This could have been titled Hyden – the return. Hyden is a small town in the middle of the Wheatbelt in Western Australia some 292Km east of Perth. Regular readers will remember that we’ve been before and maybe somewhat perplexed as to why we’d bother to visit again. Well Hyden’s claim to fame is Wave Rock which is a large granite rock face that has been eroded in the shape of a perfect breaking wave. More than 100,000 tourists make their way there very year. Most just stay about an hour before zooming off to another destination to get the perfect instagram shot without taking any time to see what else is there. A great shame really as there is so much more to offer. When I wrote about our previous visit I concentrated more on other sites and the Aboriginal heritage of the area. This time I’ll look at what Hyden has to offer in terms of the natural world.
We decided to make a three day trip and on our way we’d stop off in Corrigin whose main claim to fame is the being the holder of the world record for the number of dogs in a ute and being the home to a dog cemetery. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Corrigin is a bit obsessed with dogs. Anyway it was a nice spot to break the journey, stretch the legs, make the bladder gladder etc. Corrigin does have a pretty impressive wildflower drive which begins just opposite the dog cemetery just on the outskirts of town. Most people just pull up in their car, jump out and walk a couple of metres. They then declare that there’s nothing to see and rush off in a cloud of red dust. Just take your time and have a poke about and you’d be amazed at what you can find. Here are a few examples.
When we got to Hyden we drove out to the Wave Rock Resort on the shore of Magic Lake which is where we were staying. The lake is quite startling. It’s not very big but is comprised of crystal clear salt water with a gypsum base. That pale coloured lake bed combined with the water makes a giant reflector that takes on the colours of the sky so as the day progresses the lake changes colour. To add to it’s other worldly qualities is that it lies in the middle of a salt plain which is fairly uniform in colour and is covered in mainly scrubby bush and a smattering of trees. It all made me want to get the tripod and graduated neutral density filters out.
The next day we decided to combine the Wave Rock Walk Circuit with the Hippo’s Yawn Loop and the Breakers Trail to create a loop that would take us from the resort up to the Hippo’s Yawn then along the bottom of the rock out to the Breakers picnic area and then back to our accommodation at the resort. The best part of it was that we could take the dog as it is all very pet friendly. Along the way we hoped to see more orchids and birds as we passed through the salt plain and into the bush at the base of the rock.
When we got to the base of the rock the vegetation changed from the scrub of the salt plain to thick bush fed by the water run off from the rock. We both enjoyed pocking around in the undergrowth looking for flowers, taking photos of each other and trying to dissuade Frida, our dog, from trying to climb up the rock face in search of interesting holes. It was amazing to see so many orchids – the blue beards were like a carpet in places. It was absolutely wonderful to see.
All in all we had a great time. There is so much to see and do that we’re already talking about going again. If you are planning a trip to Wave Rock there is a whole lot more to it than posing for a selfie for Facebook on the rock.
Sometimes I think that have got to be easier ways to enjoy birding and bird photography than dragging 3.5Kg of camera and lens quietly through the bush and trying to get a picture of something that is literally so flighty that the slightest sound sees your subject leave at a tremendous rate of knots.
Case in point. Not so long ago Beloved Significant Other (BSO) went for a trip to Lake Leschenaultia in Chidlow. I spent an age crawling around in the bush looking for a cooperative subject. In that time every small twig that I inadvertently trod on sounded like a thunder clap that sent all the wildlife scurrying for cover in a 5Km radius.
Even if you manage to creep up on a suitable subject you then have the problem of photographing something that is 5-10cm and hoping and twitching around like a meth user suffering from St Vitus’ dance while you are trying to track it and keep it in focus as it darts in and out of the foliage. So I’ve come up with an easier method. The BBQ. If you have BBQ in Australia every animal in the neighbourhood will be trying to relieve you of your food. The little buggers will climb into your lap and pose for photos if food is involved.
