Searching Sherbrooke

On an early Monday afternoon, I made a visit to Sherbrooke Forest - a pocket of wet sclerophyll woodland located in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, near the town of Kallista. Accessible from Sherbrooke Road (amongst other roads - check out Google maps), just pull in at one of the many car parks or picnic grounds and you’ll find various walking tracks - and it’s as easy as that! Within minutes of setting out, you are surrounded by the sounds of the forest, the traffic noise left behind at the car park.

Emma Walsh and Rachel Fetherston take in the serene temperate forest. 

Emma Walsh and Rachel Fetherston take in the serene temperate forest. 

Although just one of many possible activities, Sherbrooke Forest is a great spot for bird watching, and is a known habitat of the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), a ground dwelling bird with long tail feathers. Male lyrebirds have especially long and ornate feathers, which they use in mating displays. My friends and I set out in the hopes of seeing one.

Within five minutes of our walk, we came across an Antechinus, a small marsupial mouse, rustling about in the leaf litter next to the track. A member of the Dasyurid family, Antechinus are characterised by their lack of a well-defined pouch, instead possessing a flap of skin that protects suckling young. As dasyurids, they are also closely related to quolls and Tasmanian Devils. I’ve never seen an Antechinus in the wild before, and it was amazing to see such a small marsupial going about its business so close to civilization!

One thing that really struck me about Sherbrooke Forest were the sounds and smells; the air up in the Dandenongs is so fresh, and heavy with the scent of trees, ferns and damp earth (one of my favourites). All you can hear in the forest is the rustle of trees, birds calling, and the occasional branch falling to the forest floor.

My friends and I continued down the track, walking quietly in the hopes that we would hear the scratchings of a lyrebird in the mud. Suddenly, there was a rustling in the leaf litter to the right of us. Our eyes immediately turned to the forest, looking amongst the ferns for any movement. There they were, two lyrebirds - most likely a mother and her offspring - chattering to each other in the undergrowth. One thing I love about lyrebirds (aside from the mimicry and the mating displays) is the way they move. They exhibit a prehistoric-style walk that depicts them somewhat as a dinosaur, especially when they run. I was glad to see this pair, although we also saw four more individual lyrebirds, as well as the same pair a second time! As long as you’re quiet and keep an eye and an ear out for them, they are quite easy to find amongst the low-lying foliage.

 

Lyrebirds scratch amongst the leaf litter in search of tasty invertebrates. 

Lyrebirds scratch amongst the leaf litter in search of tasty invertebrates. 

Another bird that you’re almost guaranteed to see in Sherbrooke Forest is the Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans). They are relatively easy to spot too, due to their bright red and blue plumage. If you’re lucky, you might also see a juvenile, distinguished by their characteristic green back. Generally nesting in tree hollows, this colourful bird is common in rainforest, woodland and coastal habitats, and is characterised by a distinct call: a bell-like, ringing ‘trip-klee’.

 

Crimson Rosellas are common in the forests of Victoria. While juveniles have mostly green plumage, they become brilliantly red as adults like the individual seen here. 

Crimson Rosellas are common in the forests of Victoria. While juveniles have mostly green plumage, they become brilliantly red as adults like the individual seen here. 

We also saw an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) flitting through the understory. These robins are tiny birds, only 15 to 16 cm in size, and have a grey back and a clear yellow front, making them quite conspicuous as they dart from branch to branch amongst the tree ferns.

Eastern Whipbirds (Psophodes olivaceus) are also easy to discover, myself and my friends having spied one hopping from frond to frond on a tree fern. Olive in colour, the Eastern Whipbird has white cheeks and a black face and crest, getting their name from their call - a sound not unlike a drawn out whip crack. You’re therefore usually likely to hear at least one.

For those who enjoy the odd creepy crawly, there are plenty of leeches in Sherbrooke Forest if you venture off the track. My friends and I were pursuing a lyrebird, and before we knew it, we were in amongst the tree ferns and fallen logs. We looked down at our feet and all around us were tiny leeches, reaching and searching for something to attach too. After I got over the initial shock (I’m not super fond of leeches), I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. These tiny little leeches were so desperate for a meal, stretching their bodies as far as they could to try and reach my shoes. They are indeed amazing animals, despite their bad reputation. 

Leeches thrive in damper forests. They will emerge from the leaf litter or drop from hanging branches and leaves to feed. 

Leeches thrive in damper forests. They will emerge from the leaf litter or drop from hanging branches and leaves to feed. 

So next time you’re looking for something to do on your day off, pack a picnic, break out the walking boots and make a visit to Sherbrooke Forest - it’s definitely worth it.