There is a quiet and tranquil corner of Hobart I call Cranky Fan Alley simply because every time I wander there I’m escorted by a party of grey fantails.
What makes the bird-watching spot special is that it is situated in the heart of suburbia and the Cranky Fans – as they are known in southern Tasmania – are just one of many bird species to be found in this leafy corner of the urban jungle.
On my latest visit on a summer’s afternoon just after Christmas two endemic Tasmanian species, green rosellas and yellow wattlebirds were flitting through the eucalypt canopy, and grey butcherbird young were calling to their parents for food.
The fantails, in turn, were enjoying the plodding of my footsteps which were stirring up insects for them to sweep on for an easy meal.
Cranky Fan Alley carves a path through the McAuley Reserve in SandyBay, which is the smallest parcel of bushland forming part of the Hobart City Council Bushcare volunteer program.
As with the other 15 bushcare groups spread across Hobart, a band of volunteers spends at least one Sunday morning a month clearing weeds and planting native trees, shrubs and grasses to create not only safe habitats for local wildlife, but an escape from concrete and glass for local residents.
As the tentacles of suburbia spread over deeper into the bush in Australia, such oases of greenery are becoming more and more important in the broader issue of conservation.
Landscape and urban ecology, in fact, are rapidly expanding fields of research informing not just town planning decisions but the way suburbanites view their own habitat.
I might add that the art of the nature writer is also taking to the cities and suburbs, producing the genre of “new nature writing” with its own tribe of which I am pleased to belong.
The McAuley Reserve nestling between Churchill Ave and Norfolk Crescent in SandyBay might be only about two hectares in area but it forms an important wildlife corridor linking other larger reserves like BicentennialPark. In the McAuley Reserve’s case it is more of an “island” because it is not physically linked to other reserves. It mainly favours birds that can fly between reserves but McAuley is known to have visiting populations of pademelons and ring-tailed and brush-tailed possums that can be very mobile in more leafy and bushy suburbia.
The McAuley Reserve is not only an important breeding area for the more common woodlands birds found in Hobart, it is an important staging post for migrating birds travelling further south. Among these are a threatened species, the swift parrot.
Because of its small size, the McAuley Reserve tends to be overlooked so I was pleased to see it featured in the latest edition of the Bushcare newsletter, the Bandicoot Times.
The reserve basically forms a gully embracing two small streams. The vegetation is mainly grassy forest and woodland with white gum as the dominate species, set against scattered blue gums.
The grassy understorey is dominated by kangaroo grass, with supports a diversity of inter-tussock herbs.
Although a vegetation survey has record some 165 species of plants, around 90 of these are exotic or introduced so the volunteers still have much work to do in restoring the reserve to a near-pristine state.
One threatened plant species, crested speargrass, was identified during the survey. The species is listed as rare under the Threatened Species Protection Act.
The Friends of McAuley Reserve Buschcare Group formed in 2010 and already have made great strides in restoring this corner of the city to how it might have looked when the first Europeans arrived more than 200 years ago.