I was just heading off to one of my favourite birding spots, Maryborough sewage treatment plant when I noticed that my driveway was busy with woodswallows. So I changed my plan and grabbed the camera.
These birds are summer visitors and seem to always be on the move. There are plenty about this year probably because of the dry conditions further north. Flocks can be huge, White-browed Woodswallows tend to be the most numerous often accompanied by their masked cousins. They breed in mixed colonies.
The adult males of both species are beautifully marked. The youngsters and females are also attractive but in more muted tones – designer pastels.
The odd Wood Duck is wandering around the Victorian Goldfields with a trail of little Wood Ducks in tow. Little Ravens are gathering nesting material. The nice days of late winter really are nice. Spring has served notice of its intentions.
The winter visitors are leaving. Over in Newstead 45km away Geoff Park reports the departure of the Flame Robins. They are heading for the hills now. It was a good year for them over there. We have had none overwinter on the McGee country estate this year and few in the neighbourhood but I did run into a flock on the move through Paddys Ranges State Park the other day.
Other birds are also on the move. It’s a good time to turn up species that are just passing through. They all add to the fun. Cuckoos will soon be here. The bad days are still wintry, however, and the last couple have let us know that it’s too soon to plant anything that is not frost hardy.
The other day I was surprised to find a solitary Barcoo Bantam rushing past as I worked (no, slaved) in the garden. It was a first for the property list. Their correct name is Black-tailed Native Hen. They are denizens of lignum swamps and have a knack of turning up out of the blue after rain even in places that have been dry for years. One on its own is unusual so I have no idea why it was passing through. Other parts of Australia though are in serious drought so it may not be the only refugee we see. Another influx of Budgerigars would be nice.
And bear in mind that most of the western half of the continent is desert anyway.
Our dryish part of Victoria is in better shape. The estate is pretty much on the average for winter rain, our tanks are full (we can shower and wash our clothes, drink water in stead of wine) and the paddocks are green. If it keeps up there will be a good crop of hay. The view westwards yesterday tells the story …
Was it about to rain? Indeed it was, but only briefly.
In a couple of weeks time I will be driving through the heart of the drought. I’m sure the photos I take there will be in stark contrast to this one.
The driveway on the country estate was lined with wattle trees which gave a splendid display of yellow as winter faded. They are short lived trees and the seasonally gaudy phase of their existence came to an end ten years or so ago.
I replanted with Red Ironbark which are coming along nicely. The wattles were allowed to stand proud but leafless, nice perches and productive of insects. My feathered friends have appreciated them.
It was windy today …
We had a visitor at the time. They discovered the wreckage blocking the drive as they tried to leave.
I heard a standup comedian on the radio the other day. His shtick was essentially based on the notion that men are always flat out busy whilst women just get things done. I doubt his career is going to rocket along, as comedy it was quite unfunny and if it was a snivelling attempt to curry favour with women he’s forgotten that in the new snivellisation it’s at least a micro-aggression to suggest a gender difference.
But let me tell you, I have been flat out busy.
It was the vintage. Time to pick the grapes. The family gathers, the sun shines, the pretty girls ply the workers with their choice of chocolates or fruit, old uncle Joe plays his accordion, a glass of a previous vintage waits at the end of every row. Perfect bunches of fruit bursting with the elixir of life itself drop almost effortlessly into baskets that fill quickly without ever seeming to get heavier. Ah, the romance.
The reality may be a little different. The infinite number of people who will help you drink the wine haven’t turned up for work. You start the day early in the prolonged cold, wet, intimate embrace of dew laden foliage. You cradle a bunch in one hand cut the stalk (occasionally a finger) with secateurs wielded by the other hand, drop the fruit in your bucket and search for the next bunch. Your back is bent for most bunches, you’re on your knees for the low ones.
By 10 am it’s drying out and warming up. That’s when the European wasps arrive. Those bunches that you cradle may now be armed and dangerous. You carry your full buckets to the end of the row where band aids and empty buckets await, samples of previous vintages are nowhere in sight.
At the end of the day the fruit goes through the crusher-destemmer and into the vat. It’s funny how your windscreen wipers only pack up in the rain and your crusher-destemmer only refuses to work when you harvest. The day was extended by the time it took to take it apart, find that the drive chain was rusty, get that cleaned up, freed up and reassembled.
Then the grapes go in the hopper, most of the stems are ejected to one side, the grapes and their juice go through into the vat. A days picking goes through in a couple of minutes.
It was a productive year. It’s the second year that we’ve netted the ripening crop to keep the birds from eating it all. I was dubious but the lovely Gayle insisted and she has been proven right. She gets things done.
We have some white grapes too but my attempts at white wine have been disappointing so we just leave them for the birds. With the nets we can leave the grapes longer to develop a bit more sugar. By the time that they were ready to pick a vine without a net on was a vine without a grape on.
Yeast is added and fermentation begins. The liquid, now called must, ferments on the skins for a week. This will be red wine in due course and that’s how it gets its colour. The berries float on top and need to be pushed into the liquid four or five times a day, a process known as punching the cap.
Then it’s time to transfer the liquid to a variable capacity stainless steel vat and press the skins to get the last few litres.
Nature now takes its course. Time for a few days break at the seaside.
In this neck of the woods the leaves stay green, and for the moment the grass stays brown. Not for us the fall colors that give the American and English photographers fresh inspiration.
Walking in the bushland reserve just across the creek yesterday I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of Dusky Woodswallows, many of them juveniles with their streaky heads. The reserve supports a couple of pairs that breed there most summers. The large numbers are the result of the previously dispersed population forming flocks and making their way north.
The Reedwarblers, Bushlarks and Sacred Kingfishers seem to have quietly departed already. Time to start looking for Swift Parrots and Flame Robins.
The Swamp Wallabies will be sticking around. At the moment they’re eating my grapes. I’m just about ready to pick what ever the birds and wallabies have left for me. Before the one above took off she gave me a moment of her time. Just long enough to grab this portrait of her and her joey against the early morning light.