Bittern near Balranald: secretive bird finds a safe spot to breed

Environmental water in surrounding wetlands has prompted a rarely seen bird: the little bittern, to take up residence and breed at a small farm dam, between Paika Lake and Cherax Swamp, north of Balranald.

Environmental watering in wetlands provides a habitat for the little bittern

The discovery of the little bitterns is a feather in the cap for local landholders who have worked with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for several years to restore the health of their local wetlands.

Peter Morton owns the property ‘Dundomallee’ where the birds have nested and is quickly becoming a keen bird watcher, seeing first-hand the benefits of environmental watering.

'It’s great to see such a shy bird making the most of the conditions here on the property,' Mr Morton said.

'With every new environmental flow we seem to be getting more new species feeding and breeding on the lake and surrounds.

'It’s invigorating, environmental water has made all the difference after such a long drought,' he said.

Recent bird monitoring in the wetlands has also revealed the presence of sharp-tailed sandpipers, a migratory bird that feeds in the shallows provided by environmental water.

Senior Environmental Water Manager James Maguire said these monitoring results demonstrated the value of environmental water.

'The wetlands surrounding the nesting site provide ideal feeding habitat for the little bitterns and other species like the sharp-tailed sandpiper,' Mr Maguire said.

'Environmental water has prompted a surge in insect and frog numbers and continuing improvements in vegetation health and coverage.

'With each delivery of environmental water we are seeing fringing vegetation become more established – reeds, rushes and sedges all providing valuable habitat for a range of species.

'The little bitterns are likely using their current nest site as a base and enjoying the plentiful food resources provided by the surrounding wetland system,' he said.

At around 30 centimetres long, the little bittern is Australia’s smallest heron. The bird prefers to nest in stands of dense cumbungi alongside shallow water which provides good foraging habitat and protection from danger.

This new nesting site is located between several natural wetlands which have been the subject of a long term restoration project managed by NSW OEH in collaboration with local landholders and a number of partner agencies.