27 December, 2011

Under the mistletoe

With the arrival of Christmas, I figured it was time to come up with a relevant blog post. A quick Google search for Christmas and the Barwon landed me several hundred places to stay in Barwon Heads over the summer holidays, a Christmas cheerio from Barwon Water and details of an 1850s Christmas exhibition at Barwon Grange.
Aside from this, there appears to be little in the way of formal Christmas tradition attached to the Barwon River. I'm sure many local families have their own Christmas traditions associated with the river. Our ride yesterday afternoon revealed waterskiiers making the most of the weather, a variety of kids testing out new bikes and remote-controlled toys - no doubt received for Christmas - whilst for the last couple of years our own post-lunch stroll on Christmas day has been along the banks of the Barwon.
Okay, so I needed to find a different angle. Nothing came to mind, but then, a few days before Christmas, a local paper ran an article about mistletoe - what could be more Christmassy than mistletoe?
European Mistletoe, taken from www.plantlife.ort.uk
In Australia? Well, almost anything really. Mistletoe as Europeans know it or the similar plant found in America is not found in Australia and isn't much a part of our Christmas tradition. We do however have around 90 different species of mistletoe of our own.
So what is mistletoe? It is a partly parasitic plant which grows on the branches of a host tree from which it draws nutrients and water to supplement its own photosynthesis. Mistletoe is pollinated either by birds or insects who then transfer its seeds to other host plants via their faeces or on their beaks. Mistletoe seeds contain a sticky substance which binds them to the branch of the host until the seed germinates and a more permanent connection is made via a root which grows into the bark.
Australian mistletoe varieties belong to the family Loranthaceae and to the genera Amyema and Lysiana whilst Europe has only the one species of mistletoe from the Viscaceae family and the genus Viscum. American mistletoe belongs to the genus Phoradendron which aptly enough translates from the Greek as "thief of the tree". There are only two species of mistletoe native to the United States.
The term mistletoe itself is believed to derive from the Anglo-Saxon words "mistal" meaning dung and "tan" meaning twig thus "dung on a twig", probably reflecting the tendency of mistletoe to seed where birds had perched.
Wattle tree infested with multiple bunches of mistletoe, Barwon River,Highton
So, is there mistletoe along the Barwon? Yes, and it didn't take us long to spot some. From what I can tell, it is Amyema preissii - the wire-leaved mistletoe whose preferred host is the wattle and it was on that plant that I found it. It has thin leaves and long drooping red flowers. Prior to European settlement along the Barwon, the Wathaurong people used the seeds and flowers of this plant as a natural sweetener.
Bunch of mistletoe hanging from a wattle tree, Barwon River, Highton
 Likewise, a variety of animals and insects also use mistletoe as a food source. Not surprisingly, Mistletoebirds are known to pollinate wire-leaved mistletoe as are Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, however I have not seen mistletoebirds anywhere along the Barwon and have not seen these honeyeaters  on this section of the river (around Queen's Park). I would guess then, that some other variety of honeyeater is getting the job done instead.
Red Wattlebirds and White-plumed Honeyeaters are both in the vicinity and known to take nectar from mistletoe whilst New Holland Honeyeaters are also around. It is possible too that other nocturnal visitors such as possums may help disperse seeds.
Wire-leaved Mistletoe flowers, Barwon River, Highton
A second visit today in order to get some close up shots of our local mistletoe, revealed a more widespread infestation than I had realised. There are several dead wattle trees showing signs of previous mistletoe growth along the walking track below and the edge of Barwon Boulevard above the river through Highton. Several more living wattles have varying amounts of mistletoe hanging from their branches.
I would be interested to know if the responsible authority has measures in place for controlling the spread of mistletoe. Whilst it can be an important food source for a variety of wildlife, it can also become a damaging weed.
I did however, see one example of a win to the wattle.

