Bird Land

Sometimes I feel the soft wingtip of a King Parrot brush my shoulder as it flies by. At other times it’s a rush of air on the cheek as the bird announces its presence with a close fly by; an air kiss. It could happen when I’m in the garden or a paddock; an invitation to come back to the house. We whistle to each other at other times. In the morning, the King Parrots call to attract attention. If I don’t respond, the friendliest ones sit on the kitchen window ledges, staring inside in order to make eye contact, imploring attention. Is communicating with birds a sign of madness? If so, it’s been a long delusional spell for me, one that began in childhood when I called up grey thrushes in the bush. Slowly, they would come closer and closer, calling and responding, wondering why that alluring potential mate was not to be seen.

Here are photos of some regular garden visitors.

A male King Parrot. Perhaps the eyes are the window to a bird’s soul.

Cockatoos outlive humans. When tamed, they have great talking skills.

Cockatoos cleverly use their weight to press down on the nets so that they can sample the fruit.
A corella
A corella
Rainbow lorikeets
Kookaburras signal the dawn and twilight with laughter

Smaller birds tend to be elusive.

A male Superb Fairy-wren. The clothes peg behind gives an indication of size.

 

A male Superb Fairy-wren
An unhappy Eastern Spinebill about to be released from a net

The gentle King Parrots are usually moved aside by other birds wanting to sample seeds. The lurid Rainbow Lorikeets make up for their smaller size with aggression; Sulphur Crested Cockatoos even more so, usually displacing all other birds with their swooping and threatening strutting. I was amazed to see this rare sight of a cockatoo sharing with a couple of King Parrots.

Togetherness

When returning from an overseas trip, the first morning back home is a delight of birdsong, a symphony of contrasting sounds from melodious to jarring. Fortunately most is the former. Recognising the different calls is one of the privileges of life in the bush.

The presence of birds mean that many fruit and vegetable crops must be protected. Fruit trees have to netted or else the fruit is devoured, an interesting contrast to Europe.

Galahs jealously watching Rainbow Lorikeets

Galahs have a reputation for drunken and stupid behaviour, which has generated local Australian expressions such as, “You silly galah’, ‘he’s a galah’.

Wood ducks. Occasionally they decide to abandon the dam for the swimming pool

Another regular visitor, the wedge-tailed eagle is described here.

 

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Bergerac Reflections

Bergerac was once important in the Dordogne River boat trade. Now, as a medium sized town of about 30,000 people in south west France, a day visit easily allows enjoying the market (Saturdays and Wednesdays), an exploration of the medieval centre and port, securing a table for lunch, and a walk along the river.

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A bridge over the Dordogne River in Bergerac.

There are many lunch choices.

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The market is a meeting place.

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Outback South Australia

A visit to the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia is one of my favourite camping trips; an opportunity to enjoy the solitude of Australia’s haunting and ageless landscape, distinct flora and fauna, bushwalks, ancient rock art and more. One visit is not enough, as the Ranges cover a vast area, stretching over 400 kilometres.

On the way from home near Melbourne, I stay at campsites on the banks of the Murray River, at quaint and quiet country towns, or in some of South Australia’s prime wine regions like the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley. Tasting wines before camping in the desert has a certain piquancy.

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The tranquility of the Murray River is occasionally broken by a flotilla of pelicans gliding  by the campsite, or a passing houseboat.

Lyrup

Burra is an appealing South Australian country town close to the Ranges. Typically, it has grand buildings, a characterful pub, and fine streetscapes, a testament to a more prosperous past; in its case, copper mining.

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The Burra Hotel

Another classic country pub at Peterborough.

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Bush camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. The billy is boiling on the open fire while the solar panel charges the battery to power the portable refrigerator and lights.

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Emus wander through the camp, at home in an arid environment.

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Red gums line the creek beds waiting for infrequent rains to flood the watercourse.

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A walk or a drive provides these views.

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Ruined stone houses are common around the Flinders Ranges. European settlers established farms in the nineteenth century and misunderstood the Outback climate, believing that a good season or two was typical. Ultimately,  the usual drought-like weather conditions prevailed and within a generation, most small settlers were ruined. A tragedy for them, but worse for the Aboriginal people who were displaced by the settlers, after living in the area for tens of thousands of years.

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Way out West, the Golden West: Wimmera Silos

Four or five hours drive west of Melbourne, on the margins where wheat country merges into desert, many small towns that once flourished teeter on the edge of survival.

Wheat silos are the dominant human sign of continuity in the landscape. Their transformation into works of art may enhance their longevity. I wonder whether Michelangelo might have flourished in this environment.

Brim grain silos

 

This is my contribution to

A-Z Guidebook Badge

this month beginning with the letter ‘W’.

I have written a little more about the Wimmera here.

 

 

Wimmera Wanderings

In the north west of Australia’s state of Victoria, the Wimmera region ranges from highly productive sheep and grain growing farmland to desert. It is on the edge.  Horizons seem endless, solitude is close.

