Birdwatching in The Royal Botanic Gardens
Nestled next to the Sydney Opera House alongside Sydney Harbour, these stunning gardens are home to a plethora of resident birds. Providing valuable green space in the heart of the city, The Royal Botanic Gardens are large enough that you could spend half a day wandering through them or just dip in for an hour on your lunch break. Either way, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Our favourite birding route starts at the pond by the cafe (closer to the water). Grab yourself a cappuccino at the cafe and head to the pond closest to the harbour afterwards. This small pond has even smaller islands within it, home to Little Black Cormorants and Australian White Ibises. We’ve nicknamed these islands affectionately ‘Ibis Island’ and ‘Cormorant Island’ - you’ll see when you visit there’s a little West Side Story thing going on, each island with its own gang of birds. Take a close look through your binoculars to see if there are any juveniles on the islands.
From the pond, head back toward the cafe, making sure to stop by the Lotus Pond. Often there are several Purple Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens and Eurasian Coots afoot. If you do see a Purple Swamphen, let us know if you agree with us that we think this bird 100% looks like a straight up dinosaur.
After the Lotus Pond, head to the Gift Shop where Visitor Centre Information is at left (just behind the cafe). Ask if they know the location of the Powerful Owl - often they’ll have it recorded on their whiteboard. If you get a good lead, it’s likely that the Powerful Owl will be in the trees along the southern side of the wall that cuts the gardens in two. A tell-tale sign of Powerful Owls are all the white droppings. Keep your eyes peeled for white stained leaves and if you do see this, look up carefully - They can be quite camouflaged. Often the bird(s) stay for a while after a big meal, so their excrement has been piling up for days.
The two pictures above were taken one afternoon in the gardens. The adult and juvenile Powerful Owl were sleeping peacefully while I photographed them. Out of nowhere came a large and very LOUD group of schoolchildren who suddenly woke both owls up, hence their ‘what in the holy heck’ faces.
Another bird that is a treat to see in The Royal Botanic Gardens is the Buff-banded Rail. These notoriously shy and elusive birds had all but disappeared from the gardens when they returned full force in December 2017. They are small and love to hide amongst the foliage of garden beds. Your best bet are the gardens along the path outside of the Moore Room (near the Palm House). Patience is key and watch for any little rustle.
We managed to photograph them when there were babies present. The little chicks were running all over the place with parents in tow and crazy Australian Miners chasing after them. It was one of three sightings I’ve had of the Buff-banded Rails. The second was in the same set of garden beds (by the Moore Room) and the third was practically a poem, as I spotted the bird amidst the wildflowers basking in the sun in the Wildflower Garden one afternoon.
After a long afternoon of birding at The Botanic Gardens we recommend you take yourself to Busby’s Bar, right within the botanic gardens to sit on a lawn chair, cold beer in hand admiring the harbour and Opera House views. A bonus will be all the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos that join you as you sit on the lawn.
Our list of common birds you can expect to see include:
Little Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Pacific Black Duck
Australian Wood Duck
Australian White IBis
Channel-billed Cuckoo (summer only)
Grey Butcherbird (by Lion Gate Lodge)
As always, let us know what you see!