10 December, 2010

All Stirred Up

Superb Fairy Wren
For various reasons I had not spent much time at the river over the past few weeks. This week has been somewhat different. On Tuesday, the weather was warm and I wanted to get out of the house, so I took my usual paraphenalia - camera, keys, phone and an apple - and headed down to the river.
From the start, the feel was quite different from any other occasion I have been there. It was windy and rather muggy, which was not altogether unusual, but due to recent rain, the river level was somewhat raised and the turbidity level was higher than I had ever seen it before. In short, it was quite muddy and the water was flowing at speed. This was evidenced by three Pacific Black Ducks which were in midstream and paddling hard against the current. I could see their back ends working hard. On most days they could make leisurely progress from one bank to the other. Today however, they were hard put to maintain their position let alone make headway upriver as was their intention.
Fairly immediately, my senses were assailed by the smell of nearby industry - not particularly pleasant and pushed in my direction by the prevailing breeze. A little further down river and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something - a fish of some description I assume - clear the water by about a foot and then land with a splash. Once again, a first or me. Perhaps the denizens of the deep were on the move.
On shore, things were no less restless. Being windy, I fairly soon gave up on the idea of getting too many decent bird photographs (although I did manage one or two). Birds - particularly small ones - are difficult to photograph at the best of times. When they are flitting between one waving branch and the next,  it becomes virtually impossible. Furthermore, the wind usually sends them scurrying for their nests, or wherever it is that birds go when they aren't perched in a tree keeping a branch between themselves and my camera whenever possible. But not on Tuesday. Despite the wind, or perhaps because of the warm weather, the birds were out in abundance. Their calls were everywhere, making the lack of photo opportunities all the more obvious. I snapped a few photos and continued walking.
Aware that birds might not be the only fauna active on such a warm day, I stuck mostly to the path and made fairly certain that what I thought were sticks lying at the edge of the path were in fact just sticks. This hasn't always been the case in the past.
At one point, in a grassy clearing, I came upon a scene more reminiscent of a snowfield than an afternoon in early summer. Despite a noticable absence of cabbage, broccoli or any other member of the brassicaceae family, cabbage moths were swirling around near ground level in little clusters, giving the appearance of rather large snowflakes about to settle on the grass. This also contributed to the general sense of agitation as did the heavy machinery which was busily clearing debris for the early stages of the Breakwater Road realignment project.
As I crossed the Breakwater and came around to the Belmont side of the river, I was rather impressed to see a European gentleman proudly dangling the largest eel I have seen in many years off the end of a line, having just hauled it from the river. From nose to tail, it would have measured at least a metre and was probably as thick as my forearm along much of its length. Foolishly, I didn't think to get him to pose for a photo with his catch.
I continued on my way and by now, the weather was beginning to look ominous. I began to wonder if I might be in for a drenching, but it was much of a muchness were I to turn back or keep going, so I continued. As did the wind. As I reached the sheoaks which line the path some distance prior to the boatramp in town, I discovered that shorts and a singlet top provide very little protection against their wind-propelled needles, which are not actually needles at all but more properly, segmented branchlets (thanks Wikipedia). Regardless, when hurtling down onto bare skin in showers from above - they sting!
As it turns out, all those grey clouds couldn't manage more than a few drops of rain, so I was spared a soaking, but rather than push the issue, I crossed back to the other side of the river at the first opportunity (Moorabool Street) and headed for my starting point, finishing what has been one of my most unusual encounters to date with the Barwon River and its inhabitants.
It had however, inspired me to look for other different experiences of the river and it occurred to me that Thursday I had little planned and I had not yet spent much time investigating the lake complex further downstream out of town...

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