Weekday outing to Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

11 February 2014, species count 41

Smoke haze from the bushfires was visible as 23 people assembled. Though it was warm in the sun, the gardens provided welcome shade as David Plant led us through his well-known areas. He warned us that waterbirds (with the exception of coots) had been very scarce but unexpectedly there were a couple of Black Swan and a couple of dozen Pacific Black Duck, adult and well-grown young. Some Chestnut Teal, Australian Wood Duck and Little Black Cormorant flew and foraged while Silver Gull was the dominant species. Purple Swamphen and Dusky Moorhen were also noted. The lake levels were very low with gulls able to stand rather than float. A highlight was a sighting of three roosting Nankeen Night-Heron quite close to the lakeside tearoom. The garden now offers moonlight cinema, theatre in the gardens and punt rides on the lake. Is it becoming an entertainment “garden” like those of 18th century England? Birdlife may vote with its wings. Not so the Grey-headed Flying-fox, which has returned in considerable numbers and to roost in selected taller trees.

David explained that the greenness of the gardens is the result of a sophisticated water collection  and purification system which biologically cleans up runoff from the surrounding roads in several lakes. This is then pumped up into the Volcano and then flows down to selected beds giving plants the amount of water needed via a computer-controlled distribution at night. Floating islands with vegetation on the deep lake of the Volcano were fascinating as they moved with the breeze.

Bushbirds were not numerous though White-browed Scrubwren were vocal. Disappointingly, Common Myna dominated and Bell Miner were common in some areas. Raptors were Brown Goshawk and Collared Sparrowhawk, both species soaring very high. Honeyeaters, as well as the miners, were Red and Little Wattlebird and Eastern Spinebill. Rainbow Lorikeet and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo were noisily present but Brown Thornbill and Grey Fantail took more watching to observe.

Our group finished the day in good spirits, thanking David for his leadership which had given experienced and new birders a good outing to this Melbourne gem.

Diane Tweeddale, coordinator BirdLife Melbourne Weekdays Outings

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