Tuesday, 25 October 2011

On getting cornered by emus

On Sunday, I took a time-consuming, but well-thought out side trip to the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve or some such park. Tower Hill is a volcano that last erupted some 30,000 years ago, burying some Indigenous Australian artifacts in the process! No mention of whether any Indigenous Australians were also buried in the process. The crater is almost something out of a children's drawing of an extinct(?) volcano, with water filling the bottom except for a central craggy blob in the middle. As it was so dramatic (and, says the cynic, piss-poor for farming) it was turned into a nature park.
I am not sure about the exact timing of events, but some elements of native fauna, such as wallabies, took to the place. (Incidentally, I was surprised and overtaken by a black wallaby last night on a bike path next to downtown Warrnambool! A staff member at the hostel told me there was a group of 4-5 of them living in a park.) At a later time other native fauna, such as koalas, were introduce into the park. Again, the cynic suspects the koalas were to pull in the punters.

Anyway, the place is home to koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, emus and God knows what else. The emus surprised me with their size, presence and in-your-face attitude. Those birds are bloody big and it seems clear they know it. The big wallabies and kangaroos I have seen tend to look at you vacantly then bugger off. Not so the emus. To me, it was clear that "Should I kick him to death?" was an option going through their minds. This became a distinct factor when I took a walk in the park along some boardwalks through a marsh to a small island. I was absent-mindedly looking up in the trees looking for koalas (more on them later) when I suddenly noticed what I took to be a mother emu and a passel of chicks in my way. Talking quietly, I waited until they, most importantly the mama, wandered off into the undergrowth. I moseyed on a very short distance which got me on a narrow strip (3-4 m) land that led back to the mainland. When I got part of the way across, I saw another family group of emus, this one led by a male(?). I turned to head back the way I had come, only to find the "mama" emu blocking my path!
I inched forwards quietly asking the male to move so I could get past him. Incidentally, I would have been happier if my digital camera battery hadn't died at that point! After several minutes of cautious stand-off, I managed to get past the male and the four chicks accompanying him. I later found out that the male emus do most of the rearing, so the presence of the female was something I will have to double check. The one I thought was a male had strong black and white markings on its head while the female didn't.
Emus appear to have their ears towards the back of their heads with very visible openings. I wonder if this is deliberate, so as to deceive predators into thinking they are being watched. They also have powerful legs with joints and muscles that move strangely as they stride.

As I got back to the visitors' center, I saw a small group of people pointing at some up in the trees. Putting two and together, I rushed back to the bike to get some charged batteries and then went to photograph the koala. The presence of the furball so near the visitor center causes the cynic in me to wonder if the park doesn't keep a koala or two handy! Koala wrangler makes a nice job description. This koala didn't seem to care in the slightest about the people. I wondered aloud about that this was likely a well-photographed koala!
After a light lunch in Koroit, I pedaled North. At first, I flew along but then the wind veered to come from the North so much of the afternoon was a hot and sweaty trial. I was about to stop to photograph the one live lizard I had seen when I caught sight of a large tractor bearing down. I pulled over onto grass verge to let it pass by. Australian drivers are very courteous as a rule but as this was a very wide tractor, I thought it best and courteous to give it lots of room. While Aussie tractors travel faster than Scottish ones, the lizard had buggered off by the time I was ready to photograph it.
The B&B I had earmarked for the night (not booked) wasn't answering the phone so I called the tourism office in Dunkeld, my intended destination. They suggested I phone Southern Grampians Cottages. When I spoke to Carolyn on the phone, the quote was slightly too high but she indicated that we could talk it down when I got there. When I did, I dealt with her husband George who put me in their one special, motel-like, "guest room" which was much closer to my needs as to space, facilities and price. Carolyn was slightly miffed that George had sold me the cheaper room.
The room was very nice with a few chooks peering now and again. So that's a shout out to Southern Grampians Cottages of Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia.

The day after saw me in wet weather gear as I rode to Hall's Gap through the Grampians National Park. There were lovely trees to compensate for the low clouds that largely hid the peaks.
The trees showed signs of a brushfire several years ago. There were also signs of some serious floods that had washed out some parts of the road, but which had since been repaired.
Near the end of the ride, I stopped by a lake to take a picture of some cliffs. There were some little corellas (white cockatoos) in the trees, squawking loudly. A feather from one of them was in a bush. As I went to pick it up I was surrounded by some crimson rosellas. One of them clearly thought I should feed it!
Then a beautiful sulfur-crested cockatoo landed on a branch in perfect photo range and displayed its crest!
Then a whole flock of white cockatoos flew by in a gaggle.
Coming into Hall's Gap, my tourist map had red markings on the road I had planned to take out of it along with a note about roads being closed due to flood damage. At the tourist info office, I was told that the roads in question were indeed still closed.
The detour seemed very significant. This was the element that caused a dam against various worries to give way and led me to the change of plans already discussed.
The grey kangaroos lounging about failed to raise my spirits.
Nor did the kangaroo I had for supper last night (in a restaurant: it is generally considered bad form in these parts to kill and eat the wildlife in the National Parks unless you are an Indigenous Australian. ;-) ). The kangaroo meat was ethereally tasty. However, it wasn't cheap. I could have got it cheaper at a shop that advertised kangaroo souvlaki(!) but I was leery of getting there for epicurean reasons.

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