Canberra has taken a bit of a bashing in Sydney of late (albeit more from politicians and journos than real people) so it was a particular pleasure for me, in my first job as guide for Follow That Bird, to make a small contribution to redressing that injustice. The goodwill and enthusiasm of the six participants (five Sydneysiders and a Sangroper actually) made the task considerably easier than it might have been. I am grateful to Janene for offering what might have been seen as a 'courageous' tour, and while I'm clearly biased I think the participants felt similarly.
Gang-Gang Cockatoo by Nevil Lazarus
The ACT, while not boasting any endemics, has a remarkable diversity of birds, reflecting the conjunction of three major habitat types, and we spent time in the grassy woodlands, the wet mountain forests and the subalpine woodlands. While April is one of the most stable times of year climatically here, it is not the richest time for birds, as the migrants have pretty well all left by now. We were able to observe the last of them, Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters, making their departure in small flocks following the Murrumbidgee. In addition, after a false promise of a break in spring 2005, we are still deep in a four-year drought. All this of course meant that we were able to appreciate more those that we did find, and to think about coming back in spring.
That said, nearly 100 species were recorded in and around the national capital. I met the group in the delightful and rugged Bungonia State Conservation Area, south-east of Goulburn. Conditions were pretty grim with a particularly austere and powerful wind, and birds were concomitantly scarce, but the group was unfazed - typically, as I came to realise. To Canberra then, via the spectacular views of the (nearly empty) Lake George from the scarp of the Cullerin Range, and ice cream (which was slightly warmer than the atmosphere) for a hardy few. The Canberra motel discovered by Janene, only minutes from the forests of Mt Ainslie in Canberra Nature Park, is tucked away and very quiet (neighbouring rooster notwithstanding).
Kellys Swamp in the Hide
I was further impressed by those who were keen to do a 7am walk on the lower slopes of Mt Ainslie, given the depth of frost. Suffice it to say that the second's morning 00C felt quite balmy by comparison with the first morning - and still they came back! Despite the temperature the count on the first morning was 20 species, including a stunning Common Bronzewing catching the first rays, and the second morning featured 7 parrot species. Saturday we spent around town; the woodlands at Campbell Park were atypically quiet, but the Jerrabomberra Wetlands compensated. No less than 31 Black-fronted Dotterels fed on the mud immediately in front of a hide, along with two Spotless Crakes far from cover. The sewage ponds across the road featured eight duck species, notably several male Blue-bills and good numbers of Shovellers and Pink-ears plus both small grebes in late breeding plumage. The eucalypt plantings (and remnants) by Acacia Inlet on Lake Burley Griffin were busy above our lunch, with late-staying Dusky Woodswallows and a pair of foraging Grey Currawongs as highlights. In the late afternoon chill the Botanic Gardens finally produced the much-sought Gang-gangs catching the late sun.
Sunday took us to the Brindabellas in Namadgi National Park on an exquisite mild Canberra day. The wet gullies I was aiming for proved to be temporarily closed off, but the post-fire regenerating Alpine Ash forests and Snow Gum woodlands offered little treats including male Scarlet and Flame Robins virtually side by side. Late in the day one of my very favourite woodland birding sites, the old Newline abattoir holding paddocks, again let me down in a way it's never done in over a decade of birding there - with one exception. This was a superb female Painted Button-quail, to my knowledge the first ever recorded there.
Campbell Park "hoops" for the injured...
Finally, Monday morning (yet another perfect autumn day) saw us in one of Canberra's real treasures, the grassy woodlands of Mulligan's Flat Nature Reserve, whose 740ha are, sadly, the largest Yellow Box-Red Gum woodland reserve in Australia. Typically for the time of year, quiet periods were interspersed with bursts of activity associated with mixed feeding flocks moving through, including all five thornbill species and Weebills.
Thence they headed north and I resumed my quieter existence in Canberra. I reckon some of them might be back though and they'll be very welcome again.
By Ian Fraser guiding for FTB