Our local wetland #2

In the previous post I mentioned the local water treatment plant using the reserve water body as a convenient place to discharge the waste product from the filtration system. Like most they use alum as a flocculant to remove the colour and turbidity from the river water, a problem exacerbated by the European carp that are now so prevalent in our waterways. On windy days you could see a cloudy stain drifting across as the micro-fine silt particles were stirred up by wave action, and consequently there was virtually no aquatic vegetation, and diving birds like grebes were completely absent. After representations by the Wellington Shire the discharges ceased, then, during a drought when the lake bed was dry, a swamp ‘dozer was engaged to push up a significant depth of the fine silt into islands. That was the start of the rejuvenation of the wetland with the consequent improvement in water quality, aided by several floods that swept through with powerful flushing actions.

dozer

The wetland is fed by town storm water, and from the river when it is inundated by floodwater, then when there is lack of rainfall it can dry completely, following what is a normal wetland cycle. Many varieties of aquatic vegetation have returned naturally, giving shelter, invertebrate habitat, and safe breeding locations for the many bird species that have populated the wetland since its transformation into a vibrant living environment. Birdlife in the wetland recently has been prolific, Grey Teal, Hoary-headed Grebes, Pacific Black Duck, Eurasian Coots, Purple Swamphens, and Dusky Moorhens with good sized youngsters in tow have been plentiful.

moorhens

Now, in February with rainfall scarce, the wetland is in a drying phase and we are seeing the birds that take advantage of the mud and shallows to access food items.

drying out


egret and spoonbill

Great Egret, Royal Spoonbill, White-faced Heron, Masked Lapwing, the snipe of course, and pleasingly, a good number of Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels.

lapwings


red-kneed dotterels

As the mud flats become more extensive the rails and crakes will be easier to see, Buff-banded Rail, Spotless, and Australian Spotted Crake all call our wetland home, and the other day I had my first sighting of a spotted for this summer. Much too far away for a detailed photograph but here it is for the record, there are more photos of the crakes in previous posts.

spotted crake

These two posts have really just been a snapshot of the development of our wetland reserve over the last three decades, there is so much more that could be mentioned. The setbacks along the way, the involvement of local community members, assistance from the Wellington Shire and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, all the other birds that make up the bird list that now stands at one hundred and seventeen species, etc, etc. Nevertheless I hope they have shown what can be achieved at local level to help redress in a small way the great loss of wetlands since European settlement.

Our local wetland.

Jack’s recent nice post on the Macalister Wetland Reserve, or Swamp Reserve as we used to call it before it acquired a higher class title, got me thinking. I’ve often referred to the wetland in these posts, and having been involved with its development since 1987, perhaps it’s time to look at it again. Prior to that date the reserve which used to be the town common in the early days, consisted of a bare paddock and an area of open water used by the local water treatment plant as a handy place to dispose of the waste products from the treatment of river water to make it potable. This had the effect of making the water body unsuitable for the growth of water vegetation with a consequent lack of utilisation by a number of water bird species. This picture scanned from an old print gives some idea of the condition of the reserve before work started.

the swamp

Then, in 1987 the local council obtained a bicentennial grant to develop the reserve. Opinions on what to do differed, some wanted it formed into a lake with a road running around, while birders put forward the view that it should be managed as a wetland and place for passive recreation. At a public meeting, an advisory committee was formed, and the wetland concept was adopted. The first work undertaken was re-vegetation, something that is continuing to the present day, here are the first red gums going into the ground back in 1988.

planting

During the following years a range of works have been undertaken; boardwalks and bird hides have been built, during a drought the infertile chemical laden silt was pushed up into islands, willows were removed, pathways have been constructed, interpretive signage and seating were installed, and importantly, a main water input was re-routed and new lagoons formed. Aquatic vegetation returned to the water body, the birds followed, and the reserve has been transformed. This photo is taken looking over the water in the direction of where the planting was taking place in the previous image. And yes, that’s Ben Cruachan in the distance.

the swamp

But enough of history, for me it”s always been about the birds, and one in particular, Latham’s Snipe, and this small wetland has always been attractive to them. In 1988 the Vic Group of what was then the RAOU, initiated a four year wetland survey program which just happened to coincide with the swamp project and the cessation of grazing, and I was on the job. Looking back at my old data sheets, snipe numbers progressed thus; Oct. ’88 – 16, Feb. ’89 – 50, Oct. ’89 – 75, Feb. ’90 – 175, Sept. ’90 – 80, Feb. ’91 – 70, Oct. ’91 – 85, Feb. ’92 – 200, Nov. ’92 – 100. Shortly after the ’92 all time highs, a huge flood swept through the reserve soon after the birds had arrived, sending them off to fresh fields and pastures new, and they have never returned in large numbers, often only the odd bird or two until recently. At the moment the water level is dropping creating excellent feeding habitat for a range of birds, and on a walk through I flushed at least thirty snipe. All the birds were very twitchy and difficult to approach, but I eventually got acceptable shots of one snipe settled down in the shade of a sedge clump.

latham's snipe

To be continued, click pictures to enlarge.

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