Danaus petilia Lesser Wanderer

Mount Annan Botanic Gardens

Located just past Campbelltown in Sydney’s outer south-west, the Mount Annan Botanic Garden is well worth a visit, particularly during the autumn when some of its more interesting butterfly species are on the wing, though I have even had some success there during the winter months. All the photos on this post were taken in the Gardens.

The Connections Garden

When I first began photographing butterflies I lived quite close to Campbelltown, so I visited Mount Annan fairly often. I used to spend all day there, traipsing around in search of butterflies, but it didn’t take me too many visits to realise that vast stretches of the Garden are not worth the effort. Some days I’d walk 30km, covering every inch of road and track, without seeing much of interest, so I began cutting back and just targeting the more productive areas.

By far the most interesting area is what used to be called the Terrace Garden, though the powers-that-be decided the name, whilst an accurate description, wasn’t sufficiently wanky so they changed it to the “Connections Garden” instead.

In the area between the flower beds at the bottom (across the road from the Visitor Centre), and the old water tank just beyond the top, I’ve seen an interesting array of butterflies, particularly around the higher ground. I generally make my way round to the water tank to the west, near the highest point, then make my way down through the Connections Garden towards the Visitor Centre.

Connections Garden at Mount Annan

A path runs along the crest of the hill just in front of the water tank; it used to be just a little track but a few years ago they went and sealed it. This was the first place I ever saw the Chequered Copper (Lucia limbaria), at the start of March 2007. There were a small number of them flying at ground level, mixed in with a larger number of other small Lycaenids, mainly Saltbush Blues (Theclinesthes serpentatus). I was rather surprised how hard it was to distinguish the Coppers from the Blues; I’d have thought the colour would have made them stand out but it wasn’t that obvious at all in flight. 

The Copper’s Oxalis foodplant could be seen flowering alongside the track, in the area where the grass had been kept very short. On that day I also found the occasional Chequered Copper in a few other places around the Mount Annan Garden, usually near the top of grassy banks. I must have been to this site around 15 times looking for butterflies but that was the only time I found this particular species. It doesn’t appear to be a very suitable location for limbaria; the Oxalis requires very short grass but most of the grass here is quite long as it is not grazed, except by rabbits and kangaroos.

Chequered Copper
(Lucia limbaria)

Oxalis sp.
Chequered Copper foodplant

A little further down the path to the south is a line of Casuarina trees, in which Tailed Emperors (Charaxes sempronius) can occasionally be seen. This species may show up on any of the higher hills in the Garden, though I have most often seen them either here or in the Wattle Garden.

On one visit in late April 2008 I was fortunate enough to find a Yellow Migrant (Catopsilia gorgophone) flying along the side of this path and, to my great surprise, settling low down on a shrub. To date this is the only time I’ve photographed this species, and the only time I’ve ever seen it around Sydney. 

Tailed Emperor
(Charaxes sempronius)

Yellow Migrant
(Catopsilia gorgophone)

Lycaenids in the autumn

Across the path from the top end of the line of Casuarinas are a couple of shrubs that attract two species of hilltopping Lycaenids, usually the Short-tailed Line-blue (Prosotas felderi) and sometimes the Glistening Line-blue (Sahulana scintillata). Unfortunately these shrubs have now grown quite tall, so these little butterflies usually settle too high up for decent photos.

Just a few metres down the path meets another leading into the Connections Gardens proper. Near this corner are some shrubs upon which Hairy Line-blues (Erysichton lineatus) may sometimes be seen, though I’ve found patience is required as they only appear every now and then. They don’t make the photographer’s task easy, as they generally remain well above head height, and the females are hard to approach. 

Following the path down through the rainforest trees you come to a few steps to the left; if you follow these then turn right you come to another sealed path, with a wall of large sandstone blocks on the right-hand side. On the left is a bed of shrubs; this was where I photographed my first ever scintillata. At the time (April 2005) these shrubs were only small, having been recently planted. About a dozen male scintillata were dogfighting for ownership of the perches at the top of the shrubs, despite them being below head height and there being tall trees only about 10 metres away. Whilst the shrubs are a great deal bigger now it’s still possible to see scintillata here, though you have to wait patiently for one to come low enough for photos (if it happens at all). The best time of year is April/May.

There are usually quite a lot of felderi here too, also particularly in the autumn. At the southern end of the bed the sealed path continues south whilst an unsealed track heads east towards some steps. At the junction of the track and the path are some wattles, which according to the sign are Acacia oraria (Coastal Wattle). These provide a great sun trap and as a result are a magnet for the felderi, which at times may swarm over the trees in large numbers. Once again, hanging around this spot may bring the reward of a close-up view of scintillata.

