Best bird breeding in the Booligal Wetlands
Around 200,000 birds are now filling the skies over the Booligal Wetlands north of Hay in a major bird breeding event not seen for 20 years.
Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) Director Graeme Enders said good spring rainfall throughout much of NSW has filled dams, boosted water allocations and brought some of the most significant environmental benefits experienced in years.
"The high water flows over the past five months have inundated swamps and wetlands in the Lachlan River valley and we are now seeing a major colonial waterbird breeding event," said Mr Enders.
"It's mainly Straw-necked Ibis, but we are also seeing the return of migratory and nomadic birds, and some threatened species like the Blue-billed Duck.
"Monitoring indicates the Booligal Wetlands are supporting more than 100,000 Ibis nests and with an average of three eggs per nest we can expect to see at least 200,000 Ibis fledge to adulthood well above natural mortality.
"This breeding event is a significant increase on the last event at the end of the millennium drought in 2010-11, when ecologists counted around 64,000 nests in the same area.
"The majority of the young here now are either close to or have fledged, and importantly are now busily putting on weight to support their dispersal across eastern and tropical Australia.
"As part of the monitoring we are also looking at what food the birds are eating by doing a 'scat analysis' looking at their droppings to see what they are feeding on and how far they travel to find that food source," Mr Enders said.
The bird breeding is natural process triggered by the Lachlan flood, with the wetland areas previously having been primed and maintained by environmental water.
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps said in this case we're seeing the recovery of bird populations as well as the regeneration of native vegetation.
"In the event the system begins to dry out too soon, follow up environmental watering may be provided to support the birds to reach maturity," Mr Papps said.
In this respect, environmental water can provide a form of insurance - to ensure that positive responses like bird breeding can be completed."
The birds' progress will continue to be monitored over summer by wetland specialists from OEH and the University of NSW, with coordinated input from local landholders, Local Land Services, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO).
Footage: Booligal Wetlands breeding event 2016 https://youtu.be/rYie3jo4HaI
The Booligal Wetlands have been identified as one of the most important waterbird breeding sites in Australia, known for the large numbers of waterbirds that congregate to breed and forage in the area during and following floods. The Wetlands are listed in the Directory of Wetlands of National Significance and provide important habitat for a wide variety of native plants and animals, including migratory waterbirds also protected under international agreements.
Since 2013, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has provided between 4,000 megalitres and up to 10,000 megalitres each year with the exception of 2016 due to natural inundation of the wetlands.