The third year of water has led to a riot of birds on Lake Eyre, from ducks to stilts, teals, cormorants, pelicans and swans, as well as unwelcome predatory gulls.

Story By Ken Eastwood

If you've never seen hundreds of thousands of birds nesting prolifically around Lake Eyre, now is the time. Water has flowed into the lake for three years and the birds are richer in number and more widely distributed than they’ve been in decades. According to Trevor Wright, senior pilot and founder of Wrightsair, based at William Creek, SA, it’s the best the birds have been in the 20 years he’s been flying over the lake.
“They’ve just got millions of birds out there,” he says. “The Channel Country has had water in it for three years – so they’re breeding prolifically, especially the ducks. The black ducks are unbelievable.”

Staff from South Australia’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources have been monitoring the birds from the air and have estimated there are 80,000 banded stilts alone. “The stilts are like never before,” Trevor says. He operates sightseeing tours over Lake Eyre and a two-day trip that flies up Cooper Creek and over Coongie Lakes to Bedourie in south-west Queensland.

In previous bumper years, experts have estimated there are a million waterbirds on Lake Eyre, making it one of the most important breeding areas for waterbirds in the country. This year, as well as black ducks, mountain ducks, whistlers and “a lot of teal”, Trevor has seen terns, stilts, cormorants, pelicans and hundreds of black swans. “There’s quite a lot of black swans up the top end of the lake, where the Warburton comes in. I think the whole area at the moment, with a nucleus of Lake Eyre,

is exemplary. But I think the best spot is up at Bedourie.”
Trevor says it’s only going to get better. “Through to August, the water will still be flowing in, but from September on, you’ll start to see the evaporation rate increase, so the birds will congregate around the smaller water areas.”

According to Dr Clive Minton, former managing director of Imperial Metal Industries Australia and a respected Melbourne ornithologist who has studied birds on Lake Eyre since 1982, the banded stilts eat brine shrimp exclusively. The shrimp have grown from millions of desiccated eggs left on the lake. They will continue to breed prolifically and provide food for the stilts until the water level drops and the water becomes super saline.

This story excerpt is from Issue #78

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2011