Sunday, 9 February 2014

Beach café, campers, cockies and forest kingfishers.

Our camp last night, protected from the evening sun and not far to pull the boats. It was easier to pull up the boats than unload them. We sit on the boats when we eat, so they are our communal area as well.
Last nights camp in the Cottadidda State Forest was beautiful and secluded. We set up our tent in the shade of some young saplings and across a kangaroo track. In the middle of the night its owner came bouncing along it and must have got a rude shock. We heard the kangaroo pull up and stamp his feet. The kind of stamping that rabbits also do to warn others that something is amiss.

Morning light in the grasses at our campsite in Cottadidda Forest. I took these photos to try and catch the gentleness of the mornings. Everything seems slower, kangaroos who haven't drunk their fill in the evening come down to sait their thirst. They will not visit the river again until the mid to late afternoon, or later if people are around.

Between Yarrawonga and Tocumwal a good bush track runs along the river connecting the magnificent beaches every few kilometres along this stretch. This makes them great places to camp. There are also opportunities on the NSW side where there is state forest, less people know about these places and those that do are keen to keep them a secret. We met Andrew, who had been coming to the same spot in the same week for 18 years. His kids have grown up and now bring their friends. They fish or watch the river roll past for most of the day, and in the afternoon, once it has cooled off a bit, do a few ski runs.

Early morning reflections.

This is the domain of the sandy beaches. Almost every one is postcard pretty. I think it might be because most of the banks are made of sand. They erode easily and are deposited on the following corners.

Despite the snags there are lots of speed boats. We snuck past most during the long sleep the morning after, the fishing time and during the midday shelter from the heat. They graced us with their waves for about 3 hours in the afternoon though, which was enough to almost turn Ruth into a nervous wreck. I did my best to guide her along safe passages.

We aim to get off early again tomorrow and sneak past the flotillas whilst they are still in their beds. We covered round 66 km today. Tomorrow should bring us into the Barmah Millewa forest, with its low banks and comparative isolation. 

River landscape approaching Cobram.

We wonder if the big flocks of cockatoos which we saw today  will continue into that forest. I remember huge flocks of cockatoos as kids on the Murray at Echuca. They used to fly ahead screeching and repeat the process bend for bend, before eventually wheeling back to their original location. In recent years, the cockatoos have been replaced by long billed corellas around Echuca (and I found by short billed corellas  for most of the Murray downstream). I don't know why this happened, but I was pleased to see them at home in their hundreds on this stretch of the river. Some of the cockies were proud and brave, staying on their snag until we were quite close. When they eventually did fly off to their mates, they would raise their crests as if to say, "did you see that! I wasn't scared. I have just come over here to check that you are all ok." They are such characters. Do you think Leunig's 'Mr. Curly' might be modelled on a cocky?

This magnificent tree was on an old corner of the river - now a quiet billabong full of birdlife. 
Sheep grazing on the edge of the river. The frequent snags show two things: that the river is shallow and that it changes its beds regularly. On the outside of banks sometimes whole rows of trees were in the water. This was often the deepest and fastest water, but at good water levels (summer irrigation period) best avoided. I couldn't resist weaving through the snags for this mob of sheep however.
Beach sand covered with kangaroo and wallaby tracks. The way they hop leaves different footprints: wallabies tend to hop on the tips of their feet, whereas the prints of grey kangaroos are much longer. Here, two greys are moving on all fours, or in the case of one, on all fives - it is using its tail to push off the ground as it moves its rear legs forward. 
The beach where we pulled in for a morning break.

The Julie Fay: built by Bill Dunn's son Danny.

It was very comfortably set up inside and had herb gardens, air conditioning and, of course a BBQ.
At this beach camp, we came across a father towing his son along the beach with a mini-bike. The son was doing his best to ride a boogie board. A moment later the kid yelled "look at me dad, look at me!" He had managed to stand up.
A small commercial paddle steamer near Cobram. The hull and rails are stainless steel. 

Coming into Cobram and the long anticipated coffee at Thompson's Beach Cafe.
Coffee at Thompson Beach in Cobram is one of those luxuries rare at this end of the river - and not to be missed if you get the opportunity.
Tocumwal's foreshore has just been redeveloped. This wharf area was a popular place for locals to swim. Just downstream there is a new boat ramp and bank protection. This could be a good place to pull in if you need supplies, as it is on the same side and not far from Tocumwal's shopping precinct.

Tocumwal bridge with a light breeze tickling the surface of the water.

Another bit of excitement today was seeing forest kingfishers for the very first time... And then seeing more and more, this is part of the southern most top of their range. They do not occur much west of this location. They are a beautiful emerald green, with a buff chest. According to the field guide I have, they mostly eat lizards and insects, however the ones Ruth and I saw were all near the river. I wouldn't put it past them if they did a spot of fishing... At least for the sake of their name.

Other avian treats were provided by rainbow bee eaters, soaring open winged as they searched for insects in the riding air near the banks. Families  of sacred kingfishers hunting together - something I have never seen the orange breasted azure kingfishers do. They seem to prefer to work alone. A snow white egret resting on a snag near a lush bed of reeds in a flooded billabong. A stretch of river with hundreds of brown kites - the trees were full of them. We wondered if the fishermen could ever catch enough carp to feed them and if not, where did they get their food from? 

We have also just begun to come across our first cormorants, since the Hume Dam their niche seems to have been filled by egrets. Perhaps the water is deep enough now.

On the downstream edge of Private Beach 1.

The wind is quite blowy tonight, however we are well away from trees. Our campsite even has drop toilets. It is some kind of time share arrangement, however there has been no sign of anyone. It could just be empty because the Christmas holidays are nearing their end, or because the weekend has passed, however it looks like an idea which may well have had its time too. 

On the map they are marked as private beach 1 and 2, but from the river no sign was visible. We used expeditionary privilege. Almost as time honoured a tradition as camping near automated sprinkler systems ;).

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