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

Enjoy.

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.

 

Our Flame Robin drought is finally over

 

The Flame Robins travel down from the Victorian High Country where they have replenished the species over summer and spend the winter in the lower country.  Bit hard for a little beak to find food under several metres of snow!

Our former main area of Woodlands Historic Park has been a major stop over for them as they migrate down along the bayside areas.   Some families don’t continue travelling but remain around the Grey Box forest areas at Woodlands and set up feeding territories and have been a great source of picture making pleasure for us over the years.   But, we don’t have close access this year, and the couple of trips we’ve made have been blocked by a large sign on a gate explaining the need for the Parks people to manage a fox that has managed to breach the secure area for the Eastern Barred Bandicoots.  So rather than having nearly a month of good work with the Flame Robins, we’ve been in a bit of a drought. Spotting the odd one or two at a distance is not quite the same somehow.

As we move into winter, the weather has also played its part in keeping us at home. After all what is the point of standing in a cold forest on a grey day with the light completely obscured by the incessant rain.  Not that I’m against getting wet, just not much point photographically.

Our friends,  Richard and Gwen A (he of Woodlands Birds List fame) wanted to have lunch at Eynesbury Golf Club and a bit of a walk in the forest.  Again this  should be a good area for Flame Robins, so we accepted the offer, and waited for a ‘reasonable day’.  It arrived. Beaut cold morning. 2 degrees, plenty of sunshine and little breeze.  Great.  So we, EE, Mr An Onymous, and I set off early to get a good start and work up an appetite for lunch.  We had previously found several robins in an area within pretty easy walking distance of the carpark and so we decided to start there.  Brown Treecreepers, a few Dusky Woodswallows, a White-winged Triller and an assortment of Thornbills were enjoying the change in the weather too.

We eventually found a small family of Flame Robins, and set down to work.   There is something very satisfying about sitting quietly while a dozen or more birds feed back and forth around you.  These birds have the name “Petroica” which roughly translated means “Rock dwellers” and where they were working was indeed the rocky side of a slope.  So we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the activity.  None seemed to really be too sure of us, but at least they allowed some good, if not great shots.   But like all good days out, it was both enjoyable and a learning experience. Armed with our new knowledge of the feeding area of these birds will give us a head start next time we are out that way. And of course, with such great little subjects its going to be sooner than later.

We caught up for lunch, and then had an hour or so to wander in another part of the forest.  Looked hard for Diamond Firetails, but had to settle for two Whistling Kites, and two Black Kites.  On the way back the fluting call of a Little Eagle led us to some great views of a circling bird.   No Freckle or Blue-billed Ducks on the club Lake, but we did see a golf ball badly sliced off the tee drop into the lake with a satisfying “perlop”.

Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Called "Rock dwellers' they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Called “Rock dwellers’ they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Dapper lad
Dapper lad
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Inbound
Inbound
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
Lift off.
Lift off.
Hunting from a low perch
Hunting from a low perch
Showing off her lovely markings
Showing off her lovely markings
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.