Wednesday, 10 May 2017 09:03

Long-haul flights for feathered friends

A 20,000-kilometre round trip – about 5000km further than driving the loop of Australia – thatʼs how far migratory birds fly every year on their journey to and from the Gippsland Lakes. More than 20 species of migratory birds, including snipe, sandpipers, and tern, visit the Gippsland Lakes as part of their annual breeding and resting cycle in summer. Most travel from breeding grounds in north east Asia and Alaska as part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway. As the weather turns cold in Victoria, the birds leave their summer getaway and head back north, chasing the sun. The feats of these remarkable birds will be celebrated on May 10 as part of World Migratory Bird Day. This yearʼs theme – ʻTheir Future is our Futureʼ – aims to raise awareness of the need for sustainable development and management of our natural resources for both wildlife and people. Itʼs a campaign close to the heart of Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee co-chair, Dr Peter Veenker, who said conserving local wetlands to protect the habitat of migratory birds was crucial for their continued abundance and diversity. “Wetland habitat loss and degradation are significant threats to migratory birds. Many pressures are contributing to this degradation, of which population growth and associated coastal development are of particular concern,” Dr Veenker said. “The Gippsland Lakes provide an important feeding and resting place for migratory birds, which cover an amazing 10,000km to get here and then another 10,000km to return back to their breeding grounds ever single year. “It really is a remarkable journey and they rely on a healthy Gippsland Lakes system for their survival. “Thatʼs why itʼs so important for government, business, community groups, residents and visitors to the Gippsland Lakes to work together to help protect and conserve these important species and environmental areas.

It takes the combined effort of everyone.” Sand re-nourishment and revegetation works that were undertaken in 2015 and 2016 to improve habitat for migratory birds on Crescent Island and Pelican Island, proved successful for threatened fairy tern and little tern. Both islands had experienced a loss in low level beach areas. Sand nourishment work and revegetation increased the habitable areas of the island for the tern colonies. Recent sightings have reported more than 80 fairy tern and 110 little tern roosting on Pelican Island where the works had taken place. Other popular places for migratory birds are the fringing wetlands of Jones Bay, Dowd Morass, Heart Morass and Sale Common, as well as the salt marshes and saline wetlands such as Lake Reeve. “There has been a lot of work done to improve the health of the Lakes generally as well as the places popular for bird migration,” Dr Veenker said. “The Victorian State Government is contributing funding to a number of projects that will help improve habitat for migratory birds. “This includes a Greening Australia project where two demonstration sites have been set up to showcase the improvement and protection of over 100 hectares of fringing wetlands. “Ensuring our wetlands go through the process of being inundated with fresh water and then dried is important for many natural processes to occur, this helps migratory birds rest, feed and shelter in healthy and diverse wetland habitats. “Another funded project being led by West Gippsland CMA is focusing on managing water in both Dowd and Heart morass. “More works to monitor existing, and improve more tern habitat are currently underway as well as fox control programs to reduce the threats to other migratory birds when they are here.” And while many migrating birds have now departed the region for the year, others will return for the cooler months, including the cattle egret and double-banded plover. World Migratory Bird Day was initiated in 2006 and is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. The Gippsland Lakes are recognised internationally as a Ramsar site for their very significant environmental values. These projects are funded by the Victorian State Government for the Gippsland Lakes.