Today I paddled from Eleanora Reserve to just upstream of Taylor's Bend, a distance of 41km. It involved taking 560 photos and 16 videos at predetermined points. By the end of the day I reckon I had seen enough trees. It is a magic stretch of river though, with a feeling of being in the wilderness when really you are not all that far from civilisation.
I loved seeing how people in Corowa enjoy the river. One family had a set of lights, a collection of bar stools and a slab bench, and above all of this, a sign saying "South Bank". There was the tree house made of a pallet, positioned precariously high in a tree and only a knotted rope ladder to get to it. There were house boats of every sort, except big, or professionally built... like they used to be. One, festooned with Australian flags, was called the "Frying Dutchman". Another was little more than rails and a roof supported in a leaning, wobbly way by a collection of plastic drums. Blokes sheds, complete with lawn mowers ready to go, faced the river. There would always be work to do in those sheds. A little downstream I came across "Wirra Wirra". It looked like a family camp, but had three shipping containers, a basketball hoop, a deck and a bocce field, surprisingly soared by the floods that occupied the area up until a week ago.
In places parts of the high sandy banks had collapsed, exposing a fresh edge which rainbow bee-eaters found interesting. They nest in burrows in that kind of habitat. Everything has two sides, even erosion creates homes, habitat and diversity. They flew in arching circles, picking insects out of the air. Acrobatic masters, the insects stood no chance. They are also one of the most beautiful of Australia's birds. Look them up if you get a chance.
Further down the river I saw dollar birds, olive green in colour, but with red patches on their heads. They have a odd call, but an even more unusual way of flying. As the flap their wings they bend upwards like a piece of paper. The upward stroke is no better, causing the wings to bend the other way. The end effect is that they look like a creature from one of the original Mickey Mouse cartoons, where everything seems to be made of rubber. How they stay in the air I don't know.
There were some beautifully situated stations, always high above the floods. Families who have been here generations. Often all you see is a pump stand, or a shed and chairs marking the place to go on hot evenings. One of these tanks was high in an old dead tree. People don't put tanks on stands anymore, they use pressure pumps - but my guess is this one is not coming down.
I've noticed that tree health seems to sometimes be worse around towns and campsites. Often these are areas without development. They just happen to be nearby. The older trees in particular seem to be affected. Their branches die back and their crowns thin. They look like they are suffering from the effects of drought. Many of the trees that fall in the river were in that kind of condition, or look like they did not have many roots at all. I wonder if they are experiencing a form of root rot, either through direct contact (infected soil), or because something has reduced their ability to fight the naturally occurring ones. It's usually the older trees that show these symptoms, and this is also true for root rot. It's a puzzle. I'll keep looking and see if this pattern is consistent along the river.
With those few exceptions the forest are in excellent health. There is real diversity of age groups within the forest and everywhere regrow. The only thing that would help the trees develop to their full potential would be if they had more room. In changing over from a forest managed for its timber to one managed for tourism and biodiversity, we seem to have forgotten that what we are hoping to achieve takes nature hundreds and hundreds of years. If we want the forests with majestic gums, we might just have to help it a little. There are quite a few local foresters out there who could lend a hand, and at the same time it would represent an opportunity to learn from generations of experience.
In this confined section of the Murray, anabranches are common, some are little more than short cuts, but there were some significant ones today that seemed to rob the river of its flow. In particular the anabranch that leaves the river after Black Dog Creek. Cutting off at least 4 kilometres, its steeper gradient almost sent the rest of river backwards. Since I'm surveying the main channel, I avoided it (but unless you have local knowledge this is generally a good idea). The river changed almost instantly. With less flow, reeds and rushes colonised the edges of the river, narrowing it down to 20 metres in places (instead of the usual 80 - 100 metres around here). Bird life was closer. Everything was closer. Erosion was less, but it did not seem to stop the trees from falling. In one place two trees almost closed off the river. It is as pretty as the narrows, where the Murray flows between Barmah and Millewa Lakes, but is more gentle.
I made camp in a similarly high bank to the one I camped in last night. I found a place with enough of a ledge to pull my boat up onto and high enough to keep out of trouble should the river rise. The camp was worth the climb. Like last night, their was soft green grass on top and again, great views. I'll try and include some photos, though reception is pretty restricted out here.
Tomorrow I make for the edge if Lake Mulwala, before a crossing the next day.