ON THE BEN CAIRN TRACK.
By DONALD THOMSON.
The road fringing Mount Toolebewong and thence across Ben Cairn will make accessible some of the finest country in the nearer ranges for the mountains of Healesville arc a wonderland to the tourist, and a happy hunting-ground for the naturalist.
We often camped in a deserted hut in n little clearing on Mount Toolebewong, some 2,600 ft. above sea-level?on , tho fringe of the silent places. On one side of the hut was a little raspberry patch, where wallabies came to sport in the moon-light, or to cat the succulent shoots of the canes. White-eyes and other fruit eating birds gorged with ripe berries, and the garden resounded with bird music. The front door of the hut opened on a dense thicket of wattle and Christmas bush, which shed its snowy or pinkish flowers at the very door. Below was an old orchard, lichen covered and unpinned, where the bush crept stealthily amongst trees, claiming back her own. We slept soundly on beds of bracken, and it was pleasant to lie abed in the early morning, listening to the morning paeans of the lyre-birds, which came out to feed clone beside the hut. On the hillsides above the gullies we often came upon tho dancing mounds, upon which the males dance and display before their admiring lady-loves? for sad to relate, the lyre-bird is generally accused of polygamy. Once I tried to stalk a bird whilst mimicking. Rain fell steadily, and ray footfalls on the sodden mould seemed hushed. The mimic was at his best, singing in the rain, but a female bird which had not seen, evidently on out-post duty, gave the alarm, tho voice was hushed instantly, and I glimpsed the graceful forms disappearing like ghosts in the ferns, before I was left alone in the glade. Below the hut we found the nest of a lyre-bird?a great domed structure of sticks, rootlets, and leaves, lined cosily with the soft greyish down feathers from the mother's own breast?surely a luxurious nursery, even for a lyre-bird chick. As usual, there was but one egg?large as a hen's, and of a deep purplish-grey in colour.
From Mount Toolebewong, a steep track, bordered by bracken, and shaded by tree ferns and great mountain ash and silver top, leads down into the Don Valley at Panton's Gap. Panton's Farm had long been deserted, and the wilderness closed about the abandoned home. Hard by the old homestead a couple of great walnut trees grew luxuriantly, strewing their fruit on the ground. Great numbers of rabbits kept the grass ever short, whilst wombats and wallabies came only to feed on the little patches of cleared ground where paddocks once had been. A creek, fringed with ferns, flowed lazily down the valley. On either side, dense tangles of bracken formed on almost impenetrable barrier, and thickets of hazel and dogwood guarded the last secrets of the wilderness. Sometimes a wombat, caught dozing in a hollow fallen log, rushed in headlong flight through the fern, disturbed by the unaccustomed presence of man. Black-tailed wallabies dozed through sunlit hours in the scrub of the valley, stretched lazily on their sides in the fern, but_when disturbed_ they, ran away in a panic of fear, pausing in an open spot to view the enemy from afar, before plunging into the bush once more. On either side of the Don Valley, blue mountains rose steeply, like great grim wall. Sometimes a wedge-tailed eagle soared high over the valley, now gliding, now swooping, like the master flier he is. Sad to relate, the eagle is a rare avis amongst the ranges now, for he is in keeping with the wildness and grandeur of the rugged hills. One of the finest sights in the mountains is a glimpse of this noble creature soaring in great sweeping circles over the timbered slopes and craggy rocks of Ben Cairn.
On the road to Ben Cairn one may Bee, if he is fortunate, a fallow deer browsing in all open space left by the bush fires, or crossing the road not a leisurely walk. Tho fallow deer has taken kindly to the Healesville mountains, and has become a familiar object to the tourist. Last Easter, whilst I was strolling in the big timber, a black doe walked past, some 50 paces away, pausing to regard me with soft, wondering eyes. I, too, paused, to admire the graceful creature. For a few moments we faced one another, then, with a farewell flick of her stumpy little tail, she disappeared in the undergrowth. Towards Ben Cairn you may often pick up deer tracks, like the footprints of large sheep, in the dust by the roadside.
