Been a long time between posts, I know. Hope you remember me!
But the excuse—I’m going to use—is that we just haven’t been doing much that is reportable.
Long term readers may remember that the blog was originally set up to record the bird activity at Grey Box forest at Woodlands Historic Park. Quite a few things have changed, in the park, and in my birding life, and in my life since those humble beginnings.
It has been said more than once, sometimes kindly, others not, that I have Grey Box sap running in my veins. Put me in a stand of Grey Box and my heartrate, breathing and all other out of contol faculties calm down.
So when EE said, casually, ‘Why don’t we go to Eynesbury”, on a sunny morning, before you can say, “We’re off” we were!
After all the rain, Eynesbury Grey Box looks a treat. Plenty of green and still good water laying about in the usual dry water courses that cross the forest.
We had hoped to see Speckled Warbler, Diamond Firetail, Sacred Kingfisher and Jacky Winter. In descending order of importance.
We also had hoped to hear the forest ringing with the sounds of Dusky Woodswallows that regularly return to nest in the area.
However Grey Box is not always forthcoming and in the end we had to admit, that today was not going to be our day.
It’s been awhile since we’ve been into the greybox at Woodlands Historic Park.
As we had a need to travel out to the northern subs today, we hummed and hahhed about making the extra effort to swing by Woodlands. Mostly the conversation was about the weather.
Neither of us being partial to walking about in the rain, or being blown backwards by strong wings, nor suffering from the interminable porridge skies we’ve been experiencing the past week or so.
So says she, “Why don’t we put the cameras in, and take a late lunch at Greenvale Shopping Square and if when we come out, the weather is reasonable—at term to be defined by looking at the sky and the action of the wind in the trees—and decide then.?”
BirdLife runs a number of Beginners days throughout the year, and Hazel and Alan do a super job of finding the right places to explore and go out of their way to make sure that beginners get the best looks at the various birds found on each day out.
So when the Woodlands Historic Park Beginners day came along we were very happy to go along and catch up with friends and to share just a little of our experiences in the park. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see the park through a different set of eyes. And some 40 pairs of eyes is always going to see so much more than just my poor old eyesight straining through the bushes.
As the weather has been anything but predictable of late, we were also pleased to see some open blue sky as we drove out toward the park, and as the day went on, the warmth came on well. Our flickr friend, Eleanor turned up and that made the day a little bit special.
The first part of the day featured a walk around the upper ends of the Moonee Ponds Creek, which was actually carrying a flow of water following the recent rains. The creek here suffers from losing input water because of the large reservoir at Greenvale, but none the less it still drains from a long way up toward the north. It also is an especially steep fall from the north side of the park to the more southern areas, so the creek dries out through the park very quickly.
A number of small weirs and dams have been used across the creek over the years, and the Chaffey Brothers, built a substantial weir and bridge near the homestead at one stage. But, on a heavy flood year, the foundations gave way and the weir was never repaired.
At first our outward journey seemed a little slow for birds, but eventually things began to pickup, with a Crested Shriktite being a major find, some thornbills, and Galahs and a pair of Eastern Rosellas which let the photographers gain some excellent portraits. A Brown Falcon took to the air on our approach into the open farmland areas, and the usual Sulphur-crested Cockatoos continued to screech at our presence.
We walked around the homestead and then headed back on a middle track above the river, and some spotted a Scarlet Robin. And after much investigation we were able to get quite close to the female and she gave lovely views for those who might not often have the acquaintance of such a fine looking lady.
Lunch time, and bird count and we had 37 species to our list.
On to the BackPaddock area. Mostly to look for Robins.
A trip around the dam area didn’t do much for the enthusiasm, and I managed to add some Brown-headed Honeyeaters, and more Shriketits. A Whistling Kite and a Wedgetailed Eagle made up for small numbers else where. Despite EE and I looking in some of the places that have been quite profitable of late, the robins were not in a cooperative mood.
The group moved toward the BackPaddock, and I spotted a male Red-capped Robin on the inside of the fence, and the group moved to have a look. Eventually we found him, and his lady, and also a few Flame Robins. The male Red-capped Robin performed so wonderfully close to many of the group and hunted quite close to us on the ground. Nice way to end the day.
Thanks to Alan and Hazel and their helpers for such a good day out, and lovely warm weather to add to the warmth of the company.
The monthly Bird Walk at Eynesbury rolled around and the calendar clicked over the last Sunday in the month, so we looked out the window, and sure enough Sunshine!