18 December, 2011

Hide and seek

The Jerringot Wetlands are of interest at the moment as much for  what I can't see as what I can. With the spring rains, the plant life is flourishing and the fauna is abundant. Part of the problem however, is that all this lush growth is making it rather tricky to see much of what is going on.
As a general rule, rain means frogs and frogs mean snakes. We had the rain, the frogs arrived and so did the snakes. Great! Rain also means grass. Nice, lush grass; good for hiding frogs and snakes.
Australasian Grebe amongst the reeds at Jerringot
Away from the water's edge, the aquatic plants are so abundant that it is becoming difficult to see much of anything from the bird hide. Whilst no doubt thankful for the extra cover, the coots and moorhens must be finding it hard work to paddle their way about - as for the ducks, I'm surprised they bother!
Of course, if it is tricky to see the birds which are abundant and generally easy to spot, how hard then, is it to see the birds that don't wish to be seen? Very! The information boards conveniently placed at strategic points around the wetlands, inform me that during the summer months, I should be on the look out for crakes, rails and the internationally protected Latham's Snipe. They say that I need to be patient and still - why do I always seem to be attracted to hobbies which require patience?
Well, I have been patient and I have been still and I have had...a limited degree of success.
Buff Banded Rail at Jerringot
Over the past couple of months my patience paid off with sightings and photos of several Buff Banded Rails which do indeed run across the path, right where the sign says they might and even in a few other places besides. On one occasion I even spotted a rail on the opposite side of the Barwon, hanging around in a patch of rushes not far from one of the factories which back on to that part of the river.
Within a similar time frame, I found that often as I walked down the path near the golf course, a number of birds would break cover from the grassy area, fly up and then re-settle a short distance away. Last week, I decided to be a little more careful. I approached slowly and was not surprised as a couple of birds flew up out of the undergrowth, then a couple more and a couple more.
Latham's Snipe at Jerringot
After a few attempts which saw me photographing a patch of weeds and an obligingly immobile and vaguely bird-shaped log, I spotted my quarry. It was standing at the edge of a clearing attempting - with some degree of success - to look like a piece of bark.
It turns out, I had managed to snap a Latham's Snipe - a migratory waterbird which spends its breeding months in Japan before heading south to spend the warmer months from September to February in the eastern states of Australia. These snipes are waders, with long, pointed bills which they use to probe mud and water looking for food.
This species which used to be hunted as game in Australia is now protected as part of an international agreement with Japan.
So, I have seen rails and snipes - that leaves crakes. There are three types to choose from but so far, I have failed to see a single one - unlike the local naturalist Trevor Pescott whom I note in a recent article managed to snap a shot of a Baillon's Crake near the bird hide.
Clearly I need to spend some time sharpening my skills as a stalker...

10 December, 2011

All aflutter

Of course, birds are not the only winged creatures which in, on and beside the river. There is a whole host of insects which buzzes, flaps and crawls along the length of the river and were I an etymologist I would know significantly more about them than I currently do. What I do know however, is that some are more visible - and more attractive - than others.
With the arrival of the warmer weather have come butterflies. Not a huge variety - so far I have only seen two different types along the Barwon through Geelong - but certainly quite an abundance of those species which are there. In fact, so common is the Cabbage White Butterfly (aka cabbage moth), that on occasion as I have walked down the river, it has almost appeared to be snowing!
Cabbage White Butterfly
This is the first of the two types of butterfly I've spotted and probably not the most popular, owing to its tendency to lay its eggs on the leaves and stalks of some of our vegetables - not just cabbage, but broccoli and cauliflower too.
Cabbage White Butterfly on a Hop Goodenia
bush at Breakwater
The second species of butterfly is more elaborately patterned and at the moment in my estimation, somewhat more populous than the cabbage white. This is the aptly-named Common Brown Butterfly.
Common Brown Butterfly, Breakwater
As its name suggests, it is indeed quite brown and quite common. We've all seen them here and there, but a close look at their wings shows an intricate pattern of light and dark brown shading with that classic butterfly defense of "eye spots" which may act to fool predators into thinking they are being watched by a much larger, less palatable creature.
A quick scan of the literature reveals several facts about this particular species of butterfly. Firstly, it is believed that warming of the Earth's atmosphere is causing the Common Brown to pupate ten days earlier than it did some sixty years ago. Secondly, these little guys are responsible for pollinating many of our native plant species.
Common Brown Butterfly, Breakwater
This makes sense when you consider the number of native trees, shrubs and grasses which have been used to revegetate the section of the river through Geelong. The butterflies are attracted to our native plants by colour and smell. They use taste buds in their feet - yes, really - preferring flowers which are yellow, orange, purple, white or blue - which pretty much covers the colour range I've seen along the river. No wonder they like it there!
So far, I have been unable to find any other types of butterfly - or moth - including along the upper reaches of the river where I did not see a single butterfly on my recent excursion. I am informed however, that there have been over fourty different species of butterfly sighted in the Otways National Park. They must all have been hiding that day!