Here and there, in a glen, where the road crossed a creek, we refreshed ourselves with cool water, renting from our packs awhile. On the rocky summit we stood gazing over the valley where the Yarra wound, snakelike, amongst the hills, to the far distance, where range upon range of mountains faded into a blue haze. There was a feeling of height and aloofness as if all the world lay fur below in the valley. Hard by a lone lyre-bird's note sounding, broke the spell, and we lay down beside our packs, while the billy boiled. The bush between Ben Cairn and Mount Donna Buang is a natural wonderland, and the virgin wilds are full of interest. In the dense gullies and hillside scrubs, the pilot-bird's call, "I want a guinea a week, I want a guinea a week," rings cheerily. Clad in russet brown and creeping amongst the dead leaves on the ground in a perpetual search for insects, he is strangely mouse like. He is a friendly little spirit, and the presence of mun in his domain inspires him with little fear. Sometimes he is shy and elusive, but if one is very still on log in his haunt he will often creep quietly up to one's very feet, pick up crumbs or peering coyly into one's face with frank, childlike curiosity.
When one pauses to boil the billy by the Stream side, a small bird with greyish back and brilliant yellow breast will perch sidelong on a sapling, regarding him with pensive air, or breaking out in a loud piping whistle. It is the yellow robin, or "yellow Bob," a haunter of quiet streamside, "unfooted della," and twilight scrubs. He is master of the poetry of prose, and one can never mistake his graceful poise and thoughtful air.
Ring-tailed opossums arc also plentiful in the gully timber, but they are not nearly as abundant us in the Dandenong Banges. My first acquaintance with the ringtail was in a Healesville fern gully. Gathering dry fronds from a treefern to boil the billy, I disturbed an opossum which had been dozing in the top. The bulky nests of twigs, lined with dry fern leaves, are conspicuous objects in the gullies, and if one shakes the tree in which a 'possum is "at home" he will thrust out a small brown bead inquiringly, blinking sleepily in the daylight.
In the thickets of blanket-wood and musk, one may discover the tiny, lichen covered home of the rose-breasted robin It is one of the most exquisite specimen), of bird architecture, and is a model of neatness and beauty. Studded outwardly with pieces of lichen, or tiny strips of bark, by way of cumouflage. it is very difficult to discover, but the snort twittering note of the owner often gives it away. In the open hillsides the scarlet breasted robin are plentiful, the male resplendent with gorgeous scarlet breast and white forehead, while his ladylove is soberly, sombrely clad in quiet brown, with a faint tinge of pink on her breast, Always a beautiful creature, the male scarlet breasted robin shows up strikingly in the bush.after a bush fire, perching on some charred and blackened stump. With the coming of September they will retire to a nearby hollow stump or cleft in a forest giant to make their home and rear their little ones. In keeping with her sober dress, the lady does most of the work, while her mate accompanies her on foraging expeditions, encouraging her with his short, trilling song. In courting days, before the female has commenced to build her nursery perhaps, indeed, before tho homo site has been definitely selected? she is ever coy, evading all the overtures of her lover, like a born coquette. But once she has commenced to brood she loses the coquetry of muting days, and in its place comes a new tenderness. Her mate is a good husband always and will forage far and wide for tit-bits with which she will feed his consort on the nest.
In the mountain ash forests tho grey bell magpie is at home. The bird has evidently a mathematical turn of mind for he calls clearly, "two and two are four, two and two are four, slowly and deliberately, then, now if not quite sure of his facts, the call sounds slowly, haltingly. He is a frequent visitor to the orchards, being particularly partial to soft fruits Another denizen of the Stream side and mossy glade among this blackwoods is the lone mountain thrush a silent hermit of the bird world. With dark brown back and speckled breast, he in in perfect harmony with the dead leaves on the ground He has the quick run and "listening'' pause so characteristic of the thrushes. His home is the wonder of beauty an open cup-shaped cradle of living moss lined cosily with fine dry grasses anti rootlets. Unlike the introduced cousin of our gardens, the "Mavis" or "throstle," the mountain thrush is not a great songster if indeed, he has a song at all. Generally he is one of .the least noisy of the bird folk, his one call being a long, mournful cry in keeping with his home in the silent places.