Molonglo boat trip

Sun 10 February 2019 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 historically the peak time for nesting, with darters as well as three species of cormorant known to have bred there.  The area also has a variety of waterbirds, 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.  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 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 clear, still and surprisingly cool conditions for February, 23 members and guests joined me on what was my twentieth time for this now annual trip to view the water and land birds of this area.  We left from Kingston Harbour on the electric boat, the EL Gull, first venturing about 500 m into the navigable part of Jerrabomberra Creek and then along the east bank of East Basin, into Molonglo Reach and along the south bank to the newest bridge, before tracing our route back.

Again Australian Darters were present in both the Creek and along the Reach.  The 7 birds counted were fairly evenly split between males (with limited red on the neck so not in breeding plumage) and females (with clear white breasts and black napes), but with no immatures that I can recall.  We had some great views of the former with wings spread out, drying them and thermo-regulating at the same time.  Towards the end we saw 3 of them very high on the thermals, noting how easy it is to mistake them for raptors.

The relatively low count was made up for by observing all four cormorant species.  There were a total of 4 Great Cormorants in both spots, and single Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants resting along the bank of the creek, and in Molonglo Reach, respectively.  Early on we also saw a Pied Cormorant sitting perfectly still in a dead tree in the creek, allowing the identification features to be pointed out and pleasing those participants who were able to add this species to their 2019 ACT lists.

This is now the fourth year that no darter/cormorant breeding could be confirmed, and for the first time there seemed to be no older nests in previously favoured spots or birds still in breeding plumage.  Given the high water levels from the rain/storms we’d had over the past few months I was hopeful that there may have been some renewed activity, but we can now firmly conclude that the breeding of these species in the area, first discovered in 2003, is over.

The main breeding area in the ACT still appears to be along the Molonglo River west of the Tuggeranong Parkway overpass for about a kilometre downstream.  On 17-18 February Jean Casburn attempted an accurate count as she waded through the overgrowth down to the river.  Her counts of the total number of each species with the number of nests (spread over 6 trees) follow:  34 Australian Darters (eleven nests with young at various stages), 31 Little Pied Cormorant (9 nests with at least some still sitting on them), 15 Great Cormorant (10 nests with again some still sitting), and 17 Little Black Cormorants, but with none nesting.


These are very typical of the numbers that were once found on the boat trip.  Willows have been/are being cleared from this area too, so it is a question as to how long breeding on this site will continue.  Chris Davey is sure that there are a few Great Cormorants and possibly Little Pied Cormorants breeding at Gungahlin Pond, but notes that it is very difficult to confirm without proper access to the islands.

Other waterbird activity continues to be very low, with the highlights being the three Australian Pelicans circling high over the wetlands (they are well known from there, but checking back over my reports, surprisingly it seems that these may have been the first seen on the boat trip), and the single Nankeen Night Heron, seen well only by Ned in a spot in the willows where they have been recorded previously.  There were also good numbers of Australian White and Straw-necked Ibis either feeding on the wetlands or flying overhead.  There were also small numbers of the usual species, the highlight being 1 and 2 Australian Wood Duck and Pacific Black Duck ducklings, respectively, the former paddling as fast as it could to keep up with its parents.

Also seen on the bank were 18 Greylag Geese, the majority of them white, and as usual completely unafraid of the canoeists and walkers.  This number has grown slightly from the 16 we saw on the February 2018 trip.  Again the implications for this further increase in numbers from the 4 seen there in February 2017 are unclear.

Of the land birds, 2 Gang-gang Cockatoos, certainly a first for this trip, flew over the boat while we were on the Reach.  A Little Eagle, identified by its M underwing pattern, seen circling over the wetlands was also a first for the boat trip, though again it is well known from the area.  Three species were very numerous compared with previous trips, with many Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Grey Fantails and Silvereyes seen or heard all the way along the Reach, indicative of a very good supply of insects in the bushes/trees from which they were feeding.

The Australian Reed-Warbler also seemed to be in higher numbers than usual.  Compared with last year, Dollarbird numbers were down, with only 2 seen, though we did see four Sacred Kingfishers, one being a very bright blue.  Again there were at least 250 Common Starlings on a couple of dead trees, the wires, ground, etc, near the mouth of the Reach.  Spotted Doves were also again seen in the Reach.

At 51 the total number of species was about average, in fact the same as last year.  Despite the complete lack of darter/cormorant breeding, participants again enjoyed the trip which remains a popular and very pleasant late summer outing.  This is despite the configuration of the boat not always allowing everyone, particularly beginners, to observe/identify all the bird species as we glide past.  Many thanks to Jean Casburn, who offered to and checked the current nesting along the Molonglo River, to Michael Maconachie, Senior Ranger ACT Parks and Conservation, for allowing us to access the lower parts of Jerrabomberra Creek which always provides some interesting species, and to Jim Paterson for again skippering the boat.

Back to Past Events