Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, A.C.T - The best place in the world to see a platypus.

My search for the elusive platypus is over. I have finally found the best place in the world to see these shy little creatures and, like the whales we saw in Sydney recently, it turns out they are almost in our own backyard.

When the first sketch of a platypus was sent to England from Sydney in 1798 the animal seemed so strange it was dismissed by many as a hoax.*   When a platypus skin accompanying the drawing arrived zoologists of the day tried to prise its bill away from the pelt, believing it had been attached by Chinese taxidermists and in order to fool gullible seamen. +

Forty years later Charles Darwin came to New South Wales during his famous voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle. He saw several platypus one evening while staying at a property near Lithgow and the creature became an enduring presence in his writings.  The platypus has fur and suckles its young like a mammal, lays eggs like a reptile and has a bill like a duck. On top of all that males have a poisonous spur on each hind leg. No wonder Darwin was intrigued. Of all the unique and exotic wildlife Australia has, the platypus is the strangest. It also has to be the most difficult to find in the bush.

I have been searching for platypus, on and off and not very scientifically, for years.  Lots of places claim either to be  'the platypus capital of Australia' or 'the best place in the world to see platypus in the bush'. 

A colleague in the world of travel bloggers claimed she had seen one at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra. That was enough for me. David and I had been talking about visiting Canberra for Floriade, the tulip festival. David didn't know it, but I was far more interested in platypus hunting.

The day after we went to Floriade we headed out to Tidbinbilla. It was freezing! The forecast maximum was 13 degrees Celsius and I'm not at all sure it got that high. David, normally quite resilient in the cold, was shivering and whingeing. I didn't care. I was on the trail of a duck-billed curiosity.

I asked the ranger at the visitor centre where we had the best chance of seeing a platypus. I didn't want to sound like a twit so I couched my question in terms like -'I know they are really hard to find and we probably won't see one, but ....'

He cut me off quickly with, 'This is the best place in the world to see a platypus.'

I didn't want to be rude but sceptical me was thinking -  ' Yeah right! We've heard that before.'

He went on to explain that the only times he hadn't seen platypus in many years working at Tidbinbilla was when he just walked past the ponds and weir where they lived and didn't stop to spend ten minutes or so looking for them. He gave us directions and told us what I had hoped - that the cold weather meant they would be more likely to be active during the middle of the day.

Down at the weir, we stood and watched. Within a couple of minutes we spotted something which I hoped was a platypus - but maybe it was a duck. It was a fair distance away and I didn't want to get my hopes up. David said he was certain it was a platypus - he didn't really know or care. He just figured his chances of getting back to the warmth of the car depended on me seeing a platypus sooner rather than later - or worse not at all. He knew the next stop on my platypus hunting check-list was Bombala, a town in central New South Wales completely bereft of decent accommodation. He really didn't want to have to spend a night or two at Bombala.

The 'duck' swam toward us, then another appeared on the other side of the weir. Stupidly I had left the binoculars in our hotel room but I was pretty sure by now they were platypus. They kept diving down, disappearing and re-appearing. We could see their backs but not much else until finally one of them headed straight for the view point where we were standing. We got a beautiful close-up view while he swam in and out of the reeds, diving and re-appearing again and again. In all we watched him and his friend for half an hour or so until eventually we had had enough and turned for home.

As it turned out, the ranger was right, Tidbinbilla is the 'best place in the world to see a platypus'.

I am pretty sure this is not a duck!

Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, koalas, wombats, echidnas and more.


Tidbinbilla is not just about platypus. We arrived about 11.30 a.m and saw a flock of emus and a few kangaroos as we drove in. By 3 p.m there were kangaroos everywhere, many of them with joeys in their pouches. Even koalas whose small local native population was wiped out in the 2003 bushfires have their own area. A few are kept on display in a large enclosure just in case you can't find them in the surrounding trees. There are also wombats, echidnas cockatoos, black swans and more. 

Like so many kangaroos and wallabies this little guy seemed as curious about us as we were about him.
Our koala friend had just had lunch and was settling down for an afternoon nap. When you sleep 20 hours a day there isn't a lot of time for anything else.
This was just one of many large mobs of kangaroos we saw.
Lots of the kangaroos had joeys in their pouches.
I was pretty pleased with this shot.
Aren't black swans magnificent creatures?
We get sulphur-crested cockatoos in the back garden at home but we found this one in a tree at Tidbinbilla.
Our wombat was wandering along a path at The Cotter Dam on the way home. He stopped and posed for us, so I could make him famous on Facebook - lol.

We see echidnas all the time but I never get over how cute they are.

