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While Visitors are Away, the Animals Play at Cranbourne Gardens

While Melbourne and Cranbourne Gardens are temporarily closed, the cute critters that call Cranbourne Gardens home are enjoying the peace and quiet, and travelling further afield than usual! From Spotted Pardalotes (Pardalotus punctatus) to Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) and plenty of other species, Conservation Officer Ollie Sherlock has confirmed there's a buzz of activity behind the scenes.

Staff have been delighted to enjoy rare sightings of Common Wombats (Vombatus ursinus), Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) and Southern Brown Bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus) tentatively venturing out of their comfort zones. Swamp Wallabies (Wallabia bicolor) are enjoying some R&R, while echidnas have been observed seeking out ant nests, digging them up with their powerful claws and feeding on the ants with their long sticky tongues. "Now is the time they typically breed and our team has been on the lookout out for echidna trains – that is, female echidnas being pursued by multiple males – no sightings at this stage!" says Ollie. 

Perhaps the most notable flurry of animal activity at Cranbourne is the birdlife getting clucky as we enter breeding and nesting season. Masked Lapwings (Vanellus miles) have been observed with cute little chicks in the Australian Garden and Southern Grasslands – anywhere from two to four young is normal. "The birds can get quite stressed when they have young around with much calling and dive-bombing of staff and visitors. With the site closed they have had a much more relaxed time raising the young this year!" says Ollie.

Spotted Pardalotes have been busy digging and lining their underground nests. These beautiful little birds nest underground and can often be seen flying out of holes in mounds of sand about the site.

Large flocks of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Zanda funerea) have been spotted tearing apart the timber on some of the older Black Wattles (Acacia mearnsii) at Cranbourne Gardens. They use their powerful beaks to tear apart the timber in search of wood-boring grubs, which are a favoured source of protein during the winter months when seed is less available. "Without visitors around, they have been spotted low to the ground with the opportunity to observe them up nice and close."

Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) and Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata) are currently building nests and incubating eggs. "I have stumbled across a few Black Duck nests on the ground usually hidden under a shrub or grass. The Wood Ducks, on the other hand, nest in a tree hollow – there are a couple we have been watching in our Works Depot," says Ollie.

One of the most exciting sightings has been a lone male Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), which was spotted around Cranbourne Gardens for a few weeks, where it was observed regularly feeding on Green Sheoaks (Allocasuarina paradoxa) in the heathlands. "This species is a real rarity in this area and is listed as endangered at a federal level and vulnerable in Victoria. There is some speculation that this bird may have been displaced from either Kangaroo Island or East Gippsland by the catastrophic fires we had earlier in the year," says Ollie. 

Images courtesy of Manager Environmental Systems at Cranbourne Gardens and wildlife photographer extraordinaire, Ricardo Simao

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