Our April 28 outing was to the Alcoa Wellard Wetlands, near the intersection of Kwinana Freeway and Mundijong Road. A small group of seven members was boosted by the attendance of five visitors who had learned of the walk on Meetup; it was a beautiful autumn morning.
The Wellard Wetlands are a series of freshwater lakes created by Alcoa during the extraction of clay to line the residue ponds associated with the Kwinana Aluminium Refinery. Their creation has resulted in a wetland with suitable habitat for a large number of waterbird species. A number of bird hides have been installed to allow viewing of the birds without causing disturbance. Trees and shrubs planted around the lakes have also become habitat to many species of woodland birds and we spotted Red Wattlebirds and Red-capped Parrots while signing in for the walk.
As we made our way to the first bird hide, we walked along a path that hosted a large number of small conical pits in the sand; these traps were created by Antlion larvae. The Antlion stays submerged below the sand as it waits for an ant to become trapped in the sandy depression, before bursting out to catch its prey.
The view from the first hide was of a lake that still held good water levels but had surprisingly few birds. Black Swans, Eurasian Coots, Hardhead, Musk Duck and Hoary-headed Grebes were spotted singly or in pairs.
Heading along the track towards the other lakes we spotted Australian Magpies in the grassed paddock and both Inland and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, together with Weebils, Western Gerygone, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail and Singing Honeyeater amongst the foliage of the eucalypts that lined both sides of the track. Australian Ringnecks were also busy up in the canopy. The large lake system at the end of the track held a greater number of waterbirds. Grey Teal, Little Black Cormorants, Pacific Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, Eastern Great Egret, Little Egret, White Ibis and Yellow-billed Spoonbills were present with Grey Teal the most numerous. As we viewed the lake, a large group of Little Black Cormorants were seen swimming together towards the shore of an island in the centre of the lake. They appeared to be herding a school of small fish into the shallows and as they approached the beach they all dived to catch their prey. A lone Australian Darter was also fishing in that area. The eastern side of this large lake is shallower and has sandbars that are used by both large and small waterbirds. Pelicans are regularly seen flying in and out of the lakes and use the sandbars for preening their plumage after having a wash in the fresh water. Australian Shelducks were also resting on the sandbars. Small and medium sized waders also make use of the sandbars for foraging and Pied (or Black-winged) Stilts, a Common Sandpiper, Red-capped Plovers and Black-fronted Dotterels were spotted.
The wetlands are known to host both Tiger Snakes and Dugites, so we kept a careful watch as we walked along the track towards the eastern edge of the lake. However, it was still a surprise to Chris Punter and me to come within three metres of a Tiger Snake without noticing it.
As it became aware of our presence, it started to flare its head and flick its tongue in and out but otherwise was fairly relaxed as a few of us took some photographs and others came to view it as it slowly moved away across the track in search of cover.
Further along the track, while watching the Dotterels on the sandbar, our gaze was drawn to the sky as a large raft of Grey Teal took to the air. The cause of the commotion soon became evident: a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle was gliding over the lake. It slowly flew towards us, eventually passing overhead—a majestic sight. Whistling Kites were also spotted soaring above the lakes.
As we headed back to the car park, Splendid Fairy-wrens were seen in the low shrubs along the track and Australian Ravens and Grey Butcherbirds were added to our list for the day.
Back at the entrance we said farewell to the visitors who had all enjoyed the walk and said they would keep an eye out for future advertised walks. We then had a well-earned morning tea close to the first bird hide and reflected on the morning’s sightings. In total we had spotted 38 species of birds—around par for this location, though total number of birds was lower than in previous visits at this time of the year, probably due to the fact that many of the region’s ephemeral wetlands still held water thanks to the decent late winter and spring rains followed by a relatively mild summer. Nevertheless it had been a very enjoyable morning.