By Phil Marley
For once, the weather forecast was spot on – but we won’t dwell on that.
Our group dutifully arrived for the ceremonial 9.00am opening-of-the-gates at Cranbourne Gardens. Early rains were clearing as we parked at the Stringybark Picnic Area and headed off clockwise around Wetlands Walk.
The land for Cranbourne Gardens was purchased by the Victorian Government in 1970, to be another part of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. The site had been a sand mine since the 1820s, and then used by the military from 1889 until the 1950s. The gardens opened to the public in 1989 and now cover a vast 363 hectares, with over 10km of walking trails encompassing woodland, grassland, wet heath, swamp and wetlands. It also includes the Australian Garden, a fabulous area showcasing Australian native plants that opened in 2006, with a second stage opening in 2012.
The windy conditions did not make life comfortable for small birds, so sightings on Wetlands Walk were mostly heavier offerings such as Australian Magpies, Eurasian Coots, Straw-necked Ibis, Little Ravens, Australian Wood Ducks and Swamphens. On the lake we also found some Hoary-headed Grebe, while in the surrounding bush a dozen Grey Fantail and some Brown Thornbill were catching insects out of the wind. Red Wattlebirds and a few honeyeaters were seen and a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo and a Common Blackbird were heard.
We completed the circuit back to the picnic area, then motored over to the visitor centre to fortify ourselves with coffee, hot chocolate, macadamia slices and chips. Good timing, as the rain came back for another spell while we were taking calories on board.
The sun made a belated appearance, providing some welcome warmth and attracting our group out into the Australian Garden. The landscaped area presented a magnificent array of colour from flowering natives, generating frenetic attention from New Holland Honeyeaters, Little Wattlebirds and bees. The latter in turn attracted Welcome Swallows and Dusky Woodswallows. At last, some good photo opportunities were on offer, with the sun relieving the earlier greyness.
But not for long. A heavy squall quickly enveloped our crew, who beat a hasty retreat for a sheltered lunch under the visitor centre. Of course, having drenched everyone, the rain only lasted ten minutes or so and then cleared.
Five of our group were obviously slow learners. While others drifted homeward, the famous five headed out along Trig Track to the Trig Tower to see what other birds could be found. The collected power of five telephoto lenses only spotted a pair of Wood Duck in a tree, but was clearly inadequate to spot the ominous, black rain clouds approaching at speed from the west. These duly delivered torrential rain and hail, just as we reached the top of Trig Tower for a 360 degree of the Gardens – with visibility limited to 50 meters.
Considering the 50km winds, the mostly grey skies, the frequent rain and the hail, 42 species of birds were an excellent tally for our small troupe of 10 and a harbinger of what would have been a truly excellent location on a nicer day.
Warm thanks to Peter for marshalling our soggy group, while John sojourned in warmer climes.