Going for a stroll around your suburb with your kids, your dog or just by yourself to get some air? Keep your head up and your eyes sharp – Melbourne has an incredible diversity of plant and animal species.
We asked Charlie Carroll, manager of arboriculture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, what kinds of trees are at home along Melbourne's streets. Hardy ones, he said. "A street is like a torture chamber for a tree – you’ve got kerbs, you’ve got powerlines, all kinds of things – so if they can survive there, they are pretty robust."
Online resources like council websites can help you identify what trees you're looking at (the City of Melbourne even has a tree-by-tree description on its Urban Forest website, and the City of Yarra has an excellent overview of its tree population in its Urban Forest Strategy document).
If you see a tree or plant you can't identify, the Royal Botanic Gardens is there to help. "Send the gardens an email with a picture of your tree or leaf and we’ll try to identify it for you," says Carroll. "Sometimes if we don’t know we’ll send it off to the Herbarium to help."
And yes, Carroll does concede it's certainly easier to ID trees in the RBG itself, where helpful signs denote the common and scientific names of species.
But what about livelier natural phenomena you might spot in your suburbs? Scientist Michael Livingston co-authored a children's book on Melbourne's birdlife, called, appropriately enough, Melbirds. Livingston and wife Cindy Hauser, the book's co-author, have made the book available for free as a PDF. It's a great place to start if you want to identify some of the birds that visit our suburban streets.
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Livingston says walking in the early morning or evening will yield the best avian results.
"The best times to go out looking for birds are early in the morning and late in the day, although in wintertime birds will tend to be more active all day (in the heat of summer, they mostly hide out in the middle of the day like the rest of us). If you're looking for particularly shy birds, then getting out before the parks fill up with people and dogs can be worth the effort, but you'll still see plenty if you fancy a bit of a sleep in."
He says to find birds, trust your ears, not your eyes.
"The best thing to do is to be a bit quiet and pay attention. More than half the time I think I hear birds before I see them, so tuning your ears into the sounds around you is really helpful – you'll quickly start to pick out the burbling of the magpies from the pee-wee of the magpie larks."
His own favourite birds to spot? "I never tire of seeing flocks of galahs. They're very common around Melbourne, but they're such playful, ridiculous creatures – like three scoops of ice cream in bird form. They make me smile every time I see them."