These photos are in the order that they were taken from 1 November 2010 onwards. They document the waterbird breeding activity at the Wanganella Swamp, about 40 km north of Deniliquin, NSW.

Wanganella Swamps – a short history

The Forest and 8 Mile creeks, south of Wanganella in the Riverina district of New South Wales, form extensive but quite swallow swamps when flooding occurs. They are at their most expansive on the travelling stock route (TSR) south of Wanganella and up through Wanganella and Peppinella stations on the east side of the Cobb Highway.  The swamps and creeks are mainly vegetated with cumbungi and in some areas, nitre goosefoot and lignum.

From at least the 1940s up until the early 1990s there was a sizable artificial flood pushed down the Forest Creek each winter/spring to supply landowners with stock and domestic water; which subsequently pushed water into the Wanganella swamps and inadvertently created a bonanza for waterbirds. In the 1980s the birdlife was prolific in this area. Australasian bittern was often present in good numbers. I recorded fourteen bitterns in a single swamp on one occasion and eight on another. This species could often be seen feeding in the table drain along the Cobb Highway. Other notable species seen regularly at that time included brolga, Australian painted snipe, little bittern, spotless, Australian spotted and Baillon’s crakes, glossy ibis, great crested grebe, musk, blue-billed and freckled ducks and a host of the more common waterbirds. Many of these species bred in the swamps. Straw-necked ibis, forming sizable rookeries, bred most years.

As irrigation increased towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the amount of water going down the Forest Creek decreased and was also cut off earlier in the spring. And so the area became less attractive to waterbirds. During this period agreements were negotiated between the Water Resources Department and landowners to the effect that landowners were given water rights from the Billabong Creek in exchange for less floodwater being pushed down the Forest Creek. From about the mid 1990s to 2006 only a steady trickle of water came down Forest Creek during the summer months, which was largely useless for breeding waterbirds. The system, as to be expected, got choked with cumbungi.

As the drought worsened in 2006 the Department decided to dry the Forest Creek out completely downstream of Warriston Weir, and for the past four years the Wanganella swamps have been bone dry.  Environmental water that might have been sent down the Forest Creek was allocated elsewhere to the seemingly more important 'iconic' wetlands.

However, in August/September 2010 an environmental flow was sent down Forest Creek and in October/November this was followed by a natural flood down the Billabong Creek (where the Forest Creek primarily gets its water). There was extensive flooding in the Wanganella swamps and waterbirds moved in en masse and commenced breeding immediately. (The drying out of the swamp had been beneficial as nutrients were recycled and the food chain exploded when the area re-flooded).  The real challenge now is to retain the water level so breeding can be completed rather than abandoned. (see February 2011 follow-up)

In the last twenty years most of the wetlands east of Deniliquin have been drained. The Forest Creek is one of the few wetland systems in this district that remain in a relatively natural condition. 

Since mid October this extremely important waterbird breeding event has been monitored, documented, photographed and videoed.  Notes on waterbird breeding activity November/December 2010 and January 2011

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Notes on bird species seen from 1 November 2010 Latest News