Canberra Trip, Nov 2022

Canberra! Some say it’s the nation’s capital. A city of students and public servants, with a reputation for being kind of boring, and bloody cold to boot. But what if – hypothetically – you undertook a super-impulsive last-minute long weekend birding trip there? Would it be… worthwhile? Where would you go and what birds would you find? There was only one way to find out…

Part 1: The Botanic Gardens Are Undeniably Brilliant

The National Botanic Gardens in Canberra is a huge site with areas set aside for showcasing Australia’s floral diversity, with a rainforest gully, red centre section, rock garden, banksia garden, a paperbark forest with a two-level treehouse (really) and even two separate mallee sections. All of which is great to wander around in and explore, but it also hosts an excellent variety of birds!

The Gang-Gang Cockatoo is one of the most extraordinary-looking birds you’ll see anywhere, let alone in a tree literally overhanging the Visitor Centre at the Botanic Gardens!
The female Gang-Gang Cockatoo guards her nesting hole. Good thing bird photographers can’t levitate and bother her more (I wasn’t the only one, though I tried to keep my distance…)
I saw this Satin Bowerbird in the first few minutes of arriving at the Botanic Gardens and was like “oh cool, they must be all over the place, awesome, I’ll get some amazing video too and it will be tops” and then I literally saw zero more of them anywhere
A successful hunt for an Eastern Yellow Robin in the lush Rainforest Gully section of the gardens. I guess as an animal you gotta be successful when you hunt, otherwise you probably die…
Let’s say hello to one of Canberra’s most ubiquitous birds, the lovely Crimson Rosella. Seen on roadsides, in trees, fields, you name it… shades of Norfolk Island where they are all over the place. This one’s still got a touch of the green feathers indicating it’s a juvenile.
Red Wattlebird figures out it’s easier to stand to reach your food than land on it.
New Holland Honeyeater gets upside-down for the juiciest nectar the less acrobatic birds cannot access. Maybe.
White-Browed Scrubwren – this one has five leg bands and isn’t the only bird so tagged – I also saw a Superb Fairywren with what looked like five bands as well. Seems excessive, but I’m no bird researcher.
I also took photos of flowers for a while. Much easier than birds.
An uppity Brown Thornbill landing (incredibly briefly, but just long enough…) on a stretch of rusty fence on the eastern boundary of the gardens that was pretty good to me as a bird photographer…
…case in point: Red-Browed Finch
Magpie doing some housecleaning… and revealing a decent amount of white feathers (relevant: the southern subspecies of Magpies in Australia have more white feathers than in the norther climes)

Do Try To Stay Dry In The Wetlands, Dear

Jerrabomberra Wetlands is the #1 birding spot (by species count) in the ACT, so it is no surprise I went there. Twice. LOL. Anyway, there are no less than five (count ’em, FIVE) bird hides, all with individual names and all excellently set up to give great views over the water and reeds. There’s a loop walking track you can do as well, where you can wonder what the heck it is underneath the elevated platform above the ephemeral sludge ponds that’s making that weird squishy splashy sound…

An Australian Hobby made an appearance sitting placidly on a power line as I drove into the access road to the wetlands, so I did what any self-respecting bird photographer would do, hit the brakes and jumped out of the car and pointed the ole Canon lens straight up at that sucker.
Superb Fairywren, the most popular bird in Australia (actually)
View from one of the bird hides.
So I had just plonked myself in the cool shade of one of the bird hides when a Welcome Swallow flew angrily by my head… twice… and I realised it was protecting the nest it had built in the corner of the ceiling above me. A quick photo to see what was there and I was out, leaving the bird in peace. Not often you get chased out of a bird hide.
In my latest attempt at “the most Aussie bird photo imaginable”, I present Galahs on a powerline with the spire of Parliament House in the background.

