Australia Thousands of waterbirds return to Lake Cowal wetlands after drought breaks

02:15  25 october  2020
02:15  25 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Waterbird numbers at Lake Eyre have been surprisingly low after an influx of water earlier this year. Professor Johnston said pelicans often flew to Lake Eyre following an influx of water , but Thousands of native fish have been found dead in the Murray-Darling system near Menindee "They're showing us that our wetlands and our river systems are declining in quality over the long term.

Scientists believe Murray-Darling bird numbers have more than halved in the last 30 years due to droughts and Researchers conducting an annual aerial waterbird survey have just completed their most "Largely that's due to the impacts of building dams and developing our wetland systems and

The end of the drought in western New South Wales has transformed a little-known wetland into an oasis for Australia's wildlife.

Lake Cowal near West Wyalong is the largest natural inland waterway in New South Wales and sits alongside a gold mine near the Lachlan River.

The lake is part of an annual aerial waterbird survey of wetlands and rivers across eastern Australia, which is conducted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

"This is one of Australia's most magnificent wetlands," Professor Richard Kingsford from UNSW said.

"We probably had 50,000 waterbirds on this lake.

"I think this is the most I've ever seen and I think it's because this system is really pulsing at the moment."

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Lake Cowal in New South Wales is home once again to thousands of waterbirds ; meet a young winemaker with a real connection to the earth; and UK farmer Jim Chapman spreads the farm-safe message.

They rely on environmental water into wetlands and have been quite successful in rice fields due to an abundance of water and food resources. She's returned to this area in Spring/Summer for the past 3 years- sometimes foraging at the exact location as the previous year- as you can see from the

The survey covers much of northern and western NSW, including the Darling, Narran, Paroo and Macquarie Rivers.

It has not been able to include Queensland this year due to the border closure.

"The highlight for me anyway has been the Lachlan because it's just been spectacular," Professor Kingsford said.

Thriving outback oasis

There are 277 bird species found at Lake Cowal, including pink-eared ducks, swans, black-tailed native hens, ibis and magpie geese.

"I've been to Kakadu and this is everything that Kakadu can offer," Professor Kingsford said.

Lake Cowal also supports migratory species that fly to the Northern Hemisphere to breed before returning.

The number of birds spotted at Lake Cowal is being attributed to the lack of major floods that can normally occur at the end of droughts.

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"We haven't had that big sort of general flooding across the state," Mal Carnegie from the Lake Cowal Foundation said.

"We've had good rainfall and everything but we haven't had those major floods."

Birds helping farmers

The presence of waterbirds is an indicator of how other species, such as native fish, turtles and trees, are faring.

"When water comes back in, the diversity takes off," Professor Kingsford said.

They also perform a valuable role for farmers by being a natural pest control.

"They really suppress those potential locust outbreaks that could end up in Victoria in agricultural zones," Gordon Turner, whose farm lies next to the Booligal wetlands on the Lachlan, said.

"In a year like this there are hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crops and pasture at risk.

"[Farmers] have got enough problems as they are without a plague of locusts coming and gobbling their crops."

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The Great Lakes are the winter home to millions of sea birds and waterfowl that need open water to survive. The frigid weather of the past few months There is limited food for them there, so they starve and die." The death toll on Lake Erie could run in the tens of thousands . As the frozen lake thaws

can also happen after a large This water forms a wave. Just like when you throw a pebble into a lake , the After the initial tsunami hits land, there are often other waves following it, that

Awash with water

Professor Kingsford said he had seen a stark transformation since last year's aerial survey.

"It was as dry as dry could be," he said.

"We could barely find a patch of water, let alone a water bird."

The wetlands themselves have also regenerated despite being less than one quarter full.

"It's fascinating how it can go from dust storms where you couldn't see 20 metres in front of you in January [and] February to grass up to your waist," Mr Turner said.

Professor Kingsford said wetlands, such as Lake Cowal, relied on flooding events from upstream.

The NSW Government currently wants to increase the capacity of Wyangala Dam near Cowra, which feeds the Lachlan River and, subsequently, Lake Cowal.

"It will capture these floods that sustain these systems and there's no two ways about it," Professor Kingsford said.

"We're essentially turning off the tap."

The NSW Water Minister has previously said that the project would deliver much-needed water security for western communities.

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