T.C McKellar Circuit is a short walk in Arthurs Seat State Park. Accessed from the car-park at Seawinds Gardens, its an easy 1.4 km loop through lowland forest vegetation. It’s a short walk that’s big on scenery, but requires minimal effort. If you’ve got the kids with you, it’ll be a cinch for them, but it’ll still make you all feel like you’ve immersed yourself deep in the heart of the bush. I had an hour to spare on a sunny Sunday, so I grabbed my camera and headed into the woods to take a look….
Stands of Prickly Tea-Tree dominate the start of the walk. Young Blackwood saplings occasionally gain a place in between, in-dispersed with Prickly Current-Bush and straggly specimens of Common Cassinia. As I walk the first twenty metres or so, the vegetation is quite scrubby, but within a short distance, I sense I am heading into a more thickly vegetated forest woodland.
The understory is populated with larger Blackwood and Messmate Stringybark. The track is sandy underfoot, and a sprinkling of gum leaves line the path, absorbing the sound of my footsteps as I walk. I can hear Red Wattlebirds; brash and loud as they chase each other in the upper canopy of eucalypts. As the track winds further into the woods, it twists and turns like a river, as it cuts a path through the thick carpet of forest grass.
Common Flat-Pea erupts through the grass, its arrow-shaped leaf a clincher for an accurate id. Silver Banksia makes an occasional appearance, with its golden tubular-shaped flower-heads a Mecca for honey-eaters.
As I walk slightly downhill, I hear a swoosh through the trees behind me, and turn in time to see about ten mountain-bike riders, racing through the woods at break-neck speed. A recently approved bike track through the outskirts of the park, has obviously drawn in some weekend enthusiasts.
Messmate Stringybark trees appear as charred vertical lines, extending deep into the distance. Long and sketchy, they look like the first draft of an artist’s pencil drawing. As the forest vegetation thickens, so does the silence. The Red Wattlebirds are keeping to the sunny side of the woods, leaving the depths of the forest up for grabs. I sink more deeply into my surroundings, and cast my eyes around, looking for signs of life.
The morning sun catches on the finely woven web of a forest spider. Although a mild arachnaphobic, I am none-the-less impressed by the finesse required to create this silken structure. I shudder as I think of the implications of walking into one at face-level. As I walk towards the centre of the centre of the forest, my focus is drawn to subtle changes in the vegetation. I notice a straggly specimen of Musk Daisy-Bush. A signal to me that perhaps this small area of the forest is, or was, at some point, a little damper than the rest.
You can see the Musk Daisy-Bush in the lower right-hand corner of the photo above.
Musk Daisy-Bush prefers moist gullies, or wet, damp forests. I’ve seen some deeper in the park, in a gully lined with Hazel Pomaderris, but it seems out of place here, among the Messmates. I walk through knee-deep forest grass to take a closer look, and to make sure I’m right. Sure enough, the pale underside of the leaves is downy, and soft to the touch, leaf margins slightly serrated. My diagnosis is correct. Nearby, two small Tree-Ferns sit 50 metres apart, another indicator that the ground is moister than meets the eye.
A Hazel Pomaderris stands on the track verge. A solitary specimen, its slightly leathery leaves look lush and healthy. It stands about 3 metres tall, branches almost horizontally splayed out from the central trunk. I learned recently that Aboriginals used the wood of this plant to make stretching frames to dry skins on. As I gaze at the tree, I find myself pondering the lifestyle and activities of the indigenous people of this area, long ago. From my readings on local history, I understand that possum-skin rugs were made using the drying racks, then sewn together with possum tendons, using fish bones for needles.
As the track turns into the afternoon sun, the forest canopy is bathed in light, and the foliage comes alive in a radiant glow of luminous green.
Sounds of birdlife rife in the trees ahead, signify a change in vegetation again. I’m emerging out of the silent sector of the forest, and into the twitchers zone. Red Saw-Sedge dances alongside the track; its showy green skirts moving almost imperceptibly in the breeze. I’m heading into another ‘wet’ area, although seemingly dry at this time of the year. It seems a haven for the local bird population; a veritable meeting place for a plethora of species, all intent on talking at the same time
I stand still and try my best to blend in to my surroundings. Camera at the ready, I stay tuned for the nearest sound of bird activity. My eyes search the canopy of a Messmate Stringybark close by. Detecting movement in the leaves of a branch high above, I stand stock-still, waiting for the intruder to show himself. With a nervous flurry of wings, followed by a split second of stillness, the shape of a Brown Thornbill is revealed, safely perched in the confines of the Stringybark leaves.
Although no twitcher, I am happy enough with the result of my patience. But despite standing in one spot for the next 20 minutes, and sighting two Yellow-Faced Honey Eaters, and three White-Cheeked Honey Eaters, this is the only image I have to show for my efforts. The White-Cheeked Honey Eaters seemed to be deliberately taunting me; allowing me to zoom in with my lens, and then just as I focused….. gone. I give up, eventually, my hands cold from being exposed to the air in this damp, shady pocket of forest.
I catch a glimpse of a nest high up in the fork of a Blackwood branch, and ponder on the owner. I initially think it is an open nest, or perhaps a possum’s dray, but my zoom lens reveals that it has an enclosed roof, and just a small circular opening. I am none the wiser.
I stop to examine the moss and lichen growing on the bark of a deceased tree. I am staggered by the complexity of life forms in such a small amount of space, and can only wonder at their purpose in the whole grand scheme of things.
As the circuit concludes, I walk out onto a grassy 4×4 track, and into the light. I turn to look at the wall of Manna Gums lining the forest like a security fence. Their imposing height reaches up toward the skyline, and long ribbons of bark drape limply over their lower branches, as though shed in a moment of haste.
A grassy track leads back to the main gravel pathway, and within five minutes I am back at the Seawinds Gardens carpark. I feel refreshed after my immersion in the wilds of Arthurs Seat State Park, and head back home for a late coffee.
Where: T.C Mc Kellar Circuit, Arthurs Seat State Park; accessed off Purves Road, Arthurs Seat.
Distance: 1.4 km
Time: About 20 minutes (but much longer if you stop as often as I do to look around).