Tips and tricks and things to know -

  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is about 40 minutes drive from Canberra's city centre. You can get to it by taking Paddy's River Rd, via Cotter Rd.
  • The reserve is open in summer from 7.30 a.m to 8 p.m and in winter from 7.30 a.m to 6 p.m. The visitor centre is open between 9 a.m and 5 p.m year round.
  • The entry fee is $8.50 per car for a private vehicle of up to 8 people.
  • Pick up a map at the Visitor Centre as you drive in for information on walks and where to find the platypus dams and koala area.
  • The platypus ponds are located in an area called the Sanctuary. The best two spots are the weir, which is where we saw several platypus, and Black Flats Dam. The platypus live there naturally. They have not been re-located there.
  • If you want to maximise your chances of seeing animals, including platypus, don't visit in the heat of the day during summer. Try to arrive first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. We saw platypus during the middle of the day but it was an unusually cold and overcast day. 
  • Why is Tidbinbilla such a great place to see platypus? The ranger we spoke to explained that almost everywhere else you might look for them they live in a river or large stretch of water. Being in the right place at the right time is a question of luck and lots of persistence, but at Tidbinbilla the weir they like to live in is quite small so you need a lot less luck to spot them.
  • And finally; does anybody out there have any idea what the plural of platypus is?


*The Miraculous Platypus, Roger Short, University of Melbourne, Vic http://www.publish.csiro.au/?act=view_file&file_id=RDv21n8_FO.pdf

+The Platypus Terrorizes Evolution  -   http://www.darwinthenandnow.com/2011/06/the-platypus-terrorizes-evolution/

54 comments:

  1. Monotreme! Platypus(es? I really have no idea) are SO CUTE, as are echidnas. I've always wanted to see one in the wild! Looks like I'll have to make my way to Canberra.

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    1. I read on-line that it is 'platypodes' but that sounds just silly. David says 'platypi' but apparently that is wrong because the word has Greek origins not Latin. Someone else suggested to me it was 'platypa'. I'm going with platypuses - I think! Maybe we should just all get together here and invent a plural - lol.

      On another note, Tidbinbilla is fantastic for all sorts of Australian wildlife, just don't go in the middle of summer during the heat of the day because they will all be hiding.

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  2. I have seen platypus or platypuses in Tumut, which is not dissimilar probably to the landscape around Tidbinbilla as you can access it across the Brindabella ranges. It was amazing and actually unexpected. Like what is that? OMG it is a platypus.

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    1. I have a friend who also saw a platypus in Tumut. Maybe Tumut is the 2nd best place in the world to see a platypus - lol!

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  3. How wonderful. Love this post and the story behind you seeing the elusive platypus. Tidbinbilla sounds like the perfect place!

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    1. It was magical and only a few hours from Sydney, where I live.

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  4. I would love to see any of these animals, but I agree with you that echidnas are unbelievably adorable. I didn't realize the platypus was so elusive, but I would really enjoy seeing one as well. Congrats on finally seeing one. Your photos are great.

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    1. Platypus are very shy and usually don't come out until dusk or around dawn. We see echidnas all the time, even close to where we live in Sydney but like all animals it is hit and miss. You can never be sure you will find one.

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  5. Well, now we know where to find the elusive platypus - thanks Lyn! I've seen one once, but that was many years ago. There really are fascinating creatures.

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    1. They are just gorgeous. We have family in Canberra so every trip there from now on is going to include Tidbinbilla.

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  6. You've convinced me. Next I'm in Australia, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, here I come! I have seen platypus at Noosa, but I've never seen a wombat in the wild!

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    1. Haha- wombats are elusive too. It really is a matter of luck with them. We have seen quite a few over the years but it is hard to predict where they will be. D and I are in the Buckland Valley, Victoria right now and there are supposed to be a couple of resident wombats where we are staying but who knows whether we will see them.

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  7. So cool! I wish I had time to take a detour here during my trip to Australia next month. Oh well...it's a reason to return again, I suppose! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. I hope you have a great time on your visit!

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  8. How cool to see a platypus in the wild. We only saw them in captivity. They are much smaller than we expected. Love the echidna!

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    1. I first saw one many yeas ago at Taronga Zoo and was surprised by how small and delicate they are. I'm with you on the echidna.

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  9. So many great photos. It looks like a marvelous place to see wildlife.

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    1. It is and the irony is that my mother lived in Canberra and used to say I should go to Tidbinbilla almost every time I visited her. I always found an excuse not to because I remembered it from years ago when it was kangaroos and not much else. Now she is gone I want to keep going back - oh well.

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  10. Great description - and photos too! Really great to have so much wildlife in the one area.

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    1. That was the best thing about it. It is a fantastic place to take overseas tourists because you can pretty much tick off all the interesting Australian animals in one go.

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  11. Great series of shots.
    BTW... if anyone believes God lacks either imagination or a sense of humor, point 'em toward a platypus. Wouldn't you agree?
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/10/beach-walk-at-sunrise.html

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  12. What an intriguing animal, this platypus! I've seen it only in a zoo and to be very honest, I don't quite like it. It looks sort of creepy, like a hybrid. However, I'd love to see the koala bears and the kangaroos instead. They are adorable. Thanks for joining us for #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. I don't think my photos are very fair to the little guy. They have flaps which protect their eyes and ears when they dive and this makes them look a bit odd in my photos. In real life they are truly adorable.

