Congratulations Ray Shiel!

President of FROGS, Ray Shiel, thanks our volunteers and describes this event as part of Goulburn Connects.

President of FROGS, Ray Shiel, at the launch of the Goulburn Wetlands’ David Barnett bird hide during Goulburn Connects 2013.

 

As all our regular readers will know, the Goulburn Wetlands is managed by volunteers belonging to the Friends & Residents Of Goulburn Swamps (Landcare Inc.) or FROGS for short. Our President, Ray Shiel, has just been announced on Australia Day as Goulburn’s Australian of the Year. Well done and congratulations!

Dry times

Where's the water? Its much further to go to get there now for the moorhens.

Where’s the water? Its much further to go to get there now for the moorhens.

It has been a very long, hot time at the wetlands. We hardly got any rain in December or November, and nothing at all of any substance for many months before. So with the dry westerly winds and temperatures in the high thirties, much of Goulburn has not merely hayed off, huge swathes of shrubs are dying and the ornamental trees from the northern hemisphere are losing leaves as if it were autumn, while plants that like subtropical climates are being bleached white.

At least we still have water in the large pond, even if the anabranch has almost run dry and the wader pond actually has. Consequently the water ribbons have gone from being fully aquatic to being semi-aquatic and their long juicy leaves have toughened up. The deep pools are now shallow and the shallow pools are now expanses of mud. This has brought quite a few waders. Last Wednesday we saw 5 snipe probing the mud. They are impossible birds to photograph: they see us first and clear off, they are incredibly well camouflaged and are invisible when standing still,  or they duck into the water ribbons every chance they get.

SIgns of shrinking pools: little pied cormorants getting dirty in the mud.

SIgns of shrinking pools: little pied cormorants getting dirty in the mud.

The low water has brought the return of the Great Egrets and the White-necked Herons. The little black cormorant and the little pied cormorant are now able to catch food more easily as it is concentrated in the pools. They just fling themselves into the green-brown water and get covered in mud as they wallow around after fish. As was the case last year, the deep water hardheads have gone and have been replaced with nearly 100 more terrestrial wood ducks. The paspalum is getting quite a trimming.

It was so hot working in the sun, our volunteers had to have morning tree across the road under the pines, then call it quits an hour early.

It was so hot working in the sun, our volunteers had to have morning tree across the road under the pines, then call it quits an hour early.

 

Happy New Year

A young Australasian grebe (left) and its parent, in full breeding plumage.

A young Australasian grebe (left) and its parent, in full breeding plumage.

Happy 2014 to all our readers. A lot has been going on in the wetlands over the Christmas/New Year period.

River Bulrush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis) has invaded the smaller ponds and parts of the river.

River Bulrush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis) has invaded the smaller ponds and parts of the river.

Goulburn has experienced an intense hot, dry, windy period that has resulted in the withering of grass and the drying of the wetlands. The water ribbons are now standing well above the water and have formed a dense jungle covering most of the water area. As a result there are only a few pools with relatively deep water so the coots and hardheads have declined to just one bird each last week. The dusky moorhens have increased and added a few new babies as well.

Bird's foot trfoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a small relatively harmless weed that has heavily invaded the sedge meadows.

Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a small relatively harmless weed that has heavily invaded the sedge meadows.

The small wader pool has lost all its water now and is a tract of orange-brown mud being encircled and increasingly invaded by a mixture of river bulrushes and several species of spikerush. The river buttercups are still in flower as are a number of other wetland plants. With its drying up many of the migratory waders have moved on, but there is plenty of evidence of herons and kangaroos using it: the mudflat is criss-crossed by their footprints. As a result what was a pool is now slowly tuning into a sedge-meadow … an island of moist green in a sea of dry yellow grasses.

 

The current small dramas have been provided by a family of Australasian Grebes. The young grebes are very fuzzily striped making them look quite blurry, while their intensely protective parents are in their smartest breeding colours. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

As well as the grebes and moorhens, we have several other breeding successes, including two clutches of black ducks (one more successful than the other), wood ducks, white-faced herons, superb fairy-wrens and black-fronted dotterels. You may recall their well camouflaged eggs from a couple of months ago; well now they’re well camouflaged chicks. Pacific herons and great egrets have shown up recently, both species in full breeding plumage, so maybe we’ll have a few more babies in the weeks or months to come. Some of our juvenile birds are shown below.

As well as some welcome babies, there are some not-so welcome ones. During the human festivities the Christmas beetles were having their own which, unfortunately, meant defoliating the three young cabbage gums. While we could remove the adults, they had laid their eggs and placed grubs in the mulch nearby. Fortunately for the cabbage gums, along came a huge blue flower wasp and placed its babies inside the young Christmas beetles.

A newcomer, the red-kneed dotterel, about twice the size of the black-fronted dotterel, is still dwarfed by the grey teal.

A newcomer, the red-kneed dotterel, about twice the size of the black-fronted dotterel, is still dwarfed by the grey teal.