This event was a WMLIG and Ricegrowers' Association of Australia joint initiative, made possible through funding from the Murray LLS through the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme and support from Murrakool Land for Wildlife and the Bitterns in Rice project.
50 people ventured out to 'Cambria', a local farm in Tullakool, NSW on the 20th of December to learn about on-farm wetland environments from renowned ecologist Matt Herring. The evening walk was hosted by the Thomas family, who have a long history of natural resource management on their farm.
Their passion stems from the legacy of Evan Thomas, who endeavoured to provide on-farm habitats for significant wildlife such as the Painted Snipe.
Upon arrival, attendees were greeted with beautiful views of a number of different wildlife habitats. These included the Bunna Creek, a seasonal wetland, irrigation channels and lush rice crops. Children and adults alike puddled in the wetland, to try to spot waterbirds hiding in the thick cumbungi. Matt disappeared briefly into the reeds to try and flush out some birds, such as an Australian Little Bittern that could be heard but not seen. Despite his efforts, the birds remained elusive.
Matt did a quick survey for frog species in the wetland before heading over to a nearby rice crop to see if there was a higher density of species there. Experience has shown that rice provides a great habitat for frogs due to food availability, shelter and time of flooding. This proved to be correct with Matt finding over 10 tadpoles to show to attendees. He explained that these were "immature Spotted Marsh Frog, Barking Marsh Frog and Plains Froglets, which are common species found in the region". Although not found in the survey, the endangered Southern Bell Frog could be heard calling from within the rice bays. If you would like to learn how to identify frog species, try this phone app.
Just as Matt finished explaining how to identify frog species, another significant rice inhabitant appeared... an Australasian Bittern! While people gathered along the rice bank with binoculars at the ready, the bird took flight, allowing everyone a view of the strange specimen. Bitterns are known to use rice crops as a surrogate wetland for breeding and hatching young. However these bird are not always easily found, so a sighting was an exciting experience for all present. If you would like to find out more about the Bitterns in Rice Project you can check out their Facebook page.
The elusive Painted Snipe remained a mystery, with Matt admitting that he "didn't expect to see any, they are very hard to find".
Thank you to Neil Bull and Erika Heffer of the RGA Environmental Champions Program for organising and running the day. Special thanks to the Thomas family for hosting the field day and to Matt Herring for sharing his wildlife knowledge with attendees.