It was our last weekend in Australia and we were more or less back to health after a second bout of flu, so were keen to get out and about before heading back to SA.
When Stephan suggested a day trip to Raymond Island we jumped at the chance and set off late morning along the very pleasant “back” road to Paynesville. The country roads in Victoria (and probably in other states) are often lined with mature eucalyptus trees which give them a particular character and form a stately ‘ tunnel’ as you drive through…
Along the way a couple of raptors caused some excitement – well, I got excited, the others in the car just smiled :
Swamp Harrier – a couple of seconds view as we swept past a wetland were enough to pick up the important clues – low flight, white rump, swamp habitat and of course the all-important ‘giss’ which convinced me that it was a Swamp Harrier – and a lifer to boot
There was no time to get a photo so I am posting this beautiful image courtesy of the photographer –
Black-shouldered Kite – almost an equally short view but the familiar giss in flight and black wing ‘shoulders’ were enough for a positive ID
Whistling Kite – flying up from the roadside as we passed, this is a bird I have come to know quite well as they are regularly seen around Sale
On reaching the waterfront at Paynesville, we parked and walked, looking for an open restaurant, and came upon Alma’s which turned out to be a good choice for the fish and chips we were thinking of – really tasty and served with a good salad.
Outside the restaurant a Noisy Miner was going about its business pretty much ignoring the people passing by – so much so that I was able to get a close-up with my Iphone
After lunch it was time to explore Raymond Island, so we joined the short queue for the ferry and were soon on the island, where we turned left along the shoreline then inland and right across the island to Gravelly Beach.
Some of the birds spotted along the way :
Pacific Gull – quite common but far outnumbered by the Silver Gulls
Little Pied Cormorant – a few perched on poles in or near the water
Great Cormorant – as the name suggests a much larger Cormorant
Australian Golden Whistler – with a name like that you would expect a colourful, spectacular bird, however this was the rather dull immature version of the species. I spotted it in a tree as we passed by and asked Stephan to stop – it looked a lot like the Grey-headed Sparrow that we are familiar with in SA and I was only able to identify it after some time spent paging through the bird book (which always takes me back to my early days of birding). The male would have been a lot more obvious with its bright yellow colouring…
This poor photo was all I came away with after almost pulling a muscle or two trying to get my aging body into a position in the car to get a decent view of the bird, which did its best to frustrate me … but – it was another Lifer!
At Gravelly Beach we walked about enjoying the view up and down the deserted beach
Another road took us back to the nature area where we parked again and walked a section of the Koala trail, coming across a few of these cute, sleepy creatures.
Along the way we also found
Laughing Kookaburra – very habituated to humans as they allowed us to approach to within a couple of metres of where they were perched
Eastern Rosellas – a flock feeding on the ground
Wallabies – a pair in a garden – the wildlife and the people who live on the island seem to get on well with each other
It was late afternoon by now so we headed back to the ferry and were soon on the road back to Sale, having spent a memorable day in a charming part of Victoria
With our time in Australia running out and having more or less recovered from the flu virus that had restricted our outings, I was keen to visit Sale Common for a nature walk.
So, one Friday towards the end of May, I borrowed the family car and drove to the parking area for the Common (full name is Sale Common State Game Refuge) where I parked next to one other car already there.
Before reaching the parking area I had passed a stretch of river which was occupied by two prominent birds – a White-faced Heron and a Little Pied Cormorant – both of which I was able to photograph before they moved off.
After parking I gathered my warm jacket, binos and camera and set off along the first stretch of pathway through Red Gum Woodlands with a carpet of greenery creating a beautifully peaceful scene.
Shortly thereafter the pathway branched off towards the “lagoon” (as it was known to the early settlers) and I soon came across my first sighting – not a bird for a change but a Wallaby – who eyed me from a distance, cocked its ear then turned slowly and went bounding off through the long grass.
This was followed by close-up sightings of two small birds of the bush that I have become very familiar with in Australia – Superb Fairy-Wren and Grey Fantail, both emitting cheerful calls to liven up the forest.
As I approached the first stretches of water it was obvious that water levels were very different from those in 2019 when I had last walked these routes, to the point that the pathway was close to being inundated in places.
I could see waterfowl ahead, breaking from their waterside cover and heading out into the middle of the lagoon, looking back to eye me warily as I hastened to get a photo or two before they became too distant.