The other day I’d been up on Mount Brown (which is a grand name for a moderately sized hill) looking for interesting birds to photograph. The conditions were great, but the birds uncooperative so I gave up and started driving home. At the bottom of the hill I caught out of the corner of my eye a nankeen kestrel hunting on an empty block. It swooped down into the long grass and quickly took off again obviously holding something. So I did something I’d never thought that I’d do. I’ve just been really getting into this bird photography malarkey and have been watching YouTube videos for tips. Mostly British videos, but the occasional American one. I’d noticed that quite a few of the American ones had the photographers driving around looking for birds and photographing then from the car. Well I started to follow this bird in the car. It didn’t go far. It landed on the power lines outside of Marwick’s Barn obviously to catch its breath. It obviously decided that the power lines was no place to deal with the kicking and struggling mouse so it moved to the top of a nearby power pole. So I pulled up on to the dirt shoulder and hanging out of the driver’s side window I photographed madly.
There were no niceties, the kestrel didn’t even both to dispatch its prey before eating – it just pulled the mouse apart. I continued snapping frantically. When everything was finished the kestrel noticed the sound of the camera and gave me a hard stare. Rumbled! With a look of disdain it flew off.
There are quite a number of them along the Avon River here in York. They migrate from Indonesia, New Guinea and northern Australia to avoid the cyclone season and come to breed during our summer. They nest in burrows which they dig and I discovered them quite by chance. While walking the dog I noticed these brightly coloured birds literally nose diving into the ground. At first I thought that the bird must have been hurt and went over to look for it, but I found nothing. Over the next few weeks I watched several others repeat the behaviour so looking carefully at the embankment I found several holes which turned out to be their burrows. So ever since I’ve been trying to photograph them.
So far I’ve only managed to photograph them when they perch. They feed on flying insects and their acrobatic manoeuvring while chasing their prey are beyond my photographic abilities. Luckily I’ve noticed that they tend to favour a particular tree de jour as a lookout and they repeatedly return between sorties so it has just been a case of walking along the river finding that day’s favoured tree and waiting.
Just before Christmas my wife and I decided to mount a mission early one morning to observe them bringing food to the chicks that have hatched. We must have been a strange sight for any passers-by – my wife in her camp chair with binoculars aimed at an earth bank and me loitering in the foliage under a tree with a camera and very long lens. We spent a couple of delightful hours watching and photographing before heading off for morning tea.
The other day we were down at Blackadder Lake in Vivash. We had gone to photograph Sacred Kingfishers, but the only glimpse we got of them was as we got out of the car. When we got to the lake we became entranced by the antics of a pair of juvenile pied stilts. They moved across the lake shallows in perfect synchronised formation, until the need for a tasty morsel became too much.
I was at Lake Leschenaultia and it was a lovely winter’s day, the sun was out I’d just finished a bush walk. I decided to have lunch at one of the picnic shelters by the lake when it happened. There was no warning. One minute I sitting there alone and happy the next minute these two ne’er-do-wells are demanding with menace. To make matters worse I had nothing to give and they just would not accept that. They were merciless in their onslaught. Would I recognise them again? You bet I would! Their visages are engraved indelibly upon my mind. But better than that I managed to get pictures of them so others could be warned. Here they are.
This was the ring leader. He was ruthlessly determined to relieve me of my lunch. He was brazen in his approach, like he just didn’t care.
This one was a sly beggar! He quietly got into my bag and ransacked it looking for goodies. When discovered he just countered with a manic laugh.It was like something out of that Hitchcock film The Birds albeit with less blood and more sandwiches.
So if you go to Lake Leschenaultia watch out for these two. They are merciless – no picnic is safe! Be warned, or as the Australian Federal Government would say “Be alert but not alarmed“.
I got a few enquiries about corellas after my post Tales From The Riverbank part 2. Yes the Shire has previously culled the birds in the run up to Australia Day, but this year they didn’t. The reasons given are that they are noisy – I mean really noisy. To show how noisy I made a short film about them.
There’s no denying that summer and autumn here in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia is hot. The best time of day is just after sun up – the air is cool and refreshing. That is when I take Frida for her daily walk. Sometimes I also take a camera as well and on this morning I was rewarded with this yellow-billed spoonbill backlit by the sun.