I took a trip to Sydney this October. This was my first time in Australia, and my first international trip since starting bird photography. It was a real treat.
I was in Sydney for work, so I spent most of my time in the city. That meant a lot of my photography was limited to locations near the central business district. Fortunately, Sydney has plenty of parks on public transit not too far from the CBD.
Sydney’s parks are especially good places to photograph waterbirds. Many of them have ponds, swamps, or other wetlands. There are plenty of other birds present as well, but with limited time I ended up gravitating towards water birds, which are relatively easy to find.
This is the furthest park from the CBD that I visited. It’s easily accessible a few minutes’ walk from the Concord West station on the T9 line.
I only got to spend two mornings (one fairly jetlagged) at Bicentennial Park, so there is plenty I didn’t get to see. It’s rare that I can get results this good on an initial visit to a location, however.
Waterbird Refuge Pond
Many birding guides suggest visiting the Waterbird Refuge Pond. This is a great place to spot birds, but photography is more challenging because the refuge is fenced off. Note that the road along the south end of the pond is closed to the public, contrary to what Apple Maps will tell you.
There are a few places without fencing where it’s possible to get to water’s edge. Even here photography is challenging because the steep bank doesn’t provide a good place to sit or lie down. It’s also possible these areas will be fenced off in the future.
I was a bit disappointed, because I love stilts and was looking forward to photographing Australia’s Pied Stilt. Their distinctive kik-kik-kik calls were well in evidence, but they were not possible to photograph.
With some patience, this could be a good spot to get waterbirds in flight. I didn’t have time to give that a try.
By far the best part of my visit to the waterbird refuge was the Superb Fairywrens. There is plenty of scrub habitat, and the water supports plenty of insects. Fairywren paradise, in other words. With a large expanse of water backed by vegetation directly behind the scrub, it’s often possible to get photos with nice clean backgrounds, if that’s a style of photography you enjoy.
I just scratched the surface of what’s possible here. Fairywrens have such fun interactive behaviors, there’s a variety of different trees, and they’re constantly bouncing around giving you different looks.
I also heard a red wattlebird (listen for the sound of a poorly lubricated hinge), but did not get a good photograph. There were a few Red-Browed Finches, but I only managed a so-so photo.
I suspect I picked the wrong time to visit the Badu Mangroves. It was close to noon when I arrived, the tide was out, and I didn’t see or hear any birds during my walk along the boardwalk.
The wetlands just to the west of the Badu Mangroves were great. I’m not sure if they have a name. They’re across Bennelong Parkway from the Australian College of Physical Education.
Here again the banks are fairly steep, so it’s not easy to get down at eye level with the water birds. It is possible with a bit of contortion. There are a bunch of paths weaving in and around ponds of varying sizes. I could have happily spent a few days just in this section of the park.
With the sun directly overhead the light was somewhat harsh despite the clouds. Still, this was a promising location with better light.
Birds I saw in the wetlands included Australasian Grebe, Black Swan, Willy Wagtail, and Australasian Swamphen (formerly the Purple Swamphen). These are all common birds, but the location showed them off well. The swans appeared to be mating.
Lake Belvedere hosts a variety of cormorants, including Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, and Pied Cormorant. It’s also a good place to photograph white ibises in a slightly more natural environment than the bins they inhabit elsewhere in the city. As is typical, the cormorants were roosting on island, so I wasn’t able to get good photos of them.