Molonglo Reach boat trip

Sun 12 February 2017 08:00am

Jack Holland

This outing/cruise will be on the upper parts of Lake Burley Griffin (East Basin) and the adjacent Molonglo River Reach, where late summer/early autumn is usually the peak time for nesting, with darters as well as three species of cormorant known to breed there. The area also has a variety of water birds, and a range of land birds can be seen on the banks.

The boat trip will last about 2 hours from 8 am and will cost $20, payable in cash on boarding.  This year we will again be travelling in the electric boat “MV Gull” which can carry around 22 people.  The boat allows both a quiet approach as well as access to areas difficult to get to from the land.  The point of departure will again be from Kingston Harbour using the wharf at the end of Giles Street.  There is plenty of all day free weekend parking close by, particularly in Eastlake Parade.  Alternatively participants can park their cars in the SE corner of the Glass Works/Bus Depot Markets car park, which will involve about a 200 m walk.

Registration for this field trip is essential.  Please book your place on the boat with Jack Holland (on 6288 7840 or by email on

Post event report

Under very warm and humid but surprisingly still conditions (given the forecast), 24 members and guests joined me for what was my eighteenth time since we started in 2003 for this now annual trip to view the water and land birds of this area.  We again left from Kingston Harbour on the electric boat, the EL Gull, along the east bank of East Basin and into the Reach and along the south bank to the site of the new bridge before tracing our route back.

It was one of those trips where most of the best birds came early with 3 juvenile Nankeen Night Heron, an Intermediate Egret and a White-necked Heron seen at the mouth of Jerrabomberra Creek.  From COG chatline posts these were known to be in the area but we were very pleased to find them, with only the first named having been recorded on one of these trips previously (December 2004).  Even better was that they all were very co-operative so that all participants were able to have very good views, unlike the Latham’s Snipe that was flushed but disappeared before most could see it, only the 3rd record on these trips after February 2013 and 2016.

Given the hot dry conditions experienced in 2017 to date, lake levels were still surprisingly high but we did not encounter an Australasian Darter until nearly halfway up Molonglo Reach.  This was an adult male after which we recorded another 5 males singly or in twos and no females until well over halfway back followed by another 3 in East Basin.  None of the 10 (two more than last year) were identified as immature birds by their dirtier and lighter plumage or were near a nest, and none of the males had a significant amount of red on the neck indicating breeding plumage.

This was the second year in a row no breeding was confirmed, though unlike last year there were no signs of even a single no longer occupied nest.  It now seems that the more than 10 years of this species breeding there are definitely over.  The reasons for this remain unclear; if due to the complete clearing of the trees on the north bank in May 2008, the effect was quite slow compared with the cormorants which completely abandoned breeding on the Reach within a few years.  The increased canoe and paddle board traffic remains a possible factor.

We saw a total of 5 Great Cormorants, generally resting on bare branches close to the mouth of Jerrabomberra Creek, several with white flanks indicative of breeding plumage.  There was only 1 Little Black Cormorant and no Little Pied Cormorants seen on the day.  However, on our return, a single Pied Cormorant sat low and tight above the water near the mouth of Jerrabomberra Creek, again allowing good views for all participants.

I’m aware of only very limited darter/cormorant breeding this summer.  I understand that there may still be breeding on the northern side of the Molonglo River downstream (west) of the Tuggeranong Parkway, but I’m unclear as to whether any breeding is still occurring near the upstream end of the new Cotter Dam.


Other waterbird activity was very low, with only Black Swan, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck and Silver Gulls and a smattering of Purple Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens, Eurasian Coot and Masked Lapwings recorded, the lowest range of such species I can remember.  Three Greylag Geese were seen at the water’s edge close to where they were on the previous 4 trips, this time with the addition of a completely white bird, all were very tame allowing canoeists, etc, to walk through or around them.

Of the land birds, Dollarbirds and Sacred Kingfishers were again seen, but were much less conspicuous than last year, with the best species being the 5 Double-barred Finch seen between the two bridges, a species only recorded twice before.  Surprisingly common on Molonglo Reach were Red Wattlebirds and Noisy Friarbirds, which appeared to be undergoing some local movement, possibly following the boat.  A dependent young was observed for the former; another breeding record was a Welcome Swallow still on a nest underneath one of the bridges.

At 45 the total number of species was a bit down on previous years.  As for last year the species total from Molonglo Reach was much the same as those from Jerrabomberra Creek/East Bank.  Despite the complete lack of darters/cormorants breeding, participants again enjoyed the trip which remains a popular late summer outing, and I would expect to run it again at the same time in 2018.

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