Go to Mulligans Flat, There Will Be Birds There, They Said

True, actually (clickbait heading, soz). Mulligans Flat is a huge nature area in the north of the ACT with predator-proof fencing to keep the bad varmints out (except for the North Mulligans section, which is across the road). Be prepared to do some walking, one track of which can take you up a steep hillside to the border of NSW and the ACT with expansive views.

Of Pallid Cuckoo, there were two, with caterpillars now few
*sniff* I miss the honeyeaters from South-East Queensland, there’s so many less here *sniff* This is a Brown-Headed Honeyeater. So that’s one.
Though technically these Noisy Friarbirds are also honeyeaters. That doesn’t look like a face that eats honey to me, how about you?
On the NSW/ACT border, looking back across quite a lot of the ACT.
A jaunty echidna which you might easily miss if it hadn’t been ambling across the path
Plenty of kangaroos here, too, if ya want ’em

The Nature Reserves Are Reserved For Nature, Man

I visited a slew of little nature reserves around the Canberra region and discovered they were overwhelmingly gum tree forests (such as Yellow Box–Blakely’s Red Gum) with many expanses of grass and the odd creek and dam. Many felt like farmland, actually… so I tried to appreciate the subtle differences of terrain and vegetation, when I wasn’t looking out for avian action.

The Superb Parrot, found mainly in a stretch of inland NSW (and ACT, obviously), was one of my big target species and I was overjoyed to find a group of half a dozen of these gentle and beautiful creatures in the grasses at The Pinnacle Nature Reserve.
The Eastern Rosella is the other major Rosella you’ll see in the ACT, a little less commonly than the Crimsons, but just as gorgeous a bird it is too
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos squawk just about everywhere you look in Canberra. This one is at The Pinnacle Nature Reserve and was foraging with its buddies in the grass until it decided to take to the skies. At least they aren’t making trouble dropping pot plants on people’s heads…
Rufous Whistler – “sing like no-one’s listening” – at Kama Nature Reserve
This Dusky Woodswallow was the only woodswallow I saw on the entire trip (what’s up with that?!), at the car park at Kama Nature Reserve
Typical nature reserve scene… would make a good jigsaw,,,
There are a bunch of Thornbill species in the ACT region, which can make ID’ing the little critters challenging unless you’re well tuned into the different calls they make (Striated Thornbills are buzzier, change my mind). These are Buff-Rumped Thornbills at North Mulligans reserve.
Magpie: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS”. Sorry, my feathered friend, but pass I did. Top of the foodchain, pal.
Sometimes I got bored in the nature reserves and photographed the grasses, because there was a lot of grass. Good thing I don’t have any pollen allergies, hey? Oh, wait…
The drab look of the diminutive Western Gerygone belies its beautiful tinkling song, which I am sure has a ventriloquism component because the bird always seemed to be several metres away from where I thought I was hearing it. And I should know, because I followed its call for an hour until I saw it!
Canberra seems to have an infestation of rabbits… they are everywhere, all the nature reserves, the botanic gardens and city parks. This one is at Commonwealth Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin
Speaking of Commonwealth Park, here’s some Galahs from there
…and a White-Winged Chough (it really does have white wings, but they are much more obvious in flight)

And In Conclusion…

Late spring in Canberra gave me a good stretch of weather with temps between 10 and 25 degrees, very civilised and with plenty of light for birding, with sunrise at 5:45am and setting around 8pm. You could bird all day… so I did! I managed to find my three main target species (Gang-Gang Cockatoo, Superb Parrot and Western Gerygone), as well as uncover a couple of unexpected cuckoos too: Channel-Billed Cuckoo (which generated a Rare Bird Alert in ebird for ACT), and two Pallid Cuckoos (which I had only seen once before, in the Northern Territory). The place was teeming with parrot/rosella/cockatoo species as well as, notably, a bunch of thornbill species. I was able to scour quite a few sites without driving more than 25 minutes from my hotel in the city, and discovering the National Botanic Gardens was terrific for birding and bird photography (now that’s one place I’d definitely go back to in a heartbeat!)

ebird Trip Report

AUTHOR AND BIRDER: Andy Gee

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