We’ve nearly been in Australia for three years – the anniversary of our arrival is on 27 August – and last weekend we finally saw a platypus in the wild. This is the last of the more famous Australian animals that we hadn’t seen in the wild, and so it’s a landmark of sorts. The irony is that it was only round the corner – it’s just that platypus are shy brown creatures that live in a large muddy river, and as ever knowing when and where to look made all the difference. In my defence it was at Wombat Bend, which is probably not the most obvious place you’d choose to look for platypus. The picture at the top shows Ginny and Felix on the suspension bridge there waiting to spot one.
Platypus, of course, deserve a complete blog post to themselves which I will do later, perhaps when I have some better photos. In the one shot I managed to get you can clearly make out that it is a platypus, but it’s not exactly wildlife photographer of the year material.
It’s winter here now, so there aren’t quite as many animals around and the weather isn’t quite as conducive to getting out and finding them. The picture below is the archetypal Australian corrugated roof, on part of the Yarra Valley Dairy (yum!) during a bit of a storm. You certainly know about the rain if you’re underneath a roof like that!
So given it’s winter and now we’ve hit our platypus milestone I thought it would be a good point to have a bit of a review of those crazy Aussie animals. I’ll arrange it by location, and then how likely you are to see the various creatures.
Outside our front door
Immediately around us you’ll mostly see birds. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see cockatoos and magpies – there are some very large ones around at the moment (see above), as well as noisy miners. Kookaburras are pretty common – they do their rounds in family groups cackling away at dawn and dusk on dead branches (or tv aerials). Also common are rainbow lorikeets and crimson rosellas plus various smaller cockatoos such as corellas and galahs.
If you walk up to Aqueduct trail (above) you’ll see plenty of kangaroos, particularly at dawn or dusk. If you’re lucky you might see a wedge-tailed eagle or two – if you see a big (really big!) bird of prey in the sky that would be them. You’re more likely to hear a possum than see one – if you hear a herd of elephants sprinting across the roof that’s them – but if you go out with a torch at night you’ve got a good chance of seeing one in a tree.
If you go poking around in the shed you might find a huntsman or redback spider, but you probably won’t. Similarly there are certainly tiger snakes around, but you’re very unlikely to see one. If you’re lucky you might see a flock of black cockatoos come through, or a pair of king parrots.
Down at Westerfolds Park and around are plenty of wombats and echidnas, as well as the ubiquitous kangaroos – Felix and I saw two boomers having a proper scrap last Saturday during parkrun. Wombats and echidnas hang out in the parks and reserves by the Yarra, both upstream to Candlebark Park, Petty’s Orchards, Laughing Waters, Warrandyte and beyond, or downstream to Finn’s Reserve, Banyule Flats and so on. However we have never (yet) seen a wombat here – they tend to be properly nocturnal which is not usually when you go to parks. They leave behind plenty of evidence though! Echidnas are around – I have seen one trundling across our drive, but many more down in the parks, but they’re not that common and you need to be lucky.
There are tawny frogmouths around, but your chances of seeing one are slim – their camouflage is superb, but if you keep looking up into gum trees you might be lucky.
Lastly if you go to the suspension bridge at Wombat Bend in Finn’s Reserve and are patient you have a very good chance of seeing a platypus. You do need to be patient though – Felix and I saw one almost immediately, but the next wasn’t spotted for nearly an hour. I know people who have seen them in Diamond Creek near Eltham High School, but they were pretty lucky.
Below is the TarraWarra winery in late autumn, looking towards the Yarra ranges on a stormy day that still had a few patches of sun. There are definitely worse places in the world to be – and the wine’s pretty good too!
Elsewhere in Victoria
Let’s start with the big one on everyone’s list, koalas. There used to be some around Pound Bend in Warrandyte, but apparently they died out in the Millennium drought. So the place to go is down the Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway – you’ll definitely see them down there – the easiest way to find them is to find a group of people standing by the car looking up!
You can see little penguins down on St Kilda pier in the city, but there aren’t very many. The penguin parade down at Phillip Island is quite impressive if you’re fond of them, but is very commercialised and not cheap. There are various other types of sea-life you can see from the shore or boat trips, especially seals and dolphins. If you get out in the sticks a bit you may well see sea eagles, ibis and pelicans too.
Above is a track up on Mount Macedon on a cloudy day in winter. If you head up into the ranges (also Healesville, the Dandenongs or Toolangi and many others) you might see lyrebirds, fairy wrens and goannas as well as plenty of parrots and kookaburras.
We’ve seen lots of emus and wombats down at Wilson’s Prom, but I don’t know anywhere else you will see them reliably. Almost all the animals down there are semi-tame, and it really is a beautiful spot.
There are some tropical-only animals that you simply won’t find in Victoria because it’s just too cold. Crocodiles are plentiful nowadays, but do take a guided boat trip, don’t go looking by yourself! Cassowaries are pretty rare – there are estimated to be about 1,000 in Australia, all up in the tropical rainforests of the far north. If you’re desperate to see big pythons (everything grows bigger up north!) they’re up here too.
Humpback whales do come through Victorian waters, but you’re more likely to see them further round on the east coast as they migrate north in late autumn and south in spring. Similarly there are some dingoes in Victoria, but you’re much more likely to see them in other more northerly states. We’ve seen them on Fraser Island – as is so often the case dawn and dusk are the best times.
Flower break – I know proteas (above) are South African rather than Australian, but they’re grown around here and still look impossibly exotic to my UK eye.
Last, and most definitely not least are a couple of Tasmanian specialities. Sadly thylacines are no more, but there are stuffed ones in Hobart museums. There are probably some in other state museums, but I’m not sure. And finally there are, of course, Tasmanian devils. Oops! I’ve just realised we haven’t seen one of those in the wild yet! We’ve heard them at night, but I think we’d better get planning our next trip down there to finish what we started…
I shall leave you with a picture of a kangaroo looking silly, because why not?