A short detour in the pathway led to the “Lookout” – a low hill with views over the lagoon and across to the opposite bank which was lined with trees. From this vantage point I could see a variety of birds perched in partially submerged trees, including Little Black Cormorants and Yellow-billed and Royal Spoonbills, the latter being a Lifer – my first for the morning.
Nearby an Australian Darter was perched with wings spread, drying its feathers before its next fishing dive, and higher up in the tree above a Whistling Kite was partially concealed – I later discovered it was attending a nest with a young nestling.
I joined the main pathway again, alternating between natural track and boardwalks across the wetland sections, the latter providing a good vantage point for close views of White-faced Herons and Black Swans before reaching a stretch of track surrounded by water.
A bench standing in water was a further indication that the water levels of the wetlands were substantially higher than May 2019 when I had last visited the Common and I didn’t need further persuasion to make this my turnaround point, having walked enough and seen enough for the morning.
Time was moving on and the car would soon be needed for the school run so I headed back along the pathway, without rushing but with fewer meandering dawdles. Nevertheless, I spotted two ducks which I didn’t immediately recognise – with good reason as both turned out to be Lifers!
One was a Musk Duck with an unusual bill that reminded me of a Pygmy Goose, the other was a Grey Teal that looked remarkably like the Cape Teals we are used to in SA.
Thrilled with my haul of three lifers for the morning and the absolute pleasure of walking in such an inspiring environment (which I virtually had to myself as well) I hastened to the parking area and found I was just in time to head straight to the schools to collect our grandson and granddaughter.
Parts 1 and 2 described some of the more common “black and white” and “vividly coloured” species, which make up a large proportion of the birds that are found in the area of Victoria where our son has settled.
In this Part three I will be showing some of the other common birds to be found, the ones that don’t fall into one of those categories but which are likely to attract your attention because of their uniqueness or simply because they are plentiful or easily seen.
And to start off, let’s take a look at one of Australia’s most iconic birds and also one of my favourites –
Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae
The Kookaburra has adapted well to urban environments, particularly those with areas of large eucalypts and if you think it looks a lot like a kingfisher, you would be spot on – it is in fact the largest member of the kingfisher family, outsizing even the Giant Kingfisher from Africa, but its “fishing” exploits are confined to dry land with its diet including insects, small mammals and even other birds.
The name is a loan-word from the Wiradjuri people who called it a guuguubarra which in turn is an onomatopeic version of the sound of its call. The call is loud and distinctive, ringing through the trees and sounding rather maniacal – listen to the calls at this link :
For interest, I looked into the scientific name of the Kookaburra – Dacelo novaeguineae – and learnt a couple of totally useless facts, nevertheless fascinating if you are into that sort of thing.
Firstly Dacelo is an anagram of Alcedo, the latin word for kingfisher – which was the genus name originally given to the species. As an aside the genus name of two South African species of kingfisher is Alcedo, while 5 of the other 8 South African kingfishers fall under the genus Halcyon
As to the species name novaeguineae, the laughing kookaburra was first described and illustrated by French naturalist and explorer Pierre Sonnerat in his Voyage à la nouvelle Guinée, which was published in 1776. He claimed to have seen the bird in New Guinea. In fact Sonnerat never visited New Guinea and the laughing kookaburra does not occur there. He probably obtained a preserved specimen from one of the naturalists who accompanied Captain James Cook to the east coast of Australia
Well, I warned you that it’s useless (yet fascinating) information! Just shows that scientists are a quirky bunch at times.
Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala
Like the Laughing Kookaburra, the Noisy Miner is found mostly in the eastern parts of Australia and, like so many species of this vast country, it is an endemic. The first thing that strikes you about this bird is its somewhat cross-eyed appearance – mainly due to the yellow coloured bare patch of skin behind the eyes
And the name? Well I did try and find the origin of Miner but could not come up with anything other than a suggestion that it is another form of Mynah, which we know all too well in South Africa. There is a resemblance so let’s assume that is the case. As for the Noisy part of its name, it is just that – a noisy bird that lives in loose colonies and vigorously defends its feeding area.
Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata
It’s named for the red wattles just below its cheeks, not visible in my photo so you’ll have to use your imagination. A member of the extensive honeyeater family of birds, this is one of the largest and possibly noisiest as well, using its harsh, grating cough or bark to announce its presence in the neighbourhood. It’s the avian equivalent of that aggressive hell’s angel type who roars through the suburbs creating a cacophany of sound.
Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus
I was amazed during our first visit to Australia some 3 years ago and again during our recent visit, to find this Swamphen in places you would least expect, particularly if you are accustomed to birding in southern Africa. Where we are used to swamphens being shy and retiring, seeking refuge among reeds at every opportunity, the Australian version, which is very similar in appearance, can pop up just about anywhere and is hardly fazed by humans. This one approached to within a couple of metres of our picnic table next to the lake where we were enjoying a take-away lunch.
Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles
As Lapwings go, this is a particularly handsome one, often seen on larger lawns and in fields, feeding in its slow, deliberate fashion across most of Australia. This species used to be called the Spurwinged Plover as, like many lapwings, the wings are armed with spurs at the carpal joint that are used to defend their territory in breeding season.
Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus
Now I know what you’re thinking …. what’s so “superb” about this attractive but dull-looking bird? The answer is in two parts – the female lacks the bright colouring of the male, while the male, brightly coloured in the breeding season, loses the bright colouring in non-breeding plumage, other than its tail which remains blue.
Interestingly, they have a communal group breeding system where one pair in the group raise up to four broods in a season, while the rest of the group members look after the young.
This is one of the most common of the small birds that I have come across on my walks and in the garden and are found across the south-eastern parts of Australia.
New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae
Not the best photo, but this is s a bird that chooses to perch on the very top of tall trees, and with the sky often being overcast yet bright it presents a real challenge to get a reasonable image. Without any exposure adjustment the image is likely to be so dark as to be unrecognisable.
My approach is to adjust the exposure compensation on the camera by up to +2 full stops – in this case it was +1.3 stops which I found wasn’t enough, so I added a further +0.4 stops while editing. Apologies if this is getting too technical, but this is one of the simplest ways of improving your photos, as I have found that almost every situation calls for some exposure compensation – plus or minus – and all modern cameras have this function available.
As to the bird itself, this is one of the huge family of Honeyeaters that are major pollinators of many of Australia’s unique native plants, feeding on the honey-flora flowers and in the process pollen is deposited on their head and transferred to the next plants they visit. They are common in south-west and south-east Australia and often come into the garden.
Other Flying Things
And now for something else that’s aerial ……. – is it a bird, is it a plane? ….. no it’s Superm….. sorry it IS a plane! That red colouring had me thinking for a moment it was my favourite superhero with his famous red cape! Oh well…..
Actually this is one of the six Pilatus C-21 aircraft that make up the Roulettes aerobatic team – they perform at air shows across the country and seem to spend a large part of the day practising over Sale as there is almost always one of them buzzing around overhead
The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams
I started my previous post by saying that the casual, non-birder observer could easily come to the conclusion that Australia’s birds fall into three basic groups –
black and white or shades in between
vividly coloured birds
a variety of smaller, often nondescript birds
The author of The Complete Guide to Australian Birds, George Adams, has this to say in his introduction –
Australia is one of the world’s ten mega-diverse countries and is fortunate to have a rich diversity of birds and an unusually high number of endemic species found across its many, equally diverse and beautiful landscapes. The jabbering of parrots, the laughter of Kookaburras, the song of the Magpie or the trilling warble of Fairy-wrens all bestow a real sense of ‘place’ that is uniquely Australian.
Part 1 described some of the more common “black and white” species, which make up a large proportion of the birds that are found in the area of Victoria where our son has settled. In this Part 2 I will be showing some of the other common birds to be found, in particular ….
The Vividly Coloured Birds
Australia is probably best known for its variety of brightly coloured birds, and rightly so! They seem to occur just about everywhere, especially where their favoured habitat occurs – mostly forests of various kinds, but also anywhere else with trees such as gardens, farmlands, woodlands and the like.
Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans
Corellas are small, ground-feeding cockatoos but are not averse to foraging in eucalypts for insects, seeds, fruit, nectar and larvae.
This endemic species has several colour forms across its range, which includes eastern and south-eastern Australia. Mostly crimson with blue patches on the cheeks as well as some of the wing and tail feathers, it stands out wherever you find it – in the image below it was scratching amongst a thick layer of fallen leaves and had found an acorn or seed of some kind.
The immature version shows little crimson, which is replaced by dull green, making it far more difficult to spot
Australian King Parrot Alisterus scapularis
The only endemic parrot with a red head, this is another standout species – the image shows a female with its somewhat duller colouring, with the red limited to the belly, nevertheless unmistakeable. I had seen King Parrots during our previous visit in 2019, but was not able to photograph one, so this opportunity was not to be missed when it posed briefly on a fence before flying off with the rest of its small group.
