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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Wildlife of the National Botanic Gardens

Recently I paid a tribute to the Australian National Botanic Gardens, to me the most significant and most beautiful of the national institutions. (These things are purely subjective, and I also regularly visit and delight in some of the others, notably the National Library, Gallery, Portrait Gallery and Science Centre. However the gardens live and breathe and evolve.)

The gardens are also full of wildlife, and it is that important and exciting aspect of them that I want to talk about today. Birds are the most obvious inhabitants throughout, but they may well not be the first animals you meet there, especially on a warm day. A notable feature of the gardens is a healthy population of the colourful big Gippsland Water Dragon Itellagama (Physignathus) lesueurii, and you're quite likely to have to step around one in the carpark when you arrive. The species name honours Charles Lesueur, naturalist and artist with the Baudin expedition; more on him, and on the dragons, in the future. I'm sure they were pushed up into the developing gardens when major habitat was flooded with the filling of Lake Burley Griffin in 1963-4.
Breeding male Gippsland Water Dragon. (Gippsland is far to the south of here in Victoria, but this name refers to
subspecies howittii; Eastern Water Dragon is the name for the more northern race lesueurii.)
Their diet is broad, encompassing everything from insects to frogs to lizards to ducklings to fruit. In the Gardens
they regularly sit alongside diners at the outside cafe, being vaguely menacing - a male can be nearly a metre long.
(To save spelling it out each time, all photos in this posting were taken in the National Botanic Gardens.)
Birds also scavenge at the cafe, or just hang about hopefully.
White-winged Choughs Corcorax melanorhamphos, preening.
These obligate cooperative breeders are among the most sociable birds in the world.
Research, much of it emanating from the Australian National University just across the road, is an important activity here; young researchers with binoculars and notebooks are a common sight (though much of their work is done a lot earlier in the day than visitors see), and colour-banded birds and dragons are evident.
White-browed Scrubwren male Sericornis frontalis.
Virtually every scrubwren and Superb Fairy-wren in the Gardens wears identifying bling.
Flowers are of course an important bird-attractant, and there is something blooming every day of the year.
Eastern Spinebill females Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, on Pityrodia sp. (from Western Australia)
New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae, on Grevillea rosmarinifolia. Note pollen on head.
Abundant in coastal heaths, this species is very focused on the Gardens here; in 27 years living just a few hundred
metres away, with lots of suitable food plants, I never saw one in my garden.
Many other bird species are present, seasonally or permanently, using a wide range of resources.
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae, on one of the many ponds.
Gang-gang Cockatoo male Callocephalon fimbriatum at breeding hollow.
Leaden Flycatcher male Myiagra rubecula; a summer breeding migrant
The most dramatic visitor in recent times though attracted hundreds of people over a few days; it was necessary to put up fencing to protect garden beds and minimise disturbance of the mighty owl, though it didn't show many signs of angst. The same could not be said of the Gardens' population of Sugar Gliders, which was substantially depleted during its stay.
Powerful Owl Ninox strenua. Normally a very scarce resident of the ranges, this was probably a young bird dispersing.
Insects are of course abundant and diverse.
Soldier Beetles Chauliognathus lugubris. These can emerge in huge numbers on occasion.
Black-headed Skimmer Crocothemis nigrifrons.
Native fly pollinating Xerochrysum sp.

Australian Painted Lady male (?!) Vanessa kershawi, on Isotoma sp.
Native Bee on Xerochrysum sp.
Even (non-human) mammals are not uncommon in quieter corners.
Black-tailed Wallaby Wallabia bicolor having a quiet browse.
Short-beaked Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus.
Whether your interests are in plants, animals, peacefulness or learning more about this special country, make sure you leave a few hours for the Gardens when you next visit our National Capital. Your visit certainly isn't complete until you've done so.

We're off to Kosciuszko National Park on Friday for a weekend on the (not very high!) roof of Australia.

BACK ON MONDAY.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Based on jizz your fly looks like Acroceridae to me (a Hunchback Fly).