The weather has been quite variable over these last few weeks. There have been some gorgeous sunny days interspersed with periods plagued by truly vile winds. The result of this has been the marked drying out once more of the wetlands. But the warmth has brought on breeding plumage, eggs, nests and, predictably, nest robbers.
Tuesday saw our second visit by Goulburn East Public School. In the morning the infants school walked across to the wetlands where they were met by Marina Holland and other Goulburn Mulwaree Council staff. They had spent some time beforehand straining bugs from the clear waters of the main pond and collecting them in plastic containers. The kids had a great time gathering these up into their own ice cube trays and then looking at them through magnifying devices. After the bugs were sent home again, Rodney Falconer from FROGS gave them a few wrods about the wonders of tall sedges (far more interesting than it might appear). After the infants school and their teachers left it was the turn of the primary school (years 3 to 6) and their teachers. They were also a great bunch of kids and we went through a similar though slightly more advanced routine. It would appear from our bugs that the main pond scores about 3 our of 10 for clean water, though earlier work by some of our FROGS group has had it up to about 7.
On Wednesday Heather parked her car and noted that she had almost run over a pair of near invisible eggs. We carefully marked the area to avoid it and Rodney H came back after our working bee and was able to confirm that all was well: the parents had returned and were sitting on the eggs once more. So what birds leave the waterside and lay their eggs on bare ground in the middle of a cleared ex-industrial area? They were black-fronted dotterels. These tiny, sparrow-sized waders are quite brightly coloured when viewed against a blank background. Against the muddy shore and rotting vegetation they become, like their eggs, virtually invisible. The dotterels are consistently at the wetlands, with at least one pair tottering around the water’s edge snapping up miniscule creatures from the mud and debris. Very few people, however, are aware of their presence unless they are looking at the shore and notice a sudden movement.
To end of this entry I should also mention that the migratory waders are back as well. We still can’t easily tell if they are sandpipers, greenshanks or some other species, but we do know that one that is easily identified, the Japanese (or Latham’s) snipe. This is a bird protected under international agreements to which Australia has agreed to bind itself (such as RAMSAR). And one more new set of visitors: pink-eared ducks. These unusual little ducks have responded to the flushes of water life in the wetlands. Their pink ears are so small that you can barely see them and some people call them zebra ducks because of their striped bodies. One of their key distinguishing features, however, is their distinctive bill which is long and has bulldog like flaps at the end that enable them to filter plankton and small insects from the water. And they do not quack; they twitter.