When most of us think about wildlife watching, cities are not the environments that usually come to mind. Fortunately for us, Sydney is quite a green city, surrounded by National Parks that provide habitat for all sorts of creatures. Yet even here, mammals are quite hard to find. Unlike birds, they tend to be secretive, quiet and active at night. You need to know when and where to look for them. On the plus side, nights come early in winter, which makes it a perfect time to look for some of Sydney's secretive residents.
Sydney's two most common and most familiar mammals are the two species of possum: the Common Brushtail possum
and the Common Ringtail possum
. While both species are widespread in leafy suburbs throughout the city, it is easiest to spot them in the city parks after dark, especially in the Centennial Park and the Botanic Gardens.
Another well publicized mammals are the Grey-headed flying foxes
. They dominate the night sky in Sydney and can often be seen in huge numbers as they fly from their roosting sites to the feeding areas.
The flying foxes used to congregate in Sydney Botanical Gardens in such large numbers that they decimated the trees on which they were roosting, much to the park management's dismay. In recent years they were discouraged from roosting in the gardens, and quite a number of them moved to the Centennial Park. The Centennial Park
runs spotlight walks about once a month where you will get a chance to see the flying foxes, Brushtail and Ringtail possums, microbats and other nocturnal critters.
Grey headed flying fox
The shore line of Sydney Harbour is a good place to look for another interesting critter – an otter-like Water rat
. These native Australian rodents are not often seen, so if you see a large rodent swimming in the harbour do not panic and consider yourself lucky.
Even harder to spot are the Long-nosed bandicoots
that live on the North Head. The bandicoot resembles a rabbit to some extent, though it is much more delicately built, with pointy ears and long snouty nose. The North Head population is endangered, so if you find yourself on the North Head after dark remember to drive slowly and watch out for the bandicoots on the road.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
sometimes engages volunteers to help with bandicoot surveys on the North Head, which would give you a rare chance of seeing these secretive marsupials up close.
Eastern grey kangaroo
Sydney's golf courses can be a good place to spot a Swamp wallaby
or even an Eastern grey kangaroo
, particularly on the North Shore. But the best place to see the kangaroos is the Euroka Clearing in the Blue Mountains. There you can spend an entire afternoon watching them out in the open.
Short beaked echidna
One of Australia's most unusual animals – Short-beaked echidna
can occasionally be spotted in suburban gardens, though Royal National Park is a much better place to look for them. I have seen them on the Palm Jungle track a couple of times. These incredible creatures are some of the oldest mammals on earth. Together with platypus, echidnas are the only mammals on the planet that lay eggs, much like their reptilian ancestors, instead of giving birth to live young.
Royal National Park is also a great place to see Sugar Gliders
. These adorable gliding possums are active at night and best seen with a guide. The Sutherland council bushcare group
runs spotlight walks in the park.
Australian mammals are incredibly unique – they do not exist anywhere else in the world. And even though it will take a little bit of effort to find them, it will be a fun day out for the entire family in or out of the city.