Date: Thursday, November 5, 2020

Project: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Observers: Richard Kingsford UNSW, John Porter UNSW/DPIE

Pilot: James Barkell NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (DPIE)

Based on the forecast and what we had experienced yesterday, we knew we needed to get away early. So we were out at the plane before it started to get light to make sure that we could head off on first light, when the temperature and hopefully the wind would be low.

It proved to be a good move. The temperature and wind kept rising all through the morning, bouncing the plane about until the wind eased off at the end of the day. The sun was rising by the time we reached our first wetland, which was Lake Katherine on the Georgina River. There were very few waterbirds, just a few small flocks of cormorants, some black duck and pelicans.

We then headed west across various interesting ranges, until we reached the floodplain of the Diamantina River. It still had some water in the waterholes bat very few waterbirds. As usual the rivers are not great places for waterbirds, unless they are in flood. We landed and refuelled in Winton.

After we left, we surveyed of a string of farm dams. It's quite clear that this part of Eastern Australia has not got the rains that have occurred further south. Many of the dams had hardly any water and one had dead sheep, strewn around its edges. There were a few waterholes on the Thomson River but none had many waterbirds.

And even the major wetlands were not full, such as Lake Dunn which was only about 60% full, while Lake Galilee which can have tens of thousands of waterbirds was dry.

We kept heading east over the Great Dividing Range and the coal mines before we got onto the pastures north of Rockhampton. Unlike previous years they were brown and parched with very few of the dams with water and those that did, had very little. It reflected the pattern around Winton, although in between we had seen some green areas. There was one magnificent flock of brolgas but otherwise very few waterbirds.

We finished in the early afternoon, before it got really hot, which was a great relief. The next day was a rest day for the pilot, before we head out west again to Windorah and Birdsville. Hopefully the temperatures aren't too high.

Blog by Richard Kingsford