This week we had a great outing on one of our Classic Wildlife & Nature Tours. These are one of our most popular outings, as they are designed to incorporate a little bit of everything – birds, mammals, reptiles, flora, fungi, locations, conservation, and who knows what else! This week, our group was the Cook family from Sydney who had booked a half day + spotlighting extension with us.
Our afternoon kicked off with a visit to the Grey-headed Flying Fox colony down along the Yarra River. At this time of year, a large percentage of this sometimes 35,000+ strong colony migrate further north to escape the cold of winter in Melbourne. Today, around 2-3 thousand animals were still present, most even posing fabulously for some photos. In a brief moment of late autumn sun, the reddish collars of these spectacular megabat’s was quite a sight to behold!
No matter what the weather, or time of year, the Yarra River is quite a wonderful place for a good old nature walk! Leaving the Flying Foxes, we took the scenic route along the banks, relishing groups of flowering Silver Wattle, towering Yellow Gum and Red Box, pockets of stunning Native Violet, and a number of Spectacular Rustgill clumps in old rotting tree stumps – one of many fungi species we saw starting to erupt in the cooler weather. Despite being way into Autumn, we were still able to pin down a few reptiles including Pale-flecked Garden Sunskink and an Australian Water Dragon basking on bank of the river. Bird wise, we had excellent views of a few classic Aussies: Red-rumped Parrot, Laughing Kookaburra, and Common Bronzewing.
After a quick cup of coffee and a piece of shortbread, we jumped back into the car and headed east across Melbourne. We had around 3hrs before dusk and were keen to cram in as much wildlife and key locations as possible!
First up, we followed the Yarra River until we reached a woodland and lake parkland located in Melbourne’s east. Here, it was all about the birds! Our quick hour walk provided excellent views of Australian Golden Whistler, Flame Robin, Grey Fantail, Superb Fairywren, New Holland Honeyeater, Australasian Grebe, and a pair of Tawny Frogmouth – a nice pick up, just in case we missed them later tonight when spotlighting. At our second spot, we had a great encounter with a Buff-banded Rail (easily one of the most stunningly patterned birds in the whole country!), Gang-gang Cockatoo, Australian King Parrot, Spotted Pardalote, Eastern Spinebill, and a dozing Common Ringtail Possum!
Finally on dusk, we watched as Grey Fantail flashed about in the trees, listened to a nearby colony of ‘pinging!’ Bell Miner, and photographed the radiant burnt-orange sunset. Not a bad way to end the day…but it wasn’t over just yet!
Finally it was time to swap day for night and venture out into the dark to see what we could find!
Tonight, we led the group to a woodland reserve located along the banks of the Yarra River, around 25km further on from our early visit to the Grey-headed Flying Fox colony. We arrived around 30 minutes or so after sunset, stopping briefly along the way to photograph a Swamp Wallaby that was feeding by the side of the road. Before setting off, we grabbed warm clothes, head-torches, cameras, binoculars, and our special thermal monocular, a device which allows us to pick up the heat signatures of wildlife after dark. A very efficient and productive piece of equipment, this can be the difference between stumbling around lost in the dark, or tracking down your targets without so much as a misstep.
Right from the get-go, we had great views of a rather fat Common Brushtail Possum, a small mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroo, and a handful of European Rabbit. The mammal list was off to a flying start!
Guided only by the light of a three-quarter moon and one of our red-light torches, we adventured through woodland scrub. In the distance, we heard the bark of a Sambar Deer and the sound of Clicking Froglet from a nearby pond. Eventually, the thermal monocular picked up two dots in a nearby tree, revealing our first Common Ringtail Possum of the night and a sleeping Noisy Miner.
From then on in, the night really got exciting! Despite the cold, there was a lot of life around! Along a small creek, we watched as tiny microbat flitted between the Swamp Gum and River Red Gum (our Bat Detector said they were Chocolate Wattled Bat) and picked up a tiny Peron’s Tree Frog in the grassy scrub. Continuing on, the Thermal Monocular picked up what was most likely a pair of Brush-tailed Phascogale, a wonderfully unique marsupial found only in Australia, but despite our efforts we couldn’t catch up with them for a good look. Always save something for next time!
This clearing led us to a pair of Samba Deer (maybe one of the animals we heard barking earlier) — unfortunately so damaging to Australian ecosystems, but a stunning creature nonetheless. After trying to follow them through the scrub of Austral Bracken (not very successfully), we happened upon an Australian Owlet-nightjar, Australia’s smallest and easily cutest nocturnal bird. They look like a tiny doll of fluff and feathers that you could fit in your hand. This one perched on an old stump before zipping off like a fluffy grey moth into the dark.
On our way, we led the group down a thicker woodland part of the site, hoping to continue with Tawny Frogmouth or some other nocturnal birds. Unfortunately we missed the frogmouth (lucky for earlier this afternoon!) but we did get a nice listen to a hooting Australian Boobook that called from an adjacent gully on nearby private property.
As we stood still listening to the Australian Boobook, we suddenly heard the scampering of little feet along a tree trunk. On went the torches, and there looking directly at us was a Sugar (Krefft’s) Glider. This omnivorous, flying marsupial is always a highlight on our nocturnal tours. Soft, pale grey fur, a big bushy tail with a white tip, pink noses, big almost ‘anime’ like eyes, and big rounded ears – it’s easy to see why. Suddenly, it leapt into the air gliding between two trees where it joined a second Sugar Glider who, it appeared, had been watching us the whole time! This one took one look at us, scampered up the tree, and chased the newcomer back down the trunk. Exciting behaviour to watch!
After a few photos, and selfie or two with a distant white speck (glider!) in the background, it was time to make our way back to the car. It had been a day filled with highlights and everyone was starting to feel a little tired!
On the way back to the car, we enjoyed yet another pair of Sugar Glider, a handful of Eastern Grey Kangaroo, and not much else – it looked like the night was starting to quiet down. Putting away cameras, spotlights, torches, and monoculars, we all piled into the car and started to make our way out of the reserve. But then, we had one final encounter…a Common Wombat! Crossing the road right in front of us! With our cameras and spotlights already stowed away, we had to settle for yellow car headlights and poor iPhone photos – but the sighting was still such a special way to finish off the night regardless.
What a day! We ended up with an incredible collection of animals, particularly for an Autumn tour! In summary, over 70x bird species, 11x mammals, 2x frogs, 2x reptiles, and a whole array of stunning native flora and stunning locations! A big thanks to the Cook family for joining us – we hope you enjoyed the experience!
Want to come along? We’d love to have you, your friends, your family and whoever! This is the perfect outing for nature lovers — come and experience a little bit of everything! Click here to learn more: Classic Wildlife & Nature Tour!