08 December, 2011

Doing the cycad stomp

On Monday I packed the kids off to school and headed for the hills - literally. I decided I needed a few extra photos for my annual Barwon calendar, but they just happened to be on parts of the river which were about as far away as I could get. Despite this, I decided I had time to make it there and back and get the shots I needed.
West Barwon Dam, confluence of the West Barwon River
and Munday Creek
I made good time and snapped snapped away at the West Barwon Dam which was looking suitably vast on this sunny morning then headed for the east branch of the Barwon. Here I made a quick circuit of the lake, took more shots - including the one I needed for the calendar - and stopped for a break.
As I was sitting at a high point overlooking the lake, I read the strategically placed, but rapidly fading, information board. It informed me - as I knew - that early in its existence, the level of the lake was lowered by several metres after the upper part of the landslide which had originally dammed the river, gave way.
What happened next is still visible today.
Not surprisingly, the trees and other vegetation which had been submerged by the initial inundation had died off. When the water level fell after the partial collapse of the initial landslip, several metres of deforested bank was revealed. This provided an opportunity.
North bank of Lake Elizabeth (left) showing regrowth of land originally
covered by higher water levels
On the cool, shady north bank of the lake, the cycads took hold - the green fronds of tree ferns which were ideally suited to this environment came to dominate the land immediately above the water level. The myrtle beech trees, so common in other parts of the temperate rainforest found in the Otways, also took their opportunity.  From where I was sitting, a quick glance showed this quite clearly to be the case.
Amongst the myrtle beech and tree ferns on the north bank of Lake Elizabeth
On the opposite, more exposed bank I was informed, tussock grass found a niche and established itself.
Lake Elizabeth Beach from the north bank
Tussock grasses on Lake Elizabeth Beach
Looking at this bank from the opposite side, the definition does not seem to be as clear as on the north bank, however it is certainly different, more open and with less of a rainforest feel to it.
So, armed with the necessary photos and some new information, I completed my circuit and headed once again for the lower reaches of the Barwon.

03 December, 2011

Hop to it!

Whilst the recent rains have been good for our gardens, they have not been entirely beneficial for the river and its inhabitants as I mentioned in my last post. There is one group of river-dwellers however, for whom the deluge has been a boon. These are the frogs which live in and beside the Barwon. In the days following all the rain, I was at Jerringot Wetlands and the first thing I noticed was the almost deafening increase in the frog noise.
Spotted Marsh Frog Spawn at Jerringot Wetlands near
Barwon Valley Golf Course
They seemed to be everywhere, which is great news for the Barwon and surrounding wetlands but perhaps just a little surprising given the amount of pollution I found in some places. As everyone knows, frog populations are very sensitive to the presence of pollutants in their habitats, but these little guys were croaking away regardless.
In fact, not only were they making a racket, they were also leaping into their breeding cycle with alacrity. When I looked closely in amongst the reeds and rushes at the edge of the Barwon Valley Golf Course, it seemed riddled with frog spawn. The conveniently placed information board next to the path informed me that as far as frogs went at Jerringot, I had four species to choose from. They were the Common Eastern Froglet, the Growling Grass Frog (Warty Bell Frog), the Ewing's Tree Frog (Southern Brown Tree Frog) and the Spotted Marsh Frog.
Spotted Marsh Frog spawn in drain leading from
Gravel Pits Road to the Barwon River
I was soon able to identify the frogs eggs I was seeing as belonging to the Spotted Marsh Frog, both from their appearance and the calls I was hearing in the vicinity. The sign also informed me that this frog has a call like two stones being knocked together which is a very apt description indeed.
Great! So I could see the eggs and hear the frogs...but finding a specimen was another matter entirely. Between the murky water and overly long grass, it seemed that I didn't have a hope. And up to the present point, that continues to be the case.
It is now a week since we had all the rain. The ephemeral water supplies are gradually receding, leaving some of the eggs high and dry and the frog noise, whilst still there is noticeably reduced.
Of course, the tiger snake who appeared beside me in the grass at Jerringot today was probably fairly keen to reduce the frog noise himself - frogs being their dietary staple. Hmmm...pity I didn't read that bit on the website about tiger snakes often being found close to frog habitats before I went looking for frogs!
So, for now, the quest to photograph some of the Barwon's hoppers continues...

