Birds flood into Lake Eyre

Breeding birds create one of Nature’s wonders

When torrential tropical rains drenched parts of northern Queensland earlier this year, wilflife-watchers in Central Australia looked on in anticipation, because they knew that the floodwaters had to flow somewhere — towards Lake Eyre.

Lake Eyre, in north-eastern South Australia, is situated in one of the most arid parts of the continent, but every few years, floodwaters originating in the tropics flow across the deserts, bubbling along channels and creeks in a slow journey, with Lake Eyre the destination. And it is a slow journey, as it has taken a couple of months for the water to reach the lake. (Previous floods have taken up to 10 months to get there.)

And not far behind the floodwater, a bevy of waterbirds is expected to flood in too.

The most well known of these is the Australian Pelican, which gathers in huge colonies on the islands formed in the newly inundated lake to lay their eggs and raise their young. Most of these birds will have flown in from coastal areas around the country.

Although pelicans tend to hog the limelight at times like this, plenty of other waterbirds also flock to Lake Eyre to breed — ducks, swans, Banded Stilts, Silver Gulls and terns may all travel huge distances to gather to take advantage of the conditions.

Nobody understands how they discover that the lake is flooded, but however they find out, they may fly for hundreds or maybe even thousands of kilometres to get there.

Other birds that usually occur in the region are also likely to take advantage of the moisture in this usually parched landscape to breed. In the typical boom-and-bust cycle that typifies the inland, Budgerigars, Zebra Finches and a host of other arid-habitat birds will breed, building their populations, which will gradually decline again when the good conditions have passed.

Lake Eyre is usually a destination for many tourists during times of flood, and, with so many birds there now and more expected to come in, it’s a great place for birdwatchers to experience one of Nature’s wonders.