Batty encounters at Yarra Bend

Are you looking for something to do around Melbourne?  Do you love watching wildlife? Then let me share with you one of my favourite outdoor activities in the area. Every year when the weather starts warming up, I resume going for a paddle on the Yarra River, specifically to observe the Grey-headed Flying Foxes – also known as fruit bats.

Ever since I arrived in Australia and witnessed flocks of individuals leaving the comfort of their trees at dusk and flying across the city sky, I’ve been fascinated by these big but gentle creatures. Soon after, I was amazed to discover that there are places around the city, both on land and on water, where wildlife lovers can go and get a sneak peek of a day in the life of these unusual mammals.

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My favourite way to reach the area where they roost during the day is by kayaking on the Yarra, which I do from Kew. Once at the bat colony in Yarra Bend, I love sitting in my kayak close to the trees and watching their behaviours. Their numbers, fluctuating seasonally and annually but reaching 40, 000 in the busiest times, never fail to amaze me.

Most of them can be seen sleeping upside-down in trees during the day with their wings wrapped around their bodies, but they can also be observed fighting when their neighbours get too close, carrying their babies around during summer - the flying foxes’ busiest season - or swooping low and skimming the water with their bellies when it gets hot. As well as the bats, a variety of waterbirds can be spotted here, including ducks, cormorants and darters, providing good opportunities for keen photographers - don’t forget your dry bag if that’s you!

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It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to hire boats including kayaks and be provided with lifejackets at the Fairfield Park or Studley Park Boathouses, although I personally leave from the Fairfield Boathouse. I always plan on hiring a kayak for at least two hours - sometimes longer if I can afford it - so I don’t have to rush and can spend plenty of time at the bat colony. I found that, depending on fitness level, it is feasible to reach the colony and get back to the boathouse in one hour, but it doesn’t allow much time for wildlife viewing.

Pretty keen? Remember to check the weather before going, and also bear in mind that flying foxes are very sensitive to heat events and should be left undisturbed at these times of year in order to better protect them.  

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Elodie Camprasse

Elodie came to Australia where she recently completed a PhD in seabird ecology at Deakin University, after studying marine biology in Europe. She is passionate about the natural world and its protection. She is also a dive instructor and Emergency Response Operator at Wildlife Victoria.

You can find her on Twitter at @ECamprasse.


All images courtesy of Elodie Camprasse.