The Flora and Fauna of the Great Victorian Rail Trail
30.08.2015 - 30.08.2015
In the South East corner of Australia around this time of year there are some obvious signs of Spring.
Not only are the days getting longer but the chill is trying to break out of the air, albeit when the wind blows from the South we still experience the cool of Winter. There are other signs however that point to the uniqueness of our Australian Springtime.
The itch at the back of the throat and accompanying watery eyes is a portent to the unleashing of Nature's true gift of life. As flora everywhere celebrates the change in season and recognises that now is the time to throw pollen into the air like confetti at a wedding, it has no choice but to collect in the nasal cavities of we mere humans and bring the annual dose of Hayfever. The volume of pollen is only rivaled by the number of advertisements for Hayfever solutions, many of which would make even a snake oil salesman blush.
But this is not Nauture's cruelest attack on human kind at this special time of year. The Fauna have their chance as well. As Snakes awake from their Winter slumber, they drag themselves, bleary eyed and cranky from their hibernation spots. Sometimes, they are disturbed a little early than they planned as the last of the Winter rains on the saturated soil finally caused run off that made their previously dry spot a little damp. They lethargically find a spot, out of the wind, but in the warmth of the Sun which is building in intensity every day. A dark, heat absorbent surface is best. Let me just lie here and warm up, they think to themselves.
And then, if that were not enough, coming in low, from a gum tree not far away, the Black and White Air wing will take on any invader to protect their territory. With more aggression than a German Messerschmidt, and more accuracy than a Japanese Zero, the Australian Magpie feels an obligation to do something even the Australian Border Force can't do, protect their territory.
As is always the case, there is a diversity of skill amongst these Magpies as to their ability and approach to this offensive/defensive strategy.
As I journeyed along the Great Victorian Rail Trail, which follows the long silent rail line from Tallarook to Mansfield over the weekend as part of my training for the upcoming Bamboo Road, I was able to examine at first hand the ravages of Spring in the Great Australian Bush. The first thing that struck me was, where would we be without the word Great in Australia. I wonder if our Aboriginal Forebears had a similar word in all their languages or was this just a purely white anglosaxon descriptive word. Great Dividing Range, Great Australian Bight, Great Southern Stand, and now the Great Australian Spelling Bee.
The GVRT as it is signposted, another unique ability we have in Australia, why use the whole name when we can make it shorter, is a marvel of engineering from last century, and then the foresight of our much maligned politicians this century. Let's utilise this corridor through the Victorian countryside for recreation. As you can see from the photo, it is a never ending driveway of beauty, a celebration of Australian Nature, and a space to allow your chest to swell with pride.
Until, you hear them. Incoming. As they swoop in low, and circle behind you they wait for the last minute before climbing steeply in the air. They hover above you and then swoop down, sometimes only once, but usually more often. There are some that swoop to about a meter, and then fly off satisfied that you have been warned, others come a little closer and use a combination of flapping wings and beak knashing to let you know that they really mean business, and then there are the angry ones.
Scientists have different theories for why Magpies swoop. I've often said that I can see how you behave, but can never truly know why you behave that way. When it comes to Magpies, it is the male who is responsible for this behavior, and just like in our society, there are "the idiots". And these Magpie Idiots, head for you and insist on making contact, generally its to the side of the head, but the top is also a good target. Thank god for helmets.
Head down, keep pedaling, watch the action in the shadow on the ground, and maybe let off a swear word or two.
The true beauty of the GVRT cannot be underestimated. It's well worth exploring, but be careful in Spring. With the reincarnated fighter pilot Magpies, and the newly awoken grumpy snakes feasting on the warmth from the dark Trail, there is something for every adventurer amongst us.