29 November, 2011


Up to now I haven't really looked at the environmental issues which affect the Barwon River, however with Saturday's deluge of rain, pollution has suddenly become a hot topic - well, for the next few days. The Geelong Advertiser informs me that for several days it will be unsafe to swim in either the river or Corio Bay. The reason for this is that the recent downpour caused the sewage system to overflow into the stormwater drains as well as sending a great deal of rubbish into the drains,  meaning that output from the stormwater drains may be contaminated. Not only is this bad news for humans who can suffer a range of unpleasant symptoms, but it is also a problem for the river environment in general.
Stormwater drain near Queen's Park
Large influxes of "nutrients" combined with the right weather and low water levels create ideal conditions for outbreaks of blue green algae along the course of the river. So what is blue green algae? It is actually a type of cyanobacteria, which as a group may well be the most successful micro-organisms on the planet. These tiny bacteria are thought to have given rise to the process of aerobic metabolism used by all higher life forms as well as forming the basis of chloroplasts - the part of a plant which it uses to make food. Cyanobacteria convert water into oxygen and energy by photosynthesis and it is through their actions some 3.8-2.5 billion years ago that Earth's oxygen-rich atmosphere developed. Cyanobacteria are also able to "fix" nitrogen and carbon. That is, they use the nitrogen found in nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and urea as well as carbon as part of their growth cycle.
Jerringot Wetlands
Whilst these effects are vital for the planet as a whole, contributing significantly to a reduction in greenhouse gasses, in a river system such as the Barwon, they can have negative effects. This is because the cyanobacteria use the chemicals which wash into our waterways to multiply. The result is an algal bloom which can result in a reduction in the amount of oxygen available in the water (eutrophication), which harms fish and other fauna. At the same time, cyanotoxins are produced which are toxic to humans and animals which live in and along the river.
Symptoms of poisoning in humans can include skin irritation, dizziness, numbness around the mouth, tingling in fingers and toes (produced by neurotoxins). Longer-term effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and liver dysfunction. Animals can experience weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing and ultimately death.
So what are the "nutrients" in question and where do they come from? The primary chemical culprits are nitrogen and phosphorous. In urban areas they can be found in pollutants such as leaf litter from exotic trees (particularly in autumn), human sewage, animal waste, grass clippings, paper, detergent and industrial byproducts while in rural areas crop fertilizers can also impact on the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water.
Pollutants on the surface of water at Jerringot Wetlands
...at Jerringot Wetlands
Other threats to river health and to its flora and fauna come from various sources. Pesticides used to control weeds or insect infestations in crops can be carcinogenic to humans if allowed to build up in drinking water supplies whilst non-biodegradable rubbish can cause physical harm or poison river users and wildlife.
Rubbish in the Barwon near Breakwater
Grass and other rubbish washed up during the recent rain
There are some factors however, which work to counteract the effects of pollution on the river system and one of the most important is the reed beds which filter stormwater runoff before it reaches the river. In the case of the Barwon, this includes not only the reeds and other aquatic plants which line the riverbanks themselves, but also the plant life in the wetlands adjacent to the river.

Reed beds at Balyang Sanctuary
Aquatic plants at Jerringot Wetlands
I have looked at a number of these in previous posts. Much of the stormwater from Belmont is collected by Jerringot Wetlands, whilst that from Newtown flows into Balyang Sanctuary. Most of Leopold's runoff drains into Gateway Sanctuary and Ocean Grove's into Blue Waters Lake. All of these wetlands ultimately drain into the Barwon River. In many places however, Geelong's stormwater flows directly into the Barwon with no intervening wetland to reduce the level of pollutants entering the river.

