Industrial Bird Refuge
By Neville Passmore
When we think about wildlife coming into contact with industry the usual story is finding ways of separating the two. So it comes as a surprise to find in the Mandurah area, an example of industry playing a crucial role in the survival of Arctic migratory birds.
The Peel Yalgorup Wetland System is "on the map" as far as migratory wading birds from Siberia and other Arctic locations are concerned. We don't know how many thousands of years this area has played, not just host but indeed home to these tiny yet prodigious travellers. Because many of them spend over 8 months of the year in this watery area, it means that Australia is more than a home away from home, it is their primary feeding habitat; which places critical responsibility on us for their protection and survival.
There are however, troubles in this paradise that can draw birds 8,000 plus kilometres from the other side of the world. Human activity around the estuary is rapidly increasing and this is able to disturb birds. Crabbing waders, boat activity, jet skis and even dogs running along the shore can spook birds. There is also relentless pressure to convert wildlife habitat to housing.
Migratory birds are particularly vulnerable when they first arrive from their long journey. They have expended so much energy and food resources that they must eat within an hour of arrival or they can die as their body is a state of near suspended animation.
These birds have an amazing ability to return to the same roosting location year after year. Should they land at their special spot only to be disturbed by a dog or crabbers they have to find a back up spot fast or they may not survive.
Not far from the Peel Harvey wetlands is a new refuge for birds that is occupied by composting business C-Wise and Craig Mostyn Farms one of the states largest intensive piggeries. On this 400 hectare site at Nambeelup large organic treatment ponds and a nearby natural wetland on the property, combine to offer a quiet, safe, summer bird home. This benefits not only some species of migratory birds from the northern hemisphere but local Australian birds as well.
Andy Gulliver a director of C-Wise asked Ken Monson a keen ornithologist and a member of Birdlife Australia to identify some unusual sightings he had made at Nambeelup. Ken was gobsmacked when he arrived to find a sort of living bird treasure chest.
The water cleaning ponds provide a range of habitats and a rich water biology for shore birds. Even though the area is very close to a composting facility the constant nearby movement of heavy machinery only appears to disturb the birds when these machines move on the roads separating the ponds.
Over 5 years the number of bird species identified at the property is a staggering 120. Thirteen of these species are migratory waders from Arctic areas. The exciting news however is that 3 of the least common species Australia wide of the migratory waders have made Nambeelup their Australian summer home. During consecutive annual national shorebird counts the Nambeelup count has represented up to 75% of these species identified, Australia wide.
The Vice President of Birdlife Australia, John Barkla, participated with Ken in this January's national shorebird count at Nambeelup. John was amazed by the number of shorebird species and particularly excited at the presence of species which are uncommon throughout Australia. He believes that the site is very special and is confident that its very nature and location will continue to attract even more rare species in the future.
A number of the staff at C-Wise have assisted in reporting bird activities and the staff room at the facility has bird ID books and photos around the walls of some of the more unusual sightings. Students from Pinjarra Senior High school who attend one day a week of their engagement course have also assisted in keeping records of sightings.
The Nambellup Wetlands site is gaining a reputation far beyond its boundaries as a safe and private refuge for some of Australia's rarest birds. The fact that it exists as a result of being in the centre of an intensive livestock farming, recycling and composting business is simply extraordinary.
White-necked Pacific Heron
Photo by Ken Monson
Migratory Sharp-tailed Sandpipers
Photo by Ken Monson