Over the last few days my FaceBook feed has been seeing some seriously tasty bird photos from one of the groups that I belong to. The photos all come from one area – New Victoria Dam which is 30Km east of Perth on the Darling Range in Korung National Park. So when the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) announced she was competing in a croquet competition at a location just 20 minutes drive away I immediately volunteered myself as driver.
There are two starting points to the walk and which you choose will largely depend upon when you visit. If you visit outside of office hours Monday to Friday or anytime at the weekend then y ou have to use the upper carpark as your start point as the access road is shut. During office hours you can drive down to the lower carpark keeping in mind that if stay till after 5pm then you won’t be able to drive out. I started at the upper carpark which only adds 800m each way to the walk. The walk consists of a 7Km round trip down past the New Victoria Dam to the Old Victoria dam wall and the garden and picnic area. There used to be a path through the trees at the edge of the road but it has become quite overgrown and indistinct so you are best walking along the access road. As you walk down the road on your left is the gravesite of Francis Weston who died in 1876 aged two days, his parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley. When you get to the lower carpark walk through it and then follow the trail markers. After walking through the forest you come to New Victoria Dam. Walk down the steps and at the bottom turn right onto the road and walk down to the remains of the Old Victoria Dam.
The original dam was built in 1891 and pumped water via pipelines to Kings Park and a reservoir there on Mount Eliza. The dam became the first permanent water source for Perth and was operated by the private City of Perth Waterworks Company. As the water catchment area took in agricultural land and timber settlements there were fears that it would be polluted by raw sewage and excrement from livestock. Between 1895 and 1900 typhoid broke out in Perth and 425 people died. The water was tested and found to be contaminated so the government took control and made changes to prevent re-occurrence. By 1988 the concrete structure was beginning to degrade to such an extent it could no longer be repaired so in 1990 work on the new dam commenced and because of the use of roller compacted concrete it was completed by the following year. It can hold 9.5 million kilo-litres and is used to supply drinking water to Kalamunda and Lesmurdie.
In the lee of the old dam there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and one-sided bottlebrush or claw flower have been planted and the thick vegetation along the creek line provides dense cover for a number of bird species. On this trip I used the picnic gazebo as an impromptu bird hide and spent a couple of hours watching the various birds feed and drink. I saw red-eared firetails, mistletoe birds, splendid fairy wrens, western spinebills, new holland honeyeaters, white faced herons and rosellas. The dam spillway feeds water to the pond and creek that provides a year round water supply which means that the birds are always active all here. If you are there at dawn or dusk then kangaroos can be seen feeding on the grass. It is a great little spot and doesn’t require too much effort to get there.
The last few mornings dog walks have been spiced up by some very territorial brown goshawks. As we walk along the river and then down onto the river bed we can hear them calling and chattering. It then goes quiet for a second or so and then there is a loud whoosh as you are buzzed from behind. As the bird passes overhead you can feel the air current generated by its wings. At first I thought the birds were objecting to the dog but I and this pattern persisted for about a week. But then something happened that disabused me of that notion – my hat suddenly became the victim of a bird of prey. The last time it happened they managed to knock it off my head. I’m beginning to think my bicycle helmet may be more appropriate headwear.
South of the Swan River is a string of lakes known as the Beeliar Wetlands which are a chain of twenty six lakes stretching from Manning Lake in Hamilton Hill to Madura Swamp near Mandurah Wetlands. Nineteen of those lakes and associated wetlands have been incorporated into the Beeliar Regional Park. This extensive belt of wetlands that has been widely acknowledged as a biodiversity hot-spot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Within this the Nyoongar with their hunter-gatherer life-style managed the land with their fire-stick farming and survived by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants, including wattle seeds. Since colonisation three-quarters of these wetlands have been drained for urban development. What remains has suffered untold damage through the introduction of feral animals and plants. Thankfully Australia is a signatory of the Ramsar Convention and several key wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain have been set aside for conservation. Bibra Lake is the fourth lake (heading southwards) in that chain of lakes that makes up Beeliar Regional Park. Whitefellas believe that they discovered the lake in 1842 and named it after the bloke who bought the land in 1843, one Benedict von Bibra. The Nyoongar say they have known about the lake since time began and to them it known as Walubup.
I first went to Bibra Lake about thirty years ago and thought it was a bit boring and hadn’t been back until the other week. I was called upon for driving duties for the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) and I was left with a morning to kill. So I looked in my copy of Birding Sites around Perth by Ron Van Delft (sadly out of print and unavailable now) and saw that Bibra Lakes was nearby and rated as a good location for birding. The down side to this was that we were experiencing the first major cold front of winter and that meant it was bucketing down and blowing a gale. So suitably swathed in Gore-Tex and equipped with a suitably weather resistant camera I headed off to walk around the lake not expecting to see much.
