April13, 2015 … wide open spaces

Being back in Melbourne helps me to think about yesterday.

tree

The classic lone tree in the empty paddock

We went Westward from Echuca, through a tiny town called Mitiamo on our way to the Terrick Terrick National Park.I know the spell checker will complain about that duplication, but that’s what it’s called. On the way, I was struck by the vastness of the horizons, the emptiness of the land, the amount of bare brown soil exposed to the elements. A recurring feature that I liked was the single lonely tree in the middle of a usually immense paddock.

Mitiamo

Wide open spaces near Mitiamo

We got to Mitiamo and went up the track into the park. I have decided that Australia, or at least Victoria does its best to baffle tourists by having the least possible signage pointing the way to anywhere, or when there absolutely has to be a sign to label it in the way that is least useful to the stranger. Despite their best efforts we found our way to Mt Terrick Terrick which is the highest point in the park and we walked up the hill to get a higher view. As you ascend, you get a better sense of the enormity, the majesty and the dryness of this landscape.

Panorama

A sixteen-shot stitched panorama from the summit of Mt Terrick Terrick … about 150 degrees of arc.

At the top, 148 metres above sea level, there is some sort of satellite dish, and a splendid 360 degree view of Northern Victoria. Of course, the distance fades into the heat haze very quickly so despite the height advantage, you don’t see far at all.

Eagle

Wedge-tailed eagle

I was lined up on a bird in he forest when we came down, and Mary called out. I reacted unkindly since she had spoiled my shot, but she was pointing upwards and I stood there like a slack-jawed yokel as the most beautiful wedge-tailed eagle circled overhead. I didn’t even have the wit to lift my camera until its second circuit by which time it had drifted to my left and I missed the clear shot of the bird as the trees obscured one wing.

Always listen to your wife!

April 12, 2015 … lakes and more lakes

We wandered further afield yesterday.

Third lake

This is apparently known as “Third Lake” … I wonder what happened to all those drowned trees.

From Echuca to Lake Boga is about 140 km. Though the distance is not enormous, the nature of the landscape in Northern Victoria is such that the distance between any two points on the landscape seems immense, and is characterised by long straight roads with enormous paddocks on either side. We got to Kerang and enjoyed a coffee and went a little up  the highway to the first of many lakes. Lake Reedy advertises an excellent bird hide overlooking an ibis rookery. Sadly, it was a triumph of architecture over fitness for purposes, When you reach the upper floor, every opening was covered with steel grills and the chicken wire. The place was totally useless to a bird photographer, and what’s more was infested to plague proportions by bull ants. You could dip these in varnish and sell them as picnic tables.  Another lake nearby was picturesque but eerily empty.

Charm

The eponymous Lake Charm

Heading North we paused for lunch at Lake Charm. There is very little there apart from a holiday camp, and perhaps that is part of its charm. The clouds in a blue sky over a deep blue lake were irresistible, if somewhat clichéd.

PBY

Catalina PBY-5 at Lake Boga museum

At Lake Boga itself, I was delighted to find a very fine museum dedicated to the role of the town and the lake  as a wartime base for repair of flying boats. Everything from the PBY Catalina, the Martin Mariner, the Short Sunderland and even the Dornier Do-24 used by the remnants of the Dutch Air Force in Indonesia, they were all serviced here. A thousand skilled workers restored damaged aircraft and returned them to take their place in the conflict.

Creek

Gunbower Creek at Cohuna

On the way home I stopped at Gunbower Creek in the town of Cohuna to catch some reflections.

Torrumbarry

Near sunset in the wetlands at Torrumbarry

Our last stop of the day was at the Torrumbarry weir, on the Murray River. I’m not sure how anyone else would pronounce that name. but  the local usage seems to be approximately “Trumbree”. However, impressive though the weir and its associated shipping lock are, I was more captivated by the wetland area at the start of the access road.

Back to Melbourne tomorrow.

April 11, 2015 … in and around the Echuca area

The whole Echuca-Moama area has much to offer.

Pevensey

Flying valve gear on the PS Pevensey

Before we went back to the forest, we felt we needed to do one of  the iconic paddle steamer rides that brought the area to some degree of fame back in the 1980s with the TV series “All the Rivers Run” starring Sigrid Thornton. I love anything to do with live steam so spent a fair amount of my time on the Pevensey, watching the pistons and valve gear flying back and forth.

Swallow

Welcome Swallow in flight

The time I spent on the upper deck was pre-occupied with trying to catch the Welcome Swallows in flight. I think this is the best I have achieved of this elusive bird to date.

