It was strange to find that the footpath we had walked along to the summit of Mount Donna Buang in the winter was in fact a road, and that the car parks that had been flowing with liquid mud were now silent and empty. In the equally deserted BBQ shelter I found out that Mount Donna Buang is higher than anywhere in the UK outside of Scotland. I recently read a few lines to the effect that being the highest point in Britain is a bit like being the longest hole on a mini golf course. This is of course not a flattering assessment, but it was probably written by somebody who had spent six months in England and had never left London. I can’t help but wonder why some people spend so much time sniping about the UK and then so much money travelling there. But I need to stop before my national hackles rise too far, or I mention the cricket.
Lizards rattled through the dry leaves, ran from shadows and rushed back into the sun when the coast was clear. On the stones that edged the car park larger lizards basked in the sun and moved with surprising speed towards wayward flies and passing butterflies. And there were plenty of both about. The bush-fly is clearly Australia’s most visible wildlife icon, but it’s also the least appreciated, although not by hungry lizards.
The hill top was speckled with butterflies, and from underfoot ants swarmed and grasshoppers hopped. In other parts of the state the grasshoppers swarmed and became locusts, but not here, not today. Many of the butterflies seemed to be Large Whites - Cabbage Whites if you want - and they are not native, but once you could filter out their presence, other more interesting ones could be found. Australian Painted Ladies - which sounds like a group that would work in adult entertainment - glided and flicked from flower to flower. They seemed crisper, newer, than the ones in the garden at home, and I suppose they were. I assume that the towering summit of MDB is cooler that my garden, so the butterflies would have emerged later, and be younger than mine. Larger butterflies also moved among the flowers, Macleay's swallow tails, with beautiful pale green patches under the wings and an annoying habit of always beating their wings flying or not. Perched on flowers, moving between flowers, fighting with rivals, were all done under frenetic wing beats. They only glided when high above the ground, circling the lower branches of trees. They were hard to frame, and harder to photograph.
At least in Victoria it has stopped raining. Queensland is underwater, but Victoria is drying out. Everywhere you look it is greener than I have seen. In places the grass is waist high, the gullies are damp and streams that were dried isolated pools in the last few years are now running and clear.
The slope down from the summit was bright with buttercups - and more butterflies. The flowers were probably a weed, but they still shone in the sunlight. I sat in the long grass and waited, but little happened. Bees buzzed, grasshoppers and crickets called their leggy song, bird calls drifted from the woodland. Something dawned on me. Under a clear blue Australian sky - so large, so huge - it felt like I was in the afternoon of the first day of summer. As a kid there was a clear marker that summer had begun. Summer always started on the 16th June. This was a family birthday, but that was not the reason - we weren’t that sort of family. The 16th June was the first day of summer because you could start fishing again - and specifically you would be fishing for tench. On popular waters people would sit in rows, chasing this green, compact, muscular fish. Within weeks, sometimes days, it was clear that the summer was beginning to fade, and you would move on to other species. The rows of red topped floats would thin with the crowds, and you knew that more peaceful times were ahead - and I think that the fish knew too.Down the hill from the summit you can walk into a forest gully, rich with tree ferns and moss. Once you were on the forest floor you could hear, but not see, water. If you peered round trees, or stood on the rails of a viewing platform, you could just glimpse the stream. It was a secret little place, full of small noises and delight.
It was a real contrast to the river - the Yarra - that flows through Warburton. Here the water was open to view and not hidden at all. Bread fat ducks gather at the water’s edge and children splash and swim. In the forest the water was hidden and the life was on display, here it was the other way around. You had to stand still and let the life come to you as the water flowed past. Most of the life had four wings rather than two; I waited for the flash of a kingfisher, but I waited in vain. But a streak of blue did pass by, a large dragon fly - possibly a Whitewater Rockmaster - landed on a rock near the middle of the water. It ignored me as it ignored all the other noise and haste around it. It cleaned its large eyes and seemed to wait. Then it was off, only to be replaced by another, and then another. The rock was some form of dragonfly way station, a stop on a journey up river.
These dragons are hard to name - with many, many dozens of possibilities - I don’t think I ever realised how few different species there actually were in the UK until I came to Australia with its diversity and size. Two large “dragonflies” land on the same waterside plant at the same time - they eye each other off and both move aside. One holds its wings in an X shape - not along its back like many damsel flies, or straight out like their larger dragon cousins. The X wing turns out to be a Flat Wing, a large damsel fly. Rare insects of this type are found in this area, but this is probably not one of them. Rare things don’t turn up every day.
But on this day a rare thing did show its face - the first day of summer, spent on the tops of hills and the banks of rivers. Who could ask for more?