26 November, 2011

November Rain

I have posted any number of photos of the Barwon in pleasant, sunny weather.  So since Geelong currently appears to be having its largest fall of rain in a 24 hour period for some time, I thought I might document this with some photos of a rain-soaked Barwon River and a few statistics.
Barwon River at Swanston Street
I looked at rainfall and its effect on the river in a  previous post so I won't repeat myself, but will note that 75-150mm of rain over a 1-3 day period can cause flooding. At the present time, the Geelong weather station at the racecourse (newly opened in June to replace the one at Geelong Airport) has recorded more than 85mm of rain, however there has been no flood warning issued for the Barwon, Leigh or Moorabool Rivers, so I can only assume that this is because there has not been a similar amount of rain along the rest of the river course. The weather station at Mt Gellibrand for example recorded only 19.2mm in the same 24 hour period. As a further indication of local variation, my own rain gauge which is less than 2.5km from the racecourse received 77mm.
Barwon River at Princes Bridge, Newtown
River height data is likewise unimpressive. The Barwon through Geelong has risen by about 30cm across the course of the day, but there have been no rises recorded at any of the other points of measurement further upstream. There are flood warnings current for the east of the state, and all parts of the state recorded a significant amount of rain, however the falls in the Geelong region today appear to have been localised.
Barwon River at Queen's Park
The highest recorded single daily rainfall for Geelong to the present time was up to 9am on 27th January, 2005 when 100mm fell in a very short time period unlike today's constant rain. This huge downpour actually occurred on the afternoon of 26th, causing flash-flooding and mayhem as I recall.
For the month of November, the highest daily rainfall on record is 50.6mm. This fell on 22nd November, 1988, so it looks rather like that record has just been rather substantially rewritten.
For anyone wanting to look further, much of this information came from the Bureau of Meteorology website which is the keeper of all stats wet, windy or sunny. So now that the sun is up - well, sort of - the rain has cleared, 9am has passed and the official result is in, I will take another peek myself (drumroll please):
the Geelong Racecourse weather station recorded a daily rainfall total for 26th November of 89.8mm with almost 70mm of that falling between 11:30am and 6pm yesterday including a half hour period from 1:30-2pm where 15.8mm fell.

The Cowies Creek Caper

Yesterday's bike ride took me along the Barwon as far as Fyansford (with a quick stop for coffee at Barwon Edge on the way past), but from there I decided to head off and investigate a riding/walking trail I'd been meaning to get to for some time - namely Cowies Creek. As usual, I unsuccessfully attempted to ride up the "Cementies" hill and so, having failed in that objective, I stopped at the seat halfway up to snap a few more photos of the soon-to-change Moorabool Valley below - but more of that in another post perhaps. From here, I headed off round the linear trail which is still looking slightly bare without its tracks that have all been taken away to improve the line on the Bellarine Railway.
Overlooking the Geelong Ring Road and the Moorabool Valley
Then, rather than continue on the trail as I did a couple of weeks ago, I cut down Church Street and onto the start of the Ring Road track. I stopped again to snap a couple more photos of the Moorabool Valley - there was even a handy sign informing me of the valley's name in case I wasn't already aware of it - before pushing on towards my eventual goal.
Cowies Creek, North Geelong: pretty but weed-choked
That goal was the lower end of Cowies Creek and the track which runs alongside it. I've ridden out to this point previously, but not along the creek until now. The path itself is relatively new and in good condition  up to Anakie Road and the creek itself in reasonably good shape through the section past the Corio Leisuretime Centre and beyond, however by Thompson Road, things are not so great. The creek becomes very weed-infested and the path is quite bumpy and not in great condition. Another negative is the several road-crossings required along the way, however these are unavoidable and taken with care shouldn't pose any real problem.
Weir Deppeler Park, North Geelong
Things improve again in the short section immediately before the Melbourne Road where the creek opens out into a lake which has the usual array of aquatic plants and bird life surrounded by parkland known as the Weir Deppeler Park. The path is in good condition and there are bridges crossing the lake. Unfortunately however, it is at this point which the track comes to an inauspicious halt. There is no obvious way of reaching the bay trails which extend around the Geelong Waterfront, nor is there a connection to the top of the McKean Linear Trail which itself comes to a grinding halt only 100m away at Douro Street.
This would seem to be the perfect opportunity for council to make some improvements to the local recreational facilities by connecting these existing pathways with dedicated walking/riding paths.  They should not of course let the small matter of a national highway and an interstate rail link interfere with this endeavour!
Up to this point, I had visions of winding my way through the aforementioned traffic obstacles and onto the path round to the Waterfront, so with this in mind, I headed up Edols Road, crossed the train line and started up Douro Street, but by now, I was stopping regularly to pump a leaky tyre and not quite sure which was the best way to proceed so when the start of the linear trail suddenly appeared before me, I decided to cut my losses and head back along the trail to Fyansford, then home along the river.
This I managed to accomplish with only a couple of stops to inflate my tyre and a lunch break when I reached the point below Fyansford where the Moorabool meets the Barwon. There is a conveniently positioned chair nearby and it is proving to be an interesting place for bird spotting. It was here that we discovered the kingfishers a couple of weeks ago and yesterday, I found only the second Great Cormorant that I have seen on the Barwon (the other was below Baum's Weir over a year ago).
Great Cormorant near Fyansford
So, having eaten lunch and chatted to a passing friend, I snapped the mandatory photos and headed for home.
I should mention at this point, that I had considered constructing a potted history of Cowies Creek and Mr James Cowie after whom the creek is named, however it is somewhat outside the scope of my blog and I soon discovered that a local amateur naturalist whose blog I follow had already done the job for me in a series of five posts from April and May this year. For those interested in learning more, the posts can be found on the Bushranger Blog. Just check the archive for the months in question to find the posts.