Habitat is forests, parks and gardens and its feeding preference is the outer foliage of trees where it looks for fruit, nuts, nectar and blossoms. They are found in eastern Australia.
Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus
Surely one of the most colourful birds you’ll see anywhere, they are easily spotted as they fly around the neighbourhood in small flocks, screeching as they go, then chattering while feeding in the trees. Lorikeets are arboreal feeders that have brush-like tongues for extracting nectar from flowering eucalypts. Favoured habitats are forests, parks and gardens.
Galah Eolophus roseicapilla
More sedately coloured than those above, the Galah makes up for any lack of bright colouring by gathering in flocks, sometimes large ones as will be seen in some of the images below. The Galah occurs across Australia and is usually a ground feeder, taking seeds, herbs and roots or spilt grain and cereal crops.
Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius
This is another species that eluded my attempts to photograph it during our previous visit, so I was particularly pleased to get some decent images during an outing to Raymond Island (more about that outing in a future post). It is confined to the south-eastern parts of Australia where it is regarded as common.
As vividly coloured as the Rainbow Lorikeet above, the white throat and bill of the Eastern Rosella stand out against the bright colours of the rest of the bird. Preferred habitat is open eucalypt woodlands (where I found this one), grasslands, parks, gardens and farmland. A ground feeder of grass and fallen seeds, it is surprisingly well camouflaged when among foliage.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita
Perhaps I’m pushing my luck including this all white bird under the general description of vividly coloured birds, however it is a spectacular bird that makes its presence known in no uncertain manner with a harsh raucous screech that comes straight out of a horror movie. They move about in small flocks, inhabiting forests, woodland, cultivated lands, parks and gardens and feed mostly on the ground on grass seeds, herbs, berries and fruit.
South Africans of a certain “vintage” will remember this bird well as it featured in adverts for NBS building society
So what’s left? Having covered the “black and white” birds in Part 1 and the “Vividly coloured” birds in this Part 2, there are still a number of other birds to mention under the heading of “the others” – watch this space…
Reference : The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams
The casual, non-birder observer could easily come to the conclusion that Australia’s birds fall into three basic groups –
A majority that are various combinations of black and white or shades in between and can be found hanging about just about anywhere – in trees, on lampposts, in the garden, in town, at the sea – you get the picture
A lot that are vividly coloured birds, that in any other country would most likely be sitting in a cage in someone’s kitchen saying “hello – polly wants a cracker” or suchlike
The rest – a variety of smaller, often nondescript birds that don’t seem to seek the limelight as much as the above two groups and take some effort to find as they skulk in the bushes and trees
That’s a gross simplification of course, so to put it into some perspective, this is what the author of The Complete Guide to Australian Birds, George Adams, has to say in his introduction –
Australia is one of the world’s ten mega-diverse countries and is fortunate to have a rich diversity of birds and an unusually high number of endemic species found across its many, equally diverse and beautiful landscapes. The jabbering of parrots, the laughter of Kookaburras, the song of the Magpie or the trilling warble of Fairy-wrens all bestow a real sense of ‘place’ that is uniquely Australian.
Having just returned from our second visit to Australia (the first was in pre-pandemic 2019) I can associate with his description of the birding experience that this fine country has to offer.
The only problem is, with Australia being such a vast country, and considering that our two visits to date have been restricted to a relatively small part of one state – Victoria, in the south-east corner of Australia – means we have hardly touched on that rich diversity.
The majority of this massive continent and its birdlife therefore remains a mystery for the time being, with my only knowledge of it gleaned from the abovementioned guide.
However, having spent a total of some two and a half months during the two visits we have made to Sale, Victoria where our son and family have settled, there has been ample time to observe the neighbourhood birds and those in other places we visited, in the process getting to know some of the common birds quite well.
Which brings me back to those three basic groups, starting with …..
Black and white – and shades in between
Starting with the “all-blacks”, one of the most obvious and widespread is the Australian RavenCorvus coronoides, loudly pronouncing its presence with its “aark” call and often seen from a distance gliding across the landscape
The Common BlackbirdTurdus merula, a much smaller species of thrush size and common in the UK and Europe, favours gardens – the female is a mottled brownish colour
Largest of all, the Black SwanCygnus atratus, (yes, even the swans are black in Australia) which looks all black when swimming but shows white flight feathers when flying
The “black-and-whites” make up a large proportion of the birds seen generally, with the Australian MagpieCracticus tibicen leading the way (by a couple of furlongs) – it is just everywhere and the family in Aus were quick to mention how aggressive it can be especially during breeding times. I was quite intimidated by one during our road trip along the Great Alpine Road (more about that in a future post) when I found one perched on our rental car’s mirror one morning, giving me a glaring look of “Who’s car is this anyway?”
