Sunday, 6 December 2015

Stewarts Reserve

Armstrong Creek, Stewarts Reserve
Stewarts Reserve is a small linear reserve on Stewarts Rd south of Waurn Ponds. It is only four hectares of grassy woodland with Armstrong Creek running the full length. There are almost no facilities in the reserve, just one picnic table and a short path, parking is limited and access is through a pedestrian gate.

In late spring and summer the water levels in the creek are low or non-existent and when I visited this week the creek was a series of waterholes. Many of the trees were flowering prolifically - eucalypts (Manna Gums, Swamp Gums and River Red Gums), Bursaria spinsosa and Acacia mearnsii - as were the Hop Goodenias and the water ribbons in the creek bed. Red-rumped Parrots and Eastern Rosellas were in numbers and I also heard a Purple-crowned Lorikeet. The only representatives of the honeyeater family were the Red Wattlebirds and White-plumed Honeyeaters, but I'm being a bit unfair because my visit was mid-afternoon. A morning visit would probably be more productive. The prickly Hedge Wattles and bursarias, the tree debris and the hollows in the old trees provide good shelter for the fauna (frogs, birds, insects, reptiles, bats and possums) in the reserve. There are relatively few weeds. The reserve is a very important remnant of what was once a more extensive environmental community - grassy woodland.

Many of the trees are tagged so presumably the council holds a database.
The Common Brushtail Possum gave away its location by moving when I was close by.
Armstrong Creek is only a few kilometres long and drains into marshland at Lake Connewarre but it has given its name to a new suburb being developed between Geelong and Torquay. The suburban sprawl will put immense pressure on the creek and Stewarts Reserve as well as the significant roadside vegetation in the area. I'm pessimistic about its long-term fate unless an active Friends Group evolves.

Stewarts Reserve and Armstrong Creek surrounded by housing development. Source: Google Maps
Photo taken from inside Stewarts Reserve.
Stewarts Road with Stewarts Reserve on the left.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Augustine Dam

The small island on Augustine Dam
It's an urban lake almost without a name. There aren't any signs at the lake, and it's not named on Google Maps. You have to dig deeply into the City of Greater Geelong's webpage to find that it's called Augustine Dam. It's in South Valley Rd, Highton. Whenever I've submitted a bird survey from the site I've called it St Augustines Lake because it's on the original grounds of an orphanage of that name that were subdivided several decades ago. Maybe I'll have to change the location name now that I've discovered its official title.

Stormwater flows into the dam and is filtered by the reeds and vegetation. It's circumnavigated by an excellent walking track. There is a playground, an island and a fishing jetty. The trees and shrubs have matured nicely and the whole area is well maintained except for the occasional feral ducks that appear, and I wish the council would remove the single Arum Lily that is growing at one end before it gets out of control. Can you call waterlilies a weed when they look so pretty? (I've read that they don't become weedy because they don't like fast moving water.)

Arum Lily, a serious weed
Waterlilies on Augustine Dam
At the moment there are frogs calling, there are cute little Pacific Black Ducks, Dusky Moorhens and Purple Swamphens, there is a pair of Darters, the Little Ravens are nesting and there are numerous honeyeaters. It's a real delight to walk slowly around just taking it all in.

Eurasian Coot
Male Darter
Dusky Moorhen parent and chick

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lake Condah restoration

Lake Condah, 2010. Copyright GHCMA
Once upon a time...

...Lake Condah was a lake, a big lake. It developed when lava flows from Mt Eccles (Budj Bim) flowed down the Darlot Creek valley and pushed the creek to the west. It all happened only 8000 years ago.

For hundreds of years the lake was a haven for life - fauna and flora. The Gunditjmara modified the lake a little by building eel traps for aquaculture.

In 1954 the lake was drained to mitigate flooding in agricultural areas north of the lake and for half a century the 'lake' was more or less dry. Local farmers grazed their cattle on the lake bed. Can you imagine the effect on birdlife, plants and aquatic creatures? The site was of huge significance to local Aboriginal culture but that was ignored.

The lake itself is owned by DELWP (except for a privately owned section in the north west) and the land surrounding the lake is owned by Mt Eccles National Park, the Gunditjmara and private property.

