27 May, 2012

Getting over it

In August, 2010, the construction company McConnell Dowell was awarded the contract to build a 1.3km stretch of road connecting Fellmongers Road, Breakwater to the Barwon Heads Road on the opposite side of the Barwon River. The project incorporated a two lane road, bike lane and pedestrian crossing  Well, after 18 months of toil, today, the 27th May, 2012, the new Breakwater realignment finally opened...and of course, I wasn't there to see it.
I did however, send my ambassadors out to snap some photos of and from the new bridge which was opened to the public without fanfare at 11am. It does not appear to have been widely publicised, however from 11am until about 1pm the bridge remained closed to vehicles but was opened to any curious pedestrians who wanted to wander across for a look. And it seems quite a number of the locals were keen to have a look.
Below are a selection of photos taken from the bridge at various points looking east and west.

Old and new. The approach to the new bridge on the left with the old
Breakwater Road on the right looking east

Breakwater bridge realignment looking from the foot of the bridge looking
east towards Breakwater

Looking east along the Breakwater Bridge
Looking east
Looking west over the new bridge
Looking west around the bend
From the west
View of train line between Geelong and Marshall stations from the new bridge
View of the old Breakwater Bridge looking south east from the new bridge
Over the next few days perhaps I had better take a walk, ride and drive (camera in hand of course), to check things out for myself.

25 May, 2012

It's raining again...

...and raining and raining and raining. Well, perhaps not quite as much rain as we've had on other occasions, however over the last day or so we've certainly had some decent falls. This morning up to 9am, the Bureau recorded 9mm at Geelong Racecourse and my gauge in the backyard read 10.5mm.Since then, a further 32mm has been recorded in the six hours to 3pm. And we can't say we weren't warned, with local forecasts tipping the average monthly rainfall to arrive within the space of the next day or two. A quick check of the stats reveals that this average for Geelong in May is approximately 46mm. We had reached that tally by 9am this morning.
A very grey day - Moorabool Street Bridge in the rain
Likewise, other areas of the Barwon catchment have received their fair share of rain. The Geelong Advertiser reported that Mt Sabine in the Otways received 35mm over night, whilst Gellibrand recorded around 20mm.
As usual, this means a lot of run off water is currently making its way into the Barwon and a flood watch (only at this stage) has been issued. The forecast it seems is for clearing showers, so I suspect the bulk of the rain has passed for now. At about midday however, I took the opportunity to go and snap a few rainy photos at a few of the easier access points along the river through Geelong to see if there was anything interesting to see.
Stormwater runoff from Belmont entering the river near Princes Bridge
In short, the answer was no, there was not much going on. At the end of Swanston St, I found a number of very upbeat - when are they ever otherwise? - Superb Fairy Wrens hopping about in the rain. At Balyang Sanctuary I saw quite a number of the more common species of birds, most of whom were not in the least concerned by the inclement weather. The Indian Mynas, Mudlarks and Silver Gulls all seemed happy enough, although a pair of pelicans perched somewhat ridiculously on top of breeding boxes in the lake didn't look so comfortable, nor did a pair of magpies perched in a leafless tree.
Pacific Black Ducks near Princes Bridge
Contrary to my findings on other rainy occasions, today it seemed, was good weather for ducks with a pair of Pacific Blacks paddling happily about under Princes Bridge. It was not, on the other hand, good weather for bees, with no sign of any movement at the hive I was watching last week.
Queen's Park Bridge in the rain

A bit further upriver at Queen's Park, things were likewise wet and quiet. With the exception of one individual as silly as myself at Balyang Sanctuary and a couple of paddlers (also of dubious sanity), I saw no-one on or near the river.
By this time, my attempts at waterproofing myself were becoming somewhat inadequate. My puffer jacket whilst wind-resistant was not really waterproof, my leather boots were a little soggy and as my woollen dress was getting progressively wetter I was beginning to smell more and more like a wet sheep. I decided however, that I had one more stop to make that might provide me with a decent view of the rainy river.
Therefore, I headed round to the Lookout.
View towards Fyansford from the Barwon Valley Lookout
The view which greeted me was indeed rainy, it was also rather limited. On a clear day, the Barrabool Hills are visible in the distance and the Paper Mill can be seen in the nearer distance. Not today. There was no sign of the hills and only a blur which I could barely make out where the mill stands. The traffic winding its way down the cutting into Fyansford had lights on and buildings were barely visible.
At this point, deciding enough was definitely enough, I headed for home, the heater and some dry clothes. The Otway rain shadow did not seem to be having a particularly large effect on Geelong's weather today.

18 May, 2012

What's the buzz?

