Brolga flocking goes up a gear at Green Swamp

Last Friday I dropped into NGT’s Green Swamp Restoration Reserve to download some water level data from a logger we have had out there for the past six years. This is something I do twice a year, usually in spring and then again in March. It’s always a good opportunity to whack on the waders and go for a walk out into the wetland. Being such a big wetland, you really need to get out in it to get a feel for what is happening, how it is responding  and just to appreciate how much life is hiding in the thick growth of water ribbons.

Our water level logger has never really been in the deepest point of the wetland so early last year I moved it to a deeper section, so that we can get a better idea of when it truly dries down beyond a puddle. It requires a bit more effort to get to but given we are often rushing around collecting data, we almost need to make ourselves take more time to really absorb what is happening across these restoration sites.

With the wetland still being quite full at the moment, it took a little while to spot the gauge board which holds the logger.  And while I was looking through the binoculars I spotted some unmistakable, elegant grey shapes on the opposite bank. Blending against the background of some sheep next door, I realised there were actually quite a lot of brolga. Slowly panning along I counted 100 birds! It’s not the first time I’ve seen a flock out here, we have counted reasonable numbers in the past, but 100 is the biggest flock I have ever seen in western Victoria. Of course the most sure-fire way to make sure you see something really interesting is to not take a decent camera. But we have learnt that using a mobile phone through the binoculars is a suitable work around. So whilst it’s not an award winning photograph, it should still give you a pretty good idea of what I was looking at.

Some of the 100 plus brolga currently at Green Swamp

With the day getting away and being late home anyway, I didn’t venture around the bank for a closer look. Fortunately Dr. Inka Veltheim was able to drop by the next day and after tracking them down, she was able to gather some really great data. She counted 121 birds feeding in the adjacent paddock with the added bonus of some of last years young and a few subadults. The fact that brolga flock up (group together) this time of year makes it an ideal time to get a good snapshot of how many birds there are across western Victoria. Based on current estimates provided by Inka, approximately fifteen percent of the western Victorian brolga population is currently at Green Swamp!

As for the water levels, well it has certainly been an amazing year. The wetland is sitting at levels we’re used to in late December. The chart below shows how the levels have responded since its first post-restoration filling in 2016. Last autumn was the driest it had been since then so this year is a real contrast. We can also see the impact of that late season rain, with peak water levels occurring approximately one month later than other years. So now we are past peak evaporation, these levels should hold steady until (hopefully) the rain returns and the wetland starts to fill again. And all of those brolga should be able to leave for their nesting grounds in prime condition.

Water levels at Green Swamp since restoration works

Lachlan Farrington