Barmah forest

Barmah State forest on Broken Creek

The area of yesterday’s cruise is the Barmah State Forest. The notion of a forest in Australia is quite different to what we expect in New Zealand. It is much more open and vertical. It is less dense and tangled, and much less green than ours. In thee case of the Barmah forest, it is also much flatter. Both have their dangers, though few of ours have venom or teeth.  Both are extremely beautiful, each in their own way.

Pelicans

Pelicans perched

After a drive past an old stock mustering yard, we paused at the Barmah Lake camping ground and were delighted to find a parking lot for used pelicans. Or perhaps it was the assembly line for new ones. Either way, I was happy to see them.

Tired, must sleep.

April 10, 2015 … magic on the Murray

Celebrations for the cure were premature, but the ankle is better than it was, as long as I don’t push it.

Wagtail

Willie wagtail defeats a very large insect and flies away to consume it

Yesterday we began on the Murray River on an eco-cruise run by the wonderful Kingfisher Cruises. Paddle steamers at Echuca are fun, but for the sheer joy of nature, add the Kingfisher cruise at Barmah to your bucket list.  This edition will be heavy on the pictures, light on the words.

Cockatoos

Cockatoos practice formation flying

As we waited for the scheduled start time of the cruise, we were entertained by the antics of a Willie Wagtail (that’s really its name) defeating a ferocious large insect, and then a flock of cockatoos … probably corella again.

Pelicans

Pelican perch

 

We had scarcely left the start when we encountered two large pelicans. They are exceedingly rare in New Zealand so I was happy to see them.

bush

Magnificent bush

I need to observe that the bush on either side of the river at the Barmah narrows is amazingly lush and a delight to the eye.

IMG_7704

A pair of tawny frogmouth. They are nocturnal birds and look comical in the daylight

Our next  bird encounter was a pair of tawny frogmouth. Though they look superficially like owls they belong to the nightjar family. When found in the daylight they do their best to look like trees.

Snake

Red-bellied black snake swimming in the Murray. I was glad it was out there and I was in the boat

Birds were my main hope, but it was exciting to get close to a real live venomous snake in the wild. This is a red-bellied black snake, perhaps a metre and a half long.

Kingfisher

Where does he keep his batteries. That luminous blue is unaided by any Photoshop tricks – Azure kingfisher

The prize of the trip was to see the stunning Azure kingfisher. Our “Sacred kingfisher” at home is reasonably coloured, but this seemed to have extra batteries … it positively glowed.

Sea eagle

Lord of all he surveys … white-bellied sea eagle

When I thought nothing could top that, our young skipper excelled herself by spotting a white-bellied sea-eagle atop a large red gum tree.

Swallows

Welcome swallows

As we tied up at the landing, a pair of Welcome Swallows saw us off. In reality I think they were waiting for the insects that our departure would stir up. As I said, this trip with Kingfisher tours is highly recommended.

Exhausted … goodnight!

 

April 9, 2015 … arriving on one leg

Happily my foot is much better.

farmland

Rural landscape in Northern Victoria, very dry, very large

 

Unhappily, the day we travelled from Melbourne to Echuca, it had not yet reached this happy state. The upside is that, with Mary driving, I could catch some of this great land of distant horizons. After a few adventures and missed exits on Melbourne’s lunatic highway system, Google maps came to our rescue, and we got back on the right road. Of course, this is nowhere near the real “outback” but even so the distance from the roadside fence to the fence on the far side of the paddock is usually massive, to New Zealand eyes.

Corella

Squawking loudly, these members of the cockatoo family were near the Echuca port

 

Eventually we arrived in Echuca at the cottage we had booked for or stay. We leave on Monday morning and the forecast is good, with clear skies but surprisingly cool temperatures. Unable to walk far at all on Wednesday, I got Mary to drive me to Echuca Port in the evening. It was all locked up. A flock of birds which I think to be the Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea)  was swirling noisily above the trees beside the river and squabbling over landing rights.

Hero

PS Hero is reputedly the most luxurious of the fleet at Echuca

 

I peered over the corrugated fence and spotted one of the port’s several paddle steamers at rest for the night. PS Hero was built in 1874 and can carry 75 passengers.

Magpie lark

Australia has a lot of handsome and colourful birds but this one in plain black and white caught my eye

 

At my feet, I spotted a Magpie Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) hopping about beside me. The horizontal bar running back from the eye indicates a male bird.

Hoping for better things with improved mobility tomorrow.