The “booming” calls made by a male Australasian Bittern to attract a mate and establish its territory are among the most evocative calls of any Australian bird and together with its elusive nature are the basis of the Bunyip legend in Aboriginal culture. Eungedup Wetlands, in Lowlands, is one of the most important refuges for these endangered birds in Southwest Australia. It is estimated that there are less than 150 adult Australasian Bitterns remaining in the Southwest and the Lake Saide / Eungedup Wetland complex has had 3-4 pairs of Bitterns nesting in the last two years, representing 5% of the population in the Southwest. The wetlands form part of a broader network of wetlands including Nenamup Inlet, Young’s Lake and the Wilson Inlet which are home to 155 species of birds including migratory shorebirds, waterbirds, passerines and raptors.
Eungedup wetlands lie below sea-level and are therefore one of the most reliable in the area in retaining water throughout the year. They were once utilised for growing potatoes and uniquely the water levels can be controlled by a network of channels, sluices and pumps to ensure that the habitat remains suitable for the Bitterns and the many other waterbird species. This gives these birds a much better chance of survival in an ever more unpredictable climate. The wetlands are currently held in private hands, but an opportunity has arisen to purchase them and ensure that they remain a refuge for birds and other wildlife. There is also potential to improve the wetlands through management of Typha (Bulrush) and control of noxious weeds (Kikuyu, Blackberry, Arum Lily) and feral animals (Red Fox).
As the wetland dries in the summer months, mud flats become exposed and feeding grounds are available for shorebirds, crakes and rails. Shorebirds including Wood Sandpiper (up to 40 have been seen at one time), Sharp-tailed, Pectoral and Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, Black-fronted Dotterel and Long-toed Stint feed on the invertebrates in the mud.
Secretive Spotless and Spotted Crakes and the larger Buff-banded Rails emerge from the reed beds to search for invertebrates in the adjacent mud, but they are wary and dart back to the safety of the reed beds at the first sign of danger. The most commonly seen “rail” is the Australasian Swamphen; it is much larger than the crakes, noisier and more gregarious. It can often be seen feeding on the shoots of Typha, dexterously holding it in one foot whilst chewing at the shoot. Dangers include raptors of which there are a number including Whistling Kites, Swamp Harriers, Peregrine Falcon and Brown Goshawk. Larger raptors such as the Wedge-tailed Eagle and White-bellied Sea Eagle target the larger birds such as Swamphens and ducks.
Shallow water is not only good for bitterns, but also attracts herons, egrets, ibis and spoonbills. When conditions are ideal hundreds of these birds can be seen. The broad range of water depths means that there is something for all the ducks seen in Southwestern Australia, including; Musk Duck, Blue-billed Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Australian Shelduck, Wood Duck, Hardhead, Pacific Black Duck and even on occasion Freckled Duck. Along with the ducks, Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes, Black Swans, Pelicans and Cormorants all take advantage of the deeper water habitat.
The wetlands attract many insects and spiders and their reed beds provide cover and nesting sites for numerous, small insectivorous birds such as the Australian Reed Warbler, Little Grassbird, Splendid and Red-winged Fairy-wrens as well as occasionally the Southern Emu-wren.
There are not only birds at Eungedup; the endangered Western Ringtail Possum has been seen as well as Quendas (Brown Bandicoot), numerous species of frogs and with them the odd Tiger Snake!
WICC has formed the Eungedup Wetlands Management Group comprising relevant experts across a range of organisations to manage the purchase of the property and advise on fundraising. The purchase price for the 103 hectares (254 acres) has been negotiated at $505,000, with an extended settlement term to the end of 2023. Any donation to ensure that this vital wetland remains a haven for not only Australasian Bitterns, but also for all of the wildlife that depend on it, would be greatly appreciated. An established fund, The Wilson Inlet Public Fund is being utilised for the purchase of the Eungedup Wetlands and you can donate (tax deductible) via the WICC website, https://www.wicc.org.au/donate.html
As these wetlands being purchased are still held privately by the landowner, visits to the wetlands need to be authorized by WICC by first contacting Denmark Bird Group at firstname.lastname@example.org
When the wetland is purchased it will be managed by WICC (Wilson Inlet Catchment Committee) with support from BirdLife Australia, Birdlife WA, Denmark Bird Group, Wetlands Conservation Society WA, Conservation Council of WA and Gondwana Link. Water levels and water quality (PH, salinity and nutrient levels) will be monitored and managed. A program to monitor and control feral animals, eradicate noxious weeds and control the Typha will be instigated.
These wetlands are some of the most resilient on the south coast and in the current climate change crisis it is vital that we protect them as core habitat for bitterns, biodiversity and for the sequestration of carbon.