The third annual Gippsland Lakes Great Pelican Count will be held at 11.30 am to 12 noon on Sunday, 5 April at locations all around the Gippsland Lakes.
According to Deb Sullivan, Birdlife Australia Project Officer in East Gippsland, nearly 200 people participated in Victoria’s first Great Pelican Count in April 2019.
“We’re hoping our 2020 count is bigger and better than the last one,” said Ms Sullivan.
“The Count is a snapshot – like a census – of pelicans across the Gippsland Lakes taken at the same time on the same day.
“Anyone can be involved in the count; pelicans are distinctive and easy to spot making it an event the whole family can be involved in. All you need to do is register.
“Annual counts help provide insights into population fluctuations from year to year and help understand the arrival and departure of nomadic populations that use the Lakes in times of high or low rainfall or both,” continued Ms Sullivan.
Although the pelican is easily identifiable and iconic, some of their behaviours remains a mystery. Pelicans are highly mobile and are thought to respond to rainfall levels inland by moving to and from the coast.
“We began pelican banding in 2018 and we’ll be asking citizen scientists to report banding as part of their sightings. The bands are bright red with white writing, making them easy to read. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build a picture of where the pelicans move to and how they use the Gippsland Lakes.”
But why is this important? Ms Sullivan explains that the data gathered is used by researchers such as herself and organisations like BirdLife Australia working in the environment space to better understand environmental values.
“This is really valuable information,” continues Ms Sullivan. “It’s used by natural resource management professionals to understand why and how the pelican uses certain areas. They can then set about trying to protect or recreate habitats at other sights meaning that pelicans have more safe places available to them”
The Gippsland Lakes is home to one of only two permanent pelican rookeries in Victoria. Pelicans are colonial nesters, meaning they nest en-masse. The young form creches that stay together for around three months learning to fly, feed and fend for themselves.
Continued and consistent monitoring is vital to help inform the future management of the Gippsland Lakes and its surrounding wetlands. Information gathered about species, like the pelican, helps us understand what management actions are working and what are the needs of the species into the future.
“As the drought has continued pelican numbers across the Lakes have been slightly lower suggesting that this coastal bird is still dependent on rainfall for success.” Said Ms Sullivan.
“With the East Gippsland area also under drought strain and the recent bushfires the numbers could well be lower than previous records.
“Data from the Great Pelican Count gives information about current numbers and their locations.
“Register for the count, grab your friends and family and get out and enjoy the Gippsland Lakes. Your observations as citizen scientists can really make a difference.
“This count will, over time, help us to quantify the changes in pelican numbers across the Gippsland Lakes and enable volunteers of all ages to participate in counting one of Australia’s most recognisable birds.”
There will be at least 150 sites across the Gippsland Lakes with counters allocated to them. Some sites will have lots of birds, others may have none, but this also provides useful information.
“We’re also keen to get some local knowledge of roost sites, or places where pelicans ‘hang out,” continued Ms Sullivan.
“We need to find as many as possible so we’re asking people to give us a call or send an email to let us know.”
BirdLife Australia is dedicated to achieving outstanding conservation results for native Australian birds and their habitats.
This project is funded by the Victorian State Government for the health of the Gippsland Lakes.