Winter wander – Australian National Botanic Gardens

What to do with a Saturday morning in winter? Sleep in. Check. Poached eggs on toast with fresh orange juice. Check. Now what? We decided to pack our macro lenses and head for the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG). Now Canberra really knows how to do winter and it was putting the effort in today. No frost but it was cold enough without it and there was a mass of grey cloud. Would it clear or hang around all day to keep everyone rugged up inside? Driving to the gardens it seemed like everyone was still in bed. Cockatoos that usually screeched as they wheeled above the road were sitting sedately on light poles, all fluffed up. Even the galahs were snuggled in pairs, not moving, waiting for the sun to peek out.

The ANBGs carpark was deserted. We paid our parking fee and tried to head in. But there were so many distractions! A bright pink patch of flowering kangaroo paws beckoned us over. Kneeling to compose a shot I saw everything was covered in tiny water droplets. There was barely a stir of breeze, prefect handheld macro photo conditions! We continued on our walk, choosing paths at random and stopping when something caught our eye. For a dull winter’s day we were amazed by how much colour surrounded us. So many different types of flower were in bloom we were constantly kneeling down to capture the yellows, pinks, oranges and reds.

We both had macro lenses (60mm and 105mm) so the technique of the day was to shoot with the aperture fairly open if we wanted a blurred, abstract background (around f/5). For flowers or birds where we wanted to capture more detail we’d bump the ISO up high enough to shoot around f/10, leaving the shutter as slow as we could handhold. The overcast day meant the light on our subjects was soft, no contrasty sunlight and shadows here!

The red centre garden, a relatively new addition had an interesting display peppering its ground. Sturt’s Desert Pea plants in flower! The floral emblem of South Australia flashed bright red at us, against the orange-red iron oxide soil it had been planted into. A traditional desert plant (if the name didn’t give it away) it was amazing to see them flowering so vigorously at the beginning of a Canberra winter.

Not only was the garden full of colourful blooms, it was also alive with birds. Stopping near a lawn we noticed so many superb fairy wrens hopping around it looked like the ground was moving! While the males were not dressed in their bright blue mating plumage there were a few blue tail feathers which stood out. So too did the brightly coloured bands on the wren’s legs. One photo shows a wren with four different bands on it! Why the bands? It’s part of a multi-generational study of superb fairy-wrens in the gardens that’s been running since 1988. The group of about 70 wrens represents one of the best and most intensively studied populations in the world. The study, lead by Dr Andrew Cockburn out of the Australian National University is examining a range of different factors affecting the population. These include mate choice, courtship behaviours, cooperative living and long term reproductive success.

As we moved on a kookaburra flew off the branch of a gum as we approached. Laughing loudly, it settled into a tree further away, happy the photographers wouldn’t get it’s portrait. Honeyeaters and other small finches flitted amongst the lower shrubs. The trees and bushes hummed with bird life, giving the gardens a sense of energy.

On the way out we walked back among the tree ferns. At our feet in the wet groundcover yet more wrens dived under the bushes emerging with a worm or grub here and there. The constant high pitched chirps continued. In the fronds around our heads we saw a flash of red. Crimson rosellas! Usually we can never get so close to these shy parrots so it was a rare treat to watch them eating bits of fern, unconcerned by our presence. Their bright red and blue feathers stood out against the green ferns, so we took as many photos as the rosellas allowed. Is there a better day than one where you get to watch wrens hopping around looking so happy with themselves?

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