Uplifting …

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion has reached new heights. It’s located not far from Bendigo and I’ve watched it slowly take shape over recent years. It has looked odd with a flat roof.

I was there at 5am this morning as the cranes rumbled in through the gates. Not long after 7 the lift began. Structures that had been assembled on the ground were slowly hoist into the air and delicately deposited on the roof …

One more piece to go, probably in January.

Wooroonook Lakes …

Worth a visit if only to say you’ve been there. But practice first …

The lakes are 263 km north-west of Melbourne.

There are three lakes, the middle and east lakes are in the care of Parks Victoria and are frequently and presently dry. The other lake is managed for recreation, water is purchased when needed to keep the enterprise afloat. No prize for guessing where the wildlife can be found.

Camping is inexpensive, powered sites are available for the softies. There is a playground for the kids, a boat ramp and clean toilets and showers. It’s a popular spot with the fishing fraternity, families and the grey nomads. It’s close enough to my home to use as a picnic spot. I have just camped there for the first time.

I took my cue from this guy and spent a lot of my time sitting quietly on the bank.

Australian Shelduck

It’s amazing what you see …

Black-fronted Dotterel

Then for a moment they stand side by side

Then a quick shower and back to work as if nothing happened …

All very familiar, really.

Entertainment was also provided by the Musk Ducks. The males have quite a peculiar appearance with something resembling a scrotum hanging from their chins. At this time of year they are extremely intolerant of other males. When one wanders into their territory there is a rapid rush from the owner. This guy is the victor …

Musk Duck

and this the vanquished. His “scrotum”  has ended up plastered on the side of his face in his rush to get to safety …

Australasian Grebes are in their breeding finery.

Australasian Grebe

The freshly returned summer migrants were calling loudly. Rufous Songlarks and the Australian Reedwarblers (formerly known as Clamorous) were making themselves known by calling almost continuously. This guy just makes an occasional “kek kek kek” but then he has the benefit of good looks …

Sacred Kingfisher

The White-browed Woodswallow is another stunner. Or at least the male is.

White-browed Woodswallow

And the influx of inland species into Victoria continues. Crimson Chats at Wooroonook, who’d have guessed?

Crimson Chat
Tree Martin

 

I noticed that some Tree Martins were  collecting nesting material from one particular spot at the water’s edge so I took my chair and sat with the sun behind me in the hope that they would continue despite my presence. After a while they did.

I was keeping very still with the camera always raised, they were landing practically at my feet. While this was going on a Baillon’s Crake emerged just a few degrees to the left. These birds are so cryptic and so nervous that even a glimpse is unusual. A photograph like this is an absolute bonus.

To cap off the day the late afternoon sun side lit the River Red Gums right in front of my camp site. All I had to do was put down my glass of red and raise the camera one more time.

Nullawil …

While McGee was swanning around Western Australia another silo in Victoria was given a makeover. The little town of Nullawil (population 93 in 2016, proud possessor of a Post Office since 1897) is the latest addition to the state’s Silo Art Trail.

The artist on this occasion is Sam Bates with a masterly depiction of a farmer and his working dog. There is a rumour that he began at the bottom and ran out of space at the top …

This is very unlikely to be true. In my opinion he chose to omit the upper half of the farmer’s face to emphasize the importance of the dog. In the same way I’ve omitted the ears to emphasize the eyes in this detail …

Nullawil is about 300 km north west of Melbourne on the Calder Highway. There is a little take-away food store opposite the silo.

T’is the season …

Well of course it is, the mince pies are back in the shops. No carols yet, though.

In Darwin, Australia’s most northerly state capital, the inhabitants from the dawn of time identified six seasons. Presently it’s Gurrung, the hot dry period, time to hunt file snakes and long-necked turtles. When the white fellah showed up he simplified matters to just two seasons, wet and dry.

Melbourne, the most southerly capital of mainland Australia, has four seasons … most days.

