February 2 is International Wetlands Day and Roger Thomas takes a look at the treasures around Ballarat.
Wetlands are at their most interesting when the water level starts to recede.
It is then that there are more warm shallows and muddy edges, providing more habitat for more species.
Wetlands are perhaps best known for their waterbirds, but a good wetland supports much more. It is home for yabbies, fish, frogs, numerous aquatic invertebrates and, of course, the wide range of aquatic plants that supports them all.
The better wildlife wetlands have a range of habits, such as shallow edges, reedy areas and deeper open water. Lake Wendouree provides these, particularly in summer when the level drops and muddy edges form.
A list of wetlands within the City of Ballarat includes more than 60 on public land.
Many have been made as parts of adjoining property developments, while others are remnants of the mining era. Relatively few of them are natural.
Even Lake Wendouree and Mullawallah (Winter Swamp) are modified versions of natural wetlands. Local wetlands worth a visit are Mullawallah (at Lucas), Macarthur Park Wetlands at Miners Rest, Paul’s Wetland at Wendouree and, of course, Lake Wendouree and the North Gardens Wetlands. All are attracting good numbers of birds. Nerrina Wetlands are currently dry.
Further afield, Lakes Burrumbeet and Learmonth usually have moderate numbers of birds, with interesting species visiting limited parts of their shorelines.
Natural variation in water level is a feature of all wetlands. Shallower wetlands, in particular, respond dramatically to these changes, with overnight additions to bird numbers when they re-fill, and gradual increases in a different range of species when they recede.
A recently filled shallow Australian wetland is a place full of activity and life. It can support a surprising number of waterbirds of many species – a stark contrast to the dry and almost birdless place it had been a month earlier.
Landowners sometimes have the opportunity to create or improve wetlands.
Some have successfully established swamps for brolgas. More brolgas nest on private land than on public land.
In springtime, we reported visiting a pair of barking owls that had been reported at Newstead.
The barking owl is a rare bird in Victoria. Since our visit to the Newstead owls, we have discovered there are only about 50 pairs of barking owls in Victoria, so our sighting was a fortunate one.
The species occurs in other mainland Australian states, and it is not as scarce elsewhere as it is in Victoria.