Nick Cook, Coordinator of Friends of Lake Claremont, led a group of 16 people (11 members and 5 visitors) around Lake Claremont. While we walked, Nick talked to us about the ecology and natural history of the area and the story of the amazing rehabilitation that has been achieved there.
Nick focussed on the Long-necked Turtle, Chelodina oblonga, which we had learned about from Anthony Santoro in our recent Main Club talk. The turtles were once quite numerous. However, they are now under threat from foxes, which dig up the eggs, but mostly from ravens, which cooperate and learn from each other to flip them over and eat the soft parts. (Corvid predation on turtles is a global problem, and the raven population in cities is inflated because of the rubbish they feed on.) Turtles moving out of the lake to lay eggs are exposed to predators when water levels are low, as are turtles moving across paths, roads and lawn areas. Some fences have been modified so that they don’t block this annual nesting movement. Nick says that more riparian vegetation is needed to give the turtles cover.
A truly spectacular change has occurred in the area through the efforts of the Friends of Lake Claremont. This program of wetland restoration and native plant revegetation has occurred through several management plans, in a highly cooperative partnership with of the Town of Claremont.
The area was originally an ephemeral wetland, and was known as Butler’s Swamp when it was taken up for farming and grazing in the early days of European settlement. In 1850 the land was allotted to pensioner guards for farming, timber was taken out, the water level rose, and the Mooro Aboriginal people were moved out of their territory. It is now recognised as a site of Aboriginal significance. Luckily the area was saved from housing development because of the degradation, and a golf course was established. The Scotch College playing fields now cover some of the original wetland. Stirling Road originally ran through the area, and can be seen at times of low water-level.
In 2009 part of the golf course was closed, a move which caused much anger initially before the public were converted to the idea. A management plan was adopted to return the area to recreation and conservation uses. The Friends of Lake Claremont have so far planted 380,000 plants, along with weeding and mulching programs, to create a buffer zone of native trees and shrubs around the lake. Invasive bulrush (Typha sp) has been eradicated. The result of this rehabilitation is remarkable, with flourishing vegetation replacing weedy ground, and the number of bird species having increased from 80 to 120.
Artificial nesting platforms and standing nest boxes have been built with the help of local school children. Bat boxes have been placed in trees; bats help keep mosquito numbers down. Avian botulism kills many birds, so dead birds have to be collected because maggots would spread the disease when birds eat them. A recent initiative is to re-introduce the yam (Dioscoria hastifolia) to the area – a plant that was staple bush-tucker for the local Aboriginal people.
Nick said that Fairy Wrens have returned to Lake Claremont, that Black Shouldered Kites nest there, and that a Terek Sandpiper (rare in southern Australia) has been spotted. On our walk, with casual observation we counted 12 species of waterbird and 11 of bush birds (2 introduced). They were: Swamphen, Coot, Black Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Grey Teal, Shelduck, Black Swan, White Ibis, Little Black Cormorant, Australasian Grebe, White-headed Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Willie Wagtail, Magpie, Mudlark, Grey Butcherbird, Australian Raven, Welcome Swallow, Singing Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Rufus Whistler, Kookaburra and Rainbow Lorikeet. We had a close-up view of a Willie Wagtail with chicks in the nest.
The Friends of Lake Claremont group is still very active and working with the Town of Claremont. They have use of a large shed for storage. Experts such as Kingsley Dixon and Kit Prendergast are involved for scientific advice, and there are monthly busy bees and monthly “night chats”. The details, and lots of information, are on their website and Facebook page. Thanks to Nick for a very informative walk and talk.
More pictures on Friends Facebook. Scroll to 22 November 2020