Date: Thursday, October 16, 2014

Project: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Observer: Richard Kingsford

Cool days when you are flying out in the west are a blessing – another one today. We headed north from Broken Hill back to the beginning of Band 5. Band 5 starts south of Lake Eyre and ends at the Bellinger River, on the coast. We surveyed from south of Tibooburra through to Armidale. Out here at the beginning – blue water signals a wetland filled from an artesian bore – good for red-necked avocets.

Photo 1. The only wetlands with water south of Tibooburra are those filled by artesian bores.

This land has fantastic colours, reds and browns, with water contours everywhere.

Photo 2. Creeks around the Koonenberry Range.

The unremarkable upper and mid catchment of the Paroo River, surveyed on Tuesday and yesterday’s surveys delivers its spectacular Paroo overflow lakes about six hundred kilometres to the south, just west of White Cliffs, in the middle of our survey band. This complex is one of the more important wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, with rich waterbird habitat. As with most inland areas that we have surveyed this year, these lakes had dried back considerably from the 2010-2011 floods. Peery Lake, the largest lake in this complex was dry.

Photo 3. The dry lake bed of Peery Lake, within the Paroo-Darling National Park.

Only Yantabangee Lake had water and it was about thirty percent full and extremely shallow.

Photo 4. Very shallow Lake Yantabangee, the only water in the Paroo overflow lakes.

It was not surprising that it had hundreds of red-necked avocets, small migratory shorebirds and whiskered terns but no other waterbirds. There were about ten pigs also wandering through the shallows (don’t miss the little black things on the video). The expansive floodplains of the Paroo around here were all dry.

Video – Counting red-necked avocets and migratory shorebirds on the shallow Yantabangee Lake

The next river east was the Darling. It too was shallow and in some places broken up into pools. It is home primarily to pelicans and large and pied cormorants.

Video – Flying down the Darling River

After refuelling at Bourke, we passed the Bogan River and endless shallow and empty dams with the odd waterbird.

Photo 5 – Water ponding, designed to increase vegetation on claypans, creates impressive circles from the air.

Then across the top third of the Macquarie Marshes. In keeping with the season, there was very little water, such a contrast to it when the Marshes are in flood. After two decades of working on this magnificent wetland, I am always surprised at how drab it looks without water.

Video – Macquarie Marshes - Surveying the only water with reasonable numbers of waterbirds

East to Armidale, flying along the Namoi River and its irrigation areas. Here as elsewhere, the off-river storages had little water; the shallow water is where waterbirds can feed. Split Rock Dam, north of Manila is one of the large dams that regulates flows in the Namoi and provides the water for irrigation and downstream towns. It had very low water levels. The usual suspects of pelicans and cormorants were the main birds.

Photo 6. Split rock Dam with low water levels.

We finished up in Armidale, picking up on a few dams.

Map of aerial survey route, 16th of October 2014