Sunday, 2 December 2018

In the company of giants and lyrebirds

The temperate rainforest to the north and east of Melbourne is dominated by mountain ash Eucalyptus regnans which is the tallest flowering plant and 2nd tallest tree in the world and occurs naturally only in Victoria and Tasmania. The forest also has an interesting understory which includes some very prehistoric looking tree ferns. It really would be easy to imagine dinosaurs living in a place like this and in fact they still do because there are many interesting birds about even if they are often frustratingly difficult to see.

Take the superb lyrebird for example. This is a noisy species which looks a bit like a small pheasant and has a spectacular display. Should be easy enough to see you might think. Well no, at least not for me. I've looked (and listened) for them on several occasions in the past without success. Until today. Josh and I were walking through Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Range, accessed from Grants picnic site when we heard the song of a whipbird. There was a guy without binoculars about 50m ahead of us standing and listening too. When we got up to him he casually announced "the lyrebird is just through that gap singing"...... and sure enough, there it was, a male lyrebird in full view singing away mimicking a whipbird! Perhaps that's why I haven't heard any in the past, because I thought they were something else. We watched and listened for five minutes before it wandered off and out of view. Fortunately though this wasn't the end of our lyrebird experience for the day, it proved to be  just a foretaste of what was to come.

© 2011 David Cook Wildlife 
We continued along the track for another mile or so, the occasional sulphur-crested cockatoo or yellow-tailed black-cockatoo flew noisily about the canopy, whilst white-throated treecreepers, spotted pardalotes, crimson rosellas and golden whistlers were a little more accessible lower down or in the understory. Suddenly as we were chatting a male superb lyrebird strolled out in front of us and walked across the track. Far from disappearing, it stayed within a few meters of the track and we watched it at close range as it scraped in the leaf litter allowing us excellent views for about 10 minutes. A memorable experience to end my visit to Australia.

Mountain ash is so adapted to bush fire that it depends on it in order to regenerate. It's seeds are released from their woody capsules by the intense heat of fire, and they need so much daylight in order to grow that they can only do so when there is no longer a mature tree canopy.

Yellow-tailed black-cockatoos occur throughout the forest. We came across one which was gouging chunks out of a tree in its search for borers, probably beetle larvae.

The understory is full of many species including a variety of ferns.

The trees and tree ferns are covered in epiphytes which are species which grow on other plants for support but do not negatively affect the host, i.e. they are not parasites. This looks like a species of liverwort growing on a trees fern.

Tree ferns can grow up to 12m high.

Mountain ash grows to an altitude of about 1000m. Above that, as here on Mount Donna Buang (1250m) it is replaced by Alpine ash Eucalyptus delegatensis, which is also a species which occurs naturally only in Victoria and Tasmania.

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