22 November, 2011

Branching out - a day at the farm

Moorabool River near Russel's Bridge
Today I had the opportunity to visit another part of the Moorabool River - part which I hadn't seen for years, but used to visit as a kid to go fishing. I remember we used to catch redfin, black fish and eels which we would then take home and clean. I can still remember the eels twitching and sliding around in the sink long after they were dead! I can't say I was ever very interested in eating the fish once caught as they had a rather muddy flavour to them, but the catching was fun.
This visit however, was not for fishing, but to do some bird watching, take in the scenery and find some new blog fodder, all of which we managed to achieve. The Moorabool at this point is somewhat different to other parts of either the Barwon or the Moorabool which I have seen so far. Firstly, it is bordered on both sides by privately-owned land. There are no designer walking-trails with weed-controlled verges, no areas of regionally appropriate re-vegetation or strategically-placed seats upon which to sit and enjoy the view.
A few of the flock
This is farm land. On one side, ordered rows of grapevines line the banks. On the other, the grass is chest-high - so are the thistles in places too. The sheep haven't been put in to graze this paddock for a couple of months and growth is rampant with the recent rain. For the moment, the flock is further downstream on the lucerne, but the lambs will soon be put in to control the situation.
Also along the banks of the river are the remnant native trees which have not been cleared for farming. Their twisted roots protrude from the banks, reaching down to water level. There are also a surprising number of dead trees in between the living. They stand upright and bare, or lie across the river from bank to bank, making an informal crossing or weir depending on their height. I am informed that the presence of all this dead wood is integral to the structure of the river, providing a defence against the erosion which comes with flooding, holding the soil of the riverbank in place. Many of them appear to have been there for decades.
Crimson Rosella
Also evident are piles of sticks and dead grass, wedged in the branches of trees - well above head height in some places. They are a clear reminder of the water levels which have been attained during previous flood events, as are the temporary fences which can be removed to a safe distance in case of impending deluge. At the moment, all is quiet and the river is well within its banks. Reassuringly, it is actually flowing. The reservoirs upstream are at or somewhere near capacity, so the balance between rural uses, domestic water supply, industry and nature are somewhat better than they have been in recent years. The fish are there, the platypus have returned and the surrounding land is green, but this hasn't always been the case for the Moorabool of late.
The birds are here as well. I counted nearly twenty species. This is no sanctuary, but there are more nests here in the eucalypts than I have seen on any other part of this river or the Barwon. Many are a mess of sticks high in the branches - belonging to larger birds, possibly magpies. I am told that one nest belonged to an eagle which is no longer present. The muddy cups of the mudlarks are here and there too. There is a koala in the upper story and bees buzz around a hive in a tree hollow.
Bob and Craig
Back at the house, there is a rather surprising convergence between the farm animals and the native fauna. Bob is a working dog and Craig - actually a female of the species - is a magpie, born with a twisted beak and hand-reared from a chick. She receives food at the house as her beak renders her unable to hunt. Her days are spent out and about, possibly visiting relatives in the back paddock, or loudly voicing her opinion of any favourable attention which might be shown to the dog in preference to herself. In the evening she returns to the house.
As will I - and also to the river as there are parts downstream which I have yet to investigate and which I understand may contain some some natural features of interest.

19 November, 2011

"Clink! Clunk!"