Fights to the death.Virgin queens. Sexual promiscuity. Regicide. Armies of working women. Such is the life of bees.
On several occasions over the last few years, I have discovered beehives along the river. Mostly they have been near Princes Bridge. One as I remember was on the Highton side of the river, another within Balyang Sanctuary. I know very little about bees and couldn't say what type these bees were, but probably they were wild honey bees, not one of the 1,500 or more species of native Australian bees.
Last week as I was out on yet another ride,  I discovered a hive in a tree hollow on the edge - once again - of Balyang Sanctuary. I snapped some photos and continued on my way, however when I downloaded and examined them, the pictures were not as clear as I had hoped, so I headed back to have another look at the hive and to take some more (hopefully) clearer shots - and then again and again.
So, after standing for several hours on three occasions, attempting to take photos at full zoom, with the camera at arm's length over my head, facing directly into the sun, I now have biceps to rival Arnold Schwarzenegger and a further 450 photos - a mere handful of which are worth viewing.
Beehive at Balyang Sanctuary
The hive is located in a tree hollow a few feet above head height and as is clear from the above photo, is partially obscured by leaves, however it is still possible to see the bees coming and going from the hive and the honeycomb within is also quite clearly visible.
Honeycomb within the hive
As usual, Wikipedia gives a much more detailed description of the life and times of bees and hives than what I can do here, so I won't even attempt the task, except to say that the cells in this honeycomb are hexagonally shaped as described, slope slightly upwards so the honey once stored does not drip out and appear to be a mixture of empty or partially filled cells and those which have been filled and capped by the bees for storage.
Worker bee entering the hive laden with pollen
The above photo is of interest as it clearly shows a worker bee returning to the hive, laden with pollen which is collected by the bee and placed into "pollen baskets" also called corbicula on its hind legs. This photo is the best example, I do have others. Interestingly, in some, the colour of the pollen is much lighter than that carried by this bee. I assume this indicates that the pollen came from a different plant source.
Worker bee on the honeycomb inside the hive
On the various occasions I visited the hive, there were varying levels of activity evident, with the greatest degree coinciding with the warmest part of the sunniest day when I could see many more bees entering and leaving the hive. Clearly, as shown by the photo above, the bees are still collecting pollen for their winter stores of honey no doubt taking advantage of the late autumn flowering of various native plants.
Bees leaving the hive
Over the coming months I will keep an eye on the hive and see what becomes of it over winter and into spring when it might be expected that it may swarm as was the case with a hive I came across in November, 2010. This hive which had swarmed was hanging from the branch of an apple tree growing next to a drain which runs between Gravel Pits Road and the river in Breakwater. I am unsure what became of it.
Swarming beehive November, 2010

11 May, 2012

Tinker, tailor...

With the weather turning cooler and wetter last week, I didn't get to the river to search out any fodder for my blog, however this week, things have turned pleasant again weatherwise so I have been out and about. On Tuesday I dragged out the bike and rode the trail down to Buckley Falls and back via Breakwater. It was a pleasant ride and I counted 35 different species of birds, most of them relatively common. Interesting, but not exactly thrilling blog material.
On Thursday, in search of something a little different, I headed to the aqueduct. I haven't been to that part of the river for a few months - mostly because of the long grass during summer. As we saw recently, I have no difficulty finding snakes on clear, frequently used paths in autumn, so I didn't fancy chancing my luck on seldom-used, overgrown goat tracks in the middle of summer!
Even on this occasion I was suitably cautious.
Firstly I wandered down the rutted track which is the end of Boundary Road all the way to the river. I could hear Spotted Marsh Frogs in all directions, but as usual had no luck er...spotting one. Somewhat surprisingly as the weather was mild and there was only a gentle breeze, there were very few birds around. Usually this area is a hive of activity and I often see birds here which I don't see on other parts of the river.
Of course there were the usual New Holland Honey Eaters, Superb Fairy-wrens, a Mudlark and a couple of Magpies, but nothing less common - with one exception. The Golden-headed Cisticola. They were everywhere. This is the only part of the river on which I have found them, but I can be pretty much guaranteed that I will either see or hear them on any occasion I am in the area.

Golden-headed Cisticola
These little guys are amongst my favourite birds to photograph. The way they grab the reeds they hide amongst can make for some rather comical shots. They are somewhat cautious and won't let me get too close, however when they perceive I am at a safe distance, the males happily hop about amongst the foliage, all the while keeping a close eye on me.
Golden-headed Cisticola
They are also quite vocal and their call is rather distinctive, it's most noticeable characteristic being a high-pitched, drawn out squeak. To my ear it sounds much like the noise I remember a frog making as it was being eviscerated by the cat when I was a kid.
Golden-headed Cisticola
A little research tells me that these guys are also known as Tailorbirds for their habit of stitching leaves to the outside of their nest. Like Willie Wagtails, they use fine grasses and cobwebs in the construction along with other soft material which is used to line the nest.
Golden-headed Cisticola, rear view
They eat insects and seeds from amongst the bushes in which they hide and are non-migratory, staying put year-round which explains why they are always there when I am. They seem to have a preference for the shrubs and reeds which grow along the edge of the track to the river, rather than those nearer the aqueduct.
I did wander over in that direction and managed to get a few blurry photos of a raptor which circled overhead and perched briefly on one of the concrete piers. It took off again before I could get close enough for a decent shot and then reappeared circling above for several minutes, but at no time close enough to get a better photo. As best I can tell, it was probably a Brown Falcon, but I couldn't be sure.