In my little patch of Victoria it’s spring. The last week or so of winter was very summery. I do occasionally see a long-necked turtle but I’d starve to death if I had to rely on hunting them. I tend to notice the passage of the seasons by the birds. I heard the first Rufous Songlark on October 29. The following day they were everywhere singing and displaying for all they were worth.

Rufous Songlark

Horsefield’s Bronze-Cuckoos were hot on their heels.

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo

No sight or sound yet of the Sacred Kingfishers.

They were all greeted by an icy blast. Since the calendar ticked over the weather seems determined to return to winter.

Despite the cool weather the first Brown Snake of the year turned up in the dog yard this morning.

My neck of the woods is nice and green. Winter rain was about average and the crops locally are looking good. That’s not true for inland Australia even as close as north-west Victoria it’s been very dry. This has brought a few nomads into the state. It was my chance to add Pied Honeyeater and Crimson Chat to my Vic List. To find them I headed to Goschen and I found them both within an hour or so.

Crimson Chat has to be the most gorgeous bird in the Australian Field Guides but they are rarely as attractive in real life as they are on the page but some of the males on this occasion were at their finest …

The Yellow Robin that showed up recently in the driveway is still around. I hold out little hope for it finding a mate however.

Summing Up …

The big trip west was a big success. A lot of places on the journey we had visited before, some of them only by flying and then renting a vehicle. The route joined  a lot of familiar dots and it was the first time that we had driven across the Nullarbor.

We chose to take the dog which excluded us from National Parks and some other reserves that we would like to have visited. More on that later.

We were 43 days on the road and covered 14,243km (8,900 miles).

The total cost was in the order of $9,000 which includes our food which we would have had to buy if we’d stayed home and a couple of bits of camping kit which we will enjoy for a while longer. So in comparison to a 6 week trip over seas for two it was a cheap holiday.

The planning for our trips is usually done by one of us working largely on their own. On this occasion it was me and it was a pretty detailed plan which we were able to stick to quite closely. There were a couple of unscheduled stops for repairs. We were able to resume where we left off, we did skip a couple of our intended campsites to make up a little time.

Flexibility is a great asset, we substituted some intended campsites for others for three reasons, to shorten the day’s drive, to extend the day’s drive or because Gayle found better options (on the net or in a book that she recently won in a competition … Camps Australia Wide, edition 10, by Heatley & Gilmore which came in handy).

Too much flexibility though can lead to raised tensions in the vehicle at 4pm, middle of nowhere and no idea where to camp. We know from past experience that this is best avoided. It didn’t happen on this trip.

The kit we took was a Toyota FJ Cruiser and a Kwik Kampa by Stockman. Into which went the necessities that have been honed by years of experience. Overall I’m very satisfied with the performance of both major items.

The hole in the transmission cooler was probably due to impact with a stone and might have been avoided if I’d driven slower on a corrugated gravel road. Just one of those things. I love my FJ.

Total fuel cost was $3,390.37 which bought us 1,897 litres of petrol. That works out at 13.3 litres per 100km. In remote places fuel is expensive. Mt Barnett on the Gibb River Road holds the record at $2.15 a litre, we paid $1.99 at Ceduna on the Nullarbor. The cheapest fuel was in the settled districts of South Australia, a mere $1.35.

The Kwik Kamper, one of the pod campers to come out of the Stockman stable has been with us for a while. It’s the second one we’ve owned. We bought it for the ease and speed with which it goes up and down. The other great virtue that it has is its light weight, it doesn’t greatly affect the handling of the car and it has only a small impact on economy.

Camping gear choices are by necessity a compromise. The Kwik Kampa tends to accumulate a lot of water on the roof  when it rains and inside when the temperature drops below the dew point. If you are considering a camper-trailer and you are usually on the move rather than staying in one place for two weeks you should put it on your short list. It’s a case of continuing evolution at Stockman and the present offerings may be even better.

Fifi McGee came with us. She is a Fox Terrier. She adds something to our lives every single day. On the odd occasion something has to be left out. She travels and camps really well and is no trouble at night. She’s noisy when we first arrive at our campsite but soon settles.

