A boot hits leather, a whistle sounds, flags flutter, voices cheer, hands clap – the soundtrack as I near the gate into the Benalla Showgrounds is a typical Saturday afternoon Australian Rules football match. The Benalla Saints are well into thrashing the Shepparton Swans (by 52 points) when I explain to the bloke sat at a table with a tin for entrance money that I’m not here for the game but to photograph birds on Lake Benalla.
Wishing me a fun afternoon, he waves me through and I swing left around the oval and encircling cars to a chorus of warbling magpies.
Lake Benalla Walking Track makes a lazy 4.25km loop around the tranquil waters at the heart of the northeast Victorian town. It takes in Benalla’s manicured botanic gardens and art gallery precinct, the town foreshore and two islands, and it fords the incoming Broken River and exiting river and Midland Creek. Popular with dog walkers, pram pushers and never-smiling joggers, it meanders through gnarled river red gums and bristling Bunya Bunya pines and crosses bridges and grassy flats.
It takes me as long to walk out onto Little Casey Island and back to the footy – perhaps 2km all up – as it would have to tread the whole loop if the weather wasn’t perfect on this sunny winter’s day and the birds less photogenic!
The stilted Benalla Library sits on the flats beside the lake
Pretty feather patterns are revealed when a little black cormorant dries its wings
It’s impossible not to feel happy walking along this track in winter sunshine.
Rather than gliding overhead or across the water, this pair of pelicans perched high in a dead tree overhanging the lake.
Is this purple moorhen admiring its reflection in the lake?
A magpie-lark keeps an eye on me as I return to the football game.