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Flying-foxes at Yarra Bend Park

Home > Melbourne > Parks | Free | Animals and Wildlife
by James Whitmore (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living and working in Melbourne. I'm into film, food, beaches, books, and outdoor stuff.
Published January 20th 2013
Visit a Melbourne parkat night
It is bang on sunset on the Yarra River. The light has just disappeared from the trees across the water, and Grey-headed Flying-foxes are stirring amongst the branches. About an hour before they were silent, but they have since started calling, flapping, and taking to the air. The first bats take a quick loop around the bend, or perhaps dip down for a drink. They are hesitant, and quickly land again in the trees. However this is just the beginning of the greatest natural spectacle you can find in Melbourne.

Grey-headed Flying-fox
There are over 10,000 Grey-headed Flying-foxes at the colony in Melbourne

The spot to see it is the Bellbird Picnic Area in Yarra Bend Park. Yarra Bend is the Central Park of Melbourne, with an Australian twist. Instead of planned trees and manicured lawn there is remnant bushland. It is a glimpse of what Melbourne would have looked like before settlement. Here, the Yarra almost turns back on itself before heading back towards Port Phillip Bay.

You can fully appreciate the size and natural beauty of Yarra Bend at night, when there is less traffic. Taking a bike is even better, and a workout, as there's a sizable hill to climb.

The flying-fox colony is across the river, and even during the day it is spectacular. On the last count there were more than 10,000 of them. Some people say the odour of 10,000 bats is rather unpleasant, but really they just smell like animals. They are new arrivals too. Originally the colony took up residence in the Royal Botanic Gardens, but was moved in 2003 because the bats were damaging the trees. How do you move a bat colony? With plenty of noise, including chainsaws.

There is some debate about why the bats are in the city. Usually Grey-headed Flying-foxes are nomadic, following fruiting and flowering trees up and down the coast. In winter, most of them move north of Sydney. These bats however have found Melbourne very much to their liking and stay all year round. Nationally the bats are listed as vulnerable, mainly due to habitat loss and encounters with unhappy fruit growers.

Melbourne at night
One of the best views of Melbourne at night, from Yarra Bend

In the half hour following sunset the bats build to incredible numbers. The sky is thick with them and there is a constant stream overhead. You can follow them as the road continues along the Yarra, and see them move like a swarm over the suburbs as they move out to find flowers and fruit. If you've ever wanted to feel like you're in a David Attenborough documentary, this is the place to do it.
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Why? To feel like you're in a wildlife documentary
When: Around sunset
Where: Bellbird Picnic Area, Yarra Bend Park
Cost: Free
Your Comment
very interesting article!
by Joy (score: 3|1945) 3481 days ago
In 1991 my family scattered my mother ashes there because she loved the yarra and gum trees and you could hear the bell birds.. When i went back around 2010 I was devastated at the amount of bats.. I won't go back as its to scary... So I can no longer go visit her.. They need to cull them..
by ellem (score: 0|2) 1684 days ago
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