Central Australia Survey Route

National Waterbird Survey – Central Australia Survey Route

This survey was designed to estimate the numbers and diversity of waterbirds on all of Australia’s wetlands. In the better watered areas near the coast, surveys systematically identified wetlands with high concentrations of waterbirds, including wetlands listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (DIWA). For central Australia, we checked satellite imagery to identify which wetlands had water and as can be seen from the map, there were relatively few wetlands in Central Australia with water.

Monday, 10th November, 2008 - Observers: Terry Korn and Julian Reid. Heli-Muster Pilot : Phil Stainthorp

Birds and more birds!!
In sharp contrast to yesterday tens of thousands of waterbirds greeted us today in the Tanami Lakes near the Western Australian border. Yesterday in the same period of flying we counted less than 20 waterbirds in a sweep to the south-east and south-west of Alice Springs. After passing the ever enthralling West MacDonnell Ranges to our south and flying 2hrs at 160 NM/Hr in a Cessna 210 we arrived in the vicinity of the Tanami Lakes near the West Australian border. Here we were greeted with a magnificent reward! I counted more than 9000 Eurasian coot,7000 Gey Teal, 7000 Pink-eared ducks, 1500 Black-winged stilts, 560 Black swans and 250 Glossy ibis on the eleven wetlands that held water. My co-counter probably counted as many! Of the lakes Alec Lake was dominated by Coot and Pink-eared duck, Bullock lake by Coot, Pink-eared duck and Grey teal, Lake Sarah by Coot, Coomar Lake by Grey teal, Lake Talbot by Coot, Pink-eared duck and Black swan, and Spider Lake by Pink-eared duck and Grey teal. It was a privilege to see such fascinating landscape not often seen other than by the Traditional Owners of this remote country. The long day of almost 8 hrs flying was worth it!!


Wednesday and Thursday, 12th and 13 November, 2008 - Observers: Ray Chatto, Julian Reid. Heli-Muster Pilot : Phil Stainthorp

There are big distances to cover in central Australia, to get from one watering hole to the next, and so we flew for about three hours from Alice Springs with nary a bird until we arrived at the historic Birdsville Pub. Recent rain had put bits of water into claypans and some lakes, and two lakes between Birdsville (Qld) and the Coongie Lakes (SA) had good numbers of ducks. The Coongie Lakes, fed by Cooper Creek, are wetlands of international importance, and Lake Goolangirie, the northernmost lake did not disappoint – tens of thousands of birds and a wide variety of species. After a night at the Innamincka Hotel, we tracked east into Queensland and northern NSW. By golly there were some ducks on the small inundated part of Lake Bindegolly, a small catchment between the Bulloo and Paroo Rivers, near Thargomindah (which won tidy town competition on our whistle-stop tour, and served an excellent lunch at the roadhouse). Again, tens of thousands of ducks and other waterbirds on Bindegolly, including good numbers of shovelers and over a thousand Freckled Ducks. After a day and a half being back o’ Bourke with few signs of human habitation, we entered the Murray Darling Basin – Paroo, Warrego and Darling Rivers, and roosted at Bourke for the night.


Friday, 14th November, 2008 - Observers: Ray Chatto, Julian Reid. Heli-Muster Pilot : Phil Stainthorp in Cessna 206, BXF

We started with eight or nine large irrigation storages or ring tanks around Bourke, as we headed north-west to cover much of the far north-west of NSW on Day 3 of the Lake Eyre section. There were good numbers of birds on the ring tanks, perhaps because the water level in most was low. It was also apparent that there were more birds in those storages with islands, spits and other irregular features, as compared to deep steep-sided dams. Few lakes contained water further west, as we recrossed the Warrego, Cuttaburra Channels and the Paroo – the Paroo lakes had already been surveyed on the regular eastern Australian aerial surveys. White Cliffs was an interesting lunch stop, and the phrase ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ came to mind as we trudged the 2 km back to the airstrip in 40- degree heat (it didn’t stop the wedgebills chirruping). Two lakes north of Broken Hill had good numbers of birds, with Freckled Ducks again prominent on the shallow waters of Coogee Lake, but generally there was little surface water around on the afternoon leg. We flew over the Mutawingee Ranges and admired their rugged grandeur in an otherwise flat landscape. On route to Mildura for the night we passed over the Menindee Lakes (mostly dry), and the extensive, flat cultivated surface of Lake Tandou was an awesome spectacle.


Saturday & Sunday, 15th & 16th November, 2008 - Observers: Ray Chatto, Julian Reid. Heli-Muster Pilot : Phil Stainthorp

Day 4 in south-western NSW was fairly ordinary – little water, few birds. We worked our way north-east from Mildura to West Wyalong, passing over the sad-looking lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers. We did opportunistic surveys over many small dams, but even these were generally devoid of birds, with just the occasional teal, black duck and wood duck. Day 5 to the north of West Wyalong was more interesting and in contrast to the previous day, the dams were pumping (excuse the pun), the saddest part being that so few natural wetlands contained water while the dams and irrigation storages held plenty after recent heavy falls and stream flows. Small farm dams and the larger impoundments alike had many waterbirds on them (if of somewhat limited diversity), and it became apparent that irrigation storages with irregular shorelines, areas of shallower water and islands had a far greater density and variety of waterbirds on them than deep, steep-sided, square impoundments. Between Dubbo and Moree after lunch, we saw Magpie Geese and Wandering Whistling-Duck for the first time on the Central Australian Section (indicating northern tropical influences), and when we got to the small wetland remnants on the Gwydir River and Gingham watercourse to the west of Moree, the density of egrets, herons, ibis and spoonbills rocketed. This part of NSW had received 100 mm of rain in recent weeks, and it seemed that birds had flocked into the region, an area once renowned for its wetlands and huge breeding colonies. It was disconcerting to see the extent of large impoundments in these parts, while higher up the regional topographic gradient on the western slopes of NSW, dams dotted the landscape intercepting headwater streams – little wonder that the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin are so starved of their life blood. Harvesting operations were in full swing in northern NSW, and it was fascinating to view the ever-changing patchwork pattern of crops, recently reaped and fallow lands and remnant vegetation from the air. By all accounts, from Dubbo northwards the harvest season looks like being a prosperous one, which must be a relief for the farmers who have suffered from the previous long run of droughts and below-average rainfall years.


National Waterbird Survey
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