When most of us think about wildlife watching, cities are not the environments that usually come to mind. Typically urban development is associated with habitat destruction and local extinctions. However, not all wildlife species are equally affected by human activities and some have adapted and even became quite successful in human-dominated landscapes. Sydney – Australia’s largest city also managed to retain a fraction of the area’s former biodiversity throughout centuries of development.
Without a doubt, Sydney’s two most common mammals are the two species of possum: the Common Brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecular) and the Common Ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrines). Brushtail possums can be found virtually anywhere where there are a few trees. Ringtail possums are a little bit more picky, but still very common throughout Sydney’s suburbia. Centennial Park and Botanical Gardens are a good place to see both species after dark.
Botanical Gardens are also a good place to see Grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) – another one of Sydney’s common mammals. In fact, the flying foxes congregate in Botanical Gardens in such huge numbers that they decimate the trees on which they roost, presenting a serious problem to the park’s management.
Late afternoons at Botanical Gardens can also be good for Bush rat (Rattus fuscipes) – which is a native Australian rodent, that can be distinguished from a feral Black rat by having a much shorter tail. Generally, the Bush rat’s tail is smaller or equal to its body length, while the Black rat’s tail is always longer than its body.
Most of the other terrestrial mammals in Sydney are considerably harder to spot. There are Long-nosed bandicoots (Perameles nasuta) on the North Head, in Sydney Harbor National Park. Swamp wallabies (Wallabia bicolor) and even Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteu) can sometimes be found at golf courses, particularly on the North Shore. But the best place to see the kangaroos is the Euroka Clearing in the Blue Mountains. An occasional Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) can be spotted in suburbia though Royal National Park is a much better place to look for this species. Water rats (Hydromys chrysogaster) can sometime be seen around the Sydney Harbor and wetlands around Sydney.
Like the rest of Australia, Sydney has its fare share of feral mammals. There are feral cats, foxes, rabbits and off course black rats.
One of the best places to see wild mammals around Sydney is Watagans National Park near Morisset, about 1 hr drive north of Sydney. I assisted some first year biology students on a field trip at Watagans and we caught some Brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii) and Dusky antechinus (Antechinus swainsonii) in elliot traps. Spotlighting at night I have seen Red-necked Pademelons (Thylogale thetis), Swamp Wallabies (Wallabia bicolor), Red-necked wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus) and Greater gliders (Petauroides volans). There is also a population of Brush-tailed rock wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) living on the steep cliffs in Watagans in the northern part of the park at Heaten Gap (Hunter Valley end of the mountains).
Lucky for Sydneysiders, our city sits on one of the world’s most beautiful harbors and that introduces an entire new dimension to mammal watching in Sydney – the marine mammals.