Birdwing Butterflies and the Leeches of Booroobin

IMG_8907My friend Lizzie said, “would you like to walk down the hill to the river?”

I smiled, “Sure, that sounds great.”  I’d just managed to drive solo to her place on the other side of the valley from Long Timber through a slight drizzle.  Although I couldn’t see the river from her house I thought it couldn’t be far.  I was still a bit sore from a 7km hike we’d gone on a couple of days before.

Lizzie put on hiking boots and I took off my sandals and pulled on white cotton socks up under my stretch white jeans and my white new balance shoes.  Unfortunately, I’d left my hiking boots in Door County WI.  Lizzie walked around the corner of the house and pulled out two collapsible walking sticks.  I stared at them thinking maybe this wouldn’t be a short walk. We walked past the chooks  (chickens) enclosure and unto a trail that her husband had slashed out of the bush.  I needed the walking stick to keep from sliding on my butt.  I didn’t see or hear a river anywhere.  Down, down we went at each step I replaced the walking stick as I skid ever downwards through the thick wet grass.  The trees grew larger as we descended deeper into the bush.

Suddenly Lizzie stopped, “Get your camera, look a Birdwing Butterfly.  It’s a pair, they are very rare.”

I pulled out my iPhone and quickly switched it to video.  The butterflies flitted past my view.  Their wings flashed neon bright beyond my imagination.

“Oh, Oh,”  Lizzie exclaimed as they fluttered away.  “I need to take you to Birdswing Butterfly lane maybe we will see a lot more. The Birdwing vine grows there.  I named it that a few year ago. As she said those words I imagined an open lane in a park where walking would be easier.  I nodded my head in agreement.

Finally. we slid climbed down a steep embankment  I held on to a twisted rope vine in my left hand and poked my walking into the sand with the other, just barely keeping from sliding down into a lovely gurgling creek.

“What is this called?” I asked.

“It’s the headwaters of the Standley River.”

The creek sang its song winding around stones, with tall flooded gums, palms, ferns and lomandra standing close on both sides lapping up the water.  We carefully crossed stepping on slippery rocks, “Birdswing Butterfly Lane is just across the other side up the hill,” Lizzie said.

How can there be a lane is this thick bush? I thought to myself as we followed a path only Lizzie could see.  I soldier on blindly crawling under fallen limbs and shaking my legs free from clinging vines.

Suddenly Lizzie stopped a said, “He bit me.”  She pulled up her pants and pulled a leech from her leg.  She carefully rolled him up in her hand and threw him further into the bush.

“I’m not sure I’d know if one bit me.” I said feeling a bit anxious now.  “The only thing my mother worried about when she returned to Australia in 1984 was getting bitten by leeches in the wet bush.”  I told Lizzie remembering my mother’s stories about walking in the bush as a child near here.  I scrambled under another fallen tree.  Then I stopped and pulled up my pants leg, and hadn’t felt a thing, but I figured I’d better check.  Sure enough, there was a leech attached to my leg.  Unlike North American leeches that don’t care for people, Australian leeches are overly friendly.  Lizzie helped me pull him off and carefully instructed me on how to roll him in a ball and throw him further into the bush


“Does that kill it?”  I asked, not wanting it to come back for a repeat meal.

“No it just gets it away,” she answered lovingly.

After removing a few more baby leeches I was beginning to think this Birdswing Butterfly Lane was a clever hoax to bring me up to feed these creatures. We didn’t seen even one more butterfly as the leeches continued to latch on.

The bush finally became impenetrable by fallen trees.  A strong wind had blown down the trees heavily laden with Birdwing Butterfly vines.  Those vines are the only plants on which the beautiful Birdwing Butterfly lays its eggs. Lizzie said it was time to turn back, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We descended down to the creek for our return trip.  I spotted a tree that had a burned out center, “My aunt said that when they were in the bush, and a sudden downpour started they took shelter to a tree like this.”   I climbed up into the tree and Lizzie took a picture.

It was a long hike back.  Climbing up the steep hill using my walking stick was easier than the descent.  As soon as we got to the house I hurried into Lizzie’s bathroom to change out of my blood spotted jeans and socks.  I put on a clean pair of white shorts carefully avoiding my lower legs.  I didn’t find any more leeches but when I sat down at the table my legs started to bleed out from the bites.  I told Lizzie, “I think you need a new name, “Lizzie the Leech Mother, ” would fit you perfectly.

She laughed, and didn’t deny it, but claimed that she was only a foster mother. Handing me bandaids for my bleeding legs she retorted, “And you are Patsy Bleeds a Lot.”

“Are you still up for the Bunya Mountains on Wednesday?”

“Sure” I answered hoping it wouldn’t be a wet day for the leeches.  Besides it will be a public trail in a National Park, not a Lizzie Lane.




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