Small number of blue wrens remain at lake

SURVIVING: Blue wrens have not always been found at Lake Wendouree, but became more common when the water level was extremely low.

SURVIVING: Blue wrens have not always been found at Lake Wendouree, but became more common when the water level was extremely low.

Back in late February the blue wren (superb fairy wren) was scarce at Lake Wendouree. None were found during a count of the lake’s birds. Are they declining?

Observations since then have revealed a small population of wrens surviving there, and checks of counts at the same time of the year have revealed consistent low numbers at that time.

Probably more wrens could be found if a special search was made for them. However, it appears that numbers are always lower in summer and autumn than at other times.

Sometimes, 10 or a dozen might be seen in spring.

The superb fairy wren – or the blue wren, as it is commonly known – has not always been a resident at Lake Wendouree.

While it was probably there in the early days of Ballarat, it was a rarity through the 1950s until about the turn of the century.

Then, as the lake’s level receded, wrens moved in – using for shelter the numerous willows that thrived in the lower water and the mud.

For a few years, their numbers built up while the lake was dry.

Then, as water level rose, they had less habitat to choose from and their numbers gradually declined.

However, they managed to survive, despite never having been resident before the lake dried.

Last spring’s high water did not suit them, and their breeding success appeared to be low. But they have survived and remain with us still.

At this time of year, most male blue wrens lose their colour and resemble the brown females. They differ slightly however, in having blue tails and plain faces, without the reddish tinge around the eyes and the reddish bill of the female. A male’s beak is black.

Newly-coloured males will appear from next month.

RAKALI FEATURES

A freshly-dead rakali, or water rat, at the North Gardens alongside Lake Wendouree recently provided the opportunity for a close inspection.

This native aquatic mammal has very thick insulating fur, coloured an attractive soft orange below. I was surprised to see that very nearly half of the tail was white.

I had previously thought that the white tip occupied only about a quarter of the tail’s length.

Despite the rakali’s swimming ability, its pink front feet were not webbed; they had separate toes like those of the introduced pest rats.

The larger rear feet, however, had partial webbing, but just a small amount at the base of each toe.

This lack of webbing on its feet does not prevent the rakali from being a fast and agile swimmer and diver.