My previous blog about Currawongs has proven to be one of my more popular posts, so when I managed to snap a couple of photos of a Grey Currawong as I was walking around Mt Brandon Peninsula during the week, I thought it was time to revisit the topic.
Grey Currawong
As I said previously, Pied Currawongs can be seen regularly at many points along the Barwon and in surrounding areas - including my backyard. Grey Currawongs are a different matter.
Until this week, I had never seen one. This may not be such a surprise as Grey Currawongs are not as numerous as their pied cousins and their numbers have suffered as a result of habitat loss with the arrival of European settlement.
As the name suggests, they are a grey bird with the piercing yellow eye typical of all currawongs and their shape and size is also similar. Their colouring however is somewhat different. They do have the white-tipped tail seen in Pied Currawongs, however their plumage is usually grey or grey-brown rather than black. Just to complicate the issue, there are six recognised subspecies of the Grey Currawong, each with variations in colour.
Grey Currawong
As far as I can tell, this particular bird was probably of the versicolor type. This is the "nominate" or original type to be identified and is found in the east of Victoria and New South Wales. It is grey to brown in colour and has white on its wingtips. Other subspecies are the Brown Currawong (intermedia), found in South Australia. It is a darker grey-brown colour. The Clinking Currawong (arguta) is large and sooty black coloured and found only in Tasmania whilst the halmaturina subspecies is dark coloured and lighter-weight than other subspecies and found only on Kangaroo Island. The Black-winged Currawong (melanoptera) is found in the Mallee and into South Australia and the plumbea subspecies (also called squeaker) is found in the west of the country.
Unlike the other subspecies, the Squeaker and Black Currawongs have no white on their wings.
The names Squeaker and Clinking Currawong come from the call of the Grey Currawong which is said to sound like a high-pitched "clink" or ringing sound. From memory, the couple of calls I heard were  coarser and more like a croak. Certainly nothing like the call of the Pied Currawong.
The experts also inform me that these guys spend more time on the ground forraging for food than their pied counterparts, which fits  with the behaviour I was seeing in this bird. They are omnivores who eat all manner of creepy crawlies as well as fruit, seeds, eggs and carrion.
They also nest high in trees, making it hard to study their nesting habits. Co-incidentally or not, high in a eucalypt not far from where I observed this bird, was a nest of sticks. I don't know who it belongs to, but perhaps it bears further investigation.

18 November, 2011

Birds of a feather...

At the present point in time, I have so far managed to observe and photograph ninety-nine different species of birds along the length of the Barwon River. Today, being without a car for part of the day, I decided to take an extended walk from the James Harrison Bridge in town, upriver to Buckley Falls and around Mt Brandon Peninsula past Baum's Weir and back.
The weather was quite hot and windy with a storm brewing, so I was almost convinced that most of the bird population would have taken to their nests or disappeared to whatever place it is that birds seem to go when it's windy. That didn't appear to be the case today however, as the feathered population which lives along the banks of the Barwon was out in force allowing me to spot fifty of those ninety-nine species.
I didn't add to my tally of new bird discoveries during the course of the day, but I did snap quite a few shots so I thought I would use this post as an excuse to upload a few of the better ones.
Willie Wagtail nesting near Baum's Weir
The Willie Wagtail shot is one I've been taking versions of for a few days now that I know where the nest is. When I arrive, the bird usually leaves the nest to tell me in no uncertain terms to keep my distance. It then watches me for a couple of minutes before hopping onto the branch and back into the nest.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
This little guy near Queen's Park was helping himself (and yes, based on eye-colour I think it is a he) to seeds from the grass at the side of the track. He was not even vaguely concerned by my presence or that of the cyclist who passed just after I took this shot.
Male Hardhead Duck aka White-eyed Duck
This rather intense-looking male Hardhead Duck was paddling around in the midst of a bunch of
Pacific Black Ducks at Balyang Sanctuary and trying unsuccessfully to look like one of the gang.
Little Black Cormorant

Great Egret
The fishermen of the bird world seemed mostly to have exchanged the lower weir at Buckley Falls for Baum's Weir today, as the above egret and cormorant were accompanied by a Nankeen Night Heron who was also fishing off the edge of the weir. It would appear that no-one has seen fit to inform the "night" herons on the Barwon that they are supposed to feed at night as I have regularly seen them on the hunt during daylight hours of late.

