Welcome to 2017!
My year got off to an exciting start when I was contacted by someone from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) asking me if I’d like to visit one of their environmental watering project sites with some field officers doing a wetlands health survey. Naturally I said yes, and so last Tuesday I headed to Yarradda lagoon (within the Yarrada precinct of the Murrumbidgee Valley National Park) near Darlington Point with four field officers: two from OEH and two from Charles Sturt University (CSU).
Yarradda lagoon is one of 12 core sites included in a five-year project being managed by CSU, with support from OEH, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, and Riverina Local Land Services. With assistance from neighbouring landholders, the site has received environmental water flows over the last few years, to return it to health after widespread drought; it also flooded last year along with the rest of the Riverina’s waterbodies.
The environmental flows have been a huge success in helping get the lagoon back to health, with the wetland vegetation recovering well, waterbirds breeding onsite, and endangered (and highly sensitive) Southern Bell Frogs (Litoria raniformis) found living in the lagoon last summer. To my everlasting sadness we didn’t see any frogs or tadpoles this time, but the project team have a nifty set-up for recording frog calls onsite and auto-analysing them, so they can monitor what frog species are present without needing to rely on physically catching them.
The team members I visited Yarradda with – Carmen, Ben, Amelia, and Kel – had been out to the lagoon the evening before to set up four sampling nets, two with finer mesh for catching smaller critters, and two for catching larger individuals (all perfectly humane, with space for air-breathing creatures to get to the surface to breathe and so on, they’re trying to keep everything alive after all). While we were there they brought the nets in one-by-one to count and measure the individuals of each species present, and then release them back into the water, taking care to process and release the more sensitive species first. I spent my time wandering around seeing what I could see, and looking over their shoulders to see what species they’d caught.
I once again managed to conduct my field visit on the only cloudy day all month, so the light in some of these pics isn’t great, I’ll try for better weather in February. On the plus side, it wasn’t as hot as it might have been, so I’m counting that as a win.
Several of the trees onsite showed how deep the flood waters got last year. Floodwater is always a bit deceptive, it’s hard to tell how deep it is (or was) without a point of reference, so Carmen kindly provided one for me.
Bringing in the first net:
The smaller-gauge nets caught a lot of native gudgeons, small shrimp, introduced gambusia (aka Mosquitofish) and a few native rainbowfish, like the one pictured above.
While the team were busy counting and measuring these masses of tiny fish, I went for a wander.
One thing that struck me about the site was the presence of a lot of fallen timber – fallen timber is immensely important for habitat and soil moisture/local microclimate control, but is often removed in an attempt to reduce pest refuges, fire fuel, and tripping hazards, or just because it looks ‘untidy’, so I’m always pleased to visit sites where fallen timber had been retained. I didn’t ask, but I am assuming that the fallen timber has been retained onsite deliberately for its habitat value.
While wandering, I found this gorgeous female Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila sp.)
This very obliging dragonfly, with somewhat raggedly wings, who posed for a few photos for me.
This pair of Grey Teals (Anas gracilis), who were completely not bothered by my presence at all.
(It’s also possible these are female Chestnut Teals (Anas castanea), they’re so similar that I honestly cannot tell the difference)
A dead tree full of Australasian Darters (Anhinga novaehollandiae)
On closer inspection, these ones might actually be White-faced Herons (Egretta novaehollandiae)
And this looks more like a Cormorant (either Pied Phalacrocorax varius, or Little Pied Microcarbo melanoleucos, I’m unsure from the photo)
In other dead trees in the water, I saw some nesting Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo)
And nesting Darters
Some abandoned (or at least empty) nests
In a live tree I found another type of nest, possibly made by caterpillars
Gorgeous orange-red dragonflies
Green stuff that I think was algae, in lovely swirly patterns
A slightly closer picture of a Great Cormorant
One of the larger nets in situ before collection
Bringing the net in
The larger nets yielded some very exciting finds (along with a lot of feral carp)
Native Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua) – it’s hard to tell in the photo, but it genuinely looked all shiny golden in person.
Bony Bream (Nematalosa erebi)
One female Broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa)
And two little Murray River Turtles (aka Maquarie Turtles, Emydura macquarii)
The turtles were a super exciting end to a great morning out.
I would like to thank everyone from OEH and CSU who allowed me to tag along on their surveying trip, both for inviting me in the first place, and for being so helpful and informative in explaining their project and identifying species for me. Yarradda is a public-access reserve, so I will definitely be adding it to my list of places to revisit and keep an eye on.