They do have a very different song, curiously tuneful and sounding like it’s being produced by some sort of electronic instrument.
One of my favourites is the Magpie-larkGrallina cyanoluca, a glossy black-and-white medium sized bird which spends most of the time foraging on the ground, often in gardens. Also known as the “Peewee”, presumably based on its liquid call, it is neither Magpie or Lark but is related to Flycatchers, which it shows by its buoyant fluttering flight when chasing insect prey
Another favourite is the Pied CurrawongStrepera graculina, which looks like a slightly smaller edition of the Magpie, although it has less obvious white colouring confined to a white band on the wings and a white-tipped tail. The voice is a distinctive, ringing “cur-ra-wong” which is why it carries the unusual name
Also in this category are the two common Ibises, both of which are combinations of black and white and both occur in flocks of anything from a handful to a hundred or more. One morning I counted over 20 on the lawn of our son’s house, enjoying a temporary “wetland” caused by recent heavy rains.
Firstly, the one that has the impressive name of Australian White IbisTheskiornis molucca, but is colloquially known as the “Bin Chicken” due to its habit of scavenging from rubbish bins in the cities. They make a grand sight at dusk when they fly in numbers in V-formation on their way to roost for the night.
The second Ibis has the interesting name Straw-necked Ibis Theskiornis spinicollis, but the reason for this name is not immediately obvious until you zoom in on the photos taken and notice that, indeed, the neck does have a straw-like appearance
A bird which I had only a glimpse of during our 2019 visit but which afforded me some cracking views this time around is the Grey ButcherbirdCracticus torquatus. “Honey, I shrunk the magpie” comes to mind as it has all the features of the larger Magpie, scaled down to about half the size. In fact the Magpie and Butcherbirds belong to the same genus so the similarity is easy to understand. The Butcherbird name derives from its habit of impaling prey for later consumption, much like we see in South Africa with the Fiscals (which are also referred to as butcherbirds)
That covers the black and white birds that are most often seen – excluding the smaller birds and water birds which I will introduce in further posts. That leaves the “vividly coloured birds” and “the rest” for a follow up introductory post on my Australian birding experience
With the new year in its infancy, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2019. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively.
If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!
The highlight of our travels during the past year was without doubt our trip to Australia to visit our son and family and to do a bit of touring through the State of Victoria. Other than that we did not venture far afield but managed to tame our travel itch with several local trips and extended visits to our second home town of Mossel Bay in the Southern Cape.
The year started and ended in our second home town of Mossel Bay. Walks along the seafront boardwalk are always a highlight with scenes like this to enrich the soul
The Wilge River Valley, about an hour’s drive from Pretoria, is a popular birding spot amongst Gautengers and delivers many species in summer as well as attractive landscapes
The Vlakfontein grasslands north-east of Pretoria are a favourite atlasing area for me – away from the hectic traffic of Gauteng
The Delmas area south-east of Pretoria is another favourite atlasing area, however traffic is a challenge – this early morning shot was taken in winter when the skies are a lot smokier – good for dense colour but nothing else
The road to Cape Otway Lighthouse in Victoria, Australia – we did not realise just how much forest Australia has – well the bit of Victoria that we saw anyway
The very popular tourist spot called the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne, Australia certainly lived up to its reputation as a “must see and photograph” – quite a dramatic scene created by weathered columns of rock
The beautiful beach at Cowes, Philip Island, just south of Melbourne
A special rainbow while walking in Sale, Victoria Australia
The early morning train approaches in mist to take us from Sale to Melbourne
The Klein Karoo is another favourite atlasing area despite low bird numbers – it has a special attraction of its own. This photo was taken south of Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
With visits to Kruger National Park and Karoo National Park, as well as our time in Australia, we enjoyed some usual and unusual wildlife sightings
The Other Stuff
I love to photograph just about anything that moves, within nature and outside it occasionally. Here’s a few examples
And just for fun, a non-moving subject …..
