21 March, 2013

Wind and water

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the number of windmills I noticed as I paddled some of the more rural sections of the Barwon, titled Tilting at windmills. Not long after, I received a detailed comment from "Hugh" whose family owned the land on which one of the windmills I had photographed stood. He informed me that in addition to the remains of this windmill near Ceres, a larger windmill had stood on the opposite bank of the river on land owned by the McCann family, but that it had been removed to make way for the Geelong Ring Road near where the Geoff Thom Bridge (the subject of a post from October, 2011) crosses the Barwon.

The Geoff Thom Bridge over the Barwon
He also provided details of some other significant windmills associated with the Barwon and Geelong's past. A pair were located, at Sparrovale Farm, their purpose being to drain the surrounding  land, and an earlier one was built at Chilwell and was used to operate the Riversdale Flour mill. Some discussion of the latter mill can be seen in the comments following my post "Grist to the mill".
The good news according to Hugh however, is that the McCann's windmill has been completely restored and is now located at the Geelong Showgrounds. As I live not too far away and often pass the showgrounds, I had indeed noticed the windmill and wondered about it. It was a simple matter therefore to snap a few photos of this large, fully-restored and rather impressive Southern Cross windmill, located just inside the gate on Breakwater Road.
Restored Southern Cross windmill at Geelong Showground
 It was a clear, hot day while I was there with only a light breeze blowing, however it was still enough to have the sails turning and the shaft rising and falling.
Southern Cross windmill, Geelong Showground
This windmill is noted on the Windmill Journal of Australia and New Zealand website, however the details do not appear as far as I can tell, to be accurate. I did search for further details concerning the restoration and installation of the windmill at its current site, however I couldn't see anything online.

Windmill at the showground
I did however make one other "discovery". I had forgotten that Geelong boasts two "Bills Troughs". The first, located in Fitzroy Street, Geelong was the subject of an earlier post "Horses for courses" and the second - as can be seen in one of the above photos - is located within the Geelong Showgrounds.

Bills Trough at Geelong Showground
More details can be found about these troughs in the earlier post, but in brief, they were installed during the 1930s across Australia and some other countries for the benefit of working horses. The funds were provided from a trust established out of the proceeds of the will of George Bills and his wife Annis. About 700 troughs were produced and all but about 50 of them were located in Australia.
 The troughs have a distinctive shape and style. The photo below shows a plaque acknowledging the benefactors on the trough at the showground.
Plaque on the trough

16 March, 2013

Over the Moorabool and around the world

Relating this post to the exact topic of my blog is a bit of a stretch, however it does tie in very closely to one of my other favourite topics - running. But this is not just running around the Barwon, as I have discussed before, this is quite literally about running on a global scale.
You see, on Wednesday I spent much of the day running. I played my usual morning netball game and attended my regular evening run, but in between I had the opportunity to participate - albeit briefly - in something truly remarkable: the first mainland Australian leg of a run around the world.
This run is being undertaken by Tony Mangan, an ultramarathon running Irishman from Dublin who, on 25th October, 2010 embarked on his dream of 20 years to run around the world.
Jo with world runner Tony Mangan
I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say that so far Tony has run from Dublin to Dunquin, Co. Kerry (the westernmost point of Ireland), resuming from Cape Spear, Newfoundland which is the eastern most point of Canada and from there, south to Maine in the Unite States. From Maine he crossed the continent, heading west and south to complete the US stage of his run in San Diego where, after a break of a few weeks, he headed south down Mexico's Baja Peninsula before crossing to the mainland and continuing down into South America, finally completing this leg of his journey in Tierra del Fuego on 10th December, 2012.
After a short break at home for Christmas, Tony was back on the road, this time in Fiji. By the 18th of January he was in New Zealand, running from Auckland in the north to Invercargill at the bottom of the south island. That done, he arrived in Hobart, Tasmania and headed to Burnie where he spent a few days before catching a flight to Melbourne.
Anyone interested in reading the blog of Tony's ongoing adventure can do so here: The World Jog. It is well worth the read.
Then, on Wednesday morning 13th March, 2013, in the company of Michael Gillan who will act as his crew across mainland Australia, Tony hit the beach at Queenscliff...and that is where we come into the picture.
"We" in this instance was myself, Joe and Zdenko, all members of Joe's "Geelong Runners". Being otherwise occupied, I did not join the three guys until about midday when Joe took a quick trip back to Geelong to collect me (thanks Joe!). He and Zdenko had taken turns running with Tony out of Queenscliff and along the Bellarine Highway.

Zdenko and Tony
When I joined them, they were a little over 13km into the run and (for those who know the area) had just passed the Grubb Road turn off to Ocean Grove. After a brief round of introductions, I dusted off my runners and hit the road alongside Tony whilst Joe and Zdenko took turns running and driving.

