Over the Easter period, about 60 members of the Bird Observers Club of
Australia attended a camp north of Barham in southern NSW (geographically ~
I don't like referring to all places west of Sydney as western NSW!).
That's BarHaM, not BarMaH ~ one birder made the basic error of driving
toward Barmah by mistake but fortunately met up with, and put in the right
direction by, another member near Echuca before he went too far out of his
Barham-Koondrook is located alongside the Murray River downstream of
Echuca-Moama toward the western end of Australia's second largest Red Gum
forest, the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest.
By the time I left the group yesterday, at least 129 bird species had been
observed within a 35km radius.
The camp site was on a 6,000 acre property which borders the Wakool River,
an anabranch of the Murray. About 70 species were observed on the property
itself, including Whistling Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Brown Goshawk,
Square-tailed Kite, Wedgetailed Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel, Common Bronzewing,
Peaceful Dove, Yellow (form of Crimson) Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot,
Southern Boobook, Barn Owl, Brown Tree-creeper, Striated Pardalote,
Weebill, Chestnut-rumped, Yellow and Yellow-rumped thornbills, Southern
Whiteface, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Jacky Winter,
Red-capped Robin, Splendid Wren, Grey-crowned Babbler, Chestnut-crowned
Babbler, Crested Shrike-Tit, Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Restless
Fly-catcher, Pied Butcherbird, White-winged Chough, Australian Pipit,
Diamond Firetail and Little Button Quail plus the more-common birds of the
area (Magpie, Galah, Australian Raven etc).
Access to the property was via Millers/Thomas Road. The end of Thomas Road
near the Moulamein-Swan Hill Road afforded particularly good birding ~ some
White-winged Fairy-wrens darted in and out of lignum and saltbush, about 20
Banded Lapwing were hard to distinguish as they stood on ploughed paddocks,
an assortment of water birds were feeding on the bottom of an all-but-empty
irrigation channel and a number of raptors soared overhead.
There were a good number of water birds in a large quarry across the road
from the property.
The property has been in the hands of the Thomas family for three
generations. I understand that none of the present owner's three sons seems
keen on taking over from their father. Times are tough, with drought into
its fourteenth year. The family has to pay tens of thousands of dollars a
year to retain their water right despite the fact that this year's water
allocation is zilch. I understand that allocations which farmers carried
over from last year were taken away without compensation.
That means no crops this year on this property. Neighbouring properties are
in the same (stranded) boat. A major source of income for many of the
neighbourhood's farms is rice. Not this year. I was told that there are
only about 19 paddocks of rice in the entire Riverina this season. It is so
dry that farmers have had to sell many/most of their sheep and cattle.
Farm stays (in a separate cottage) help the Thomas family to survive these
For district farmers, allowing foresters to cut trees for timber and
firewood has become a major source of income, 'keeping the wolves at bay'.
Social security payments is another. Times are really tough.
The timber industry is the main industry in nearby Barham-Koondrook. For
better or worse, much of the timber is cut into firewood for Melbourne and
other cities ~ a contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. After having
lobbied hard, local millers are breathing a sigh of relief that the
Victorian Government has decided (as Shirley Cook has reported) to order a
large number of wooden railway sleepers to upgrade the Melbourne-Mildura
The local irrigation scheme provided work during the depths of the Great
Depression of the 1930s. Stevens Weir in Werai Forest (which, alas, is NOT
one of icon sites to be protected under the Living Murray Agreement) was
built in 1933 to raise the height of The Edward (River) to allow for
gravity-fed irrigation water (via Colligen Creek). Rice farming began in
the mid 1930s. After a few years, saline ground water rose to within a
metre or two of the surface ~ thousands of hectares became too saline for
farming ~ so a salt-interception scheme was essential. Today, about 60
pumps help lower the water table over 25,000 hectares. The salty water is
pumped into evaporation ponds at Tullakool, east of Wakool, between
Moulamein and Barham
We visited a DPI aquaculture research centre at Tullakool, about 15km
kilometres north-north-east of our camp site. The cold winter nights and
hot summer days of the Riverina Plains preclude a whole raft of fish from
surviving in ponds here. Several species of fish and crustacean have been
trialled (e.g. Brown Trout, Oysters, Tiger Prawns, Kuruma Prawns and Silver
Perch) but only two species appear to thrive in the salty water and harsh
conditions ~ Mulloway and Rainbow Trout. These are to likely be farmed
>From a viewing platform (part of the southern NSW 'Triavian Corridor')
overlooking a pond east of the centre, we observed Muck Duck, Black Swan,
Chestnut Teal, Pelican, a Silver Gull, White-faced Heron and Hoary-headed
Grebe. Some Zebra Finches and White-winged Fairy-wrens flittered about in
saltbush alongside the platform at the very edge of the Barham-Moulamein
Road. What appeared to be a Greenshank caused a flutter of interest in the
observers as it zoomed over us. A Nankeen Kestrel patrolled from the skies
We then drove east a short distance to some more evaporative ponds. There
were different birds on different ponds, reflecting, perhaps, the level of
salinity. Over 100 Pelicans sat in a line along a bank separating two
ponds. A solitary Yellow-billed Spoonbill stood amongst them. Some distance
further along the chain of Pelicans was a lone Royal Spoonbill. I snapped a
few digital photos in the hope of including them in a forthcoming Echuca
BOCA newsletter. Some distance away almost beyond the range of our 'scopes,
a Greenshank fed on a spit, sometimes partially obscuring two Marsh
Sandpipers. Behind them, a number of Masked Lapwings fossicked amongst the
saltbush. A Black-fronted Dotterel put in an appearance. A little group of
Zebra (sorry, Pink-eared) Ducks appeared in the pond behind the Pelicans
and then disappeared from view again as they swam in close behind them.
Other water birds included Shoveller and Hoary-headed Grebe. Someone
spotted a Black Falcon high overhead. Then we spotted a Wedgetailed Eagle
and a Whistling Kite.
All the time, Welcome Swallows circled low over the water and saltbush.
At the edge of the ponds, Noisy Miners and Pied Butcherbirds called
constantly, making sure that they were included on our bird list.
Marvellous place Tullakool. If you can withstand the heat, it's best in
summer when migratory waders are present.
.../Part 2 follows.
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