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Water birds bring life to oasis in drought-hit cattle country

By Melanie Groves, Monday October 30, 2017 - 17:19 EDT
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As the drought in western Queensland continues, water birds must migrate to find water. - ABC

A dam inundated by water birds is providing some unexpected joy in the grips of western Queensland's drought.

The dam, on Rosemary and Warwick Champion's Longway Station near Longreach, has become home to thousands of water birds, from pelicans to black swans and many duck species.

Rosemary Champion said she had never seen so many birds on her property before.

"We're seeing a lot of birds you'd not usually see — like the pelicans are back and we've got 22 black swans and they're obviously breeding," she said.

"It's very uplifting to see that much water and being able to provide a subsistence level for the birds in particular because they did it so tough in the drought."

Drought conditions linger

Despite a soggy start to October for much of the state, most of western Queensland is still doing it tough. Scattered showers have only provided optimism for a real wet season soon.

Most graziers are still at least partially destocked and are facing some tough decisions in the coming months if there is no significant rainfall soon.

The Champions said they were not planning on completely destocking but if they did not get rain soon, they would need to start feeding their cattle.

"We've probably got the last roll of the dice, we've got about 350 head of cattle now," Ms Champion said.

"We're resting whatever paddocks we can and moving them around but unfortunately we're coming into a bit of a critical situation now, so we're looking at all of our various options.

"We'll just have to hope and pray we get rain soon.

"In an ideal world it'd be great to get rain right now … with an inch or preferably two you'd get it up and growing in no time at all."

Native animals are doing it tough

Professor Richard Kingsford is the director for the Centre of Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales, which has run the aerial Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey since 1983.

Professor Kingsford said the water birds' behaviour was to be expected during extended periods of drought.

"They're essentially trying to find any places where there might be waterholes or large lakes or dams that hold water for longer and that's why you'll probably find concentrations of all sorts of water birds turning up on farm dams during these dry periods."

Professor Kingsford said there was enough rain last year to have seen an increase of birds breeding in the Lake Eyre Basin.

"Now the Channel Country has dried up and lakes are drying up, it means water birds are spreading out and trying to find whatever water they can," he said.

But the future of the birds was uncertain, he said.

"[The birds will] either stay there for a while or try to move on to somewhere with better feeding for them."

Rosemary Champion, however, doesn't mind the new tenants.

"It's absolutely uplifting. It's lovely to go down there and see you are providing a haven for them when it's so dry everywhere else."


© ABC 2017

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