The Boss's Dog

Wattles, Choughs and the winter flush

By The General

I get The Boss out every morning because all mornings are good. Some mornings, when it's wet and windy - when I can easily pick up the whereabouts of a wallaby, fox or hare - he looks sort of hunkered down, like it's a duty rather than a pleasure. 

He was hunkered down through the drizzle on Saturday but the sun came out briefly on Sunday - at about the right time for him - and I wasn't surprised when he took a longer walk downstream where the big wattle trees overhang the river.

He cheers up when the wattles come out – a first hint of Spring I guess – and now the river level has subsided after the winter flush.

He was poking around by the water line and he seems to think it all looks a lot better than it did at the end of the inter-valley transfers in May - after all that cold, clear water from the bottom of Eildon spent four or five months at the same level, scaring the cod off and scouring away chunks of the sand bars.

His close examination happened after he heard what a geomorphologist had to say recently at a show run by the Catchment Management Authority. Geomorphologists study land formation processes and sediments, so he says - and this feller has been working with the other scientists monitoring the usefulness of the environmental flows on my river.

According to The Boss, he told the audience that the river is likely sort itself out naturally after flood events, depositing sand and soil back where it used to be and that people should be patient.

There was a lot of grumbling in the room about having an environmental flow so soon after the irrigation transfers had finished but the geomorphologist said it was like a repair: the idea was to run a fairly high river during the time when the tributary creeks carried rainfall run-off into the river, bringing muddy water full of seeds, sand and soil.

So, in July, they ran it high for a week, then dropped it very slowly over two weeks or three. Which is true - I took a dip in it every day. The idea is that the falling river leaves the mud, sand and silt deposits rather than washing them away.

But think about this: the geomorphologist said that the last winter fresh monitoring showed up to 2760 seedlings per square metre were deposited, which nearly knocked the Boss over. And I know how hard that is because I try to do it, often.

The Boss reckons those seedlings won't all germinate at once but it provides a pretty solid base. The spring flush last year, by comparison, produced around 1720 seedlings per square metre, and the winter base flow a bit over 900. If I could see all those seedlings in a handy bowl, I'd probably eat 'em.

What The Boss is worried about is that the banks re-vegetate beautifully – then another summer of water transfers downriver - like the last one - will wash it all away. The problem is, of course, that one mob has to send the irrigation water down and another mob is keen to fix the river. And while they talk to each other, they talk like Chessies talk to Bullmastiffs. Different tribes. And the government is behind it all, like a dog owner slowly out-of-control, with other owners in the park whistling (that might be the bureaucrats from DWELP, The Boss says.)

“Gotta do something about that, General,” he mutters.

Anyway, he’s in a better mood about it, for the moment. Like, it's moment-by-moment with The Boss and it's my job to keep him focussed. On food, pleasure, balls, fun. Not easy.

But on the way home we came across the big mob of white-winged choughs that have been hanging around the last few weeks. They visit us every winter but don't seem to nest here - The Boss reckons they head out to Loch Garry, where they live.

These birds look like crows from a distance but they have curved beaks and red eyes, and a splash of white under their wings that you can see in flight.

The Boss says they’re a good example to the rest of us – they keep the kids hanging around for three or four years to help build the nest and look after the young ones. In a flock of twenty or more there will be just one breeding pair – the mum and dad – with all the kids pitching in.

“It’s a good model for humans, General,” he says. And looking at me sort of slyly, he adds “And for dogs.”

Take a look at the Choughs on YouTube – they cackle and squawk a bit, but they add this haunting, mournful call.