Thursday 14 July 2016
Photos by Ian, Donna, Bob T
The Downfall Firetrail follows a ridgeline parallel and south of the Kings Highway between Black Flat Road and Western Distributor. The climb to the ridgetop and a few ups and downs along the ridgetop open up the arteries, but otherwise the route is pleasant.
Most of it is an open spotted gum forest with occasional rocky sections. The ridgetop itself, protected by the rock, is undisturbed by human hand so there are lots of large trees, many showing ample signs of the occasional intense wildfire which has swept through the area every half century of so.
On this 7 kilometre walk we enjoyed the company of 12 walkers, including two guests and two recently rejoined members. The weather was sunny, with an occasional light breeze, ideal walking conditions.
Soon after commencement of the walk, we inspected the impressive dry stone wall which, to this day, still holds up a part of the original Nelligen to Braidwood road constructed in the 1850’s. A Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus swainsoni) zipped past us, possibly a male launching into its annual breeding season; then again, possibly a female hoping the season is a short one!
As we climbed the 250 metres elevation to the ridgetop we passed through a significant area of Maiden’s Gum (Eucalyptus maideni). It is one of the southern blue gums and found in southern NSW predominantly on granite soils on higher ground with good rainfall.
Further along the ridge the forest changes to Spotted Gum in which we saw two Yellow Bellied Glider (Petaraus australis) feed trees. One has a unique pattern where the V notches overlap and form a chequerboard pattern. This is rarely seen.
We lunched in the sun on a large sloping rock slab. Tracey, the eternal wanderer, discovered a Death Adder (Acanthopis antarcticus) under the litter (also, almost under her foot) at the base of the slab. That small discovery kept the rest of us on the slab!
When Ian leads a walk, in addition to the social and physical benefits, is the extra dimension of his information and insight.
On 14 July, as usual, he gave us the benefit of his extensive knowledge of the ecology, geology, flora and fauna of our forests. On his walks, he generously explains the effects of the various soil types on the species of trees and shrubs, and subsequently, the animals.
Not only does he identify a bewildering array of trees , he also explains how and why they grow where they do. As well, he points out interesting features, such as the granite retaining wall, still supporting the first track built from Nelligen to Braidwood
While doing so, the bonus sighting of a small mammal allowed him to identify it as an Antechinus, and tell us some of their life history. (I now feel a little more tolerant of them eating my kumera, as I thought they were just “bush rats”)
Further on, he showed us the V-shaped scars on the bark of a tree and described how the Gliders scar the bark to feed on the sap. That the scars on this tree were highly unusual only added to the interest. It was a privilege to be there.