I have not included any of the many bird photos that I took during the year – they will be included in a separate “My Birding Year 2019” post
Continuing our road trip through Victoria, we had spent the night in Sassafras in the Mount Dandenong area outside Melbourne and the following morning, after continental breakfast in our room, we set off to Apollo Bay, a distance of about 250 kms from our overnight stop. Ordinarily, this distance would be a comfortable half-day drive for us, but in this instance it meant finding our way through Melbourne’s inner city suburbs, then taking the M1 highway around the south of the city and further eastwards. I had to avoid the more direct tolled highways which required an electronic tag or special account, neither of which were available to us
Closer to our destination we turned off the highway and found ourselves on narrow country roads with pleasing scenery, whereafter the road became seriously twisty as it wound its way through forested hills, so much so that the constant turning had me feeling somewhat light-headed. Thankfully, we eventually crested the last hill and saw the sea far below and we were soon enjoying the last stretch of the trip along rugged coastline up to Apollo Bay. 250 kms has never felt so long!
I stopped at the first opportunity to stretch and take in the coastal views, which included the first of many surfers we were to see on the Great Ocean Road and a pair of Maned Ducks at a small pond in the sand
After checking in to our comfortable accommodation at the Stay Inn, we followed the advice of the B&B owner and enjoyed a memorable dinner that evening of freshly grilled salmon, chips and coleslaw at the Fishermen’s Co-op at the small harbour. Seating was at a “rough and ready” table outside in less than comfortable weather but the superb food made us forget everything else.
We got chatting to the guys at the next table – just another example of how friendly we found the majority of Aussies to be – one was from Melbourne, the other his cousin visiting from Israel and they demolished 3 platters of seafood between them while our jaws dropped at the sight of whole crayfish being so casually eaten.
Next morning we awoke to cold, overcast weather which brought squalls of rain at regular intervals. We took our time enjoying the continental breakfast provided in the room, hoping the weather would improve. Our room overlooked the front garden which provided a lively source of entertainment as numerous birds visited the bird-friendly plants.
New Holland Honeyeaters, which I had come across in Sale, were true to their name and reveled in the nectar-producing plants while Eurasian Tree Sparrows searched the grass and pathways for seed.
I was fascinated by the cutely named Willie Wagtail which popped up briefly, a perky bird elegantly coloured black and white and with a broad tail that he wagged vigorously, but from side to side rather than the up and down of other wagtails.
After breakfast, with the rain letting up, we drove through the village – I soon spotted a sign pointing the way to “Scenic Route” and headed along the indicated road into attractive countryside with green fields, plenty of picturesque cattle and the odd river – all adding up to a totally idyllic scene – whoever had decided to call it a scenic route knew what they were about (in fact that’s something we noticed frequently – Aussies do seem to know what they’re doing)
Apart from the many Cattle Egrets amongst the cattle, there were Maned Ducks at the river and a lifer in the form of a Grey Shrikethrush sat briefly on the fence – too briefly for a kodak moment. There was also a Little Pied Cormorant perched on a tree stump in the river
It happened to be our wedding anniversary and the rest of the day was taken up with a drive to the famous Twelve Apostles, which did not turn out quite as we had imagined – but that’s another story……..
I mentioned the Sale canal in an earlier post and that it links the Port of Sale, now a small boat harbour, to the Thomson River and beyond to the Gippsland Lakes. The Port, the canal and the Swing Bridge were all part of the solution to the challenge of transporting resources out of and bringing supplies in to the area during the late 1800’s when gold was discovered in the area and fine cheese was being made and exported to Europe
There is a twice daily cruise of around two hours by boat down the canal and the Thomson River to the Old Swing Bridge and back and we had waited for some warmer, less windy weather to join the afternoon cruise. The last day of April, a Tuesday, turned out to be such a day and we reported at the dock at 1.45pm where we met Alan, the Captain and owner of the Rubeena, paid the requisite amount and stepped on board the historical boat.
A guard of honour was waiting for us and the navy band struck up as we boarded ………….. actually I made that bit up but that was what it felt like, despite the boat being quite small.
The Rubeena was built in Sydney and was originally licensed on 4 April 1912 (that’s just 11 days before the Titanic sank) and spent most of her working life on the Gippsland Lakes. She has been carefully restored and takes up to 40 passengers, but on our trip there were just 6 others apart from Gerda and myself so we had plenty of room to move about.
The electric motor is a bonus as it makes the cruise a quiet, gentle experience, especially when the weather is as perfect as it was, with a mild breeze hardly stirring the smooth surface of the river as we set off.
