Wetlands along the Murray River are flourishing thanks to recent rains and increased river flows
Waterbirds and other wildlife are flocking to sites including Gol Gol, Poon Boon, Wingillie and Thegoa as the health of wetland habitats improves.
Water is the key ingredient for success, releasing nutrients that provide the building blocks for wetland food webs and supporting ideal conditions for waterbirds to nest, feed and raise their young to independence.
As well as birdlife, the wetlands are a haven for frogs, turtles, insects, bats, crustaceans and many other species. Iconic river red gum, black box and tangled lignum provide shelter and nesting sites for a variety of wildlife, are responding with new growth.
Some of these wetland sites can be supported in drier times by water for the environment while others rely solely on higher river flows which may only occur every few years.
Gol Gol Lake
Recent surveys at Gol Gol Lake have detected 40 bird species and more than 1,100 individuals making use of the wetland. Waterbirds roosted atop the lignum in deeper parts and foraged in freshly inundated areas.
Among the species observed were Australian shelduck, black-winged stilts, red-necked avocet and teal. Less common species detected during surveys include the southern whiteface and migratory rainbow bee-eater.
Gol Gol Lake is a focal point for the community which is keen to see more flows reach the site. Local school groups conduct bird surveys at the wetland using an approach adapted from the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) bird survey methods. Volunteers also conduct guided tours of the lake.
Before river regulation, the lake filled via Gol Gol Creek when flows in the Murray exceeded 40,000 megalitres per day. The lake was disconnected from the creek in the 1960s and now fills only during unregulated flow events.
Gol Gol Lake last filled when a regulator controlling flows into the site was opened during the floods of 2015-16 and previously in 2009-10.
Poon Boon Lakes
The Poon Boon Lakes are an interconnected series of floodplain lakes between the Murray and the Wakool rivers, located in the western Riverina district. The connecting streams between the lakes have been channelised so water to the lakes can be supplied more frequently under regulated river conditions.
Murray River flows enter the Lake Wollare supply channel at around 17,000 megalitres per day at the Swan Hill gauge.
Muthi Muthi land covers an estimated 5,700 km2 of southern NSW, including the Poon Boon Lakes. The lakes have been important hunting grounds for the Muthi Muthi, with an abundance of fish and waterfowl available to them. The lunettes surrounding the lakes contain burials, which demonstrates the significance of this place to the Muthi Muthi people.
The lakes are a renowned waterbird ‘hotspot’ for the Murray River system with past records of threatened species including Australasian bitterns, blue-billed ducks and freckled ducks. Recent waterbird surveys by the Department's ecologists have detected several waterbird species, including commonly observed species such as ibis, spoonbills, ducks and swans along with species not seen so often such as black-winged stilts and whiskered terns. A white-bellied sea eagle was also recorded during the recent waterbird surveys, which is a migratory bird species and protected by the (Commonwealth) Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The nationally threatened southern bell frog was commonly recorded in the Poon Boon system in the past. The species could return to the lakes with an improved watering regime. Three native freshwater turtle species - the long-necked turtle, broad-shell turtle, and short-necked turtle - are known to inhabit the lakes and nest in the adjoining sand lunettes.
The lakes are also known as a traditional native fish nursery particularly for golden perch. Prior to river regulation, the lakes were likely to have connected to the Murray River during high winter-spring flows on an almost annual basis. These regular connections offered productive floodplain nursery habitats for native fish, including large bodied flow-specialist species such as golden perch and silver perch. Both of these species typically move along rivers and spawn in response to flow events with eggs and larvae drifting downstream in the higher flows. Many would disperse into floodplain wetland systems like the Poon Boon Lakes. Juvenile fish would later return to the river channel on subsequent re-connection events (up to a year later, providing suitable aquatic habitat prevailed in the lakes after they disconnected from the river channel). Under regulated conditions, the frequency of connection events has been reduced.
Lake Poomah Public Recreation Reserve is accessible to the community via Lake Poomah Road.
Black swans are flocking to Thegoa Lagoon to breed this season as recent rains and unregulated flows provide ideal nesting and feeding conditions.
Thegoa Lagoon is an 80-hectare billabong near Wentworth. The wetland has significant cultural values, including burial sites, scar trees, boundary trees and middens. Thegoa Lagoon is also a traditional meeting place, strategically located at the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers.
The wetland is a magnet for waterbirds, including stilts, spoonbills, herons, egrets, pelicans, darters, cormorants, ducks and swans, as well as bush birds that inhabit the surrounding vegetation.
Historically, the wetland was inundated during high flows from the Murray or Darling but now relies primarily on water for the environment for its survival.
Recent unregulated flows have been directed into the lagoon to support habitat health and the needs of local wildlife. Observations of swans, ducks, Australasian grebes and black-winged stilts are among the highlights from the current season.
The Department's Water for the Environment deliveries complement other projects at the site that are undertaken in consultation with the Wentworth Shire Council, WaterNSW, Western Local Land Services, Traditional Owners and other local community members.
Boundary Creek and Wingillie Lagoon
This private property creek and lagoon is thought to be ideal golden perch nursery habitat and also supports a range of waterbirds and frogs.
In the past 15 years, the landowner has never seen the lake so full and thrumming with life.
Wingillie Creek is an ephemeral creek which connects with the near-permanent lagoon. It is fed by the Murray River during high flow events and affected by nearby weir pool levels.
NSW unregulated flows have been delivered to the creek and lagoon via a regulator in consultation with the landholder and SA Water.
The last time Wingillie Creek and lagoon were inundated was during high flows in 2015-16.
A range of program partners consult with the landowner on the management of water for the environment to the site including the Department's Water for the Environment team, Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group, Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, WaterNSW and the Saving Our Species Southern Bell frog monitoring team.