Image for Mother Mountain: The Symphony of Birdsong (21)

Pic: From here

The “Respect the Mountain” forum ( here, here, and here ) at the Hobart Town Hall earlier this year prompted Don Knowler to return to a diary he compiled after daily rambles on Mt Wellington during the previous year. In what promises to be a momentous year in the modern history of Kunanyi, the weekly diary gives the mountain and its wildlife its own voice. All Don’s Mother Mountain columns - and much more by this superb writer - can be found under the Category, Don Knowler, here

My frogmouth hunt had taken me to the Silver Falls four times in the month and setting out in the second week of July I decided to have a change of routine and head instead to one of the other waterfall that’s a relatively short walk and does not require an all–day hike.

O’Gradys Falls form a spectacular cascade within easy reach of the Finger Post Track, climbing from the Huon Road from Hobart. The falls drains water from just below Sphinx Rock and it’s possible to climb a trail from there to join the Lenah Valley Track and reach the Springs. It’s a great walk to find the elusive olive whistler, which enjoys the type of wet forest found on this side of the mountain.

O’Gradys Falls is buried in a deep gully and is reached by a descending track, which leads to a narrow bridge over the rivulet that it feeds. Its gushing water crashes onto a lone, large rock and I wonder how long it has been there, and how long it will be before the domerite is eroded and washed in splinters towards the Derwent.

“How many years before a mountain is washed to the sea,” sings Bob Dylan on my stereo when I get home, and I look back at the mountain and ask the question again.

A few days after my mountain moment involving Bob Dylan,  the leader of the opposition Liberal Party in Tasmania, Will Hodgman, is photographed at the mountain summit. The Mercury front-page report carries the headline “Mountain High” and Hodgman says he will back the scheme for a cable car if victorious at the next state election and he will remove the veto powers of the Wellington Park Management Trust has over development.

From Sphinx Rock I gazed over the distant ocean, and below me a white goshawk flew in wide spirals, catching the thermals rising from the sun-drenched lowlands between sea and mountain.

The goshawk had come into view as I scanned the far-flung ocean looking for whales again. I still remembered the Mercury article about the sighting of 14 humpback whales. It might have seemed a little fanciful to climb up to Sphinx Rock to look to the horizons for whales but I thought I would give it a try anyway. On a previous clear, sunny afternoon I had spotted small fishing boats as far distant as Dunalley and through my binoculars seen the white foam of waves crashing against the two headlands that frame Primrose Sands a smidgeon closer, at a mere 30 kilometres.

Humpback and southern right whales were on the move, giant whales migrating from their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean nearer Antarctica for breeding grounds along the Australian east coast. So why not look for them?

I was to be disappointment as far as whales go, of course. Trying to spot their form just under the water, a thin squirt of water breaking the surface, would have been the proverbial hunt for a needle in a haystack but it gave me reason to be on the mountain on such a fine winter’s day. Bedsides, it would give me a focus other than birds which can become routine and predictable in winter, before the summer migrants arrive from the mainland.

The day was supposed to be about whales but suddenly all that changed with the sight of the white goshawk. By coincidence it was circling right over my usual stamping ground of the Waterworks Valley in the mountain’s foothills far down below me and it was a curious sensation to be looking down on a goshawk from the snow-covered Sphinx Rock. Usually I look up at them as they fly overhead on hunting sorties.

They really are the most beautiful of birds of prey, pure white with yellow legs and beak. The Tasmanian sub-species of the mainland grey goshawk is, as its local name suggests, a white morph. The goshawks comprise a group of hawks which usually hunt by stealth and surprise, ambushing birds in canopy and thick scrub, and do not pounce from a great height like most other raptors, including the wedge-tailed eagle. I could only surmise that this was a male goshawk mapping out its future breeding territory and announcing in powerful, soaring flight to rivals that this was his domain. It brought optimism I might find white goshawks breeding on the lower slopes of the mountain in spring.

When I first came to live in Hobart 12 years previously the white goshawk was a very rare bird having been hunted to near extinction locally from the time of white settlement. However, they had increased in number over the past decade as people showed them more tolerance and respect and did not immediately reach for the shotgun when they saw them perched on chicken coops.

Other threatened creatures increasing in number are the whales, and I look forward to the time when they are once again a common sight in Tasmanian waters, especially the Derwent estuary where they were so prolific once that they posed a threat to people in small boats crossing from shore to shore. Before whaling took its toll, the whales were also said to keep people awake at night with their splashing and breaching in the harbour. It is heartening to report that whales are once again being sighted in the Derwent itself which a mother and calf being seen in the estuary in recent years. 

Whales and white goshawks have a connection that goes beyond their threatened status in Tasmania, and even the curious possibly of seeing them both at the same time, from the snow-covered slopes of Mt Wellington. They are both connected to the delicate web of life that supports all living things and Hobart, and the world, would be poorer without them.