Tag Archives: Royal Botanic Gardens

Weekdays outing to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

12 February 2018
Photographs by Bevan Hood, member (unless otherwise indicated)
australian wood ducks male and female - bevan hood
Australian Wood Duck

The weather was kind to birdwatchers with a cloudy morning, mild temperature and little breeze. We were a group of eleven – members and visitors – with David Plant leading. Bell Miners dominated the area near the H gate entrance and a team of tree surgeons was noisily working there as well. We walked from the disturbance and surveyed the azolla-covered water. It looked stable enough to walk on, very misleading, and areas of bank were taped off to deter youngsters from falling in. Waterfowl paddled and upended among the floating fern, Pacific Black Duck and Chestnut Teal, Eurasian Coot, Dusky Moorhen and Purple (now Australian) Swamphen. Silver Gulls and Australian Wood Duck walked on the lawns, not far from Australian Magpies and Magpie-larks.

magpie-lark male - bevan hood
Magpie-lark

Occasionally Red Wattlebirds flew past and a couple of Eastern Spinebills were sighted along with one Little Wattlebird. With the Bell Miners these were the only honeyeaters detected. The only parrot species observed was a few Rainbow Lorikeets high in eucalypts. Flyovers of Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants and a solitary White-faced Heron added to the waterfowl list.

white-faced heron - bevan hood
White-faced Heron

No raptors were seen today and they seem to be no longer in the gardens after a presence of many years. The ͞big black birds͟ category contained Little Ravens and Pied Currawongs, flying and foraging. Down in the fern gully we were pleased to present David with sightings of White-browed Scrubwrens, a species which is becoming increasingly uncommon in the gardens, possibly from competition from miners plus modifications of the vegetation.

pied currawong - bevan hood
Pied Currawong

As all gardeners know, a garden is never a static place and change is continuous, especially now with climate change. David explained how the gardens were managing their water and power. Little tap water is used, for drinking and toilet flushing (a legal requirement) mostly. Street runoff is collected, litter trapped and the water then purified by plants, many in ͞garden beds that move͟.

floating islands in azolla - tweeddale
Floating island in azolla. Photograph by Diane Tweeddale

It was fascinating to watch the slow dance of the floating gardens, among the lake azolla or high in Guilfoyle’s volcano. Power is another aspect where savings are being made with 35% being generated by solar panels. The aim is to attain self-sufficiency in water and power.

purple (australian) swamphen foraging in azolla - bevan hood
Purple (Australian) Swamphen foraging in azolla

Lunch was taken near the tea room and was only slightly marred by the numerous Common Mynas (they are the most common bird in the gardens) pecking at uncleared lunch remains on the tables. The day was warming so we had a bird call at the tables and then headed back to our starting point, pausing to mourn the corpse of the much-vandalised Separation Tree. Mindless destruction seems much easier than caring for nature or manmade beauty. Before the old tree finally died seeds were collected and it was reassuring to admire the growth of the resulting offspring.

Soon we thanked David enthusiastically for sharing his garden with us and then went our ways, pleased that our list of 34 species did not continue an observed slide but was slightly above the previous year.
Diane Tweeddale, coordinator BirdLife Melbourne weekdays outings

Weekdays outing to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

16 February 2016
Azolla and floating island
Azolla and floating island

Sporadic rain did not deter 18 people assembling near Gate H. Newcomers joined long-term members being led by David Plant as Bell Miners called in the surrounding trees. Early arrivals were met by a young Willie Wagtail confidently foraging nearby. The water levels in all lakes had plummeted since the rains stopped over the previous six weeks or more. The gardens do not receive tap water but are wholly watered by purified road run-off. No run-off, no water. When the rain does fall, the surrounding gutters flow into a series of ponds where pollutants are removed or sequestered by vegetation, often on floating islands. Partially cleaned water is then pumped up to Guilfoyle’s ‘Volcano’ where the final purification proceeds (via more floating islands of vegetation) before it is gravity-fed down to the garden beds where it is distributed where needed by means of a computer-controlled system.

Floating islands on Guilfoyle's Floating islands on Guilfoyle's "Volcano"
Floating islands on Guilfoyle’s ‘Volcano’

Today the lack of recent rain meant that lake levels were about a meter below normal and birds were walking on mud rather than paddling on water. Another problem is the proliferation of Azolla, a water plant whose dense surface growth blocks all light from deeper-growing vegetation.

