Living Lightly column

Peregrines & Needletails

By Stephen Routledge, Stanley

The Ovens Fire Tower complex maintained and operated by DELWP includes the towers at Mt Hotham, Mt Porpunkah, Mt Stanley and the new tower at Mt Barambogie.

Being employed up these towers during the fire season, one has the privilege of being closer to the clouds, having an amazing view over the landscape and all that inhabit it.  Obviously, that’s the whole point of being stationed up there – to watch and report.  What may seem like a peaceful existence is all too often disturbed by sightings of smoke, with storm cells bringing thunder and lightning, which often cause fires.

Last week I arrived for my 8-hour shift to the Stanley Tower and disturbed Stanley Forest’s resident peregrines, who I see quite frequently. They must have been perching on top of the tower and, given their eyesight, observed me coming from the Stanley Post office three miles away. Though I often hear and see them from the tower, this was an encounter to remember. I’d only been up in the 60ft tower a short time when, with its distinctive shriek, a peregrine came hurtling towards me on the tower verandah. Eyeballing me at 50 feet out, it swerved and dived toward the ground, circling the tower twice and shooting straight through a gathering of hill-topping butterflies, disappearing into the trees and then reappearing a few seconds later at least 50 foot above the tower. In gusty, wild and windy weather the young peregrines will also come out to hone their flying skills and so, I wonder, what is faster than a peregrine?

Faster and more nimble than the peregrines are the white throated needle tail swifts that visit the Towers in the summer months, thousands of miles from their nesting grounds in Siberia. They dive, swoop and feed on the wing and usually in flocks of 20-30. Some fly straight towards the tower, veering away at the last moment to follow another up higher, then splitting away from each other when nearly out of sight. As suddenly as they appear they are all as quickly distant specks in the sky, simply gone. The genuine excitement of these immediate encounters can leave you at times feeling quite bereft and wishing perhaps to have the gift of flight for just a moment or two.

Being touched by a spirit of nature is such a privilege, one that is rare and getting rarer in our mechanized and technologically dominated world.