Look up, it’s migration time

Although international travel is off the cards for us, migratory birds in the region are preparing for their long-haul flight back to the northern hemisphere. 

Project Officer for Birdlife Australia here in East Gippsland, Debbie Sullivan, said more than 20 species of migratory birds including snipe, sandpipers, and tern visit the Gippsland Lakes as part of their annual breeding and resting cycle.  

“Most travel from breeding grounds in north east Asia and Alaska as part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway,” explains Debbie.  

“In Autumn, as the weather turns colder in Victoria, the birds will leave their summer getaway and head back north, chasing the warmer weather. 

“It’s a 20,000-kilometre round trip for some of these birds. That’s about 5,000-kilometre further than driving around Australia. 

“As someone who researches birds, we use their presence as indicators of wetland health – that is – they like healthy wetlands, so their presence is a good sign. These birds rely on a healthy Gippsland Lakes system for their survival,” continued Debbie. 

Wetland habitat loss and degradation are significant threats to migratory birds.   

Sites popular for migratory birds are the fringing wetlands of Jones Bay, near Paynesville, and near Sale: Dowd Morass, Heart Morass and the Sale Common. Many of the islands, as well as Lake Tyers also provide important foraging habitat for migratory and resident shorebird species. 

These areas have been part of a targeted program to improve wetland habitat over the last five years. 

“As part of a project funded through the Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee, Greening Australia, local farmers, East and West Gippsland CMAs have protected more than 600 hectares of wetlands and fringing habitat in and around the Gippsland Lakes,” continued Debbie. 

“Ensuring wetlands go through the process of being inundated with fresh water and then dried is important for many natural processes to occur. It also provides great habitat for many animals to rest, feed and shelter.   

“There has been a lot of work done to improve the health of the Lakes generally as well as the places popular for bird migration. 

“This year our bird monitoring saw excellent numbers of little and fairy terns nesting in the Gippsland Lakes,” continued Debbie. 

Birds leaving the region during Autumn include the Bar-tailed Godwit – one of the larger migratory birds that visit the Gippsland Lakes. 

Godwits have been recorded making the 11,000-kilometre journey from Alaska to New Zealand non-stop in nine days. 

“Migratory birds are now getting ready to leave the region,” said Debbie. “They are busy preening feathers into top condition and foraging for food, this is so important for them to build up body fat to make the return journey. 

“It’s really important that we don’t disturb them. Please take a wide berth around these birds if you see them, and make sure dogs are kept on a leash. 

“And look up! You might see some of these migratory birds heading off to Scandinavia, Alaska or north Asia.” 

To learn more about work around the Gippsland Lakes, please go to www.loveourlakes.net.au or BirdLife Australia go to www.birdlife.org.au.