Booming bittern bonanza

Elusive native waterbirds are finding safe haven in drought refuge wetlands across the Lower Murrumbidgee River region.

Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), also known as bunyip bird on its nest in Barmah-Millewa Wetlands

Threatened Australasian bitterns and their smaller cousins, Little bitterns, have been busy booming, orrking, nesting and hatching in patches of the Murrumbidgee, Macquarie, Gwydir and Murray river regions where water for the environment has been provided.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) have used their limited water resources carefully to provide vital refuge for native fish, birds and other wildlife.

In the Lower Murrumbidgee, bird surveys conducted at nine wetlands over Summer have located both the rare Australasian bittern and Little bittern.

OEH Senior Environmental Water Manager James Maguire said water delivered to wetlands in Yanga National Park, close to Balranald, and to nearby private properties had been a boon for the bitterns.

“Maintaining some natural wetland refuge during dry times provides a lifeline for water-dependent wildlife that would otherwise have limited options to successfully breed,” Mr Maguire said.

“While most of the wetlands will dry out over the next few months, some of the deeper refuge pools will remain. Here the bitterns, including juveniles which were bred in summer can feed, enabling the species to survive through the dry conditions affecting us all,” he said.

“Spotted throughout autumn, the Australasian bittern is a mysterious bird with an unusual booming call.

“Dense native wetland plant cover regenerated by water for the environment, such as reeds and rushes, is providing the perfect habitat for the birds to shelter, feed and breed.

“The bitterns are usually hidden amongst the reeds and are only heard and not seen by visitors. We can survey the birds most effectively during breeding activity when the males regularly call to attract the attention of females.

“Each species makes a unique and easily distinguishable sound. The Australasian bittern call is a very deep ‘boom’, while the Little bittern makes a higher pitched ‘orrk’.

“They are very likely still using wetlands within Yanga National Park,” Mr Maguire said.

Regular surveys of the Murrumbidgee sites and other locations across inland NSW by OEH helps water managers prioritize their actions for long-term management of these wetlands.

OEH partners with a range of agencies including the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to support the health of rivers and wetlands in NSW.

Photos for download: Bitterns at wetlands of Yanga National Park