Those Dam Birds

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Woko
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Those Dam Birds

It’s been a couple of months since our neighbour stopped agisting his cows on another neighbour’s property which has a fairly large dam on it. In spite of the extremely dry conditions we’ve been experiencing here on the south eastern slopes of the Mt Lofty Ranges that dam still has a relatively high level of reasonable quality water compared with the cow-owning neighbour whose dam is low & green with algae.

The absence of stock around the high quality dam has coincided with an influx of water birds several of which I’ve never seen in the 30 years Ms Woko & I have been living here. Dusky Moorhens (3), an Australian Reed Warbler &, today, a Freckled Duck, would you believe? There are two species I haven’t seen in many, many moons: White Ibis (3) &, today, a Black-fronted Dotterel. In addition, numbers of Grey Teal (19) & Pacific Black Ducks (8) have increased significantly & a Little Pied Cormorant is now a regular sighting. 

The signs are that cowlessness is good for birds, especially around dams. 

Devster
Devster's picture

That is very interesting indeed Woko, I know dogs and cats drive away birds but to think cows do as well.

Do you think it has more to do with the quality of water rather than the cows themselves?

Woko
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Good thought, Devster. I suspect water quality has a lot to do with it. Cows certainly add nutrients to the water which helps algae growth. As well, cows contribute to turbidity with the disturbance they cause at the water's edge. Cows also drink a fair bit & so lower the water level. (Hence the line from Away in a Manger "The cattle are lowering.")

I'm not sure about their actual presence being a factor as I think birds fairly quickly learn that cows aren't a direct threat to them.

timmo
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Terrible joke, Woko! (lowing/lowering) :)

I do know that one of the simplest things that has been shown to make substantial habitat and water quality improvements on farms is to just fence off creeks from cattle. It reduces erosion, stops soil dispersion into the creek, stops cattle dung going into the creek and allows riparian vegetation to return and strengthen creek banks.

 Not quite sure how that would convert to dams, but the soil and dung issue would certainly be the same.

Has it had an impact on waterside vegetation at all? I can imagine that cows would compact the soil at the water's edge and kill/impede growth of rushes/grasses etc.

Cheers
Tim
Brisbane

Woko
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Sorry about lowering the tone, Tim.

Yes, the cowless dam has certainly advantaged the native riparian vegetation. In turn this has advantaged the Dusky Moorhens which are usually in or near that vegetation when I see them. 

Roland Breckwoldt’s Wildlife in the Home Paddock, chapter 8, discuses the strategies for making wildlife-friendly dams. The ideas you’ve mentioned, Tim, are in that chapter. 

dougt
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We live on a 5 acre block with a large dam all of which was originally part of a dairy farm.  Live stock do not affect the bird life, they actually help.  As they move about they disturb the insects in the grass and this benefits the insect eating birds.  Up until recently we did have horses and the dam was fenced off to keep the horses out of the dam. Yes manure does affect the water quality however this didn't appear to worry our bird life. We planted a lot of trees particularly local varieties of eucalypts, grevilleas, paperbarks etc.  with overlapping flowering times so that at any one time there would be at least one euc. in flower and the others flower several times a year.  Originally there was not one tree on the property due to the erroneous European farming practise where trees are cut down or removed.

 Light tree cover gives shade and protects the soil plus attracts the birds.  We have gone from zero trees and the odd magpie or crow to a large variety of honeyeaters, Superb and red backed fairy wrens, Double barred and red browed finches plus a variety of nomadic birds.  Pacific black and wood ducks, Ibis, herons,  Australasian grebes and the odd bee eater.  We have a permanent flocks of brown honeyeaters and double barred finches. All of this is at the base of the hills behind Brisbane.  We even get the odd rainforest birds to come down for a drink and a bath.

Woko
Woko's picture

Good work, Doug. Grow local species & they will come.

Ms Woko & I made the mistake of planting too thickly for our area as we've been informed by an ecologist that the original native vegetation structure was a more open woodland than what we now have. However, the extended, long, drawn-out, seemingly never-ending dry period we're experiencing is stressing a number of taller tree & shrub species we & the previous owners planted. It seems we may be reverting to a more open structure with a grassy understorey in the long term. This, we're informed, will advantage threatened species such as the Diamond Firetail Hooded Robin & Red-capped Robin.

We don't have stock on our property so we're advantaged by the recovery of a range of native grasses & other native grassland plants which are great for a range of insects, particularly native butterflies. The native grasses also provide seeds for native finches such as the Red-browed Finch.

Woko
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Update on the dam: The once cowless dam has now become a cowful dam with the beasts making a huge mess of the water & the dam edge where water birds once loafed. There are now a handful of Grey Teal & a solitary Australasian Grebe hanging out on the dam. No more Dusky Moorhens, White Ibis, Pacific Black Ducks, Little Pied Cormorant.

I note that Breckwoldt's book mentioned above & David Lindenmayer et al's Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes mention fencing off dams but allowing watering points for stock (see Tim's post above) so that dam edges don't become a mucky, messy deterrent for water birds. So far this strategy doesn't seem to be on the neighbours' radar.

dougt
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A lot of the problem out our way is people looking for a tree change and haven't a clue on good paddock management. The buy a couple of acres and put 3 or 4 horses on the property to roam free and wonder why the end up with a paddock full of weeds. 

Surely they could do some homework it isn't difficult to divide up the paddocks and rotate their animals say once a fortnight and then clean up the poo just vacated, mow the grass in the paddock and do what ever maintenance required.  

Woko
Woko's picture

That’s a huge problem where I live, too. Fortunately, some horse owners near me have some environmental understanding but others seem intent on wrecking the land. Salvation Jane (Patterson’s Curse) is rearing its ugly purple head once again due to horse disturbance of the soil. 

Woko
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Further dam update: The cows are still messing with the dam but the Grey Teal don’t seem to mind! I counted 34 there today along with the return of two Dusky Moorhens, a pair of Chestnut Teal (I assume it was a pair - it’s hard to tell female Chestnut Teal from Grey Teal) & a solitary Australasian Grebe. Some species seem to be more tolerant of cow mess than others. 

dougt
dougt's picture

Livestock and birds live quite happily together, you often see birds riding on the animals backs picking insect off their hide besides many insect eating birds will follow cattle about to get the insects the cattle stir up.

dougt
dougt's picture

Whats wrong with a warm cow pat on a cold winters morning when you can stand on the pat to get your feet warm or the border collie comes back with a silly green grin on its face from eating some of the pat or even better been rolling in it..

A few years ago we had about 6 or 7 geese move in onto the dam. Damned geese leave great dollops of green "pate" in the pergola.

Woko
Woko's picture

Not to mention Australian Magpies & Ravens turning over the cow pats looking for delicacies. 

However, I suspect the mess the cattle have made of the water’s edge has deterred the Little Pied Cormorant, White Ibis & Black-fronted Plover. I am surprised that the Dusky Moorhens have returned especially since the cattle are destroying the rushes that the Moorhens seek refuge in.

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