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Birds set to return to Lake Eyre to breed as inland lakes fills with water

By Elise Fantin, Wednesday January 6, 2016 - 06:51 EDT

Waterbirds are expected to flock to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre now that it has begun to fill with water.

Summer rains are breathing life into the dry and dusty plains in South Australia's outback.

Deakin University researcher Reece Pedler said bird species, including the vulnerable banded stilt, use the desert lake as a breeding ground.



"They leave when the going gets tough and when it's good again they fly hundreds of kilometres to move back into the area," Mr Pedler said.

"They feed on brine shrimp and so they try to get there as soon as the rain happens.

"Even minor filling events like this result in brine shrimp and other small invertebrates hatching as the water re-wets the parched salt lake surface."

Banded stilts do not breed at coastal locations.

"They only breed when places like Lake Eyre fill with water," Mr Pedler said.

A project to solve the mystery around how the birds know when big rainfall events occur inland has begun.

Mr Pedler said he attached small solar-powered satellite trackers to five birds at St Kilda beach north of Adelaide just this week.

"We're expecting that over the coming days some of them might respond to this rainfall event and fly inland," he said.

"These birds are somehow able to sense the barometric pressure change or hear the distant thunder and they fly hundreds of kilometres overnight."

The study is nearing its final stages.

"Hopefully we're getting a bit closer to solving some of these mysteries of what it is that they're tapping into to know that it's rained a long way away and move there in response," Mr Pedler said.

Heavy rainfall has been recorded over the past few days including 182.8 millimetres at Kalamurina, 63 millimetres at Mt Dare, 150 millimetres at Mungerannie, 150 millimetres at Cowarie and 23.8 millimetres at Oodnadatta.

Road closures are still in place at several locations.

Tourism Minister Leon Bignell said the rainfall across the region would be welcome.

"What we know about these rains is it gives us months and months and months of added tourism business to that area," he said.

"This is also terrific for people running pastorals leases in the outback of South Australia."


- ABC

© ABC 2016

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