Wildlife on campus: Macquarie University

By Angela Heathcote | March 5, 2019

Australian Geographic visits Macquarie University in Sydney to see what wildlife and wild places are on offer.

UNIVERSITY CAN BE one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. And while wildlife, green spaces and fresh air won’t take the pressure off assignments or make exams go away, it can certainly improve your stress levels, concentration and development.

Australian Geographic’s Wild Campus looks into the best wild spaces at your university, revealing the secret spots, mysterious mammals and tranquil bird sounds at your classroom doorstep. Our first destination: Macquarie University.

Spotted: An eastern rosella on campus. (Image credit: Patrick Wiecks)

Neighbouring Lane Cove National Park, Macquarie University, of which this writer is alumni, has an abundance of wildlife – undoubtedly some travellers seeking the wet eucalypt forests just across the M2 motorway.

The construction of the M2 has had a significant impact on the ability of wildlife, particularly mammals like sugar gliders, to travel to Macquarie successfully, but there have been some instances of success.

The university’s largest patch of green space is the central parklands where its iconic lake sits. While plans for the ornamental lake date back to the 1970s, it was finally restored from a small, degraded creek bed in the 1990s.

The university’s biodiversity officer John Macris, whose role is similar to that of a local government environmental officer, began working at the university in 2009, but studied geography and environmental science at Macquarie as an undergraduate.  

“In 2007, Macquarie got pretty serious about sustainability on campus,” John says. “In 2009 they brought me in to do a lot of the biodiversity work, mostly around how we can improve biodiversity on campus. And the university was conscious it had some large tracts of open space and associated natural values to manage.”

kookaburra macquarie university

A kookaburra sitting in a eucalyptus tree along Talavera Road. (Image credit: Patrick Wiecks)

Rugged bushland

Arguably the best way to see Macquarie’s wildlife and bushland is by entering the campus through Talavera Road, which, after a 10-metre walk or so, opens up to the central parkland. Skirting one side of the walk are large towering smooth-barked eucalypts.

Decorated with hundreds of swirling, scribbly lines, these eucalypts are home to Ogmograptis scribula, more commonly known as scribbly gum moths, famously described by poet Judith Wright and author May Gibbs.

The artwork of scribbly gum moths. (Image credit: Patrick Wiecks)

This is also where the mammals hang out, but you’d be hard pressed to find them. Some students and staff have seen brush-tailed and ring-tailed possums, grey-headed flying-foxes, and on the odd occasion, an echidna.

Birds, however, are plentiful. Around 37 different species have been recorded, including iconic Aussies such as the sulphur-crested cockatoo, galah, eastern rosella, king parrot and kookaburra.

Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest

Just beyond these first rows of eucalypt is dense bushland, in places heavily impacted by weeds such as privet and lantana. However, the thick scrub has attracted some unusual visitors including species of fairy wren and the red-browed finch.

“They seem to need thickets of lantana and other woody weeds as shelter from larger birds,” John explains. “It’s a big consideration into how we’ll go about regenerating the area. There were some that lived along the M2 motorway but have gone since the clearing of the understorey so we obviously don’t want to push them out more.”

John says that this kind of bushland and the animals that inhabit it are big drawcards for students studying environmental science. “It was already popular for environmental science but having the assets on campus to look at is nice. Studying in a second year ecology unit, I was taken into the bush to learn all about sampling invertebrates.”

Most interestingly, John says that the Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, an endangered ecological community, is contiguous with this part of the bushland, however growth depends on how much the soil is derived from shale versus sandstone bedrock.

restoration area macquarie university

The habitat of Macquarie’s wrens and finches. (Image credit: Patrick Wiecks)

The iconic lake

Then, of course, there’s the lake, which John says is mostly home to several species of duck including the wood duck and Pacific black duck. But the campus’s purple swamp hens also reside in the lake, and according to John, right now there are a few chicks running around.

Lurking inside the lake itself are the long-finned eels. “People talk about how they get from Botany Bay to Centennial Park but here, they have to get up a 10m waterfall and through the lake’s weir, so it’s pretty amazing,” John says.

Students are particularly fond of the central parklands area, according to John, who regularly sees people taking pictures of the lake and the birdlife. It’s also a popular spot for graduation photos, delivering the ideal backdrop.

macquarie university lake

(Image credit: Patrick Wiecks)

Up from the central lake is Mars Creek, which has been a restoration work-in-progress for the past decade – something John takes immense pride in. “To build the university in the 1960s, small market gardens and little chicken farms were bought, so the creeks weren’t in the best shape,” but now it’s beginning to attract frogs such as the striped marsh frog. Water dragons also love sunning themselves near the creek.

In John’s opinion, Mars Creek is the best place to have downtime in nature. “The green valley of Mars Creek that runs southwest to northeast through the university includes interesting forested  groves, usually with plenty of bird life.

“Those walking the campus after a night class can look out for a fairly proprietorial Tawny Frogmouth, that likes low-flying along the internal street network.”