The birds along the Ross River bike paths are a constant pleasure. Every time I ride there, there is something worth stopping to watch and (if possible) photograph. Here are three such highlights, all from the short stretch of river between the Nathan St and Bowen Rd bridges and all within the last month.
We often see one or two pelicans along this stretch of the river but larger groups are not so common. This group on the Annandale bank, opposite the end of Water St, had four or five members when I first saw it, late one afternoon, but more came in as I watched. I caught some of them doing weird things with their enormous beaks.
A dead tree on the Annandale bank just above Aplin’s Weir was an ideal perch for a flock of Little Black Cormorants (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris). When I first saw them, there were two egrets on the lower branch but one of them soon left and the other moved up to join the cormorants.
Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) roost communally overnight except during the nesting season. Riding down the Annandale side of the river between Aplin’s Weir and the Bowen Rd bridge late one afternoon I saw large numbers of them in the air. They are one of my favourite birds so I stopped to watch.
They were coming in to roost in a dense tree (a fig, I think, but I was more interested in the birds) right beside the bike path, often settling briefly in straggly smaller trees nearby while (apparently) making up their minds that it was indeed bedtime.
I saw larger groups of them shoulder to shoulder when I caught them roosting beside Ross Creek in South Townsville a few years ago; you may like to visit that post for more photos and information.
My ongoing exploration of the Ross River bikeways has ameliorated the lockdown for me to some extent, and bike shops report booming sales as others enjoy the same outlet.
I completed the Riverway circuit (introduced here) by riding on the Riverside Gardens side of the river from Black Weir to the motorway bridge and returning past the Riverway Arts Centre (closed since the 2019 floods), sports fields and playgrounds. That side was more interesting and enjoyable than the other, which just runs through a narrow strip of parkland between houses and the river like the rest of the Riverside Gardens section.
The Ross River bikeway (introduced here) extends nearly three kilometres downstream from Bowen Road bridge on the Idalia side, past the meatworks chimney and the new Fairfield Waters residential subdivision.
An Easter break in which everyone is staying in town has reminded me of my intention to write about the bike paths which run along almost the whole length of Ross River. I have often mentioned sections of the network as I visited them so the overview is long overdue. Here goes!
Well-constructed paths follow both sides of the river from the Bowen Road bridge in Rosslea to the new motorway bridge between Riverside Gardens and Condon. The five river crossings – Bowen Rd bridge, Aplin’s Weir, Nathan St bridge, Black Weir and the motorway bridge – automatically create four loops for walkers and riders.
The city council has named the loops on its excellent downloadable maps:
Wetlands circuit, 5.9 km, Aplin’s Weir – Bowen Rd bridge
Aplin’s Weir circuit, 5.3 km, Aplin’s Weir – Nathan St bridge
Federation circuit, 7.2 km, Nathan St bridge – Black Weir footbridge (Weir State School)
Riverway circuit, 3.7 km, Black Weir – Motorway bridge
The path continues from the motorway bridge to Ross Dam, 11 km further upstream, but only on the Condon – Kelso side of the river.
We know they are there, but we don’t often see them – freshwater crocodiles in Ross River, that is.
Freshies, as many locals call them, are smaller than salties. They are generally shy, attacking only when startled into defending themselves; and when they do, their narrow jaws and relatively small teeth can’t do as much damage as a saltie’s heavy head, although the Australian Museum warns us that they can still cause serious injuries.
They can also be hard to spot, even in plain view.