Day 59: Winton Wetlands & Night Sounds
Winton Wetlands is one of those bizarre features you pass by in a landscape that makes you think, “this just doesn’t belong here.” Well, that’s because it didn’t. The wetlands started as an artificial lake in the 60s and 70s. They were created by diverting huge amounts of river into the area. Eventually hundreds of thousands of trees died across the lake (by drowning). The high surface area to volume ratio resulted in a lot of evaporation. No one could swim in it because there were frequent toxic algal blooms, and livestock became ill.
Finally the government just surrendered to decommissioning it and managed the landscape as a wetland ecosystem. Restoration began in 2010, and the reserve is now managed with a visitor center, four campgrounds, picnic areas, bush walks, cycling trails, and historical artwork. Plants are regenerating and wildlife abundance is increasing.
That evening, we noticed a park in the area that was considered good habitat for barking owl. Normally we don’t get out much at night. For one thing, snakes love the evenings and after-dark hunting routine. Birders tend to be early risers rather than late-nighters. But we thought we’d give it a shot. So we drove over to the Ovens River east of the wetlands about 20 minutes. Not more than three minutes into our walk, just after sunset, we heard a vocalizing barking owl! It sounded just like my late dog Comet doing his “I’m vaguely interested” bark, which sounds more like a half-hearted ”wwuf” under his breath instead of ”WOOF!” Either way, it was definitely a barking owl!
With the main target out of the way, we decided to look for platypus in the river and just make a longer walk out of it. As it became darker, it felt like the forest was closing in on us. Elias graciously walked ahead of me, and good thing, too, because every 30 seconds or so he would stop dead in his tracks with a spider two centimeters from his face. He always seemed to see them just in time. His headlamp was perfect for illuminating the webs. On the other hand, I forgot my headlamp in California, and my iPhone light had to suffice. Not the best light for lighting up spider webs - and I’ll just leave it at that. No karate teacher can come close to the skills I have when I walk into a spider web unannounced. Australian spiders aren’t just you’re normal daddy long-legs.
Side story: we stopped at this sign to read the text, and thought the photo and spider looked very realistic, until it occurred to us that the spider is spanning about four trees in the photo. Yeah, that’s a real spider. Glad it didn’t jump out at our faces while we squinted to read the sign.
But I digress. Back to the pitch blackness at the Ovens River. Between looking at our feet to avoid critters on the ground, and watching our heads to avoid sudden entrapment by hand-sized spiders, we flushed a Tawny frogmouth off of branch right in front of us. It flew a short distance and landed, allowing us to sneak up with the headlamp and study its behavior. I took some video of the moment and captured a couple other night sounds - southern boobook in the background, calling a two note “Boo-book,” and a laughing kookaburra, which you can’t miss. Laughing kookaburras during the day are amusing and entertaining. A kookaburra at night is like hearing a villain laugh behind you in a horror film. It added to the feel of the forest at night. We took a few photos and then sped up our pace all the way back to the van.