An ode to Grey Box Forest

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


Grey on grey.
Grey on grey in the welcome rain
Gery Box provides a suitable nesting site. Here a pair of Red-rumoed Parrots are one of three pairs in this old tree.
Gery Box provides a suitable nesting site. Here a pair of Red-rumoed Parrots are one of three pairs in this old tree.
Magic moments of early morning mist in the Grey Box
Magic moments of early morning mist in the Grey Box
The Pipeline Ridge after a good rain.
The Pipeline Ridge after a good rain.
Hard life on a high hill side.
Hard life on a high hill side.


Delightful evening on Gellibrand Hill

I love Friday’s. At the moment, after work there are a couple of hours of daylight, and I finished work early, and popped up to Gellibrand Hill for the evening.

Mostly to see if there where any sign of Brown Falcons and Kestrels.

There are really four distinct birdy areas on the hill, and I choose the one looking down over the paddocks to the airport.  A Brown Falcon put in an appearance, and then a second one and they played in the sky just too far away for great shots.
I also heard the odd kid’s flute, cry of a Wedge-tail eagle. Its a funny noise from a great bird.  It must have been behind the door when great calls were given out.  Or too busy up on the “Bigger Wings” and “Claws” section of the production line.  I grew up in the Mallee, and around the Long Paddock (technical term look it up) they could often be heard with the little wheezy whistle.  I didn’t take too much notice of them in those days,  had other boy things to grow up with.

Anyway my investigation turned up two birds sitting just a bit too far down the hill in the fenced off Bandicoot Hilton.

I had a 300 with a Kenko 1.4 TC on board.  Mr An  Onymous  had been using on his D800, and it came back for a visit. As my Nikon TC1.4 is practically mated to the 500 for life, it was nice to try this out again.  I bought it when I was using the old style 300 F4 AF Lens.   It was  a bit slow to focus, but once locked on it was great.  But for inflight, it left a bit to be desired and I took the AF-S  on a trade at Camera Exchange.  Anyway.  Just a bit too far down the paddock for great, but close enough for interesting.

Also had a half hour with a Pallid Cuckoo pair hunting on the old fence line.  Why don’t they just take that part of the fence out now.  There are no Bandicoots in that part, and I could get easy access down along the paddocks of interest. Or. Visitors could roam down along the open paddocks and enjoy the different atmosphere the open fields offer. (there spoken just like  marketing person). If there is a job available to pull it down, I’ll volunteer.

And to top it off a lovely sunset with a big orange ball on the horizon, and two friendly Kookaburras to share it with.  They were gracious enough to share their nest location with me, and while the sunset wasn’t behind them, I left with their merry laughter ringing in my ears.

Two Wedgetailed Eagles enjoying the evening sunshine
Wedgetail Eagle flying in. Love the expression on the stationery bird.
Wedgetail Eagle flying in. Love the expression on the stationery bird.
Wedgetailed Eagle and some very aggressive Ravens
Pallid Cuckoo enjoying an evening snack.
As the sun sets slowly in the west, the call of the Kookaburra brings another day to a close. Roll the MovieTone music track.