One of the highlights of Woodlands Historic Park is a stand of Grey Box Forest that is on a ridge running from Gellibrand Hill. Probably, once in older times the Grey Box was a predominate stand in the area. The Grey Box on the ridge line has survived, again, probably because the area would be difficult to cultivate.
Running along the ridge is pipeline for the nearby airport so I’ve named the ridge. Pipeline Ridge. Over the years, the open forest has provided a grand home, and a fine stop over point for Red-capped, Scarlet and Flame Robins. One season I came into a clearing on Ridge and there among the great Grey Box was at least 70 robins at work on the moss-beds in the clearing.
I love Grey Box Forest. I’ve said it before, but I think I have Grey Box sap in my veins.
These wonderful trees are survivors. No heavy rainfall areas for them. A low rain fall, and a gritty stony shallow earth, and they are at home. And so one of the great things I love about Grey Box is their perseverance and their steadfastness and their survival against the odds.
The average Grey Box is quite slow-growing, it earns it durable title over many long years.
It makes a tall upright and generally “Y” shaped spread. In fact up on Pipeline is an old downed warrior that I’ve used as a sit spot, and I first called it the “Y Tree” before I realised that was the general shape of Grey Box.
The bark is a grey (funny about that), fine and flaky. Thinner branches are smooth.
As it grows it develops, as do many eucalypts holes that become home or nesting locations for a variety of birds. The forest area also developes a finer understory, that can be very open, as it is on Pipeline or quite dense as in a few locations in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.
The cool understory make fine homes for both Black Swamp Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos. When I was a little bloke the Kangaroos were called Forrester. Which I figured was a typographical mistake and what was meant was Forest. And so for a long time in my youth the were “Forest Kangaroos”. Ahhh!!!
When the bandicoot program was established at Woodlands a few years back the Predator-free fence was put in place and cut the territory of the only Black Swamp wallabies in half. I’ve often wondered how the ones that ended up on the outside of the fence fared against the foxes and feral dogs in the area. I’ve no idea either how many were cut off on the inside, and try as I might I’ve only been able to locate two that I can recognise. There might well be more, as one pair of eyes can only see so much.
Understory in our wonderful Grey Box includes a lot of layover space for the Eastern Greys, and they do a fine job of keeping some areas quite scrub free, and at the same time contribute a fair amount of droppings.
I have a theory, and no budget to prove it, that the composting of the droppings and leave litter promotes the growth of a small saltbush type plant that has a bright red tiny berry. I theorise that the tiny berry is food for some insects that the Robins consume and thus collect carotene.
The red of the Robins comes from a class of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and are acquired by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant.
For several years at the beginning of the bandicoot project in the Back Paddock at Woodlands, the Kangaroos were removed. (They eat grass, that is the home of the endangered bandicoots. No grass, no home, no bandicoots).
But the number of layover areas, and the resultant saltbush deteriorated over the next few years, and the Robin numbers that we saw decreased. And at the moment, I believe, (well I’m allowed a theory or two), that as the plant and the carotene insects diminished, so did the resident Red-capped Robins. And the Flame and Scarlet Robins moved on to other areas for winter — some not too far as there a seriously large mobs of the Forresters down along the Moonee Ponds Creek outside the predator-fence.
But the average Eastern Grey Kangaroo female is a pretty persistent little producer, and her male companions are also very capable at their jobs and between them there has been a growing population of Kangaroos in the Feral-free area. Which means perhaps the old layover areas may get a rebirth too.
Endurance is a work that springs to mind when you stand under a majestic and venerable Grey Box. Its branches wide-spread and supporting a varied habitat around it.
My Tai Chi master says” Endurance, glasshooper, is not in context of a temporarily demanding activity. Another facet of endurance is that of persevering over an extended period of time. Patiently persisting as long as it takes to reach the goal.
Patiently enduring the Grey Box forest welcomes our admiration.
I love Grey Box. It has so much to share, and it has so much to teach.
Thought I’d share some of the wonder of the forest over the years. All images made on or near Pipeline Ridge