Mechanisation of farming over the last century has displaced the large rural workforce that was once essential for agriculture. Then, teams worked on the  wheat harvest and bagged the grain in hessian bags capable of being handled by one person. Now a huge truck with a lone driver carts away many tonnes at a time for delivery to the silo. Machines, not people, now dominate. Currently pressed bales of straw and grass are so large and heavy (at around 600 kilograms) that they can no longer be moved by hand, as was formerly the case, but require a powerful tractor with forks.

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[This image of traditional wheat harvesting has been reproduced with the kind permission of the State Library of Victoria]

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Large bales of wheat straw, baled after the grain has been harvested. Near Beulah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grain silos are numerous and the largest constructed form in the area, dwarfing the frequently ornate local pubs, commercial buildings, and austere churches. A few silos have been painted, with others on the way. There is already a designated driving circuit to enjoy this art form. Guido van Helten painted the Brim silos, surely a masterpiece:

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Grain silos in Brim
Grain silos in Brim

Brim silos

Small towns in the Wimmera are generally in sharp decline as people drift to larger towns for shopping, housing, amenities and work. Those small towns slumber amongst closed shops and businesses, with houses increasingly unoccupied and neglected. In a country with some of the world’s highest house prices and rental costs, as well as homelessness, it’s a pity that this housing is going to waste.

The main street in Beulah:

Beulah

Another stark reminder of the depopulation of many small Wimmera towns is the war memorial listing residents killed in the two World Wars. A town that may struggle to sustain a small store and a hotel amongst its streets of closed shops usually has a memorial listing a shocking number of the district’s young men who died in Europe and Turkey in the 1914-18 World War. Hopetoun, with a population of 555 in 2011, lists 91 or 92. The Rainbow War Memorial (pictured below) lists 41 names under the heading ‘They sleep well’. The town’s population in 2011 was 525.

War memorial in Rainbow

Jeparit’s silos:

Jeparit - silos and garage

As a contrast to the rather forlorn sight of numerous empty shops, most small towns have well maintained sporting infrastructure; tennis courts, a swimming pool, a football and cricket oval (which sometimes doubles as a venue for the annual agricultural show), and sometimes, a lawn bowling club.

For wanderers, the region has camping grounds and pubs offering accommodation. Camping fees are moderate compared with the rates at more popular destinations; $10-$20 per night for a powered site is usual in the town’s caravan and camping park, generally located beside a river (Jeparit – the Wimmera River) or lake (Brim, Beulah and Hopetoun).

This year’s good rainfall has replenished the region’s watercourses and lakes, which were suffering from a long drought, and local spirits. A farmer of around 60 years old, chatting in Jeparit’s Hindmarsh Hotel, intimated that this year’s grain crop is the best he’s ever seen. By staying and mingling, perceptions alter. As a result of his recommendation we drove to Brim to see the painted silos, and also included Warracknabeal, Beulah, Hopetoun, Rainbow and Jeparit; a nice driving circuit.

The Wimmera River at Jeparit:

The Wimmera River at Jeparit

The Eagle Landed Today

The wedge-tailed eagle is Australia’s largest raptor, typically having a wingspan of 182 – 232 cm (6 feet to 7 feet 7 inches), and has been recorded diving at 80 kph (about 50 mph). In the wild, wedgies live for about 40 years.

In my area wedgies are regular visitors, usually seen majestically soaring in circles high in the sky, perhaps 2000 metres up, using thermals in seemingly effortless flight. At other times they seek prey just a few metres above the ground, sometimes even landing quite close to the house.

Although in the past farmers often had a negative attitude about wedgies, mistakenly believing that they were preying on lambs and calves when in fact they were just consuming dead animals, now they are seen in a positive light. In particular, their role in killing Australia’s feral pests – rabbits, cats and foxes – is now applauded.

To the local indigenous people (the Wurundjeri) the wedge-tailed eagle is Bungil, their creator and spiritual leader. Many country people of European background also see the wedgie in a special light. My friends who left their home just minutes before the 2009 Black Saturday bushfire raced into their valley and destroyed most houses in the area, killed neighbours and cut off the road as an escape route, feel that they were alerted to the danger by the continually circling wedgie over their house.

When we moved into our current home in 2009 after losing our previous house in the same fire, a wedgie also featured. On arising on my first morning in the new home, I was greeted by a wedgie perched on a fence in the paddock about 40 metres from the front door. It was quite relaxed and unconcerned, and became a regular visitor over the next month or so, sometimes gliding a few metres above our car like a welcoming plane as we returned from an outing.

Perhaps today’s wedgie is the same one. Thanks for your welcome, Bunjil.

 

A wedgie in flight

A wedgie in flight.

Tha tail shape is the source of the name. I'm glad I'm not a rabbit
The tail shape is the source of the name. I’m glad I’m not a rabbit.