January 2015 Field Visit – Fivebough Swamp

Welcome to the first ‘official’ monthly blog post of Riverina Wildlife. My goal is to post one field trip report per month, interspersed with any incidental sightings or items of interest I’d like to share in between (more information about my posting schedule can be found here). It being the 31st I’m just getting this one in under the wire for January.

On Wednesday I visited Fivebough Swamp, one half of the Ramsar-listed Fivebough & Tuckerbil Wetlands at Leeton. Fivebough and Tuckerbil are two naturally-occurring shallow swamps, located about 10km apart, to the north-east and north-west of Leeton.  Fivebough is a permanent, but fluctuating, fresh-brackish wetland, whilst Tuckerbil is a seasonal, shallow, brackish-saline wetland. Tuckerbil is being managed primarily for waterbird conservation, and amongst other things is an important brolga flocking area, and so is not open to the public. Fivebough, on the other hand, is being managed for both conservation and community education and has a permanent walking trail installed in the south-western part of the swamp, complete with interpretive signage, bird hides, viewing mounds and seating; there’s also a covered picnic area near the carpark.

In October 2002 Fivebough and Tuckerbil were jointly recognised as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. You can find a list of all Ramsar wetlands in Australia here.

As it is World Wetlands Day next Monday (February 2nd – the date on which the Ramsar Convention was originally signed in 1971) I thought Fivebough was a good choice for January’s field trip.

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Fivebough Swamp – a Ramsar listed wetland

Fivebough and Tuckerbil hold a special place in my heart, both by virtue of being a Ramsar site almost in my backyard, and because my first job out of uni was as a community engagement officer for the Wetlands. Many of the signs still in place around Fivebough are ones I helped create, and it makes me happy to see them still in place, helping to educate visitors walking the same trails I’ve walked so many times.

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Cumbungi (Typha spp.) known as Baaliyan in the local Wiradjuri language, was historically used for food, fibre and making lightweight hunting spears. It also serves as invaluable protection for many fauna species.

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Cumbungi is one thing you will see a lot of at Fivebough. The wetland as a whole is managed to encourage a range of habitat types, so there are open water areas, a range of water depths, areas where the vegetation is kept low, and areas where the cumbungi is allowed to run rampant. From the point of view of the birds and frogs who rely on it for protection from predators, weather, and human visitors alike, this is great. From the point of view of the human visitors it means you can spend a lot of time walking along a narrow corridor of cumbungi, able to hear all sorts of fascinating bird- and frog-calls, but unable to see anything very much. For a first-time visitor it can be particularly off-putting, as the most common entry-point to the walking trails passes through a lot of cumbungi before coming to more open areas. All I can say is hang in there, you’ll get to good viewing spots eventually. Playing ‘name that noise’ can be a fun way to pass the minutes traversing the green corridor, surrounded on all sides by chirrups, squawks, clicks, splashes, trills, knocking sounds, and that really weird noise purple swamphens make that always puts me in mind of someone fatally crushing a large squeaky toy.

There are also viewing mounds, hides and benches that you can take advantage of, scattered along the trails at convenient intervals. You can even sit on the benches for a rest, if that takes your fancy, rather than simply using them as handy little viewing platforms.

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A small viewing mound and a bench seat – very convenient for letting one see over the vegetation to the open water beyond.
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The Ponds Birdhide, surrounded by a sea of saltbush, overlooks the settling ponds of Leeton Sewage Treatment works – great for ducks and grebes.

 

Fivebough has 5km of walking trail, 3km of which are classified as ‘all weather’ trails (you can download a map from the Trust’s website), but these can be sometimes a bit over-grown with weeds in places. At the moment, it’s actually pretty good, although the track that loops around the northern end was blocked off. There was no sign up, so I’m assuming it was for either track maintenance or habitat protection. I did walk through some patches of dead weeds, so I’m guessing someone did some weed control around the place within the last few weeks.

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A section of walking track at Fivebough.

Another management strategy employed at Fivebough – and one that catches some people by surprise – is the use of strategic grazing to maintain vegetation diversity. Although dense stands of cumbungi and other rushes are great for some species, they are not so great for others. So cattle are allowed into certain parts of Fivebough, at certain times of the year, to reduce the vegetation load, and ensure the wetlands support a mosaic of vegetation types, heights and densities. I’m not sure if the cattle in the below photo were in Fivebough itself, or in the paddock next door, but the cattle egrets hanging out with them certainly didn’t mind. Given that cattle egrets help control ticks and other pesky insects, I’m sure the cattle didn’t mind either.

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Cattle and cattle egrets. Notice the orange breeding plumage on the egret in the centre.

But that’s enough talk – you wanted to see the wildlife. Here are some of the species I encountered at Fivebough the other day. Please excuse the quality of some of the photos, my camera is not made for long-distance zooming, and some of these have been cropped quite a lot to show the birds as more than little blobs. You can view the photos larger by clicking on them.

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A group of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) winging it for a more private part of the swamp.
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Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
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Australasian Shoveler (Anas rhynchotis) and a Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia) showing breeding plumage.
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Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) with an Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) in breeding plumage in the background.
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I saw at least three Mountain Ducks (aka Australian Shelducks – Tadorna tadornoides) on this mud bank, but failed to get a good photo. This was shame because they look spectacular, and I don’t see them often.
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Black Swans (Cygnus atratus) with Grey Teal (Anas gracilis), and a Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) just visible behind the swan on the left.
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A line of Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio) – the most fabulously ridiculous waterbirds you could hope to see or hear.
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Azolla and duckweed loving the still water.
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I was not the only recent mammalian visitor.
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I am not good at rushes. I think it’s a rush. It could be a sedge. I need to study up on wetland plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And most exciting of all, on my way out I added a very obliging Black-shouldered Kite to my birding life list. They’re not a particularly uncommon species, but this was nevertheless my first, and s/he posed beautifully for me.

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Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris).

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