Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Rufous Fantail Eggs - a symbol of the New Year?

Today I went on an interesting bushwalk with Jim, Tegyn and Lynnette, along the creek above the Minamurra Falls. This creek runs off the western side of Knights Hill (where the TV towers for Wollongong are located). It flows to the Minnamurra Falls, which are included in the Minnamurra Nature Reserve.

The younger members of the group were keen to go down the first set of canyons of this creek. Jim and I were not prepared to do this more physical part of the walk. As it was, it was stressful enough for me. We came through dense rainforest, where the floor of the forest was completely bare, because the canopy was so dense and dark that insufficient light passes through to allow low-level plants to grow - not even ground ferns. This area on the side of Knights Hill was very steep, and the ground was completely covered with angular rocks, ranging from "football-sized" rocks, up to rocks the size of "suit-cases", with occasional large boulders.

Dense shade of Rainforest. Rock amongst leaf litter
Tree fern trunks visible centre and right.

We had to walk through dense cool temperate rainforest - Sassafras, Blackwood Wattles, Lillypilly, Coachwood, and Eucryphia trees, and huge Tree Ferns of both the Dicksonia and Cyathea genera.

Once we reached the creek, which was flowing steadily, the valley floor flattened out somewhat, and we were able to walk alongside the creek, and on occasions, we chose to walk along the flat bottom of the creek, in ankle-deep water.

As we passed down the valley, we moved away from the basalt rock area, and this was clearly obvious in the form of the creek bed. Firstly there was a flat bed of cracked shale. Then, once we got below the shale layer, we hit the sandstone.

First sign of shale layer, in undercut banks of the creek.
Sandstone rock strata visible in rock bed of creek.
Typically sandstone has a series of layers of alternating hardness. So, bars of hard rock act like small dams, leaving pools above them. The small creek cuts into these rock bars, and forms runnels, and water slides. Then, as the creek drops further, it suddenly starts to develop canyons, cut quite deeply into the rock. In many cases, the drops are sudden, but with large rocks which have separated from the rock bed, forming large barriers in the canyon. In some cases, these rocks are then eroded by the forces of the creek, with undercut sections, leaving the creek flowing under these huge rocks. It was all quite spectacular.

First sign of canyon formations in Minnamurra Creek.

Jim and I turned back at this point, not wanting to travel even further down the creek, as there was no way we were going to try to cross this canyon, which was by now some 20 metres deep.

On the way back we followed our instinct to investigate a clearing not far from the creek. It was apparent that there had been a farm here (a long time ago), as huge trees had presumably been cleared, I reasoned that they had presumably removed the timber. How had they go their produce out? I went looking for an early settlers track.

The first thing I noticed was several large plants of Fuchsias growing in this clearing. As I said to Jim, it looked to me as if there had been a garden here. As I said there's been a "Nanna's Garden" here. Male bush farmers would not be expected to plant Fuchsias, I reasoned.

Anyway, we found some more Fuchsia plants, then I realised that there was a cut level in the side of the hill. This was obviously a very old track - most likely a logging track. I say very old, for in some places, there were huge Eucalypt trees (trunks of 90cm diameter) growing from the surface of the track. This old track followed the gentle contour around the hillside. Obviously it was set up this way for heavy vehicles, or maybe even for bullock-drawn vehicles (though I doubt that it was as old as that, as it had seemingly been cut in to the hillside with large machinery). It meant that we could gently traverse around the hill, rather than having to retrace our steps up the steep and rocky hillside down which we had descended.

The best surprise for me was that while we were walking back along this track, Jim spotted a Rufous Fantail nest, at chest height, under overhanging branches of medium shrub growing out of this track. I stopped to take several photos (one not very good, because I was trying to hold back overhanging branches).

Rufous Fantail nest
Note the brownish fibres used.
They blend perfectly with the colour of the birds - for camouflage.

The adult Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons) was making its high pitched squeaking noises from the adjacent trees, while I was taking the photos, and I did not want to delay. You may hear its distinctive high-pitched metallic squeaks on the "call" file found low down on the right of the Birds in Backyards website linked above. I was delighted that there were two lovely eggs (with reddish brown spots in a ring on the wide end of the eggs) in this nest. Note the very fine "work" in the top of the nest. The rim is particularly well reinforced. A lovely nest-building job. You can see there are cobwebs used to hold the nest onto the horizontal branch below the nest.

It seemed like a nice omen for the start of this New Year of 2009.

We followed this little-known track back to a clearing half-way along the Knights Hill Road. We still had to climb the hill (obviously) to return to our cars, but at least we were now walking along a road, and not in danger of tripping over loose rocks, when climbing back up a steep hill.

I would like to know more of the history of this track, as I know there are people in the district who know some of the history of the early farmers of Knights Hill.


Miss Eagle said...

A beautiful New Year adventure! The things that are left behind - some fuschias and a space in the trees.

Blessings and bliss

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Miss Eagle

Its interesting the way people perceive things differently.
Those things - the Fuchsias and the space in the forest - were there, and I reported on them, but did not photograph either. But you picked up on them both. Good.

Dare I say it, it tends to confirm my theory that a "Nanna" must have lived there. :-)) Fuchsias are not everybody's favourite, but those of us (including me) who like them, LOVE them.

Yet, I was more taken with the perfect bird's nest and the eggs.

Best wishes for 2009.