Molonglo Reach boat trip

Sun 12 February 2023 08:00am

Jack Holland

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 allows both a quiet approach as well as access to areas difficult to get to from the land.

Meeting time:  The boat will depart at 8:00 am and the trip will last about 2 hours 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 your emergency contact name and number.  There will be a maximum of 20 passengers.

Post event report

Under perfect sunny, warm conditions, with little breeze, 15 members and guests joined me on COG’s 20th annual trip to view the water and land birds of this area.  As usual we left from Kingston Harbour on the electric boat, EL Gull and’ as the entrance to Jerrabomberra Creek is now barred’ moved slowly along the east bank of East Basin into Molonglo Reach and along the south bank to the far (third) bridge, and then retraced our route back.

When gathering to board participants already had very good views of a female Australasian Darter resting with its wings widespread near the boat.  In total we saw around 10 of this species, mostly on Molonglo Reach where around 3 males were seen including one that allowed a very close approach.  We also had very good views of one in the water, clearly illustrating why they are sometimes known as snake birds.  Several immatures were identified by their dirtier necks, but for the fifth year in a row no older nests could be seen in previously favoured spots, despite the water levels expected again to have been more conducive to breeding this season.

As usual cormorant species were much more inclined to take flight, though we did manage to see three species including around 6 Little Pied but only single Little Black and Great Cormorants, mostly seen flying away or high over.  There was no sign of the Pied Cormorant which often used to be found sitting at the entrance to Jerrabomberra Creek.  This is now the eighth 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.  At the time it was the main breeding area in the ACT but which now seems to be that along the Molonglo River west of the Tuggeranong Parkway overpass for about a kilometre downstream.  Breeding here is continuing with eBird reports in mid-January indicating 3 of the above species breeding there, and possibly also the Little Black Cormorant.

Probably due to the third wet season in a row allowing them to spread more widely, numbers of waterbirds were again low.  Most common was the Australian Wood Duck with around 34 counted, most of them together well upstream between the three bridges.  Most of the 25 Pacific Black Ducks were also on Molonglo Reach.  No other duck species was seen, though there were some scattered pairs of Black Swans.  Very few of the three larger Rallidae species were seen, the main species being 8 Dusky Moorhens, quite a few of them juveniles/immatures.  Surprisingly no Eurasian Coot were recorded.

Most of the land birds were also well-known species, with the highlight being a Sacred Kingfisher on Molonglo Reach, with most participants managing to get reasonable views as it moved around.  Only two Dusky Woodswallows were seen.  By far the most common land bird was the Welcome Swallow, with well over 60 observed mainly on the eastern shore of East Basin.  Also prominent from the start of Molonglo Reach were close to 20 migrating Red Wattlebirds.  More than usual Australian Reed-Warblers were spread along the reach; at least 12 were mostly identified by call though some brief glimpses were sometimes obtained.  A surprise was 3 European Goldfinches near the mouth of the reach, a rare record for this trip.

At 41 the total number of species was well down from the three previous years.  Despite it being quiet, participants again enjoyed the trip which remains a popular and very pleasant late summer outing, even though this time leading seemed an even more difficult task than usual.  Just a few larger birds showed themselves well (with again no raptors seen) and, while lots of smaller birds were flitting around, it was again quite frustrating not being able to point them out and get good looks at them, especially for the less experienced participants, as the boat glided slowly past.

So, it is very likely that after 20 years this was the last such trip.  Many thanks to Sandra Henderson for having done the very tricky task of keeping the eBird lists.  Many thanks also to Jim Paterson for again skippering the boat, as he has done for the past 20 years.

Jack Holland

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