Monday, 20 October 2014

Lowbidgee Day 6: coming into Balranald.

Southern Bell Frog community in the wetland behind my campsite.

Wetland sounds and scenes. Once, the whole of the Murrumbidgee plains would have flooded like this every year.

Today I got off nice and early again, but not before I had looked at the source of all of last night's noise there had to be a swamp somewhere up there from which the frog calls were coming. The area of environmental watering was much shallower than I had expected. It was at is deepest probably only about 15 cm deep and in many places only 5 cm. The frogs were loving it however and the forest and understory looked a picture of health. I took a few photos and was that impressed by the scene, I shared it straight away - including a short video to capture the frog noises which were few and quieter than during the night. Balranald is known for many things, but the symbol it has chosen to promote itself with is the Southern Bell Frog (also known as the Growling Grass Frog) which is listed as endangered in NSW due to habitat loss and the lack of regular natural floods. 

The Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis) has suffered a considerable reduction in abundance and distribution throughout NSW in recent years (Tyler 1993, Sadlier and Pressey 1994, Mahony 1996, Osborne et al. 1996, Ehmann and White 1996). Once abundant along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers and their tributaries from the Southern Tablelands to the South Australian border, the species is now only found in scattered locations throughout their former range. Suspected threats to the Southern Bell Frog include loss or fragmentation of habitat through draining of wetlands and prolonged periods of drought, predation on eggs and tadpoles by introduced fish species, infection by pathogens, particularly Chytrid fungus, degradation of habitat from pollution, salinisation and chemical use.

The Southern Bell Frog is listed in NSW as ëEndangeredí under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act). It is also listed nationally as ëVulnerableí under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and is listed as ëEndangeredí under the  (2000) Red List of Threatened Species.

One of the more interesting features of the Southern Bell Frog mouth). These teeth are used for holding Animals possess small vomerine teeth that are attached to a bone in the roof of the mouth and are situated between the choanae (internal openings of the nostrils in the roof of prey, which is then swallowed whole (Barker et al. 1995).

Males mostly call while floating in water among reeds between August and April (Robinson 1993). The call is a growling ìwaaah waaah waaahî that is similar to the sound of a distant motor boat or motorbike and is usually of about one second duration. 

Their original range included most of the Murray Valley and south to Tasmania, but are now listed to isolated pockets. In the NSW gov publication, they were only shown as being at the upstream end of the Barmah forest and ...

One of the aims of environmental watering has been to increase populations of these frogs, with some success.

In my boat once again and ready for the paddle to Balranald... wondering what the day would bring... grateful for the wetland treat and a world full of frog song.

Morgen Stund hat Gold im Mund (Schwäbisches saying). Morning hour tastes golden.

I love getting on the water early.


Morning light on the Murrumbidgee below Redbank.

Reflections on a straight on the Murrumbidgee between Redbank and Balranald.

Balranald has a thick sticky clay soil (try getting it off your kayaking shoes) which holds water well, so a little goes a long way. The area between Redbank and Balranald, especially on the Southern side of the river, is used for flood control. As you paddle along the river, you occasionally come across regulators which can allow flood water to escape and spill onto the plains, and to let it back into the river to drain them. This is the main reason that there are so few people on this stretch of the river, and also why there is so much wildlife.

Murrumbidgee snags. Just after taking this photo I actually got stuck on it . It was much bigger than it looked.

Snags keep me on my toes. Though there is not much current, you are forever looking for the best and safest passage through.

Snags often reach from one side of the river to the other. It keeps the river quiet, provides habitat for wildlife and clean the water by bringing in oxygen. In many places only a canoe or kayak can slip through, making it an ideal expedition river.

Today I saw what could be described as the cutest eagle I have ever seen. Most animals flee as any human approaches; this one just looked at me right up until the last moment when it took off and landed in a tree high above the river to watch from a safe distance. On looking up my bird app, I found that it was a little eagle and that they are vagrants, that is they move from place to place - of not fixed address. The Steve McQueens of the bird world. When this particular young adventurer looked at me, his face seemed broad and teddy bear like, though I am sure that is not the impression he was trying to give. Must have been a young one. When he took off and landed on what he took to be a safe perch, a pair of wood swallows dive bombed it, even to the point of pecking feathers from its head. Enough was enough, it wasn't worth hanging around for all this hassle - he flew off. Pumped to have seen a new bird, I rounded the corner to find around a dozen of them circling in a thermal. They seem to like Balranald.

Kayak wash on a straight on the Murrumbidgee between Redbank and Balranald.

Snags often reach from one side of the river to the other. It keeps the river quiet, provides habitat for wildlife and clean the water by bringing in oxygen. In many places only a canoe or kayak can slip through, making it an ideal expedition river. This one was easy.

Negotiating snag in the Lowerbidgee...

Balranald is a community that suffered badly in the drought and is only now coming back. Little things matter a lot. "The couple who run the caravan park are a blessing to the town," said the lady who owned the bakery. "What they have done in two years is amazing. They have put this place on the map". For $10 for a campsite, great location and plenty of facilities, its no wonder it is popular. But many other things are happening in town. There is the history walk, which compares streetscapes then and now and tells tories of the town. An environmental walk, including a hanging bridge across the Murrumbidgee has been built and all around town are metal frog statues. The statues were made by a local artist, who used to be a panel beater, then became a priest, then took to riding harley's and now is an artist. Most have themes. The one outside the hardware for instance, is pushing a mower, by the river two are sawing a red gum log and another is doing a bit of gardening. In two weeks time the town is hosting its third '5 rivers outback festival' and as well as fishing competitions, ute musters, etc. they also have some big name bands coming. The streets are being tidied up, footpaths widened and resurfaced and city gardens planted. In the middle of town sat a man from the government next to new looking blue van offering small business advice. By the looks of how far he was into his book, he hadn't had too many customers today.

Balranald bridge. A welcome sight.

Balranald has frog sculptures celebrating the Southern Bell Frog all throughout the town. This one was outside the hardware shop.

Santa in a tinny (painted on the hardware store)

A B&B in Balranald: signs of wealthy times.

Balranald celebrates its history. Here of sustainable timber harvesting.

Information board about the river trade.

Keeping with tradition started by the Millennium Paddle and Mike Bremer's Murrumbidgee Paddle I had a meal at the Services club. Here I met a group of three cyclists who had cycled from Broome, Perth and Adelaide respectively. We shared stories. They were happy to hear about the wildlife on the 'bidgee, roads can be noisy places.

Tomorrow I hope to get off early. The weir is in 17 km and I have another portage on my now well and truly dead trolley wheel. Tom the tyre man offered to pick it up from caravan park and repair it (how nice?) but he called to say that he would have to bring it back. he thought he had a tyre that small, but he did't and this one is well and truly buggered. Oh well, the buggered tyre is going to have to do one more portage worth of service.

Only two days to go and I am in the Murray! :)
This next section is meant to be one of the most beautiful.

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