14 November, 2011

Creatures of the night

A short wander along the Barwon below the Mount Brandon Peninsula yesterday, yielded some unexpected photo opportunities. The first arose as we followed the rough track around from Buckley Falls towards Baum's Weir along the south bank of the river.
I am aware of plans to improve the recreational facilities along this part of the river as nearby residential development progresses, but I was surprised by how many people already seem to be aware of the walking and fishing opportunities provided by this rather informal stretch of parkland.
Is it a bird, is it a tree...?
At one point I paused to listen to the birds, trying to locate the owner of a call which I have heard many times, but had been unable to attach to a particular species. I was once again unsuccessful in my attempt at identification (I have since discovered it was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo), but as I shushed the boys in the hope of spotting my quarry, a passerby - also with two boys of his own in tow - informed me that there were three Tawny Frogmouths in a tree up ahead.
I hung back still hoping to solve the puzzle while the others went on ahead, however they were soon back and reporting that they had found the frogmouths, so we quickly headed up the track lest they decided to depart.
Fortunately, being the middle of the day, they were rather disinclined to go anywhere and were happy to sit on a rather low branch of a dead tree as we approached to within only a few metres. Even four small boys circling the vicinity did not seem to disturb them.
In fact, the response of the three birds to our presence was almost amusing. One, perched below the others, refused to acknowledge our presence in any way whatsoever, adamantly insisting that it was nothing more than a dead tree branch, its eye slitted just slightly so as to watch us, its beak pointed skywards to further enhance the illusion.
The other pair of birds were less concerned with disguise. They stood close together, eyes open, but not moving - with the exception of one who was bold enough to turn its full gaze on us. It stared very directly with its piercing yellow eyes, but didn't seem too worried that we had blown their cover and interrupted their day's rest.
I hope their disturbed sleep didn't leave them yawning on their perch when they should have been out pursuing their rather slimy, crunchy prey last night. I discover that are happy to consume pretty much anything which scuttles, slides, flies or hops and is smaller than themselves. Moths, birds, frogs, lizards, slugs, snails, insects and worms are all fair game and usually pounced upon from above as the frogmouth drops from its perch to the ground.
Nankeen Night Heron
Nor were the frogmouths the only night birds we spotted on this particular visit to the river. On our way back downstream we saw a Nankeen Night Heron (aka Rufous Night Heron). I was not particularly surprised as I have seen these birds here before and in daylight too. In fact on today's visit what was possibly the same bird, was once again, standing on the weir at Buckley Falls. Despite this species feeding at night, it, along with a Great Egret, a White-faced Heron and a Little Black Cormorant were all quite obviously fishing at various points along the weir, using this man-made structure to best advantage.They, like the Wathaurong, clearly understand the culinary opportunities offered by the Bunyip Pool.

12 November, 2011

An adequate concentration

A pair of Sacred Kingfishers
Until a week ago I had never seen a kingfisher. This is despite various descriptions telling me that they are widespread across Australia and easily recognised. Then, as I wandered along the banks of the Moorabool River during the week, I spotted a pair of unfamiliar birds, but with a rather familiar shape. Clearly they weren't Kookaburras - too small - and even despite having to squint into the sun, I could see the occasional flash of blue.
As it turns out, yes. Sacred Kingfishers. This was interesting as I had not seen them anywhere on the Barwon. Then, on a ride along the Barwon yesterday morning, I caught a flash of blue disappearing into the trees opposite the Queen's Park Golf Course. I leaped from my bike, abandoning it beside the path, grabbed my camera and headed for the riverbank.
By the time I got there, my quarry had removed itself to the far bank which meant that whilst I could get a clear shot, it was not going to be a close one. It was good enough however, to once again identify a pair of Sacred Kingfishers.
Sacred Kingfisher
So, who are these kingfishers and why are they sacred?
I am informed that they are a medium-sized kingfisher and common throughout coastal areas of mainland Australia. They move south to breed during spring, returning to more northerly parts for the winter months. They are also found on many of the surrounding Pacific Islands including New Guinea and in New Zealand where they are known by their Maori name of Kotare.
It is said that the name Sacred Kingfisher was given to these birds by the ornithologist W.H. Oliver in the late 18th century upon seeing that the bird was venerated by some of these Pacific Island peoples.
Kingfishers are meat-eaters, consuming insects, small reptiles, rodents, crustaceans and sometimes fish. Like butcherbirds, they perch on a low branch to scout for prey. Once caught, the kingfisher returns to the tree with its catch, beating larger victims against a branch to kill them.
Their nests are burrows dug into earthen banks, soft tree trunks or termite mounds and they lay clutches of about five eggs at a time.
Like many birds, there are several collective nouns used to describe a group of kingfishers. Whilst the most common seems to be a concentration, others include a rattle, clique, acknowledgement or perhaps more appropriately a realm or crown. Call them what you will, I will soon be heading back to see if I can get a better shot.