In 2004 the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was placed on the National Heritage List and is manged by the Gunditjmara people. This year there is a push, strongly supported by government, for the site to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage area.

In 2004 a restoration project for Lake Condah was commenced and in 2009 a weir was constructed, an "environmental bypass pipe, associated inlet and outlet structures, an automated flow control gate, and a 100 meter long rock chute incorporating a low flow fish passage", the design of which won an award for the construction company (Alluvium) in 2010. The project was a finalist in the Banksia Awards. The Museum organised a Bush Blitz there in 2011 and recorded many interesting plants and animals on the stony rises woodlands and the wetlands. The whole area is under the umbrella of the Clenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority.

Lake Condah in the foreground, stony rises, and Mt Eccles in the background.
Last week we went to have a look. It was a beautiful day, there was a lot of water in the lake and there were a lot of birds (numbers and species). Who needs to go to Kakadu when we have such a treasure in our own back yard? I didn't attempt a bird survey because a telescope would be essential.

There is still a lot of work to be done at Lake Condah. Weed control, fence post removal, monitoring of water flow and water quality and development of some tourist facilities (an amenities block was being constructed the day we visited). The Gunditjmara offer tours of this and other local areas of cultural significance. Go on. Treat yourself.

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

Stilts, grebes and ducks. A lava tongue can be seen in the background.
The new weir that allows water flow to the Darlot Creek as well as the passage of fish.

A spotted intruder

It was the voice that drew my attention. A single little peep. What could it be? I couldn't place it at all.

Luckily the bird was in a small shrub next to the house and it soon revealed itself as it broke cover to attack its reflection in the window. Aha! A male Spotted Pardalote. Over the next two days the bird regularly returned to the same spot to attack the 'intruder'.

Spotted Pardalote
I wasn't surprised  to see a Spotted Pardalote, but I was surprised to see the yellow rump of the race xanthopyus. Morcombe's field guide says it "is found in sandplain mallee and drier open woodland". So why was it in damp sclerophyll forest east of Heywood in western Victoria? And if it was nesting where did it find a suitable spot on moist green grassy paddocks of  dairy farm with not a sandy bank or sandy ground within cooee?

Spotted Pardalote. Note yellow rump that indicates that it is Pardalotus punctatus race xanthopygus

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Weed the willows please

For about ten years I have been photographing the Darlot Creek at Homerton from the bridge on Coustleys Road. You can read previous blogs here and here.

Last week I visited the bridge again. The blue gums have grown quickly but they are not quite mature enough for harvest, the eucalypt on the bank is still healthy, there are still reeds and other great plants in and beside the creek. But I could hardly see the creek. The willows have grown so much the creek is clogged and shaded. It's sad to see the damage that willows can do and I fear that in the future there will be no point in maintaining this photopoint.

Willows clog Darlot Creek.
Darlot Creek, south of the bridge on Coustleys Road.
Which authority is responsible for the river? Do they have enough money in kitty to clear the willows? If they did find the funds I would tell them not take out the roots because that would cause too much damage. Just cut and paint. And I would ask that they remove all the debris because willow can grow from a stick. Please do it sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 5 September 2015


So, I'm lying awake in the middle of the night. Wide awake because I have jet lag after getting home from Europe. I've already tried a cuppa and a read but I couldn't focus so I go back to bed and listen to the radio.

Radio National entertained me for several hours. One show in particular I want to mention here. Ann Jones presents a program on Saturdays called Off Track and I catch it occasionally and download the podcasts sometimes. Last night I heard a repeat of  her Saturday 5 September program called The colourful life of the Australian Magpie'. In her opening paragraph Ann mentions that the long warble of the magpie in the morning is a most welcome sound to a weary traveller returning from overseas. She's right. Her program was most welcome to this weary traveller, especially the accompanying sound track. The magpie's carolling is indeed glorious.

Daryl Jones has been researching magpies for a long time and Ann Jones chats to him about the territorial behaviours of the birds. He calls them 'very unusual birds' because they defend their patch vocally every day of the year rather than just at breeding time, and a pair can hold the same territory for up to twenty years.