So Sunshine, we headed out to Eynesbury to catch up with the group of locals in their exploration around the Grey Box forest.
Chris had initially planned on being away, and asked another local, Leigh, to take the day. As it turned, Chris turned up anyway. Nice to catchup.
The sunshine added to the recent rain made the open areas around the housing estates glow in most impressive green with lots of new growth coming on.
So we set out for a looksee along the river gorge to the east. In times past before the housing establishment, a small creek drained water outward the gorge and as it tumbled over the rocky edge a wonderful waterfall would suddenly appear. And. Today was such a day. The little creek has now been somewhat controlled to a drain-way through the estate, but in the last few hundred metres runs over the rocky ground, forming little pools as it goes. Then. Taking is self to the edge, it plunges down the 30 or so metres to empty into the creek, that runs toward the Werribee River. And spectacular it would be too in full flood and great light, but I was just a bit late as early morning shadow hid the sparkle of the water.
For a birding day, it was a bit quiet, even for me and my missing bird karma as Mr An Onymous puts it.
We did manage a fine Eastern Yellow Robin, an Eastern Spinebill and a couple of Crested Shriketits as we strolled along one of the forest tracks. And so another birding morning came to a close, lots to talk about, plenty of things to share about the few birds we did see, and to get a perspective of the area from Leigh’s point of view. He has been in the area almost since its inception and gave a fine running commentary of points of interest along the way.
EE and I took a cuppa by the lake, and then headed down to see the Tawny Frogmouths in the local park-area. See the May report for details. Sure enough, dependable as clockwork there they were. One has added an additional extra piece of camo to the perch as a branch has broken off higher up and now obscures the perching branch very well.
Off to look for Flame Robins, but no luck there either, and it was time for home, just as we went past the old shearing shed area a small shape darted into the tree. A Speckled Warbler. And to make its point is warbled away quite merrily. Just about managed to get off a couple of shots before it was gone. Looking at it the shots, it’s no wonder they are so hard to spot given the wonderful markings on the feathers that blend into the scrub so well.
Thanks to Leigh and Chris for the day, and also to everyone who turned up and enjoyed both the sunshine and the birds. Looking forward to the July Sunday.
My mate Chris L, he of Mt Rothwell, and formerly Western Treatment Plant, fame has established a monthly bird walk around the Eynesbury Grey Box Forest.
It is a pretty informal arrangement, no signing of paper and turning up is about the only requirement.
“Are you interested in coming on Sunday?”, he said. Hmm. Didn’t really have to consult the diary. “Be there at 10 of the clock,” says he.
And so EE and I hit the road to Eynesbury in some brilliant sunshine. When Chris organises a day, well, he organises the weather too.
By start time, about half a dozen locals, and Geraldine from Werribee Wagtails – Now BirdLife Werribee, turned up. Chris really wants to make it an opportunity for the local residents to enjoy the forest around their village.
Eynesbury is built around a golf course (well not really, but on the other hand, really). Another golfing friend, took a trip out there one day, saw the greens, and the area, and was back the following day to sign up for a villa. Nothing like a game of golf that starts from your front step.
Surrounding the man-made, is the indomitable Grey Box. This is one of the largest stand of Grey Box left in Victoria. Something the locals are particularly proud of, and with every right.
We set off along the track that leads around the ornamental lake. Lake being a somewhat strange term at the moment as the dry weather has reduced it to a series of water holes. And a home now for a number of Black-fronted Dotterels, among the usual ducks and other waders. The cormorant families have had to move on.
A trip around the lake led us off into the wilds of suburbia as we walked along a track between the forest and the residences. Many little bush birds, particularly Superb Fairy-wrens along here. It seemed that there was about one Fairy-wren clan to every front yard.
Across a dry creek and into the forest proper and the call of Brown Treecreepers announced our presence. Then a Jacky Winter couple, and the familiar call of Diamond Firetails, but search as we might we didn’t spot them today.
A bit of ramble through the thickets between the Grey Box and we were nearing the end of our morning. When a call of an Crested Shrike-tit echoed across the open area. After quite a bit of searching, I’d concluded we’d missed it, and a cuppa beckoned.
Not so Christo. With stoic patience he continued, and a “Here it is!” was really a grand statement of his birding skills. The group hurried to see. And not only one, but two and working very close to the track and unperturbed by our presence.
The photographers were in for a treat and we were shown the skills needed to both track down and extract grubs from the most unlikely places among the bark.
And all too soon we were back in the carpark, and farewelling the lovely area.
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