A few weeks ago I unexpectedly found myself in Canberra for a few days. Australia’s capital, set in the eucalypt-studded Great Dividing Ranges, has not got a fantastic reputation as an exciting place to be, but in truth its an attractive garden city with a lot of green spaces, parks, and other pleasant paces that make it a nice place to live. My trip wasn’t touristy but I was able to sneak off late one afternoon and early one morning to do a bit of woodland birding at a location called Campbell Park.

I always find it a nervous thing visiting a new site. I often find that internet descriptions of how to find them are low on important details, and that having reached a site I struggle to find were I am supposed to go from there. This happened to me at Campbell Park, a problem compounded for me by the fact that the car park described was the car park for the headquarters of the Australian Armed Forces and that in several directions signs warned of unexploded munitions or against trespassing. A great place to wander around looking lost with binoculars!  I persevered for a bit, reasoning that a) the site had been recommended in the tourist information booth for birding and b) this being Australia they would likely at least give me one warning before shooting me. I did eventually find the path (facing north, go east to the overflow park and two paths lead from there to the gate described in the link above), and found some rather nice woodland birding beyond.campbell park

Campbell Park, Canberra

As you first walk down the paths (or even park) the dominant species is not a bird but Eastern Grey Kangaroos, and lots of them. On the first evening visit I arrived rather late and didn’t see a whole lot at first, before encountering a late wave; in fact bird waves seem to be a thing here. On that first evening the highlights were a Wedge-tailed Eagle that I flushed and a White-throated Treecreeper in a flock of small things that the failing light hid from identification.



Two mornings later I returned, emboldened by the knowledge of where I was supposed to be going. Things started well. Large numbers of the ubiquitous Nosiy Miner, the warbling Australian Magpie and Crimson Rosellas provided the background noise for the whole  walk. It wasn’t long before I saw my first family of Superb Fairy-wrens as well as a very noisy Willie Wagtail.

Campbell Park has an interesting mix of species that are easy to see in Sydney, which I often visit, and ones I can’t. I came across a large flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills and some large Common Bronzewings (an attractive woodland pigeon), both species I haven’t seen in Sydney yet, but then also plenty of Australian RavensWelcome Swallows and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. Also present were other parrots, including the gorgeous King Parrots, the dashing Galah and the Eastern Rosella.

A bit into the walk I encountered a large mixed flock of birds. I had paused briefly to admire the oddity of a pair of Maned Ducks perched high on a dead tree, although I guess given that their other name is Australian Wood Duck I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Then I saw small White-naped Honeyeater, and as I moved around to try and get a better look more and more birds started appearing. First was a family of fast-moving Silvereyes and a Spotted Pardalote. Then a flash of pink that I weirdly initially wondered if it was a Mistletoebird but was actually a Pink Robin, followed by an even more beautiful Scarlet Robin pair. The latter was a lifer, as was the small group of Buff-rumped Thornbills which had joined these birds in feeding in some bright yellow flowers. Then, against all expectations, my target for the site, in my bins. A Speckled Warbler. This member of the Australian warbler family is very hard to get in Sydney and according to the web this was the place to get them in Canberra, and sure enough there was one and then as many as four. In contrast to most members of the family I have seen till this point they are highly terrestrial and reminded me more of finches than warblers.

David Cook

Speckled Warbler by David Cook (CC)

So, yes, if you ever find yourself in Canberra, drop by the army and check out Campbell Park!

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.