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Bird numbers drop

Monday, 31st December, 2018

Rainbow Bee-Eaters at Menindee in January last year. They breed at the lakes but have not returned this year. PICTURE: Geoff Looney Rainbow Bee-Eaters at Menindee in January last year. They breed at the lakes but have not returned this year. PICTURE: Geoff Looney

By Craig Brealey

A former river guide at Menindee says he has never seen so few birds on the lakes.

“It’s been a strange year,” said Geoff Looney, who conducted fishing and birdwatching trips for 13 years.

Mr Looney is also a photographer who posts pictures of the lakes, the Darling River and birdlife on his Facebook site “Menindee NSW Outback Photography”.

They go back many years and chronicle the good times and then the destruction of the lakes system, the river and the wildlife around Menindee where he lives. 

Earlier this month Mr Looney documented the death of an estimated 10,000 native fish in the river. Most of the native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin are born in the Menindee lakes. 

The lakes are also a breeding ground for a variety of birds, many of them migratory, and Mr Looney said that he had counted 208 different species over the years.

But this year some of the regular visitors had not arrived, he told the BDT, including one of his favourites, the Rainbow Bee-Eater.

“They are very pretty birds, although they are not very attractive to beekeepers! 

“They nest in sandy banks and they particularly like the levee banks on the northern side of Wetherell.

“They migrate as far as New Guinea and Darwin and come back to breed here in the springtime.

“Usually they’re everywhere this time of year but I have not seen one, although a friends said he saw a couple.

“There aren’t many Kingfishers, either.”

Two years ago the lakes were full and now they hold less than five per cent of their capacity but Mr Looney said it was not only the lack of water, but the heatwave that could be keeping birds away.

“There’s still a little bit of water in Pamamaroo. I saw about 2000 pelicans on Pamamaroo the other day.

“They’re pumping it into Copi which is quite full. They’ve surcharged Copi for Broken Hill’s water supply.

“But we had full lakes in 2016, six or eight years of water in them, and then they drained them again.”

The poor quality of the water left in the lakes and the river had also killed the thousands of perch, boney bream and Murray cod at Menindee two weeks ago, said Mr Looney.

The NSW Department of Industry - Fisheries blamed a run-off of water into the river from rainfall but this was unlikely, he said.

“It takes a lot of rain to get back to the river. You would have to get a good inch but this just came in spits and spats.

“To get a run-off it has to be continuous. Only once have I seen the river run from rain.”

Mr Looney photographed the river at the time and he said its colour was unnatural.

“All of a sudden it got terribly green. You wouldn’t believe it was the same river.

“I think that water came from the lakes and was being sent down to fill the block banks (on the Lower Darling).

“To see those cod dead was such a shame, because you don’t see them very often.

“It’s just bad water conditions. They die and drop to the bottom. When you see them floating on top they are always rotten.”

Mr Looney ran his boating trips from 1993 to 2006, and in 1998 his business made the top 10 in the NSW Tourism Awards.

“I started the fishing trips and used to take people out in the truck. Then I bought a big boat and a motor and it was really good.

“I was on the pension and I was getting 300 or 400 people a year.

“It’s just a shame things are going the way they are.”

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