Where the mammals lay eggs…
Melbourne Birding & Geography:
Melbourne is located is the south-eastern part of Australia and is the country’s second most-populous city. The centre of the city is situated near the estuary of the Yarra River, at the northernmost end of Port Phillip Bay. Early development of the city proceeded along the tributaries of the Yarra: Moonee Ponds Creek, Merri Creek, Darebin Creek and Plenty River. The urban area extends west along the Maribyrnong River, and to the south-east along the shore of Port Phillip. The outer growth suburbs continue to push to the west and north of the city’s urban fringe. It is highly urbanised with 30 municipalities covering an area of around 9,900km2.
The city contains several medium- to large-sized parks within or near to the Central Business District, including Fitzroy, Carlton, Flagstaff, and Treasury Gardens, Royal and Albert Parks, as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens. Toward the western edge of the metropolitan boundary lie Cheetham Wetlands and the Western Treatment Plant (WTP). The Western Treatment Plant is probably the most renowned birding site in Australia and a legendary vagrant magnet.
Along the eastern edge of the urban area, the suburbs abut remnants of Australia’s south-eastern tall wet forests like the Dandenong Ranges National Park, which contains stands of some of the world’s tallest trees, the Victorian Mountain Ash. Much of the south-eastern suburbs lie on the formerly extensive but now mostly drained Carrum Carrum Swamp. Remnants of this habitat persist at Seaford and Edithvale Wetlands and remain popular and productive birding sites.
The Western Treatment Plant is arguably Melbourne’s, and possibly Australia’s, most famous birding site, particularly for shorebirds and vagrants. Despite the allure of this gem, birding Melbourne’s many river corridors and smaller parks, gardens, and wetlands can also be highly rewarding. The upper reaches of the Yarra River, while still bound by dense urbanisation, contain some preserved strips of riparian forest that sustain healthy populations of forest and woodland fauna.
Closer to the city centre, the extensive Royal Park contains open woodland and wetlands where up to sixteen species of parrot may be encountered, along with numerous waterfowl and small passerine species. Smaller ornamental parks within the heart of the city contain all of the common town birds, but can also be hunted over by Peregrine Falcons which nest along the man-made cliffs of the city’s financial precinct. The same parks can also host roosting Powerful Owls, Australia’s largest owl and a predator of the Brush-tailed Possums that are common throughout the suburbs.
In winter, a very lucky birder stands the chance of an encounter with the rare Swift Parrot or the even rarer Orange-bellied Parrot. Both species migrate south in summer to breed on the island state of Tasmania, travelling back north across the treacherous open water of Bass Strait in the austral winter when they may be encountered in very specific parts of Melbourne. Winter is also when Double-banded Plover, a latitudinal migrant from New Zealand, will arrive and may be seen at many coastal and wetland sites.
While the extensive passerine migration witnessed in many northern hemisphere cities is absent here, Melbourne is sometimes subject to interesting bird movements influenced by weather conditions across the vast arid interior of the continent. Dramatic boom and bust cycles, influenced by unpredictable phenomena like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) to the continent’s west, can push some species out of the deserts toward the coast. The reverse can happen during significant wet periods in the deserts, when large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds can be drawn into rarely flooded inland waterways and remote ephemeral lakes for many months at a time. At these times Melbourne birders can experience corresponding floods or droughts of birds, with some inland rarities being occasionally recorded close to urban centres.
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