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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. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

On This Day, 21 September: Lake Burley Griffin was born

Well, one could very justifiably argue that any number of other dates could fit that description of course, but I've opted for the day in 1963 that the weir gates closed on Scrivener Dam and the lake which is the centrepiece of Canberra, Australia's capital city, began to fill. As it happened that was a drought year and flow in the Molonglo River was minimal, so it took until the following March for the desired water level to be achieved. 
View from Black Mountain (part of Canberra Nature Park) across Lake Burley Griffin to the Federal Parliament.
The lake was named after Walter Burley Griffin, the US landscape architect who, with his wife
Marion Mahony Griffin, produced the grand design that won the international competition
to determine the shape and nature of the city, including the lake. However his surname was just Griffin,
never Burley Griffin, and many people have questioned the odd choice of name for the lake
- aside from the fact that his co-worker Marion was thus written out of history.

The city centre and the national institutions are all built on or near the shores of the lake, which have hitherto (mostly) been kept clear for public use. 
The view slightly to the left of the previous picture. The arrows represent (somewhat crudely) the city centre (Civic)
in brown, the Carillon in red, the National Library (and behind it the National Science Centre, National Gallery and
National Portrait Gallery and High Court) in green, the National Museum in blue and parliament again, in purple.
It is a substantial body of water 11km long and over a kilometre wide, and an average of four metres deep. Theoretically power boats are banned to retain the peaceful nature of the water body, but permits to avoid this restriction seem to be available for a range of purposes. On the whole however it is a calm and beautiful focal point, and is a haven for wildlife. The rest of this post will be a simple celebration of some of that wildlife; much of it comprises common birds, including of course many waterbirds, but even common birds are very welcome in the heart of a city! Fish in the lake - mostly carp, sadly - support a good population of four species of cormorants, plus darters and pelicans.
Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris drying its wings.
Cormorants don't have oiled feathers (which would inhibit their diving) so must
hang them out to dry at the end of a fishing expedition.

Little Pied Cormorant Microcarbo melanoleucos.One of the world's smallest cormorants, this species is familiar throughout Australia, north
into Indonesia and across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.

Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo are found on every unfrozen continent except South America,
though it is possible that more than one species is involved.

Male Australian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae preening; he is collecting oil from
his uropygial gland at the base of his spine to distribute through his plumage.
It is common to see such birds on the edge of the paths along the lake shore, as here.
Australian Wood Duck pair Chenonetta jubata, female on the left.
A common grazing duck of uncertain relationships.
Black Swans Cygnus atratus are common on the lake, breeding in floating weed nests starting in winter.
Black Swan cygnet.
Land birds can be seen anywhere around the shores, but the woodland and forest remnants at the western end of the lake, especially near Yarramundi Reach, are especially productive, along with the Bulrush beds just off shore. 
Bulrush, Typha sp., Yarrumundi Reach; such stands support many shelter-loving small passerines,
as well as species of crake and even bitterns.
Australasian Reed Warblers Acrocephalus australis make the reed beds raucous with their metallic
territorial calls in spring and summer, going north to warmer parts of the continent in winter.
Superb Fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus male; one of the most familiar and 'popular' urban
birds of south-eastern Australia.
The Dusky Woodswallow Artamus cyanopterus is another migrant which is usually to be found
in spring and summer at Yarramundi Reach.
Even the open spaces can be rewarding however.
Welcome Swallows Hirundo neoxena.
Red-rumped Parrot pair Psephotus haematonotus feeding on exotic herb seeds.
It amazes me that even the brightly coloured males can escape the notice of passers-by
when feeding quietly in flocks alongside footpaths.
Water Rats Hydromys chrysogaster can often be seen in the daytime on the shore or swimming strongly,
especially in the vicinity of the Carillon.
By far the richest area of the lake however is found at the eastern end, near where the Molonglo and Jerrabomberra Creek both flow into the lake. Jerrabomberra Wetlands are protected as part of Canberra Nature Park. Large areas are reserved for research and refuge, based around the palaeochannels of the Molonglo, but the area around Kellys Swamp is one of my favourite local birding and general natural history sites around here. Over the years I've seen over 140 species here. 
Kellys Swamp in the evening. This is an ephemeral pan which these days is kept inundated from
Jerrabomberra Creek in all but the driest seasons.
Here is a small selection of some of my favourite memories there in the decade or so since I 'went digital'. 
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, an uncommon visitor to our part of the world.
Great Egret Ardea alba alighting; a common visitor, but I liked this moment
(unfortunate shadow notwithstanding!).
Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia, in full breeding glory.

Yellow-billed Spoonbills Platalea flavipes are much less common visitors to Jerrabomberra.
Latham's Snipe Gallinago hardwickii visits every year from its breeding grounds in northern Japan.
I love it that I can watch this bird from a hide, while in the distance I can see Parliament House,
where the international treaties designed to protect the bird were ratified.
Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis; these birds created a major stir when they appeared and
stayed for a while in 2011. They are one of the rarest and hardest-to-see Australian birds,
numbering at the most a very few thousands.
Black-backed Bittern Ixobrychus dubius lurking among the bulrushes.
Another very hard to see bird, but not because of its rarity.
Australian Spotted Crake Porzana fluminea; when low water levels expose the mud, crakes and other
normally elusive rails appear. Always exciting times!
Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa, another threatened species which turns up
not infrequently at Jerrabomberra.
The now mature plantings around the swamp also attract an array of locally uncommon species, including these two honeyeaters which are not often recorded in Canberra.
Yellow-plumed Honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops.
Fuscous Honeyeater Ptilotula fusca harvesting honeydew.
While the birds tend to be the main attraction - and I could have selected many more! - they are not the only ones.
Brush-tailed Possum Trichosurus vulpeculus and joey, which took up residence in one of the hides for a while.
Chequered Copper Lucia limbaria.
Fiddler Beetle Eupoecila australasiae on Bursaria spinosa.
Every time I spend time by Lake Burley Griffin I am grateful to the Griffins for having had the vision, and to those who carried the vision through to the reality, decades after their deaths.

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