[A stop on the West Queensland Trip Jul-Aug 2021 trip]
Emerald Botanic Gardens is a 42 hectare garden area not far from the main streets of Emerald. The gardens were established in 1987. It is quite a lovely place with plenty of shady trees, a winding river, easily navigable paths and provides a lush break from the arid country to the west for the weary outback traveller.
We stayed overnight at Emerald and hit up the Botanic Gardens nice and early, hoping to get some great bird encounters and some good photographs before making our way south for the three hours or so it would take us to drive to Carnarvon Gorge.
As you might expect from a gardens in a moderately-sized township (Emerald has a population of nearly 15,000 people), it is well-kept and includes plenty of facilities including large car parks, playgrounds, many paved pathways, and picnic tables and seats.
We wandered fairly randomly at first, seeing the humble Silver Gull, then a few Yellow-Throated Miners. As we would discover, the gardens have a fairly open feel, with big stretches of lawn, which is perfect habitat for Miners, Kookas, Butcherbirds and the like.
Down near the Nogoa River which flows through the gardens, there were a few water birds – Wood Ducks, Dusky Moorhens, and a Great Egret.
A few Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos were intent on making themselves very known to everyone in the area with a good deal of raucous squawking, and we watched one with its crest up for a while before switching our attention to a couple of Rainbow Lorikeets. I think we hadn’t seen one of those in quite a while.
We almost didn’t see the extremely placid Laughing Kookaburra on a branch right before us, as it was sitting so still. Kookas do make for extremely obliging photographic subjects, but you have to be careful of light and exposure in order to not blow out their white feathers into an overexposed morass, whilst also capturing the darkness of their eyes (ideally with a glint in said eye… hey, no-one said bird photography was easy…)
A couple of Magpie-Larks were also obedient photographic subjects, and when we approached the Rifle Range Road bridge on the south side, we also found more familiar species: some Welcome Swallows swooping over the water, and a Crested Pigeon pretending to be a Pied Cormorant or something.
It would have been harder to assemble a list of birds commonly found in Brisbane if you tried.
We did find some cool birds the afternoon before on our approach to Emerald (from the west): a Bustard on the road, and a Wedge-Tailed Eagle being harassed by a crow. In the town itself, we found a few Superb Fairywrens right on the grounds of the motel we stayed at, and Friarbirds, Honeyeaters and Lorikeets all foraged on grevilleas and other bushes even on the sides of the main street. Perhaps it was just a let-down for us not to come across any exotic species at the gardens, after over three weeks of tracking down all sorts of birds across the interior of Queensland.
Emerald Botanic Gardens is a lovely place with plenty going for it as a peaceful place to while away some time (apparently you can even free camp in the car park), but we found it a bit disappointing on the birding front. We only found very common species, and with their wide open areas the grounds seem almost designed for open-country birds like Miners, Magpies, Kookas and so forth. As a botanic gardens it is probably concentrating more on showcasing plants and trees than attracting a wide variety of birds. In fairness, there is quite an extensive and more unkempt bushy section across the river, which we didn’t explore while we were there, that might tell a different story.
Pluses and minuses:
+ Pleasant shady trees and lush river setting
+ Lots of facilities and easy navigation
– Mostly very common, open-country style of birds
– Gardens are sandwiched between busy roads