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  13. Tidbinbilla has just been added to my bucket list. We have not been to Canberra . . . yet, although we did see a wild platypus in Queensland many years ago. Before then, I always wondered if they were real, despite what I had read. Wonder photos of so many interesting animals.

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    1. According to history you were in very good company wondering whether the platypus was a real animal.

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  14. You must feel victorious now that you have finally seen the elusive platypus but I suspect that you'll be back in Tidbinbilla to visit them again! Australia has such a diversity of unique (and very appealing) animals and we hope to visit your beautiful country someday as well as take advantage of your great tips.

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    1. Contact me if you want advice on anything. We travel a lot so I'm a bit of an expert. You're right about the platypus, now I've seen one once I want to see them again and again- lol.

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  15. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve looks like a great place to visit. All of the animals, even the ones you see everyday, look pretty exotic to this Canadian! I didn't realize the platypus was so elusive.

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    1. Platypus are very shy, although since publishing this post I am amazed how many people seem to have seen one in the bush. As to Canadian animals, we saw a black bear close up on the Icefields Parkway earlier in the year. It was just incredible. I haven't written a post on it yet but I am going to. I even get excited when I see a marmot.

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  16. What a weird, weird world we live in. So thankful for that.

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  17. I didn't know males had poisonous spurs. Makes them seem so much more dangerous now. Anyways, I don't feel so bad at my failure to spot any platypuses during my 2 weeks in Australia considering you've been searching for years. I should have gone to Tidbinbilla.

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    1. I didn't know they were poisonous until recently. I don't think they are deadly and I have read that the spur is only poisonous when they are mating - something about fighting other males off, but I'm not sure about that.

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  18. This is a great find for our road trip planning for 2 months in Australia next year! would love to see a platypus!

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    1. Canberra gets knocked by Australians a lot but it really is a place you shouldn't miss. Make sure you leave time to cycle around Lake Burley-Griffin. It is a great easy cycle for the whole family. I have a post on it half written which I will publish in the next few weeks.

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  19. Wow what a great selection of Australian wildlife. I have actually seen a few platypuses during my travels. But they are shy elusive little creatures normally. Well done actually getting a photo!

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    1. Thanks. It isn't the greatest photo in the world but at least you can see it isn't a duck - lol.

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  20. Cool! Canberra is really a lot more interesting that what travel guides make it to be! This place looks nicer than most animal sanctuaries I have visited in Australia's more popular cities. #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. Canberra is much more interesting than the average Australian likes to admit - lol.

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  21. I am yet to see a platypus or a koala in the wild but I will keep looking with camera in hand! We have seen quite a few echidnas on our travels and rescued one that was stuck under a mesh fence once.

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    1. Koalas are pretty easy to find as long as you are in the right place. If you are anywhere near Paynesville in Victoria, take the two minute ferry ride across to Raymond Island and you will see them there or look in the trees in the campgrounds off the Great Ocean Rd. I wrote a post about koala spotting in each of these places -

      http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2015/03/raymond-island-victoria-best-place-to.html
      http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2015/05/the-great-ocean-road-koalas-kangaroos.html

      Good luck!

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  22. Oh wow how exciting! I've seen blurs and splashes before but never as clear as this, that is awesome!

    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

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  23. Was in Australia summer of 14, and saw the platypus for the first time. A different looking animal :)

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    1. They are weird but also cute - probably one of the strangest animals on the planet.

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  24. You are indeed lucky to have seen platypus in the wild. Hubster saw one once in Eprapah Creek at Victoria Point (near where we live); he used to ride his bike and deliver pamphlets when he was about 12 or 14, so we're talking over 30 years ago now! This area has become very built up since then so I doubt there would be any there now :-(

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    1. We travel a lot in Australia and it is amazing how many signs you see saying there are platypus in the nearby creek or river or waterhole but you never actually seem to see them. Camping might help because they are such shy animals they are best seen at dusk and dawn but we don't camp. If you are ever in Canberra, I can really recommend Tidbinbilla.

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  25. These are very beautiful shots of our aussie animals, saw the playpus on Google+ and clicked through, thanks for sharing. Like most people I have never seen a platypus in the wild but would love to. Maybe on our next trip to Canberra we'll check out Tidbinbilla...

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    1. If you do get to Tidbinbill, try not to go in the middle of the day on a hot day and talk to the ranger as you drive in so you get directions to the platypus weir.

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  26. I love seeing all the wildlife photos especially that mob of kangaroos. We've seen some of these animals during our visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary last year. But, the platypus was very elusive in his tank. We'd love to visit this reserve one of the days. What a great place!

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    1. Platypus are really shy. Even at a zoo they can be difficult to see but seeing one in the bush was a real thrill.

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