Molonglo boat trip

Sun 14 February 2021 08:00am

Jack Holland

This outing will be held under the ACT COVID-safe protocols, so will only go ahead if, as anticipated, the ACT Government relaxes its current COVID-19 restrictions from 4 sq m per person to 2 sq m per person. 

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

We will again be travelling in the electric boat “MV Gull” which, based on relaxed COVID-restrictions, can hold up to 20 people.  The boat allows both a quiet approach as well as access to areas difficult to get to from the land.

Meeting time:  The boat trip will last about 2 hours from 8:00 am and will cost $20, payable in cash on boarding.

Meeting place:  Kingston Boat Harbour at Trevillian Quay.  Participants will need to leave their cars in Eastlake Parade, where there is free all-day weekend street parking, or in the Glass Works/Bus Depot Markets car park and walk across Eastlake Parade and down Trevillian Quay.  Once you have crossed the canal keep going straight ahead for around 50 m till you reach a gap between the buildings.  Turn right and Wharf 6 and the boat should be clearly visible after 20 m once when you reach the harbour.

Name of leader and contact details:  To participate, please contact Jack Holland by email on – please include your mobile and emergency contact name and number.

Post event report

Under perfect sunny and cool conditions, with just a light SE breeze, 19 members and guests joined me on what was my twenty second time on this now annual trip to view the water and land birds of this area.  As usual we left from Kingston Harbour on the electric boat, the EL Gull, and first ventured a few hundred metres up Jerrabomberra Creek, before moving along the E bank of East Basin into Molonglo Reach and along the S bank to the far bridge, and then tracing our route back.


A couple of Australian Darters were already seen in Jerrabomberra Creek, including in the water, illustrating why they are sometimes known as snake birds, but there were more resting in the trees around the paleo-channels of the E bank of East Basin.  The early ones appeared to be mainly females as opposed to the 7 which were spread along Molonglo Reach mostly being males with still some red on their necks but not in full breeding plumage.  However, no immatures were clearly identified and for the third year in a row no older nests could be seen in previously favoured spots despite the water levels expected to have been more conducive to breeding this season.


Only a couple each of Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants were seen in the Reach, but there was no sign of the Pied Cormorant which often is found sitting at one of its favourite spots at the entrance to Jerrabomberra Creek.  This is now the sixth year that no darter/cormorant breeding could be observed, confirming that the breeding of these species in the area, first discovered in 2003, is well and truly over.


As I reported in my February 2021 Gang-gang column the main breeding area in the ACT still appears to be along the Molonglo River W of the Tuggeranong Parkway overpass for about a kilometre downstream.  On 3 February Jean Casburn informed me that she, Sandra Henderson, Lia Battisson, Ryu Callaway, Prue Watters and Tee Tong Teo had counted 7 Australian Darter, 8 Little Pied Cormorant, 8 Great Cormorant and 8 Little Black Cormorant nests there, similar to the numbers at the end of December 2020.  Sandra also reported that on 7 February there were still 3 Little Pied Cormorant nests at Tuggeranong Swamp, which seemed new and suggested a new round of breeding.  While the Australian Darter breeding on the Cotter Dam as accessed from Bracks Hole Rd Coree seems to have finished, with Sandra not reporting any breeding there on 8 February, on 25 January Ryu and Zebedee Muller reported nests with young of the Australian Darter, Little Pied Cormorant and Great Cormorant on the dam, when accessed from the Vanitys Crossing Road in Pierces Creek Forest.


Probably due to the much wetter season allowing them to spread more widely, numbers of waterbirds were also low, with no congregation of species as sometimes occurs.  Other than the Black Swan, the three larger Rallidae species, and the two most common species of duck, only one other duck species was sighted, a pair of Pink-eared Ducks.  These were flushed from the shore and then landed in the water close by allowing everyone very good views, including of their very long, specialised feeder filter bills.  This species was a surprise as it usually prefers shallower water, and is only the second sighting in these trips, the previous one being several loafing on the East Basin shore in May 2004.  The Greylag Geese usually seen around the canoe club house were missing for the second year in a row, checking the eBird map indicates they were not recorded there in 2020 or so far this year, though they have been at 11 other locations.


Most of the land birds were also well-known species, with the highlight being a Whistling Kite circling over East Basin as we returned to the harbour.  This needed some careful checking, firstly to ensure it was not an Australian Darter which is also often seen very high on the thermals, and at first mistaken for a raptor, and then not a Little Eagle as it appeared to have a clear M pattern underwing.  However, a closer check of the pattern, as well as the long tail and slightly bowed wings allowed the correct identification.  This species had not been recorded on one of these trips since December 2004.


Also quite spectacular were the at least 75 Red Wattlebirds clearly migrating E along the southern shore of Molonglo Reach, almost a pure flock except for around 5 Noisy Friarbirds caught up with them.  We also heard a clearly begging Koel fledgling at two well-separated spots along the Reach, with a male heard calling around the Kingston Harbour.  Other land birds of interest were a lone immature Dollarbird still sitting at the same spot on our return, several Dusky Woodswallows scattered along the route, and several of White-plumed Honeyeaters not often recorded on these trips.


At 39 the total number of species was much the same as last year and well down compared with the 51 for the previous two years.  Despite this the participants again enjoyed the trip which remains a popular and very pleasant late summer outing.


Many thanks to Sandra Henderson for having done the very tricky task of keeping the eBird list.  Being on a moving boat and having up to 19 people calling out the birds they see makes the job doubly difficult.  Many thanks also to Jim Paterson for again skippering the boat.


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