As far as most native waterbirds are concerned, Australian wetlands are at their best when they dry out or as soon as they fill.
Lake Learmonth has been gradually receding since last spring, and has been attracting numerous waterbirds as it has done so.
One of the more interesting species there at present is the red-necked avocet. There are not just a few of them, but 350 or more. They spend most of their time in a fairly tight flock, mostly out from shore. Sometimes they appear as a white line of massed birds, when binoculars are needed to correctly identify them.
Our Learmonth correspondent reports that the deepest part of the lake is about 35cm deep, so the avocets are now able to wade over much of it.
The red-necked avocet is a rather exotic-looking bird with smart white body plumage, black wings, a rusty brown head and neck, and a gracefully upcurved slender bill.
The bird is an irregular visitor to the Ballarat district, with most reports in the warmer months. But as at Lake Learmonth, it will remain if suitable food is available.
It eats aquatic insects such as fly larvae and water beetles, small crustaceans, aquatic worms and other aquatic creatures.
How long will the Learmonth birds stay?
Already the lake is starting to rise, and this, coupled with cooler weather, may see a reduction in their food.
It will not be surprising if they depart within a month.
Avocets are often found in saline lakes, and Lake Learmonth’s salt level would increase as its water level goes down.
From late summer, there has been a lone double-banded plover near the bird hide at Lake Learmonth.
This bird has now moulted from its rather drab, buff non-breeding plumage into its “double-banded” finery, with a narrow blackish band across the top of its breast, and a wider rusty brown band below.
In the same area can be found black-fronted and red-kneed dotterels and red-capped plovers – all small shorebirds appreciating the mud provided by the low-level wetland.
A painted button-quail in a rural Invermay garden, a pair of spotted harriers over paddocks at Blowhard, and speckled warblers in bushland at Mount Beckworth are a few recent local bird reports of interest.
All three species are difficult to locate at most times of the year. The spotted harrier is a visitor, but the button-quail and the warbler are rare residents, whose numbers have declined markedly over recent decades.