Alan was an excellent captain and guide, giving a running commentary on the features we passed and the significance of the canal, particularly how it served the Sale area during the pioneer years. The canal was dug by horse and scoop and was completed by 1890
We were fascinated by the “canoe” trees – old gum trees with visible indentations where the original inhabitants of the area had harvested timber for canoe-building without destroying the tree. According to Alan, some of these trees were 350 to 400 years old and still standing on the banks of the river.
At certain spots he also pointed out the sections of the original river course that were diverted and “straightened” to make it more shipping-friendly
Our turnaround point was reached after just more than an hour of gentle puttering – the Old Swing Bridge, which we were able to study in detail as we passed slowly beneath it, then turned around and retraced our route back.
The bridge is a remarkable example of 19th century engineering with its intricate mechanics which swing it open 180 degrees to allow taller vessels to pass by on either side. It is the oldest intact, operational bridge of its kind in Australia.
I had mentioned my interest in birding to Alan and he kindly made a point of identifying the birds that we spotted along the river, most of which I had already got to know, but happily there were two new birds to add to my growing Australia list –
Nankeen Night-heron – as the name suggests, these birds are mostly nocturnal but Alan knew where they roosted during the day and pointed them out high up in a tree, warily watching us from behind a veil of feathers, much like a mysterious eastern dancer may do
Azure Kingfisher – I spotted it first some way upriver whereupon it flew past the boat, landing briefly right next to us before flying further – unfortunately too quick for me to photograph it
(The photo is taken from The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams)
Other birds that we encountered along the way were –
Australian White Ibis
Pacific Black Duck – see the featured image at the top of the post
Two hours had passed and we were sorry it had ended – a really pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon
We had been in Sale, Victoria for about 10 days and we were getting into the swing of suburban life in this charming Australian town. Sale presents a number of opportunities for pleasant walks, with two lakes and a nature conservation area nearby, and the weather at this time of year is often ideal – not too hot, sometimes chilly, but not so that it puts you off getting out an about.
Just after arriving in Sale I joined the family for a short walk through Sale Common Nature Conservation Reserve, which was just enough to whet my appetite for a longer birding-orientated walk on my own. One cold and windy weekday afternoon, with the family otherwise occupied with work, school and household activities, I chose to do so and drove the couple of kms to the parking area where I began my walk.
Somehow I had managed to leave my binos at home but fortunately had my new Sony “bridge” camera with me and decided to rely on my eyesight with backup from the telephoto camera lens to help ID the distant birds. The camera was a pre-trip purchase to avoid having to carry my heavy Nikon DSLR with its equally heavy lens halfway round the world – the Sony is about a third of the weight and a remarkably good substitute, so I have had no regrets so far, although the bank balance took a knock in the process as it is one of the more expensive bridge cameras.
Sale Common was proclaimed in 1863 and was used for farming for 101 years before being declared a nature conservation reserve. It consists of freshwater marshes, red gum woodland and introduced grasslands. The wetland is listed as a RAMSAR site and has a network of tracks and boardwalks leading through the varying habitat which provide a wonderful environment for birds and small animals.
I proceeded along the trail, stopping briefly to chat to a similar-aged gent eating his sandwich at a picnic table with his old-fashioned black bicycle leaning against a nearby tree – he pointed the way and wished me good spotting as I carried on. The trail proper started as a track through Eucalypt forest with the tall, sturdy trees forming a high tunnel overhead, the foliage attractively coloured in autumnal shades.
So far I had found the forests to be devoid of obvious bird life other than the Laughing Kookaburras which favour this environment and make themselves heard with their loud cackling calls, but they do make for a very attractive walking environment.
Signage advised that the boardwalk over the wetlands was closed for repairs and in any case the wetlands were dry after the recent drought in the area, so I stuck to the sandy track. Soon I reached the first visible stretch of the river, called the Flooding Creek at this point, and checked the waters for water birds but saw none. However movement at the water’s edge caught my eye and I approached carefully to see what they might be.
A few photos later of the tiny birds with long tails held erect clinched their ID as Superb Fairywrens, a nice lifer and a lovely spot to find them.
The trail continued along the river with raised boardwalks where it crossed a part of the wetland.
Rounding a bend, the river was once again visible ahead and several larger birds in the shallows made me approach cautiously, using the trees as a partial screen where possible. The slender, graceful form of a Great Egret on the near side was a familiar sight, looking identical to the SA version of this large all-white egret. The Australian bird book I use has it as Eastern Great Egret and some taxonomists consider it to be a subspecies but there were no features that I could pick up to differentiate it from the Southern African bird.
