21 October 2007

On Sunday there was an Indigenous Flora & Fauna Association (IFFA) tour of Mulla Mulla Grasslands (Bush’s Paddock) & Mt Cottrell in association with Pinkerton Landcare & Environment Group, followed by lunch on Mt Cottrell.


Despite the extreme drought conditions we were still able to observe a variety of wildflowers at Mulla Mulla Grasslands (Bush’s Paddock). The bright yellow flowers of the Podolepis planted beside the gate at Mt Cottrell Road grew among the fluffy plumes of the Pussytails (Ptilotis spathulata). Common Everlasting daisies (Chrysocephalum) were flowering in the paddocks lower down the track, Creamy Candles were finishing flowering while the Blue Grass-lilies are about to flower. Blue Devils were also quite prevalent despite the dry conditions.

Many Featherheads (Ptilotis macrocephalus) were in flower, the flowerheads standing above the dry grasses. They were however not so tall or as common as last year, no doubt a response to the dry conditions. The walk in the protected enclosure showed many more wildflowers, such as Sticky, Common & Pale Everlastings, & Scaly Buttons.


Click to view enlarged images.

White-browed Woodswallows

A feature of the excursion to Mulla Mulla Grasslands (Bush’s Paddock) was the unexpected appearance of a large & noisy flock of White-browed Woodswallows. This flock appeared to consist of well over 100 birds. They whirled & circled above the edge of the woodland & over the adjacent grassland, noisily hawking for insects. These birds migrate from northern Australia each summer to breed here. Their close relatives, the Dusky Woodswallows, arrived in the Melton area about a month ago, but this massed flock seems to dramatically mark the arrival of the White-browed Woodswallows. They will most probably disappear in January-February, while the Dusky Woodswallows will leave a few months later.

Straw-necked Ibis
In the adjoining paddock was a large flock of about 50 Straw-necked Ibis, walking slowly across the ground, their long curved bills probing the grass for insects. Their low muttering as they walked sounded almost like muffled human voices at a distance. The air was full of the sounds of grasshoppers & small cicadas so the ibis would have had rich pickings among the grass. A few of them flew into the air at our approach but the majority seemed unmoved by our proximity.

Following a couple of hours at Mulla Mulla Grasslands (Bush’s Paddock) we then drove to Mt Cottrell, where we parked beside the main gate (hung heavily with the largest collection of padlocks ever seen)! Rather than try to find the one lock matching the key, we climbed the gate instead. The walk from Faulkiners Road to the summit was more grueling than expected. On the way up the track to the summit we found the desiccated remains of a very dead Little Whip Snake. These small snakes are common on the basalt plains west of Melbourne.


Lunch at summit of Mt Cottrell
(with Cobbledick Reserve, Eynesbury Forest & You Yangs in background)

Views from the summit of Mt Cottrell are spectacular, especially so as this volcanic cone stands alone in the middle of a large volcanic plain. The neighbouring cones are low in comparison, offering no interruption to the panoramic views. The You Yangs stood out to the south in the midst of the flat plains while Mounts Macedon, Gisborne, Bullengarook & Blackwood towered above the surrounding ranges to the north. Even container ships lying at anchorage in the bay were clearly visible, awaiting berths at the container terminals.

The summit was dry & rocky, but even here the native bluebells (Wahlenbergia) flourished among the rocks; masses of blue star-shaped flowers waving in the wind among the dark broken basalt & withered grasses. On the exposed northern summit could be seen several clumps of Stipa scabra in flower.

Mt Cottrell has a unique place in the history of Victoria. The first blood shed in Victoria between the white settlers & the local aboriginal peoples occurred on the slopes of Mt Cottrell. Possession of this land was not relinquished lightly. Lying among the basalt boulders was a tiny scraping tool. The whiteness of the quartzite artefact contrasted brightly against the dark basalt, an enduring reminder of these first inhabitants of the area.

As we descended from the summit we were treated to the sight of a small mob of kangaroos. These live on & around the slopes of Mt Cottrell, making a living despite the drought & lack of tree cover. Their presence demonstrates the ability of these animals to survive both in drought & in cleared farmland. Areas such as Mt Cottrell are important as they provide a haven in which native wildlife can survive in a sea of encroaching subdivision & increasing housing development.

Daryl Akers