Running with Tony and Joe, heading for Leopold
Every time we stopped for a drinks break, Tony would take a few sips and
disappear into the distance, forcing us to play catch up
Less than three hours later at a slow but remarkably distance-consuming pace, we made it into town and after a bit of fast talking on Joe's part, took Tony on the scenic route (via that other body of water with which much of Geelong seems preoccupied) to his accommodation for the night on Western Beach, overlooking Corio Bay.
I believe it had been Tony's original intention to run through the centre of town and out towards Fyansford and beyond that day, which would have given me the perfect excuse to expound upon the many fascinating aspects of the Barwon. Of course, in view of the fact that the Deviation Road is a no-go zone for pedestrians (a fact which I suspect was not known to the rest of the group), our international guest may even have found himself running along the track beside the river as he headed out of town. Now that would have been handy for a blog pic or two!
However, it was not to be and as it turned out, Tony decided to call it a day upon reaching the hotel. So, after a quick photo shoot for the Geelong Advertiser, we headed off to get ready for our own run before reconvening with Tony and some of our other runners at the Boat House for dinner and an impromptu demonstration of Michael Gillan's recovery techniques.
The next morning saw Tony hit the road again with Michael in tow, heading out of town on the Midland Highway. This provided me with my one and only photo opportunity in which to place Tony in the setting of the Barwon River system. Fortunately he had been provided with a free breakfast and as a result did not get off to a super early start which worked to my advantage. By 9am I was on the road and spotted Tony just clearing the outskirts of Bell Post Hill. This gave me the chance to take up position on the west bank of the Moorabool River, camera in hand.
I would like to be able to say I was able to snap a pretty shot of Tony crossing the historic bluestone bridge at Batesford:
Historic bluestone bridge at Batesford
but every extra step counts, so he stuck to the main route, crossing the Moorabool on the newer, less scenic bridge which carries all the passing traffic on the highway. 
Tony crossing the Moorabool River at Batesford

Over the Moorabool...
From the bridge, Tony headed up, out of the Moorabool Valley and off towards Geringhap.

...and out of the Valley...
We caught up with him again as he passed Bannockburn and ran a few last kilometres with him as he continued his journey, heading up the highway towards Ballarat, Ararat, Stawell and beyond...

And the journey continues...
...accompanied all the while - had he but known it - by the the northern tributaries of the Barwon which shadowed his route to Ballarat: the Moorabool on his right, flowing from the Bungal Dam and beyond and on his left, Bruce's Creek an as yet (by me) unexplored creek feeding into the Leigh River which of course, traced Tony's route all the way up to its headwaters where it rises as the Yarrowee River in Ballarat.
As I write this post, Tony has reached a point a few kilometres outside the town of Beaufort between Ararat and Ballarat, heading for the South Australian border.
Good luck with the rest of the world Tony!!!

05 March, 2013

Is it a bird? Is it a snake?

Sunday morning at 8am the weather was perfect for an easy run around the Barwon, so that's what we did. It was sunny without a hint of breeze and the surface of the river was like a mirror.
By 2pm things had warmed up a little. A light breeze had sprung up and it was perfect weather for a paddle, so that's what I did.
With limited time (and energy!) and not wanting to go too far afield, I hit the water in town at the boatsheds and headed upriver. Considering the weather was pleasant it was remarkably quiet on the river. A couple of speedboats pulling skiers were keeping the ducks on their toes, but once I rounded the bend at the head of the rowing course, it was just me and the coots and darters and cormorants and ducks and...well, you get the idea.
As this is probably the most accessible part of the river both on and off the water, I've spent hours here and taken hundreds of photos over the last few years. As a result there wasn't too much that was new in the way of scenery for me to snap, however I wasn't in a hurry and the water was reasonably still so I was able to get up close and personal with the colony of Australasian Darters which nest in the elms near the Princes Bridge.
For obvious reasons, these guys are also known as snakebirds. They are very adept in the water, diving to catch fish which they spear with their sharp beaks. When they swim, only their long snake-like necks are visible.
The Snakebird
Darters are always reasonably common on this part of the river, but when they are nesting there seems to be a darter - if not two - on every branch and that is certainly the case at the present time.
Adult male Australasian Darter
There are several nests in the branches overhanging the river (the preferred position for darters when it comes to nesting I'm told) with chicks of varying ages.
Female Australasian Darter with very young chick in the nest

Very young Australasian Darter chick
The nests initially consist of an array of eucalypt twigs and leaves, however as time progresses, the leaves fall off and the sticks take on a bleached white appearance thanks to the frequent and plentiful application of darter droppings which cover not only the nests, but the surrounding branches, giving the entire area a rather particular odour.
Both adults and young have very active digestive tracts as I can attest firsthand!
Older darter chicks yet to shed their downy coats
The weather as I mentioned was quite warm which allowed me to observe one of the most obvious examples of "gular flutter" I have yet seen as these chicks wobbled their throats in an effort to cool themselves down. 

Gular fluttering
 Also no doubt trying to stay cool and certainly keeping a very close eye on proceedings from one of the higher branches, I spotted this Nankeen Night Heron. Three hours later when I returned to take a few more shots - and had a chat with another bird-snapping kayaker - he was still there.
Nankeen Night Heron in the branches
 And in a bid to get the perfect shot - and learn a little about aperture and shutter speed on my not overly sophisticated camera - I headed back again today (Tuesday). The weather was pretty much identical to Sunday. The river was calm, the sun was shining, there was lots of gular fluttering happening and after more than an hour sitting in my kayak in the middle of the river, I was considering giving it a try myself!
Despite the heat and the photographic complexities of birds insisting on standing in partial shade at all times, I did manage to get a few interesting shots, including some more of the three chicks from Sunday (shown above).

The same three chicks photographed on Sunday (as above)

In general, there was more activity within the little colony today too. I arrived just in time to see - but not photograph - a young darter which was being strongly encouraged to leave not only the nest but the branch on which it was perched. The "fledgling" had other ideas and as both parents pecked, pushed, flapped and squawked at their reluctant offspring, it clung to the branch with claw and then, as a last resort, beak, before flopping into the water, only to scramble quickly onto a low-hanging branch and then clamber awkwardly back to its original perch.
Meanwhile, on another branch, it was lunchtime. As I watched some nearby birds, there was a sudden disturbance amongst three larger chicks as the mother returned. After a bit of jostling and quite a bit of noise, the middle bird in the line up wound up the winner and proceeded to help itself to whatever was on offer.


After observing proceedings for some time, I headed to the opposite bank for some lunch, but not before snapping a few shots of the somewhat less obliging Little Pied Cormorants which have also chosen to nest in these elms...but that had better wait....