Regent Parrot reigns again

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Vic Hughes explains how environmental water at Hattah Lakes is helping a threatened species, the Regent Parrot.

In November 2016, the ABC reported that 1600 Regent Parrots had been sighted in just two hours in north-west Victoria. This was extraordinary, as the beautiful Regent Parrot is a threatened species in eastern Australia and before this sighting, it was thought there were only about 500 left. The birds are generally found in the Mallee region of north-west Victoria, nesting in the River Red Gums that line the banks of the River Murray.

The ABC new story suggested that the increase in numbers was due to the floods along the Murray during late 2016, but there is more to this story than a single flood…

The birds were seen near the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, which includes the Hattah Lakes, a site that has been receiving environmental water since 2005. Bird surveys conducted by Richard Loyn and Guy Dutson at Hattah Lakes in 2014, 2015 and 2016, recorded increasing numbers of Regent Parrots, with environmental watering clearly benefiting the species.

Regent Parrot at a nesting hollow, Hattah Lakes.

In 2014, surveys found that Regent Parrots were among the most common birds sighted, especially in areas that had received environmental water in the past. They were seen in flocks of more than 100, feeding on seeds in sites that had been watered in earlier years.

The 2015 surveys had similar findings, with Regent Parrots among the most common birds sighted. Along with other seed-eaters they had increased in numbers, taking advantage of the environmental watering in 2014.

The 2016 survey reported the same findings, with honeyeaters also thriving from environmental watering enabling Black Box trees to flower and attract insects and other pollinators. The flow-on effect was that insect-eating birds were also more abundant due to the increased ecosystem productivity.

The 2016 survey concluded:

The increase in birds on sites that were flooded in 2014, and the stability or decrease on sites that were not flooded in 2014, shows clearly that the environmental flows have had a beneficial effect on bird abundance, and that the short-term effects observed in 2015 have continued into 2016 when all water had gone. Many species appeared to have benefited including one species classed as threatened (Regent Parrot), which continued to make extensive use of Black Box woodlands for feeding.” – Loyn and Dutson

It is clear from these 2014-16 bird survey results that providing environmental water to the Hattah Lakes icon site has been a blessing for Regent Parrots. The food resources it has generated have helped them not just to survive, but to thrive, with a large increase in numbers sighted in November 2016.

These results provide evidence that woodland and insect-eating birds prosper from environmental watering, and that the cumulative effect of regular watering builds population size and, hopefully, resilience.

Environmental water inundating Black Box woodland at Hattah Lakes in 2014.

Hattah Lakes

Hattah Lakes are wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention. Located int he north-west of Victoria, the lakes begin to fill naturally when high flows occur in the River Murray. River regulation has reduced the frequency and duration of high flows, isolating the lakes from the river. The last natural large-scale filling of the lakes was in 1993. In response to declining ecological condition, between 2005 and 2010 relatively small quantities of environmental water were delivered to target specific sites.

In 2013, environmental water management structures were completed, allowing much larger-scale watering. In 2013, the lakes were filled, and in 2014 they were surcharged, delivering water to the Black Box woodlands on the floodplain (some of which had not been flooded since 1993). There was a strong ecological response to the waterings; native fish and waterbirds bred, and there was good growth of non-woody vegetation in the wetlands and on the floodplain.

Environmental watering at Hattah Lakes is coordinated by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority, in cooperation with Parks Victoria, Goulburn-Murray Water, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Victorian Environmental Water Holder and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

This article was written by Vic Hughes.

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