least 50 or more birds in one day at Mt Rothwell, but they soon dispersed further afield. Also the River Red Gums cooperated and for the first time in awhile had excellent blossom cover, and attracted not only bees, but a wide variety of nectar seeking insects. So it looked like the season could be good.
However we soon noted that the birds were having a very hard time finding a suitably soft riverbank clay to open up their nests. The ground was bleached bone dry, and little beaks and tiny feet can only do so much. As the hole has to be around a metre or more inside the bank, it appears the work was just too hard and many pairs abandoned the site.
We did find an enterprising pair, that had persevered and in the end they got down to the business at hand. Later on in late January we walked several kilometres along the creek and did locate several more pairs that had been able to establish in a more favourable location.
And given that at the same time we were working with the Brown Falcon, Cassia-of Cinnamon, and her young on the other side of town, we didn’t spend much of the season with the Rainbows. However in the end, they seemed to have gotten on quite well without our overseeing. 🙂
“The wise man knows that it is better
to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream
than to be emperor of the whole world.”
One bird that is somewhat elusive and challenges us to keep going out to find new areas is the Rainbow Bee-eater.
We’ve been known to drive to Newstead, and sit quietly on the creek bank that runs through the cemetery as its usually a honey-pot area for them during nesting season. Of course the opportunity for a pie at the Guildford General Store might have something to do with that journey as well.
The You Yangs Park is also a well known area for them, although the nesting there is generally on private property and access is a bit more difficult. We also see them at Mt Rothwell Conservation Area, and no doubt they nest there, but it’s also not an easy access to organise.
"The oftener one sees,
the better one knows;
the better one knows,
the more one loves."
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.
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.
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.