Initially I thought that with it raining I had more chance of photographing ducks as it was the perfect weather for them. There were quite a number of different species on the shore and the water. I was quite taken by the Shovelers and the Pink Eared Ducks. The Shovelers are quite a string looking duck with colouring and almost disproportionately large bills. They can often be seen foraging in shallow water where they filter water through their bills insects looking for insects, crustaceans and a variety of plants. Such a specialised mode of feeding means that they are limited to certain types of habitat such as freshwater swamps and lakes with large reed beds. Shovelers also tend to hang out with pink-eared ducks which are so called because of the patch of pink feathers on the sides of the drakes head. Like the Shovelers they too are filter feeders. As the walk moved through areas of paperbark and sheoak trees then smaller insect eating birds were seen such as Willie Wagtails, Grey Fantails, Silvereyes, and various types of wrens. Over all as I did the 8.5 Km walk I saw 18 different species of bird which I felt was a pretty good haul considering the weather conditions. So I’ve revised my opinion of Bibra Lakes and will not wait another 30 years before my next visit.
If you are interested in the birds that can be seen at Bibra Lakes, and indeed throughout the Beeliar Wetlands Birding WA has a useful webpage that gives info on the species that can be seen and where. Birdlife Australia put out a couple of useful brochures which can be got from regional visitors centres or downloaded as PDFs from their website. The brochures are:
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.
On holiday – more to come later.
Birds were so much easier back in England. I wrote earlier about how Australian Robins come in an assortment of colours and not just the red breasted ones I grew up with. Well walking down the river bed the other day I see this.
It’s obviously some sort of robin thinks I as I walk along pondering this new bird. WRONG!!!! It’s a mistletoe bird. First robins come in multiple colours and now birds with red breasts aren’t robins. I think I’m going to stick with penguins – they’re black and white and easy to identify.
Back in September I wrote about the various birds nesting in the garden. Well autumn is now here and I thought I’d write an update. The white browed babblers have successfully hatched all their eggs which means there has been a population explosion. They are quite curious birds as they live in communal nests and have separate nursery nests as well which they all take turns in raising the chicks. Well now they are embarking on a building program to make a new communal sleeping nest for all the new adults. As a result these funny little grumpy birds are flying in building materials at a great rate of knots.
We were also quite delighted to have a visitor. While we were talking one afternoon I spotted a Nankeen Kestrel hunting in the field opposite. It didn’t catch anything and left empty-handed. I thought that was that when I heard a bump from the TV aerial so we both ran outside to look, me with my camera and Helen with her binoculars. Sure enough the kestrel had decided our aerial would make a very good observation perch. It remained there quite unfazed for quite a while. It was only when I tried to get closer for a better photo that it decided to leave.
Australian summers are hot and dry, and while we are not in a drought cycle like the Eastern States, it does get very warm here in York. 45º C is not unheard of. The hot weather and the lack of rain means that the Avon River largely dries up with the exception of a few deep pools, and so I often go walking along the dry river bed with Frida my faithful canine companion as it allows me to view quite a variety of wildlife that congregates around the pools.
It’s not just birds we see, there are small fish in the ponds (difficult to photograph) and masses of different insects like this damselfly below.
Frida usually takes my photographic hijacking of her morning walks with good grace. She usually waits for me either in some convenient shade or as shown below standing in some water. She’s not as daft as she looks!
The other morning we were quite surprised to have a fox pop out of the long grass on the river bank and on to river bed. Initially it took off, but when it saw that Frida wasn’t in hot pursuit slowed down and turned back. The fox and Frida then played a mad game of chase up and down taking it in turns to be the chaser and the the chasee. Quite delightful to watch. It was like the canine equivalent of Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately by this time the battery in the camera had run flat so I was unable to take any photos of this rather special occurrence. Although this being a predominantly farming community most round here would not regard it as such as they belong to the “only good fox is a dead fox” brigade. A couple of days later we went back to see if the event could be repeated and I had a pocket full of batteries to ensure that I got some photos. We did find the fox in the same location but this time both it and Frida were indifferent to each other and the fox disappeared into the undergrowth on the opposite bank. Again I stuffed up the photography and all I got was the slightly blurred image below. Perhaps we’ll try again.
The soundtrack for summer in the Western Australian bush is provided by Broome based band the Pigram Brothers and their track Dry River Bed provided the title and inspiration for this blog entry.
Music and Words: ( S Pigram/A, D, G, P, S Pigram, P Mamid)