On the far side of the river four Yellow-billed Spoonbills were sweeping the shallow water from side to side with their spatulate bills – the smallest creature – fish, crustacean or insect – touching the inside of the broad tip triggers it to close instantly.
I watched them for a while then, looking up, a couple of soaring raptors caught my eye and I guessed they could be Whistling Kites, having seen one over the wetlands a few days earlier. Fortunately I spotted one that had landed high up in a tree, making it a far easier photo ID target than trying to shoot against the bright, grey sky and was able to confirm my initial ID of Whistling Kite.
The river held plenty of Ducks including Chestnut Teals in large numbers and some Pacific Black Ducks.
Maned Ducks (aka Australian Wood Duck, depending on which book you use) were almost as numerous but on the grassy banks. I have yet to see this latter duck actually in the water so they obviously don’t seem to understand the adage “takes to the water like a duck” for some reason.
I had walked a good distance along the track and decided to turn around, with the light starting to fade, as it does from around 4.30 pm in the autumn in these parts. As I did I came across Little Black Cormorants and a Great Cormorant on dry tree stumps in the river.
Something moved in the middle of the river and as I focused my camera on the ripples a fish leaped out and I instinctively pressed the shutter button, capturing it in mid leap – a really lucky shot! I’m not a fish expert but took this to be a trout
I did not see anything new on the way back but at the bridge I stopped to view the Masked Lapwings at the water’s edge, accompanied by more Maned Ducks.
Just before reaching the car park a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos descended on the trees, very noisily, probably getting ready to roost for the evening. South Africans of a certain era will remember the NBS adverts which featured this unmistakable bird – seeing it in numbers in the wild is a somewhat bizarre birding experience!
Here and there a plaque provided more info on the history of the area
All in all a thoroughly entertaining and interesting afternoon spent in a safe environment
I love walking and have always found that it is by far the best way to explore a new town or city – you may not get to see everything they tell you about in the guide books but it lets you get closer to the soul of a place, discovering little gems as you go, watching people going about their business, seeing all the many ordinary things that make a town what it is.
So when Gerda and Liesl went shopping one afternoon. I took the opportunity to tag along, but only as far as the main shopping street where I left them and started my random walk.
The main shopping street is called Raymond Street and is lined with a variety of “small town” shops along both sides with the road reduced to a minimum size to allow maximum pedestrian space and room for parking and landscaping.
I started by walking up to an intersection where a tall brick clock tower stands – there I found a second-hand book store to browse in and came away half an hour later with a very readable novel for $8 (R80). From there I meandered around the block past the shopping centre and came upon my first surprise – an old Railway Signal Box building, looking spick-and-span but rather forlorn and out of place across the road from the shopping centre parking area.
I later found it was erected in 1888 on the site of the original Railway Station, which was demolished in 1983 to make way for the shopping centre. The Signal Box, railway gates and 2 signals were left as a reminder.
Wandering further, I passed the Catholic School with its neat brick buildings and came to the busy main road through Sale, which I crossed. On the other side, signage pointing to “Port of Sale” piqued my curiosity – carrying the name “Port” implies being located at the sea or at least on a major waterway, neither of which apply to Sale, so what was this about?
I had read about the Sale Canal but hadn’t absorbed the details – later I read up more on the subject and found that the pioneers of the area, seeing the advantage of access to the Gippsland Lakes, cut the 2,5 km long canal which links the town to the Thomson River and beyond to the Gippsland Lakes, establishing Sale as a busy port for steamers plying the 400 square kms of the lakes system.
Now it’s a dock for pleasure boats and the precinct has been developed into an attractive spot for picnics and leisure activities. I wasn’t planning to bird so had left my binos at home, but sight of some waterbirds on the water had me using my backup plan – the telephoto lens on my camera which brought them digitally closer for ID purposes – Australasian Grebe as it turned out.
Next, I was drawn to the new-looking Port of Sale civic centre, got several pamphlets from the Visitor Centre and did a quick tour of the Art Gallery, before heading back towards the town centre.
On the way I passed a few older buildings – the Court House, Victory Hall and some charming houses that have been beautifully maintained with their Victorian style architecture.
Seeing Sale’s Cinema took me back to Saturday mornings at the Scala cinema in Cape Town back in the ….. oops almost gave my age away. Anyway, it was quite a long time ago.
By now it was close to 2 hours since I had left the girls and I met them for coffee at the Centre Bakery, housed in a tiny old church in Cunningham Street, concluding a lovely walk through this most civilised town