Originally what is now Lake Claremont was a swamp with a series of small pools edged with reeds and then surrounded by paperbark trees. There was abundant plant an animal life and it was an important hunting and gathering place for the Mooro clan of the Nyoongar in the warmer months of the year.
In 1831 European settlers began to clear the land for farming and by the 1890’s there were market gardens and a then state of the art dairy farm. Things looked good and the area prospered. However, this state of affairs was short lived as by the turn of the Twentieth Century the water level rose and the farms were flooded and a permanent lake which rises and falls with the seasons was formed. In the 1950’s Claremont Town Council reclaimed large areas for a rubbish tip and renamed it Lake Claremont in the process. In the 1960’s it was decided to beautify the lake and its surrounds. Sections were infilled to create a golf course and the school playing fields. In time two small bird sanctuary islands were created and there has been a move to manage the the lake in a more ecological manner. The Friends of Lake Claremont are an enthusiastic and very active bunch of local residents and volunteers who have undertaken to assist in the conservation and enhancement of Lake Claremont. There activities have been crucial in weed eradication programs and revegetation projects working in tandem with pupils fromScotch College and Graylands Primary School. They also have annual public events including Clean Up Australia Day, National Tree Day and Celebrate Lake Claremont Day (community fair). More details can be found on their website.
So that was then and this is now. What does the lake offer today? Well the wetlands of the Swan Coastal Plain are internationally acknowledged as a bio-diversity hotspot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Since colonisation three quarters of the wetlands have been drained for urban development. Those that remain are adversely effected by the introduction of feral animals and plants. In this context Lake Claremont is like a biosphere. In the past ten years or so eBird Australia has listed 116 species of bird that can be found on or around the lake which makes it somewhat of a birders paradise. The path around the lake and the bird observation platform make it easy to spot birds all year round. To make it so that you know what you are looking for you can down load an illustrated brochure listing the birds from the Town of Claremont website.
In addition to the nature based activities there is a 3 Km dual use path that circumnavigates the lake which is very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists. Dogs are welcome on a lead. The walk is enjoyable all year round and if you start the car park and head off in a clockwise direction then you can stop at the TeeBox Cafe shortly before returning to the car park. For the youngsters who need to burn off some energy before looking at the ducks there are two playgrounds. If dad doesn’t care for looking at the ducks then he has the option of playing a quick nine holes of golf.
What do you do when you’ve got 2 hours to kill while in the Wheatbelt metropolis of Northam? Go looking for Black-fronted Dotterels that’s what! These busy little birds can be found on the muddy shoreline looking for insects and small molluscs.
Over the last few days my FaceBook feed has been seeing some seriously tasty bird photos from one of the groups that I belong to. The photos all come from one area– New Victoria Dam which is 30Km east of Perth on the Darling Range in Korung National Park. So when the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) announced she was competing in a croquet competition at a location just 20 minutes drive away I immediately volunteered myself as driver.
There are two starting points to the walk and which you choose will largely depend upon when you visit. If you visit outside of office hours Monday to Friday or anytime at the weekend then y ou have to use the upper carpark as your start point as the access road is shut. During office hours you can drive down to the lower carpark keeping in mind that if stay till after 5pm then you won’t be able to drive out. I started at the upper carpark which only adds 800m each way to the walk. The walk consists of a 7Km round trip down past the New Victoria Dam to the Old Victoria dam wall and the garden and picnic area. There used to be a path through the trees at the edge of the road but it has become quite overgrown and indistinct so you are best walking along the access road. As you walk down the road on your left is the gravesite of Francis Weston who died in 1876 aged two days, his parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley. When you get to the lower carpark walk through it and then follow the trail markers. After walking through the forest you come to New Victoria Dam. Walk down the steps and at the bottom turn right onto the road and walk down to the remains of the Old Victoria Dam.
The original dam was built in 1891 and pumped water via pipelines to Kings Park and a reservoir there on Mount Eliza. The dam became the first permanent water source for Perth and was operated by the private City of Perth Waterworks Company. As the water catchment area took in agricultural land and timber settlements there were fears that it would be polluted by raw sewage and excrement from livestock. Between 1895 and 1900 typhoid broke out in Perth and 425 people died. The water was tested and found to be contaminated so the government took control and made changes to prevent re-occurrence. By 1988 the concrete structure was beginning to degrade to such an extent it could no longer be repaired so in 1990 work on the new dam commenced and because of the use of roller compacted concrete it was completed by the following year. It can hold 9.5 million kilo-litres and is used to supply drinking water to Kalamunda and Lesmurdie.
In the lee of the old dam there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and one-sided bottlebrush or claw flower have been planted and the thick vegetation along the creek line provides dense cover for a number of bird species. On this trip I used the picnic gazebo as an impromptu bird hide and spent a couple of hours watching the various birds feed and drink. I sawred-eared firetails, mistletoe birds, splendid fairy wrens, western spinebills, new holland honeyeaters, white faced herons and rosellas. The dam spillway feeds water to the pond and creek that provides a year round water supply which means that the birds are always active all here. If you are there at dawn or dusk then kangaroos can be seen feeding on the grass. It is a great little spot and doesn’t require too much effort to get there.
The last few mornings dog walks have been spiced up by some very territorial brown goshawks. As we walk along the river and then down onto the river bed we can hear them calling and chattering. It then goes quiet for a second or so and then there is a loud whoosh as you are buzzed from behind. As the bird passes overhead you can feel the air current generated by its wings. At first I thought the birds were objecting to the dog but I and this pattern persisted for about a week. But then something happened that disabused me of that notion – my hat suddenly became the victim of a bird of prey. The last time it happened they managed to knock it off my head. I’m beginning to think my bicycle helmet may be more appropriate headwear.
