Virtual tour of Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary
Story and photos by Sue Forster
The annual Spring Opening guided tours have had a long tradition in Bayside reserves, but that all changed this year.
Sadly, due to COVID restrictions, Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary’s gates remain closed. Many people are missing access to locked reserves, so let me take you on a short virtual tour.
We’ll visit wildflowers in bloom and some of our smaller fauna. The viewing platform near the south-west corner of the Sanctuary provides great vistas over the heathland if you wish to return in person.
Welcome to Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary...
This year, your tour falls during early September. As you approach the Bay Road entrance you see swathes of purple Dianella (spp. brevicaulis and revoluta).
Image: Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa) beneath mature Coast Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis ssp. pryoriana) at Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary
A soft shawl of Small-leaved Clematis (Clematis microphylla) drapes elegantly over the fence as you pass through the gate. To the left and in front, bursts of brilliant yellow prickly Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa) create a brilliant understorey beneath mature Coast Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis ssp. pryoriana).
Walking east along the firebreak you see the first buds of Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) breaking into bloom. Turn right and right again and the vegetation thickens. You find a narrow path that penetrates deeper into the older heart of the heathland and suddenly, by your feet, are carpets of soft Nodding Greenhood (Pterostylis nutans) growing profusely in banks of bright green moss.
They have been flowering for nearly two months and some are exceptionally tall, due perhaps to this year’s good autumn rain or their quest to find light. A few Trim Greenhood (Pterostylis concinna) leaf rosettes remain, but these rarer orchids flowered earlier, during July/August.
Leaving the orchids behind, the fringes of the path become dotted with bright lemon Bundled Guinea Flowers (Hibbertia fasciculata var. prostrata) and delicate white Beard Heath (Leucopogon virgatus var. virgatus).
Now we have reached the open ground of the 2018 burn site and the Showy Bossiaea (Bossiaea cinerea) is magnificent this year – great sweeps of yellow, orange, red and brown flowers dominate the new heathland growth.
Image: Bossiaea cinerea at Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary
To the south, pale lemon globes and long narrow leaves indicate the presence of Sweet Wattle (Acacia suaveolens ssp. suaveolens) fringing the burn site. The air is buzzing with honey bees and native bee flies.
Every week is subtly different, and so too every year. In a few weeks, the heathland will be bright with Common Aotus (Aotus ericoides), Wedding Bush (Rinocarpus pinifolius), Grass Trigger-plants (Stylidium graminifolium) and, (pink) fingers crossed, perhaps a few of the rarest orchids that occasionally grace the Sanctuary: the aforesaid Pink Fingers (Caladenia carnea) and Wax-lip Orchids (Glossodia major). Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum), Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata) and Blue Stars (Chamaescilla corymbosa) were abundant in the first spring after the burn, but are now hard to spot between taller shrubs and sedges. Silver Banksias (Banksia marginata), Twiggy Daisy-bushes (Olearia ramulosa) and Common Correas (Correa reflexa) that flowered profusely over winter are now setting seed.
Image: Blue Stars (Chamaescilla corymbosa) at Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary
With the sunnier weather, you may see a flash as a skink scuttles past. Weasel Skinks (Saproscincus mustelinus) can be identified by a small white mark behind their eyes, or you may catch the distinctive stripes of an Eastern Three-lined Skink (Bassiana duperreyi). Bay Road Heathland Sanctuary boasts four species of skink plus Marbled Geckos (Christinus marmoratus) often found resting under loose bark.
As you pass the Manna Gums look out for Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus tricolor) and Leafhoppers (family Cicadellidae) on the foliage, Flat Bark Beetles (Platisus sp.) and tiny red Mites (Rainbowia sp.) around their trunks, and Garden Orb-weaver spiders (Eriophora transmarina) anywhere in between.
In the heathland, you may be lucky to catch the sudden jump of a Wingless Grasshopper (Phaulacridium vittatum) or the well-camouflaged Matchstick Grasshopper (Vandiemenella viatica).
In September, the Sanctuary is full of colour and life. Some of it may be tiny and fast moving, but put on your spectacles and dig out your high-powered binoculars and feast your eyes – COVID begone!
George Street Reserve
Image: Acacia oxycedrus at George Street Reserve
George Street Reserve was scheduled for an environmental burn in autumn this year but, because of COVID, that was postponed and will now take place next year. George Street Reserve has not had a burn since the wildfire in 2006 and we were really looking forward to the renewal of the plant species. Instead, with all the rain, we have weeds. But some seedlings have appeared because of simply having more light. Perhaps we’ll see some orchids later on. The Correas and Bossiaea bloomed beautifully in the smaller old burn sites.
Gramatan Avenue Heathland Sanctuary
Image: Austrostipa mollis at Gramatan Avenue Heathland Sanctuary
The north end of Gramatan Avenue Heathland Sanctuary was burnt in April 2019, although it seems like a long time ago now. The regeneration is good. It is possible to see some of the wild flowers from the exterior paths so a weekly inspection will show something else flowering. The Soft Spear Grass (Austrostipa mollis), was in flower early this year looking lovely waving gracefully in the wind.
Donald MacDonald Reserve
Image: Acacia Paradoxa at Donald McDonald Reserve
Donald MacDonald Reserve is the closest of our inland reserves to the sea and there is some thought that it may be in fact a second sand dune so the vegetation here, which has regenerated after controlled burns, is more coastal and quite different to the reserves further from the sea. It also has pressures from the playing field, scout hall, skateboarders and, of course, people and dogs exercising. Nevertheless there are some rare plant species present and it’s looking beautiful for spring.
Image: Pterostylis Curta at Cheltenham Park
Until 1994, Cheltenham Park was part of the City of Moorabbin and could be on a secondary dune too. When it came into Bayside’s care, Moorabbin had already recognised and protected two small areas of remnant vegetation.
However, much of the site was Coastal Tea-tree and Wattle wildernesses. Bayside conducted environmental burns in 2005, 2010, and the last big wildfire was in 2017. All have produced beautiful heathland vegetation regeneration including some locally rare species. Well worth a visit while carefully avoiding the bike riders present during this time.
Long Hollow Heathland
Image: Drosera macrantha at Long Hollow Heathland
Long Hollow has the richest diversity of species in Bayside’s reserves. It is always rewarding to visit, particularly in spring. The regeneration after the 2019 controlled burn is perhaps better than expected and by next spring will be flowering beautifully. Plants of the locally rare Wooly Rice Flower (Pimelea octophylla) and Parrot Pea (Dillwynia glaberrima) have appeared and of course, masses of Kennedia prostrata. The Mistletoe that was planted on the Acacia mearnsii continues to grow, and flowered for the first time this year.
Balcombe Park Reserve
Image: Ricinocarpos Pinifolius at Balcombe Park Reserve
Balcombe Park Reserve is just starting its magnificent flowering of Wedding Bush (Ricinocarpos pinifolia) and soon the Love Creeper (Comesperma volubile) will be flowering among the white blossoms. This reserve has the best display of Wedding Bush of all our heathlands and all of it appeared unexpectedly after a burn.
Wander through and enjoy. There may be Sun Orchids (Thelymitra spp) visible on a warm sunny day close to the fence along the firebreak soon.