We try to give her plenty of exercise first thing in the morning before the drive and we stop for her benefit every 90 minutes or so. And it’s not to our disadvantage to have a short walk and a stretch at the same time. She has a strong attachment to the car and camper but doesn’t seem to care where they  are … so long as they’re in the same place she is.

It means no restaurant meals, no national parks and some places just have to be left off the itinerary. We weigh up the pros and cons for each trip. This time it seemed a good idea to take her along and it was.

What will we take forward to future trips? Number one is take more time. Number two is match the destination to the season. Our next trip to the south of WA will be in spring for the wild flowers. Future winter trips will be spent north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Home Sweet Home …

Home looked beautiful. In the winter the surrounding country turns so green that it would give Ireland a run for its money. OK I exaggerate a little and on close inspection the foot high grass surrounding the house was Cape Weed. And it was cold.

First job was to cut some wood and get the fire going then it was onto the mower for a first run round.

The creek was flowing and debris in some lower branches showed that it had almost overflowed its banks while we were away. One of the deeper pools had a couple of platypus swimming around. In summer you only get to see them at sunset and sunrise. In cold cloudy weather they can be seen during the day as well. In either case the light is never good. I’ll get a respectable photo one day.

My first visit to this property was about 30 years ago when it belonged to my in-laws. The creek is one boundary. Beyond that there is a nature reserve. On an early visit I saw an Eastern Yellow Robin in the reserve. That wasn’t entirely unexpected so I thought little of it.

Despite regular visits I didn’t see another one until this past summer when I encountered a pair on a number of occasions. One even had the audacity to venture briefly to my side of the creek and onto the birdlist for the property.

Thirty years ago the driveway was an avenue of flourishing wattle trees. The millennial drought and old age, wattles only last about thirty years, saw them die off. My father-in-law was talking about planting olives in their place. That spurred me to volunteer to plant some native trees instead (which may have been his underlying intention). I left the skeletons of the dead trees as perches and as an insect supply for the birds and planted Red Ironbarks in between. These are indigenous to the area and have deeply indented barks that are much liked by Brown Treecreepers. The Treecreepers were common enough in the reserve but rarely bothered crossing the creek. As the trees have grown so the Treecreepers have moved in.

And so, too, has an Eastern Yellow Robin. For the past few days he or she has been watching me at work in the driveway. I hope that the habitat is good enough that they stay and hope that they find a friend to join them. I wonder if this is the offspring of the pair I saw in the summer.

Eastern Yellow Robin

Watching me at work in the driveway?  Well yes, there are these bloody wattle trees that keep falling over and need to be cut up! There are still a few more to go.

 

Heave away, haul away …

Bound for South Australia. Reference doubtlessly to the fact that it was such an awful place they had to tie up the settlers to take them there.

We made sure where we’d stashed the candles and crossed the border from WA. There was the minor detail of completing the Nullarbor crossing then we would be just a couple of silos from home.

First was Kimba. Once just a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah now it’s a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah and a painted silo. It’s become quite famous on the grey nomad circuit for its free camping at the recreation reserve. Free but a donation is expected and it seems a victim of its own success. You could not have swung a cat there when we looked. We settled for the caravan park.

As if to cock a snoot at the jokes about South Australia’s electricity supply the silo is lit at night.

Kimba – Cam Scale

The focal point is a child with an adult proportioned head. I find it slightly disturbing. Even more unsettling is that to my eye it bears a striking resemblance to Julia Gillard (before she developed the Pinocchio nose).

We detoured through the Adelaide Hills and Murray Bridge to reach Coonalpyn just after sunset. The grey nomads have not yet swamped the recreation reserve here. The donation of $21 is expected for an un-powered site. Very pleasant.

The silo here is cleverly organised so that you cannot see or photograph all of it from any one position. Some exercise is required.

Coonalpyn – Guido van Helten

Van Helten is also the artist responsible for the silo at Brim in Victoria which is one of my favourites. I don’t find this one quite as appealing but there are no mis-proportioned children here and their hair is portrayed exquisitely.

From there to home was just a hop, skip and a jump.