Pleasant palm-based botanic gardens in Townsville, with a little lagoon and some good birds and photography opportunities.
Date of visit: Aug 24, 2020
Palmetum was the first birding hotspot I hit up in the afternoon after I arrived in Townsville. I had actually started a little birding from the plane flying into the airport, as I saw a raptor gliding below – and as we were coming in from the east, I was able to get a great look across the Townsville Town Common, which was my #1 target location – more of that in a subsequent post!
Anyway, Palmetum seemed like a good choice for a little relaxed birding in the afternoon, and I was not disappointed. Although the total area is only 17 hectares, it has a range of habitats including a “savannah” area, a lagoon, and even a little patch of rainforest.
From the car park (you just pull off University Drive after crossing the river, easy-peasy), I headed south into the drier “savannah” area, spotting a Kookaburra and a cuddly pair of Rainbow Lorikeets while a mini-fleet of White Ibis sailed overhead. Nearing the lagoon, I spotted a pair of Comb-Crested Jacana, the first time I’d ever seen this bird, and I marvelled at the head patterning and ridiculously oversized feet. Then I saw my first Magpie Goose, strolling about on the green lawn, and soon after an Olive-Backed Sunbird (also known as also known as the Yellow-Bellied Sunbird). I’d seen a sunbird a few years ago in Cairns and was impressed, though I wasn’t a birder or photographer at the time. Like the Magpie Goose, I did not expect to see this bird right in the middle of Townsville city, but I wasn’t complaining! They really are wonderful looking, reminiscent of an Eastern Spinebill with the long curved bill.
Getting into the larger trees at the south end of the gardens, it became more about the honeyeaters, with White-Gaped Honeyeaters and a Yellow Honeyeater (yet more lifers…! but unfortunately poor photos), plus a long encounter with a playful Blue-Faced Honeyeater. Those Blue-Faces are extraordinarily photogenic, with their larger size, striking colouring and “mohawk” hairstyle. I also saw a female Flycatcher (almost certainly Leaden, according to the frequency in the area, but I’m not going to wade into the identification of female Flycatchers debate…).
Heading further round the east side of the lagoon yielded another very welcome lifer: a Blue-Winged Kookaburra – a lucky encounter, given that I actually only saw it one more time in the four days I was in Townsville.
In the rainforest area I saw an Orange-Footed Scrubfowl, which proved rather elusive, in that even though I spied it – and another one – a few more times while exploring the rest of the gardens, it was hard to get a shot in the dim understorey that they seem to like.
Parts of Palmetum do have that slightly artificial feel of a sculpted garden, but the variety of plants and flowers attracts all sorts of birds and can make for good close encounters (lower shrubs!) and interesting photos too. As you’d expect, it’s very easy to navigate the paths and there are lovely little spots to have a rest or a biscuit (which I did, while observing another Olive-Backed Sunbird). Did I mention it’s also free?
Well, this was a good intro to Townsville for me. Soon after the Palmetum visit I saw Great Bowerbirds and Peaceful Doves sitting on powerlines in a suburban street. For the keen birder in a new city, it’s interesting and exciting to learn what’s normal in a different place (I mean, Bowerbirds commonly in the city?!)
More general info on Palmetum.
eBird hotspot: Palmetum Botanical Garden (Townsville) – there is a very respectable 158 species recorded here, with birds like Black Bittern seen in summer months.
Nearby eBird hotspots – various gardens, parks and riverside locations.
Pluses and minuses:
+ (Free) botanic gardens with lots of interesting plants and good photography for birds
+ Great facilities and relaxed vibe
+ Good bird variety for a small location
– Fairly small area (though you can easily access riverside pathways from here)
– Smelly White Ibis nests in the trees!