Tidbinbilla; even the name sounds distinctly Aussie and indeed it derives from Aboriginal origins. The meaning behind it is “a place where boys are made men”. Put into context that sounds potentially a little daunting but, having spent a wonderful weekend exploring the highest of Australia’s peaks, we decided to take a detour on our way back into Canberra and head to into the foothills of the Australian Alps once more, stopping at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
We had beautiful weather for our drive and managed to do a little wildlife spotting on the way with an unusual sighting of a splendid male Ostrich. Despite some strange looks on announcing our sighting, with a few querying our identification and suggesting it was an Emu, the rest of the family backed us up having seen it too from their car and it is known that there are a small population of feral Ostriches in Australia.
We arrived at Tidbinbilla in the middle of a torrential downpour but our spirits weren’t dampened and after an indoor picnic in the visitors centre, we set off to explore what the reserve had to offer. We began by taking the circular drive that runs round the reserve. The rain persisted and so most of our wildlife viewing was done from the dry comfort of our hire car. We took a short side track to a viewpoint which must have been spectacular in clearer weather. The rain eased off and we made a break from our shelter to take it all in. The outlook was still interesting as it gave an indication of the scale of the valley and the density of vegetation here. The low cloud certainly made it an atmospheric experience and we also had a lovely close encounter with a female Eastern Grey Kangaroo and her Joey.
Our next stop was at one of the main carparks for the eucalyptus forest. Here we waited out another heavy shower before venturing out for a walk. Our niece was particularly keen to look for Koalas so we headed into the enclosure. I should note here that while all the animals here are native and in a natural habitat, there are areas which are protected by predator proof fencing as part of a conservation programme which is particularly beneficial to some of the more unusual and endangered species on the reserve. During a pleasant walk round this smaller enclosure, we spotted a number of Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies and some Potoroos which are rabbit sized kangaroo-like marsupials. To our dismay we didn’t manage to spot any Koalas out in the forest but there was a small area near the gate where a couple of captive individuals were sheltering from the damp weather, along with 2 tiny babies which were rather adorable to see.
Moving on, we decided that as the worst of the rain seemed to have passed, we would take a longer walk round the main Sanctuary area. There was so much to take in, not only visually but in terms of smells and sounds too. There was a wonderful petrichor in the air after the rain which was quite different to that at home, it had a hint of that medicinal quality of eucalyptus whilst still being earthy. There was plenty of birdsong too plus Kookaburras laughing nearby. One of the first things we came across was an Australian Swamp Hen foraging in the tussocky grasses beside the path.
We followed the trail round to the furthest pool where we stood in front of the weir and watched the water. There was a bird in the reeds on the lefthand side which, when it eventually revealed itself, turned out to be an Australian Reed Warbler.
Then there was a ripple and we saw what we had been looking for in every pool we had passed; a trail of bubbles and, after a few moments waiting, at the end of them a Platypus. We stood and watched for some time as it went about its business. Most of our time was spent wondering where it would surface next or trying to follow the bubbles it left in its wake. It stayed mostly at the far end of the pool but we had reasonably clear views of it. The light was not ideal, but I managed a record shot or two, and seeing as it was such a highlight for us, I decided to share one with you.
Tearing ourselves away from this bizarre creature, we continued on down the path to see what else we could find. Suddenly, beneath a tree beside the path we spotted a slightly more dangerous resident, a Red-Bellied Black Snake. This individual was an impressive size, easily four or five feet long and spread out to bask in the warm air, presumably having cooled down in the earlier rain.
Having studied the serpent from a safe distance, we continued on once more. Here a boardwalk took us over one of the larger pools and we had a different view of the species that called it home. A Little Pied Cormorant was perched up on a half sunken tree trunk looking particularly photogenic with barely a ripple disturbing its reflection.
Presently, the Cormorant took to the water and joined a Musk Duck in diving for prey items. The male Musk Duck has to be one of the most peculiar looking wildfowl I’ve come across with a large leathery disc-shaped flap beneath its bill. I’m not sure what purpose this serves other than perhaps as a favoured feature during the breeding season. The duck itself is large and quite bulky too, sitting low in the water and almost appearing to be unsuited to its preferred habitat as a result. We watched this one for some time as it dived repeatedly.
In addition to the birds, there was other life in the water too and although not crystal clear the visibility was certainly good enough to spot a reasonable number of Eastern Long-necked Turtles going about their business beneath the surface. As the afternoon drew on, there seemed to be more insects around the water and this drew in the Welcome Swallows that were flying overhead. One particular individual was bold enough to sit on the handrail only a few feet from us. I am particularly fond of hirundines and Swallows in particular so it was lovely to see these little birds so close.
Having crossed the boardwalk, the path wound round to another pool where we came across an Australian White Ibis feeding in the shallows.
A short way further on, we disturbed a small number of Eastern Grey Kangaroos as they browsed the foliage at the water’s edge. They didn’t seemed too perturbed by our presence as we kept quiet but there was always one of the group watching us to make sure we weren’t a threat.
Nearing the end of the main circular trail, we finally had a good close view of the noisiest residents that we had heard, the Laughing Kookaburra. These are among the largest members of the Kingfisher family although they don’t eat fish but tend to hunt small ground prey such as small mammals, lizards and insects. Their call is very loud and carries a fair distance too so although we had heard them regularly throughout the trip it was a treat to get a really good look at one.
Returning to our starting point, the rest of the family headed on home but my husband and I decided to stay on a little longer and explore the Black Flats Dam area. We had an enjoyable wander through the scrub and saw a few new and different birds including Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike and Dusky Woodswallow. Taking a seat near the dam itself we also had lovely views of another new bird for the trip, a Grey Shrike Thrush. It was a rather charming bird and was hopping around between several eucalyptus trees above us. I tried in vain to get the photo that I wanted but didn’t quite manage it – all I can say is “sometimes stick happens!”.
We eventually decided that we should wend our way home and so climbed back into the car to drive back round the rest of the loop to the reserve exit. We were not short of a few more encounters on our way out though as now that the rain had stopped there were a few more opportunities to see things. Using the car as a moving hide, we were able to get nice views of a few species which we had seen only in passing before. The first was a Masked Lapwing which had a chick with it.
Next we came across a curious Kangaroo with a Joey in it’s pouch.
Lastly, we were able to watch a pair of wonderful pink Galahs foraging in the short grass near the visitor centre on the way out.
Our trip to Tidbinbilla had been a great success and a wonderful day. We made it back to Canberra just in time to head up Mount Ainslie for the sunset which was a particularly good one looking out over the Telstra Tower to the very hills we had just come from. It rounded off our family weekend away beautifully.