It's that time of the year again when, as a city, we collectively puff out our chests and proudly beat them to celebrate Canberra Day.
There are many aspects which make our city such a great place to live, but often topping any poll is that, even after 103 years of development, we still remain the "Bush Capital".
This Canberra Day, nature lovers have even more reason to rejoice with the opening of Bush Capital: The Natural History of the ACT an audio-visual extravaganza at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) which skilfully shines the spotlight on the "bush" part of our capital.
During the week I was lucky to get a sneak peek at the exhibition in which CMAG social history curator Rowan Henderson has worked hand-in-glove with renowned Canberra naturalist Ian Fraser to impressively illustrate the diversity of our bush capital through revealing photographs, exquisite works of art and fascinating scientific specimens.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to mark our city's birthday than by exploring our bush, both in the suburbs and further afield. So, earlier this week I coaxed the erudite Fraser to recommend a day-long itinerary for budding Canberra naturalists. Try it out for yourselves, or dip in and out of it as weather and other commitments permit. No matter how much you explore, I'm sure you will have a memorable day.
Breakfast with the birds
Start the day with croissants and a thermos of coffee (or grab an espresso from the nearby Kingston Foreshore) in one of the knock-out bird hides at Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Just on sunrise (7.02am), several species of ducks (including some rare freckled ducks), moorhens, swamphens, egrets and grebes become active just in front of the hides. "The real beauty is that you just don't know what might drop in at any given moment," Fraser says. "It's a bit like playing the pokies, except that it's a lot more aesthetic and you can't lose!"
From Jerrabomberra Wetlands, drive a few kilometres past the airport, turn left at Sutton Road just before Queanbeyan and after about a kilometre follow the signs to the right to Molonglo Gorge. Here you'll find ancient gnarled apple boxes and birds (including the less familiar white-eared honeyeaters) around the picnic area. "A short walk takes you into the gorge where the sunny slopes support trees much more typical of ranges to the west of here – black cypress pines and spearwood wattles," Fraser says. "It's a very scenic gorge, so follow it as far as you feel inclined."
Morning Tea at Mulligans
Head north now, to visit the ever-thriving Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve and the fenced sanctuary inside it. According to Fraser, "you might surprise a resting eastern bettong or bush stone-curlew, locally extinct species now reintroduced, but you'll certainly come across other woodland birds, kangaroos, old yellow boxes and red gums, and the purplish sheen of growing kangaroo grass." Wander as far as the mood takes you, but don't forget to take some water and a snack.
Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the revamped Australian National Botanic Gardens, which recently featured in this column (January 30) , while admiring the handsome water dragons on rocks and paths and busy New Holland honeyeaters on the autumn flowers.
Don't forget the exhibition!
Head into Civic for an introductory visit to the Bush Capital: the Natural History of the ACT exhibition at CMAG. Work from 19th and 20th century artists and sculptors and contemporary local photographers, as well as specimens from the National Wildlife Collection and National Insect Collections, all interpreted in an ACT context. There's a lot to see and read – and it's free – so you can come back at your leisure until late June to see more.
All the Rivers Run
Drive south through Tharwa, turning left on to Smiths Road. Immediately after crossing the Gudgenby River on the new bridge, turn left into the Murrumbidgee Corridor Nature Reserve and follow the road for a few hundred metres to where it ends in a car park. "There are often tawny frogmouths roosting in the trees here," Fraser says. "There will probably be rainbow bee-eaters still hunting dragonflies over the river, prior to flying north for winter." Follow the river upstream as far as you wish.
End the day in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (just return to Tharwa and turn left on to Tidbinbilla Road), which during daylight saving stays open until 8pm. Here Fraser recommends you can "have a picnic anywhere in the lovely reserve, perhaps after walking through the sanctuary and seeing a platypus – very likely in the evening – or stepping out along one of the walks such as the pretty Cascades Trail along a creek running under tall ribbon gums and soft tree ferns". On your way home, watch out for wombats, kangaroos and perhaps owls on the road.
The exhibition: Bush Capital: The natural history of the ACT opens today (Saturday, March 12) at Canberra Museum and Gallery (cnr London Circuit and City Square, Canberra City) and is on show until June 26, 2016. Open noon – 5pm every day this long weekend, including Canberra Day holiday. Ph: 6207 3968 or www.cmag.com.au
What bird is that? If you can't make it to the exhibition, check it out online where you can even play a range of animal sounds (mostly birds but also some mammals), as well as habitat soundscapes. I was especially enamoured by the red-necked wallaby recording (cute pitter-patter of paws). You might want to turn the volume down t for the raucous wedge-tailed eagle call.
Watch out for several engaging programs and events associated with the exhibition including curator floor talks with Ian Fraser and Rowan Henderson (1pm-2pm on Wednesday, March 23), ranger-guided walks in nature reserves and even a photography workshop. Details: www.cmag.com.au
Did you know? Brolgas and emus were in large flocks when first settlers arrived in the Canberra region. According to Fraser: "a mob of 80 brolgas fed in the paddock behind the post office at Ainslie in the 1870s – but were eventually driven off by shots". Sadly, both emus and brolgas were all extinct here as wild species well before the end of the 19th century.
If you are joining the throng of Canberrans heading down the coast this long weekend, watch out for a lone wombat lurking among the teddy bears at Pooh Bear's Corner.
A number of readers, including Simon Kravis, have recently noticed a short-legged marsupial "hanging out" at the well-known hairpin corner on the Clyde. Kravis, who admits he "stopped at the corner out of habit" as he always used to stop there when his now 18-year-old daughter was much younger, reports that he "only noticed the wombat once he got out of the car". "It didn't seem to try and hide when we approached, but did scuffle around somewhat," adds Kravis whose partner Jane Donohue, despite the low light, managed to snap this photo. I wonder if the wombat likes honey?
Did you know? Pooh Bear's Corner played an important part in a plan to protect Canberra from enemy forces during World War II. Officers of the 12th Battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corp manned the corner between 1942 and 1944, guarding a tunnel that had been built beneath the road and packed with explosives. If Japanese forces landed on the south coast, the plan was to blow up the Kings Highway at Pooh Bear's Corner, thereby slowing any attempt by enemy forces to reach Canberra. After the war, the entrance to the tunnel was filled with concrete.
WHERE IN THE REGION?
Clue: A candidate for the real Man from Snowy River had an accident near here in 1895.
Degree of difficulty: Medium-Hard
Last week: Congratulations to Greg Royle of Red Hill who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as the striking art deco building in Comur Street, Yass, which is home to Tootsie, a fine art and design studio. Royle just beat several readers, including Stephen Bliss of Murrumbateman, Helen Johnstone of Ngunnawal and Judith Dau of Deakin to the prize.
Originally built in 1936 and opened in 1937 as the Hume Service Station, this Yass landmark was one of the first service stations between Melbourne and Sydney and the first all-night service station. The new studio and gallery is an authentic 1940s and 50s environment to suit handcrafted works by artists and artisans. It's friendly and funky, and the coffee and cakes are damn good too.
Open 9.30am-3.30pm Thursdays-Saturday and the last Sunday of the month. More: Ph: 0447 225 524.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday March 12, 2016, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.