by Jamie Walker
Outside of Australia, this country is recognized for its dryness; but those of us who live here know that the rains in this southern continent can be a very big thing. We are familiar with la Nina, the term ‘boom and bust’, and the human tragedy of floods; and I know that by the time you read this, we could either be in drought or just longing for the rain to stop.
The effects of Australian rain are often ephemeral, meaning short-lived and impermanent. Think of Lake Eyre which fills in a dynamic event every few decades, then dwindles away to lie for many years desiccated and scorched.
Near the Queensland coast, we also have ephemeral waters but their drying and refill cycles are short and more reliable. We are also blessed with a landscape dotted with small farm dams. Together, these two habitats create rich larders for many water birds.
I know some very ordinary-looking little dams which, over the years, have rewarded me with views of Yellow-billed Spoonbill (rare on the Sunshine Coast) Glossy Ibis, and Latham’s Snipe. One of these dams is a daytime camp for Plumed Whistling Ducks. (Fascinating birds, they carry their ducklings on their backs as they swim). In the evening, they leave the camp for the shores of an adjacent ephemeral lagoon, where they graze during the night.
While some ducks, cormorants, and egrets loaf and preen, others feed furiously or create vigorous traffic to and from the lagoon. Its edges are also used by foraging shore birds. On one occasion, you might find Golden Plovers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers from Siberia, together with our endemic Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels.
If a raptor (kite or eagle) appears overhead, it can induce a panicking exodus, with clouds of birds in the air together, using sheer numbers and flickering movement to confuse their enemy. Once the bird of prey has passed over, they each drop quietly back again, often to the place they vacated moments before.
But the birding highlight at one of these sites must be the Black-necked Stork. Appearing to stand as tall as a human, its sheer size is impressive, its manner impassive. It steps through the shallows with an unhurried elegance and seems disdainful if it finds your proximity doesn’t suit it. Its broad wings then take it away with power and deceptive speed. This bird has been called the Jabiru, but this is an error because the name truly belongs to a South American species.
It is argued that climate change is largely man-made – and the science is there for sure. But open, wet, swampy areas in a cattle pasture and our many little dams which provide water for stock, are also of our manufacture or exist through our management – and the benefit they provide for wildlife cannot be measured.