Date: Sunday, October 10, 2021

Project: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Observers: Richard Kingsford & John Porter

Pilot: James Barkell

We spent the day surveying the Gwydir wetlands, each surveyed twice. Our routine is to head down the Mehi River which runs southwest of Moree. As is our usual practice, we got away just after dawn; the plan is always to maximise the smooth flying time. This backfired today with >40km/ hr wind in the morning, easing off in the afternoon. It was seriously bumpy during our first round of the Gwydir wetlands.

Along the Mehi River, including Mallow Creek, there are a few lagoons and floodplains, seldom supporting many waterbirds. There were just a few teal, cormorants and black duck and not much evidence of much flooding.

We headed west to some permanent waterholes on the Barwon River, where there were a few pelicans, wood ducks and black duck. These permanent wetlands seldom support more than about fifty waterbirds in total. Once we had finished, we headed back east to the more important wetlands.

Right at the end of the Gwydir River system, the water had spilled into one of the agricultural areas which was once a wetland. Where you have shallow water, the waterbirds come because of the productivity from aquatic plants and invertebrates. There were hundreds of waterbirds, including grey teal, black duck, whiskered terns and surprisingly large flocks (10-20) of masked lapwings or spurwing plovers. You hardly ever see them in more than a few pairs.

We started on the wetlands of the Gingham watercourse, many of which have straight line borders, reflecting the farming development which has invaded the natural wetlands.

Farming areas encroaching on wetland areas

This year was definitely a lot wetter than last year and a vast improvement on the drought year of 2019. A lot of the floodplain was inundated by widespread flooding early in the year, with natural flows and rainfall keeping many areas wet.

Green but with little water – the Gwydir River floodplain

Once we got into the wetland, there were also hundreds of grey teal, the three ibis species, egrets, black duck and Pacific herons. There were also wandering whistling-ducks, the odd magpie goose and wood duck.

There weren’t ‘clouds’ of waterbirds which you can sometimes see in this system. In total, there were probably only a few thousand waterbirds in the whole system.

Green but with little water – the Gwydir River floodplain

The Gwydir River floodplain was much drier than the Gingham system and supported fewer waterbirds.

We also surveyed a few of the more permanent waterholes, creeks and rivers which as always were poor habitat for waterbirds.  We finished the surveys in the Gwydir wetlands in the afternoon when the wind had died down a bit. The next day would involve a short ferry trip and surveying some wetlands on the way back to Sydney in the morning.

By Richard Kingsford