Hairy Line-blue
(Erysichton lineatus) - female

Glistening Line-blue
(Sahulana scintillata)

Short-tailed Line-blue
(Prosotas felderi) - male

Short-tailed Line-blue
(Prosotas felderi) - female

I usually spend a bit of time walking around the paths winding their way through the Connections Garden. It’s not unusual to see Macleay’s Swallowtail (Graphium macleayanum), though I’ve never had the chance to photograph one here as they seem to fly forever. Towards the bottom the path passes through an area of Cycads. I always have a look for the Cycad Blue (Theclinesthes onycha), but the only time I found it here was in early December 2004; the only time I’ve seen this species in Sydney.

I spotted it when it flew across the path to land on a Macrozamia lucida plant (according to the sign), after which it spent about 10 minutes flying around the area and settling on the ground close to the Cycads. It seems a little odd to me that I haven’t found this butterfly here since that day; I suspect they’re using insecticides to prevent its larvae devouring the Cycads.

At the bottom of the Connections Garden are some flower beds; in September there’s a fantastic display of Paper Daisies, but there are flowers of some kind year-round which attract several species of butterfly. The main problem here, of course, is the fact that this part of the garden is always in full view of the staff, who do not take kindly to photographers sneaking onto the flower beds to get shots of those butterflies that settle on flowers a bit too far from the path (i.e. most of them).

Cycad Blue
(Theclinesthes onycha)

(Danaus plexippus) - female

Elsewhere in the Garden

It’s been a few years since I really explored the Gardens, except those areas on the way to/from the Connections Garden. However, there are a few spots that are worth checking out :

Following the road from the entrance on Narellan Road, there is an unsealed track on the right a little way before the road reaches the Woodland Picnic Area. At first this track leads up the hill perpendicular to the sealed road, but it then takes a left turn just before reaching Mount Annan Drive, running vaguely parallel to that road. A little way before the top of the rise is an open area which I’ve found to be great for Saltbush Blues (Theclinesthes serpentatus). The Mount Annan Botanic Garden is a very good location for this species – the butterflies can show up just about anywhere but I’ve found it to be particularly abundant in this sort of spot. On my most recent visit (May 2019) there were loads of them here.

A little further along is a patch of Cumberland Forest, with a colony of Dull Coppers (Paralucia pyrodiscus) living on the Bursaria spinosa plants. My photos of pyrodiscus from Mount Annan are all pretty old, most dating back to my first point-and-shoot digital camera, because I can find this species in several other locations. However, it’s fair to say that many of the specimens I’ve seen here are more colourful than those I’ve seen at most sites, so perhaps I ought to go back and try to get better shots of them…

Saltbush Blue
(Theclinesthes serpentatus)

Dull Copper
(Paralucia pyrodiscus) - female

The grassy bank between the road and the water tank, just to the north and west of the Connections Garden, has become infested with Milkweeds, so it is also the home to plenty of Lesser Wanderers (Danaus petilia). Both this and its larger relative the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) can be found all over the Gardens, but are most easily found in the areas which have plenty of Milkweeds (their larval foodplants) or thistles, from which the adult butterflies love to drink nectar.

This bank is also home to a great number of Meadow Argus (Junonia villida), which is another species that can be found all over the place at Mount Annan.

The Mount Annan Summit (marked on the map below) attracts one or two hilltoppers, though I’ve always found the top part of the Connections Garden to be much more productive, so I haven’t even been to the Summit for a number of years. It’s probably overdue for a visit.

The Wattle Garden is also worth a look, especially in the winter when butterflies settle on the wattles to feed from their flowers.

The map below shows the spots I’ve mentioned. I would not be at all surprised if I’ve missed some butterflies that do occur in the Gardens. For example, I’ve never seen Imperial Blues (Jalmenus evagoras) there, despite the existence of what looks like suitable habitat to me.

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3 thoughts on “Mount Annan Botanic Gardens”

  1. Alan Hopkinson

    That’s a pretty good site for Butterflies their Martin, i have also collected Deudorix diovis and Candalides absimilis at that spot.

    1. I suspect I saw C. absimilis on this visit; there were a couple of bright blue Lycaenid flying on the sunny side of the canopy near the top of the Connections Garden. They sometimes came low down but never even looked like settling.

      I didn’t know about D. diovis. I’ve never seen it there, though given the plants that grow there it’s not a big surprise to learn that it’s there.

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