11 December, 2010

The Lakes Complex

Following on from Tuesday's walk, I decided it was time to move further afield and investigate parts of the river I hadn't seen before. I'd been curious for some time as to what became of the river once it disappeared from view past the breakwater, so Wednesday night I researched the best way to access the system of lakes which lie downstream of Geelong.
As far as I can tell, the answer is that until someone spends the tens of millions of dollars required to build a continuous trail from Geelong to Barwon Heads (I believe the quoted figure was somewhere in the vicinity of $44 million), then the only real access is at specific points around the edges of the various lakes and swamps which together form the Lake Connewarre Complex.
At this point I had no real experience with this part of the river, with the exception of a single trip last January to Tait's Point on the south side of the river where Hospital Swamp meets Lake Connewarre. This time, I decided I would approach my subject from the north bank, entering at various points along the edge of Reedy Lake and Lake Connewarre where local roads provided access at isolated points.
Black Swan on Reedy Lake.
My first stop was the end of Moolap Station Road which runs down to the edge of the very aptly named Reedy Lake. The ground was quite swampy and very reedy, however there is access by foot through clearings and along a narrow track for several hundred metres towards Woods Road. Various places provided a view out over the lake and the birdlife both on and off the water was prolific.
Most obvious were the Ibis both on the ground and overhead. They were everywhere and in quantities I haven't seen elsewhere. All were Australian White Ibis, no sign of the Straw-necked Ibis I saw a couple of months back on the Belmont golf course. Off the water and in the scrubby ground cover, Superb Fairy Wrens were everywhere as were White-plumed Honeyeaters. Out on the water I even discovered a pelican, but I also made three new finds for the day.
The most impressive was probably a pair of Swamp Harriers, swooping low over the reeds at the edge of the lake and the water beyond the shore, constantly on the hunt. Some distance out, a lone Black Swan (also the first I'd seen on the Barwon), paddled in and out amongst the reeds. Back on land, I spotted a rather larger honeyeater than I had seen to that point. It was, I later discovered, a Spiney-cheeked Honeyeater.
Lake Connewarre
Having skirted around the edges of the lake as far as was practical short of a pair of waders or a boat (an option I may yet have to investigate), I left to find another point of access - this time at the end of Ash Road in Leopold. Here, the council or some other management authority (perhaps even Parks Victoria) had kindly installed a viewing platform and several pannels of information informing visitors about the ecology and history of Lake Connewarre which I was now overlooking. Great for panoramic views and photos, however rather too distant to photograph at close quarters any of the dozens of Black Swans and their sygnets which were distributed across the lake.
Fortunately, there was a track of sorts - actually more of a wide strip of knee-high, reedy grass - which led down to the water's edge and so I was able to take a closer look from there. Unfortunately the swans were still a reasonable distance offshore, but I can't really blame them, as the smell from where I was left quite a bit to be desired. I snapped a few more shots of the swans and the panoramic surrounds and braved the long grass to return to road level. I didn't like to think about what other wildlife I might not have seen. What I did see however, were several locusts. It would seem that they are indeed on their way.
By now it was time for lunch which I ate a little further round the lake at a picnic spot at the end of Brinsmeads Lane. I have discovered that dotted at various points around the lakes are lone picnic tables accompanied by a rubbish bin. There are no other facilities just the table, the bin and a small area for parking - which I did.
Noisy Miner.
It was at this point that I discovered my fourth new bird of the day - several rather precocious Noisy Miners. They are apparently not uncommon, however I have not seen them at on any other part of the river. At first glance I mistook one for a Common Myna, which I gather is not an uncommon occurence, however where the Myna is mostly black and brown with yellow, this bird was black and grey with yellow beak and legs.
The view of the lake from this point was not dissimilar to that from Ash Road. The swans were here also, but the unpleasant smell of rotting vegetable matter was not. Whilst there were plenty of birds on Lake Connewarre, there did not seem to be the same numbers or diversity of species as I found on Reedy Lake.
One source of disappointment was my failure to see ducks. From what I had read previously, it is breeding season for the ducks and several varieties including the Pacific Black, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Blue-bill and Australasian Shoveler can all be found within the lake complex. I saw not a single one. On any given day in the section of river in town I would expect to see Australian Wood Ducks, Pacific Blacks and probably Chestnut Teal - occasionally even Grey Teal. I am yet to see a Blue-bill or Shoveler at any point on the river.
On my way home, I stopped at various places overlooking Reedy Lake and the river itself as I got closer to town, including Tanners Road where I was able to get my first real look at the ovoid sewage aqueduct which crosses the Barwon downstream from the Breakwater.
This structure is listed as being of historical significance, however it has been allowed to crumble into a dangerous state of disrepair, with the result that no-one is allowed to approach it and water traffic is unable to pass under it. The aqueduct was built between 1913 and 1916 to carry sewage to the outfall at Black Rock and was in use until 1993 when it was replaced by more modern technology. The structure was designed by Edward Giles Stone and his partner Ernest J. Siddeley, based on the rail bridge which spans the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Its 14 trusses are made entirely of reinforced concrete and cover a distance of more than 750 metres. In its day, it was the longest structure of its kind in the country and remains one of only a very few reinforced concrete truss structures in the world.
Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct, Breakwater.

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