Over the last month I had a couple of early starts in the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens in western Sydney. In mid winter the gardens open just after dawn. That early the bushland tracks are pretty cold and dim, making the string of ponds along the valley a much more attractive option. Like all wetlands they are a magnet for all sorts of water birds and many other species of wildlife.
Driving into the gardens I was startled to see a adult fox coming out of the reeds and trotting across the road. It seemed utterly at ease scanning the edge of the pond for unwary prey. A bit of a clue as to why water birds, which can retreat to the open water or perch on overhanging vegetation, are the most abundant wildlife around the gardens. In the absence of native predators such as quoll or dingo foxes are the apex predator on the Cumberland Plain.
Cattle Egrets are unique in their association with cattle (see Wildlife in winter, 06 June 2015) but share the habit the sleeping in communal roosts with other species of egret. They are very picky about roost sites and fly off if approached any closer that a couple of hundred metres. I was a bit surprised to find thirty to forty Cattle Egrets roosting on an island in the middle of the largest pond, not something I’d expect in a place with hundreds of visitors every day. They responded to my arrival by shifting between trees but settled when I stopped and crouched on the wet ground. A few minutes later the first jogger of the morning puffed past. The egrets flapped upwards, circled the roost three times before heading up the valley,over the ridge and away.
I climbed upslope and into the sunlight. Welcome Swallows were lapping around an area of no more than fifty by thirty metres. I assumed they were feeding on swarming insects but whatever it was were too small to see with the naked eye. Sharp photographs were more of a miss than hit and I only managed a couple of keepers. The busy grassland background was a bit too much to expect of the autofocus system. By the time I conceded defeat the sun had descended into the valley so I headed back towards the ponds.
One side of the valley is coarse pasture while the other has a series of formal lawns. The lawns provide succulent grasses for Eurasian Coots and Purple Swamphens. Flocks of both species foraged across the lawns, retreating to the ponds as more visitors arrived at the gardens.
Coots and swamphens occur wherever there is fringing vegetation around the edge of a wetland. They forage in the water and on land, with the coots diving underwater for aquatic weeds.
There were a variety of water birds out on the open water including Wood Duck, Hard Head, Little Grebe and Hoary Headed Grebe. The water acted like a mirror, merging birds, pasture and vegetation into beautiful reflecting patterns.
The Hardhead added to the visual drama, tossing arcs of water with their energetic bathing.
Providing habitat for wildlife isn’t the primary objective for botanic gardens. Nonetheless they do act as a haven for local wildlife, and Mount Annan is no exception. The combination of wildlife, picturesque surrounds, and the gorgeous golden light on the ponds make it one of my favourite wildlife sites around Sydney.