Floating island and Azolla
Floating island and Azolla

Still, the gardens hosted numerous Silver Gulls, Pacific Black Ducks, Eurasian Coots and Purple Swamphens. There were fewer Dusky Moorhens, which included several well-grown young, and one male Chestnut Teal foraged close to a stripy youngster. Each of the three Black Swans seen was banded on the neck for identification during the ongoing research on breeding patterns. David mentioned that a population of foxes lived among the rockery and had effectively eliminated cats from the gardens, resulting in much less overall predation on the garden wildlife. Several original trees were pointed out, among them a Melaleuca liniariifolia and a swamp gum or ‘kanuka’. Cushiony green lawns are planted with kikuyu which needs no water and resists the wear of heavy traffic.

Azolla
Azolla and a couple of Eurasian Coots and a Dusky Moorhen

Only a couple of other individual waterbirds were recorded – Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants, a Hardhead seen by only a few and a pair of Grey Teal seen by all. A highlight was at least one Nankeen Night-Heron initially in flight then later by a lake. Bush birds were not numerous. White-browed Scrubwrens and Brown Thornbills were heard, Red and Little Wattlebirds were occasionally seen and many had a fleeting glimpse of an Eastern Spinebill. Little Ravens and Australian Magpies called and a Magpie-lark was initially heard before being seen. A still slightly fuzzy young magpie beside an adult elicited ‘Aaww’ all round.

Some of the group
Some of the group

The final bird count was 33 species, continuing a trend of loss of the garden’s birds. David had shared with us his enthusiasm and encyclopaedic knowledge of the garden’s history and treasures and we thanked him wholeheartedly.

Diane Tweeddale, Coordinator BirdLife Melbourne Weekdays Outings; all photographs by Diane Tweeddale

Weekdays outing to Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

10 February 2015

Floating islands. Photo by Diane Tweeddale
Floating islands. Photo by Diane Tweeddale

We watched the weather forecasts carefully and the latest maximum estimate of 32o promised to be comfortable under shade. It was, and a group of 18 met to the calls of many Bell Miners. David Plant led and his long association with the gardens gave us plenty of information about the changes over time. Bell Miners and Common Mynas dominate now but it was not always so and we regretted the disappearance of Superb Fairy-wrens and White-plumed Honeyeaters. No raptor species were seen today but recent sightings had been recorded.The gardeners maintain a lushly green park, kept that way by careful plant selection. For instance kikuyu is a native grass needing no water so lawns are green without irrigation. The return of Guilfoyle’s Volcano also saves water as it collects runoff and then purifies it for use on the gardens. The floating islands were fascinating as they slowly moved with the wind. The volcano itself is planted with colourful drought-resistant species.

Guilfoyle's Volcano. Photo by Diane Tweeddale
Guilfoyle’s Volcano. Photo by Diane Tweeddale

The vandalised Separation Tree has died and is about to be cut back to a trunk to continue its use as a memorial to the modern state’s beginning.

Separation Tree. Photo by Diane Tweeddale
Separation Tree. Photo by Diane Tweeddale

Near it crowds of school children did not deter Silver Gulls, Eurasian Coots and Dusky Moorhens from the area around the kiosk. One member even noted a large dragon near the tea room.

Dragon at tea room. Photo by Ron Garrett
Dragon at tea room. Photo by Ron Garrett

The former House and Eurasian Tree Sparrow populations have, however, vanished. We saw no Nankeen Night-Herons this day. The punt rides were operating and gardeners were working on the edge of one lake so disturbance may have occurred. Ducks were Pacific Black, Australian Wood and Chestnut Teal while a Black Swan with white neck band L07 was part of the ongoing study of swan breeding patterns. The Bell Miners have probably reduced the population of small birds. We sighted one Eastern Spinebill and small groups of Silvereyes while White-browed Scrubwrens were occasionally visible in the low understorey.

Silvereye. Photo by Ron Garrett
Silvereye. Photo by Ron Garrett

Both Red and Little Wattlebirds were the only other honeyeaters. At least one Australian Reed-Warbler was sighted and water birds included the coots and moorhens plus a pair of Masked Lapwings seen by some.

Dusky Moorhen at tea room. Photo by Ron Garrett
Dusky Moorhen at tea room. Photo by Ron Garrett

This last species is most uncommon in the gardens, being only recorded about once a decade. Perhaps the lush garden beds and sloping lawns do not provide their preferred open surveillance areas. Only some of us heard a Laughing Kookaburra but a highlight for the day was good sightings for most people of an obliging Sacred Kingfisher. The final species count was 39 and we were all very grateful to David for sharing his expertise.

Drought tolerant plants. Photo by Diane Tweeddale

Drought tolerant plants. Photo by Diane Tweeddale

Diane Tweeddale, coordinator BirdLife Melbourne Weekdays Outings

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