Field Naturalists Club of Ballarat March 2013 excursion
We met our excursion leader John Higgins at the Waubra wind farm information site on the Sunraysia Highway. John was to show us the recently named Eucalyptus pyrenea in the Pyrenees ranges near Avoca. John said the new species was somewhat similar to the Mountain Grey Gum Eucalyptus cypellocarpa that grows to 60 metres tall in Gippsland and only 3 metres tall in the Grampians. The Pyrenees Gum was noticed by Kevin Rule in 1987. Seed was found in 2001 and it was recognised as a species in 2004.
John has an interest in the eucalypts that have been planted along the Sunraysia highway and he showed three species on our way to Avoca. The first one was the Cup Gum Eucalyptus cosmophylla that has large cup-shaped fruits to 20mm across. The small tree is from Kangaroo Island and the Mt. Lofty ranges in SA. The second species near the Mt. Mitchell Estate was a Yellow Gum thought to be Eucalyptus leucoxylon ssp. macrocarpa. John said that this tree had smaller leaves than the usual E. leucoxylon ssp macrocarpa and a more rounded than upright growth habit. John said that this tree was a mass of red flowers in June. The third species was the Mt. Compass Swamp Gum Eucalyptus paludicola. which had thick leathery leaves and buds in groups of seven. The buds have a distinct ring below the conical cap that was easily knocked off.
From Avoca we travelled west along the Pyrenees highway to the Mountain Hut road turn-off. John had warned us that the Mountain Hut road was rough and steep, and for four-wheeled drive vehicles only. We stopped at a spot, where during the gold rush a reservoir has been built. John said that he could not find any record of any town being here .The trees near here included Red Stringybark Eucalyptus macroryncha, Long-leaved Box E. goniocalyx, and Yellow Box E.melliodora.
About 7km from the Pyrenees hwy we came to our first sightings of the Pyrenees Gum growing on a steep slope. The juvenile and adult trees have similar bright green leaves, smaller than blue gum leaves. The juvenile trees have square stems that are similar to the Blue Gum Eucalyptus globulus species. John pointed out some of the differences between Pyrenees Gum and Eurabbie Eucalyptus globulus ssp bicostata that tend to grow in somewhat similar places. The bark of the Pyrenees Gum has some tan colouring and tends to shed in strips, unlike the bark of the Blue gum that sheds in slabs. The Pyrenees Gum tends to grow on mid slope, whereas the local Blue gum grows in the gullies and ridges.
We continued along Mountain Hut road to Main Break track. A very dark Wedge-tailed Eagle was sitting on a stump near a small dam as we approached. It took to the air when it saw our vehicles. Trees growing here included Messmate Eucalyptus obliqua and Broad-leaved Peppermint E.dives. From Mount Avoca, altitude 757 metres, we could see through a gap in the trees to Mt. Difficult in the northern Grampians. The Ordivician mudstone strata visible on a cutting had been pushed from the horizontal at formation to the vertical now.
Along the Number 2 Break road we could see the Avoca township below on our right. Farther down from the ridge that we had been travelling along, we stopped at a spot from where we could the Blue Pyrenees vineyard below. On this vineyard there is a 100 ft. deep waterhole that was the result of an open cut gold mine that flooded. In the distance we could see Mt Franklin, Mt Tarrengower, and Mt.Moliagul. After leaving the Pyrenees Ranges we drove along Vinoca road and Impeys road to John’s vineyard and winery at Eurabbie Estate. It is not every month that we end our excursion at a winery. I remember once going to a vineyard near Moriac during a SEANA camp to look at birds, or that was the excuse. John’s vines suffered from the recent drought years and he now makes some wine from brought in grapes. In an enclosed pen near the winery John had a few black Alpine dingoes that he has been breeding for some years. At the winery John showed us the plaster cast of the footprint made by a Puma in 1985. Earlier in the day John related that he went to a conference organised by the Australian Museum at the Taronga Park Zoo on sightingsof Puma like animals seen in Australia.