I'll have to pay more attention to the birds in my patch.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A holiday in Europe

I'm out of the country for a few weeks, visiting family in Switzerland and exploring France.

If you're interested you can follow my travels on a blog that I published five years ago and have now reactivated. Boobook explores Europe.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Solar power research

At Bridgwater on Loddon there is an experiment happening. These dishes of curved mirrors focus sunlight on to photovoltaic cells. You can read more about it here. These are the views from the road but it would be good to see them up close. I wonder if they ever have open days. 

It's a pity that here in Australia the renewable energy target keeps changing - how can people invest in the technology and research with confidence?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Riverina cotton

Around Hay the land is flat, very flat, and there are large areas of saltbush country.

But it is also perfect for irrigation.

It's winter, so not the growing season, but as we drove on the roads near Hay we couldn't miss the fact that cotton growing is a major activity. There are cotton bolls lining the highways, debris from carting the large yellow rolls of cotton to central storage areas after harvest. I know cotton is an organic product but I wonder how long it takes to disintegrate. One plus might be that bird nests in the area will have soft linings.

Cotton debris littering the sides of roadways.
The hundreds of large cotton rolls are wrapped in bright yellow plastic. Is that plastic recycled?

Rolls of cotton
And there are 'turkey dams' everywhere - large dams that perch on the flat landscape, that must take an enormous amount of effort and resources to build. In my area the local water authority is closing shallow water storages because they are inefficient, the water evaporates too quickly. So why are they building shallow dams for cotton irrigation? I'll have to do some research.

So I'm morally torn today. In my hobby of patchwork quilting I only use cotton fabrics. In summer I love wearing cotton because it it so cool. But as I drive through the cotton-growing area I'm feeling a bit negative about how we grow the cotton.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Kidman Way

We hear about snow in other parts of New South Wales, in areas that haven't seen snow for decades. Roads are closed because of snow and ice, but not where we are on the Kidman Way. We've travelled in brilliant sunshine all day.

Kidman Way north of  Hillston, NSW.
We're drove south from Bourke through some beautiful country, mostly bush, rather flat with the occasional hill or peak around Mt Hope. There is a tinge of green everywhere because there has been rain in the last month and it contrasts with the red soil and the grey foliage of the trees and shrubs. As we neared Hillston on the Lachlan River we saw signs of the agriculture. Hillston has diversified from cropping and grazing to fruit and vegetable production - cherries, potatoes, olives, cotton, almonds, capers, jojoba, citrus, watermelons and more.

Off course the downside of this is that they need water for all of the above. They use underground water and by using proper management the water entitlements have been reduced by half to 108 000 megalitres. That still sounds like a lot to me.

The largest Cashmere Goat flock in Australia is farmed near Hillston but we saw hundreds of feral goats by the highway as we travelled south. They are a real pest, doing damage to the environment by eating vegetation and trampling the fragile soil with their hooves. We saw dozens of dead kangaroos on the highways in NSW and Queensland but not one dead goat. They graze by the roads but we slowed down to avoid hitting any on the road because we didn't want to damage our vehicle, and I presume everyone else does the same. The kangaroos graze at night and try to cross the roads the heavy vehicles are travelling at speed - they don't slow down for anything.

We've also seen cactus, particularly in Queensland on the St George to Cunnamulla road. Prickly Pear cactus was a huge pest in the past but it is still not completely under control. Weeds and pest animals are a problem all over our beautiful country.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Darling River

We spent some time on the Darling at Bourke today. We floated past old Coolibah trees that have had their roots exposed by fast-flowing floodwaters, under the beautiful old Bourke bridge that was designed to lift for passing river craft, around snags and past flotillas of pelicans.

Early explorers' reports about the Darling were negative and positive but it later served the early settlers well for many decades as a means of transporting wool and other produce to markets, and importing goods they needed. Unfortunately it was abused in many ways and is still recovering.

Coolibahs beside the Darling River
Old Bourke bridge
Old Bourke bridge
Exposed roots on the riverbank

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Storm over the Mitchell

We left Cunnamulla (and Queensland) this morning and turned south onto the Mitchell Highway and drove to Bourke. The scenery was more dramatic because of the storm clouds, rainbows and brilliant sunshine.