Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Project: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Observers: Richard Kingsford & Paul Wainright

Pilot: Tim Dugan

We headed further east to Port Fairy, along this picturesque coast, surveying the last two wetlands in this lowest of our survey bands.

Then north to South Australia and the bottom end of the Coorong, where strings of wetlands are arranged north to south in between the dunes, going tens of kilometres inland. A massive drainage system was established decades ago to remove water from many of the freshwater swamps in this system and take the water out to sea. Some of this water is now diverted into the Upper Coorong.

The Coorong is a magic system of saline and freshwater wetlands, mostly in what is called the upper southeast, and it didn’t disappoint today. Often in previous years, there aren’t many waterbirds at this end of the Coorong but today the banded stilts, grey teal and swans were there in their hundreds. It was a stunning morning.

A new drain runs to the north, taking water up to the Upper Coorong. It had a few wood ducks and Australian shelduck along it, but not much else.

The salty lagoons just off the coast of the Coorong are replaced by shallow saline vegetated swamps, as you head further east.

Once we peeled away from the saline swamps close to the sea, the swamps become freshwater and grow a wide range of aquatic plants. This increases the diversity of waterbirds and some of the specialists like banded stilts don’t use these wetlands. As well as grey teal, the other common waterbirds were pied stilts, Australian shelducks, whiskered terns, swans and coot. These wetlands have wonderful colours, reflecting the different hues of the aquatic plants in the shallow water.

Even though there were high numbers of waterbirds on these lakes, there were many wetlands which held water last year which were dry this year. And so our surveying was really busy for a while but a bit of disappointment not to pick up the usual numbers of flooded dunal swamps, as we flew east. I wondered whether some of this water was going to the Coorong.

One change was noticeable and increasingly obvious in this part of the world – the numbers of deer have increased considerably in this part of the world over time. There are hundreds.

Once we had finished surveying here, we headed over the green paddocks and grain crops stretching all the way to Horsham. This has been a good year, even though many of the wetlands are dry and obviously have no waterbirds. Here and there on these surveys, we always keep a sharp look out for the high tension electricity wires.

It’s near Dimboola that we survey Pink Lake in Victoria. It’s never had a single waterbird on it although it always has water. It’s never deep enough with the right sort of food. The pink is all down to a type of algae.

After refuelling at Horsham, we headed east. Our first ‘bumps’ had started as the wind and the heat built up. Early morning starts are the way to go on these surveys. Most of the wetlands along the way were dry. Even when we reached the Wallenjoe Swamp system, there was only one of the lakes with water. This massive wetland system can be fabulous habitat for a whole range of waterbirds.

Past here, there was a series of storages or inland dams, including Warranga Basin with its large channels for distribution of irrigation water. Warranga Basin had a few swans, Australian shelduck and pelicans but is still not a productive as a natural wetland.

Once we had bumped our way east, the next major wetland was Lake Mokoan or Winton wetlands. It had a tiny puddle of water in the southwest corner, only enough for one cormorant and a couple of other waterbirds. It was more of the same – dry wetlands and few waterbirds.

And then east to the tributary rivers to the Murray: the King, Ovens, Kiewa and Mitta Mitta. We survey along all these rivers but waterbirds are few and far between, just the odd wood duck, grey teal, black duck and white-faced heron.

Finally, we get to the end of this part of the survey, flying up the gorge of the Mitta Mitta River, past the large weir and on to the massive Dartmouth Dam, which looks low, compared to last year.