South of the Swan River is a string of lakes known as the Beeliar Wetlands which are a chain of twenty six lakes stretching from Manning Lake in Hamilton Hill to Madura Swamp near Mandurah Wetlands. Nineteen of those lakes and associated wetlands have been incorporated into the Beeliar Regional Park. This extensive belt of wetlands that has been widely acknowledged as a biodiversity hot-spot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Within this the Nyoongar with their hunter-gatherer life-style managed the land with their fire-stick farming and survived by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants, including wattle seeds. Since colonisation three-quarters of these wetlands have been drained for urban development. What remains has suffered untold damage through the introduction of feral animals and plants. Thankfully Australia is a signatory of the Ramsar Convention and several key wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain have been set aside for conservation. Bibra Lake is the fourth lake (heading southwards) in that chain of lakes that makes up Beeliar Regional Park. Whitefellas believe that they discovered the lake in 1842 and named it after the bloke who bought the land in 1843, one Benedict von Bibra. The Nyoongar say they have known about the lake since time began and to them it known as Walubup.
I first went to Bibra Lake about thirty years ago and thought it was a bit boring and hadn’t been back until the other week. I was called upon for driving duties for the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) and I was left with a morning to kill. So I looked in my copy of Birding Sites around Perth by Ron Van Delft (sadly out of print and unavailable now) and saw that Bibra Lakes was nearby and rated as a good location for birding. The down side to this was that we were experiencing the first major cold front of winter and that meant it was bucketing down and blowing a gale. So suitably swathed in Gore-Tex and equipped with a suitably weather resistant camera I headed off to walk around the lake not expecting to see much.
Initially I thought that with it raining I had more chance of photographing ducks as it was the perfect weather for them. There were quite a number of different species on the shore and the water. I was quite taken by the Shovelers and the Pink Eared Ducks. The Shovelers are quite a string looking duck with colouring and almost disproportionately large bills. They can often be seen foraging in shallow water where they filter water through their bills insects looking for insects, crustaceans and a variety of plants. Such a specialised mode of feeding means that they are limited to certain types of habitat such as freshwater swamps and lakes with large reed beds. Shovelers also tend to hang out with pink-eared ducks which are so called because of the patch of pink feathers on the sides of the drakes head. Like the Shovelers they too are filter feeders. As the walk moved through areas of paperbark and sheoak trees then smaller insect eating birds were seen such as Willie Wagtails, Grey Fantails, Silvereyes, and various types of wrens. Over all as I did the 8.5 Km walk I saw 18 different species of bird which I felt was a pretty good haul considering the weather conditions. So I’ve revised my opinion of Bibra Lakes and will not wait another 30 years before my next visit.
If you are interested in the birds that can be seen at Bibra Lakes, and indeed throughout the Beeliar Wetlands Birding WA has a useful webpage that gives info on the species that can be seen and where. Birdlife Australia put out a couple of useful brochures which can be got from regional visitors centres or downloaded as PDFs from their website. The brochures are:
Sometimes I think that have got to be easier ways to enjoy birding and bird photography than dragging 3.5Kg of camera and lens quietly through the bush and trying to get a picture of something that is literally so flighty that the slightest sound sees your subject leave at a tremendous rate of knots.
Case in point. Not so long ago Beloved Significant Other (BSO) went for a trip to Lake Leschenaultia in Chidlow. I spent an age crawling around in the bush looking for a cooperative subject. In that time every small twig that I inadvertently trod on sounded like a thunder clap that sent all the wildlife scurrying for cover in a 5Km radius.
Even if you manage to creep up on a suitable subject you then have the problem of photographing something that is 5-10cm and hoping and twitching around like a meth user suffering from St Vitus’ dance while you are trying to track it and keep it in focus as it darts in and out of the foliage. So I’ve come up with an easier method. The BBQ. If you have BBQ in Australia every animal in the neighbourhood will be trying to relieve you of your food. The little buggers will climb into your lap and pose for photos if food is involved.
Birds were so much easier back in England. I wrote earlier about how Australian Robins come in an assortment of colours and not just the red breasted ones I grew up with. Well walking down the river bed the other day I see this.
It’s obviously some sort of robin thinks I as I walk along pondering this new bird. WRONG!!!! It’s a mistletoe bird. First robins come in multiple colours and now birds with red breasts aren’t robins. I think I’m going to stick with penguins – they’re black and white and easy to identify.
Back in September I wrote about the various birds nesting in the garden. Well autumn is now here and I thought I’d write an update. The white browed babblers have successfully hatched all their eggs which means there has been a population explosion. They are quite curious birds as they live in communal nests and have separate nursery nests as well which they all take turns in raising the chicks. Well now they are embarking on a building program to make a new communal sleeping nest for all the new adults. As a result these funny little grumpy birds are flying in building materials at a great rate of knots.
We were also quite delighted to have a visitor. While we were talking one afternoon I spotted a Nankeen Kestrel hunting in the field opposite. It didn’t catch anything and left empty-handed. I thought that was that when I heard a bump from the TV aerial so we both ran outside to look, me with my camera and Helen with her binoculars. Sure enough the kestrel had decided our aerial would make a very good observation perch. It remained there quite unfazed for quite a while. It was only when I tried to get closer for a better photo that it decided to leave.