Today has been an excellent start to 2007. I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens with a couple of friends, one of whom is a botanist, and spent the day strolling, chatting, looking at plants and birds and eating. Not necessarily in that order. Although the gardens are only a 20 minute drive from my place, I rarely visit. What a waste! Well, that's something to put on my list of resolutions.
I made the mistake of trying to botanise and bird-watch at the same time. It's not that easy—splitting attention between sessile leaved things and active winged things. Maybe I just need to practice. But to make things even trickier, I was photographing both groups of organisms. As you can imagine, I had greater success with the plants than with the birds.
The RBG is a good spot for the lazy city birdwatcher. With little effort, it's possible to spot a range of common species. I made no effort at all and still saw a bunch of birds—including three Australasian grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae, none of which was amenable to having its photo taken. Of course.
A few hardheads (Aythya australis) were hanging around on the big lake. They're the only Australian species in the genus that includes the northern hemisphere canvasbacks, pochards and scaup. They're almost as difficult to photograph as the grebes. Unlike those shameless Pacific black ducks, which motor over whenever a human appears on the bank, the moment the camera turns in their direction, hardheads slip under the water's surface. And that's yer lot.
Completely unconcerned by humans, the bell miners (Manorina melanophrys) continued calling even when we walked right past them. Bell miners (or bellbirds) are pretty but thuggish honeyeaters that tend to have a negative effect on their habitat. They form large, wide-ranging colonies that allow them to exclude other insect- and nectar-feeding birds, reducing the competition for food. As a consequence, the populations of sap-sucking psyllid bugs increase, which in turn causes problems for the plants on which the bugs dine. Canopy dieback in eucalypts may be a result of the bell miners' success. That chiming call, so characteristic of the eastern woodlands, may be a death knell for trees already stressed by drought ...
On a jollier note, there were plenty of other birds around including eastern spinebills, sulphur-crested cockatoos and red-rumped parrots. Next time I go back to the Botanic Gardens I will either be birding or botanising—I'm not skilled enough to do both!