Bitterns Booming in Rice

22 Jan 2014 2:12 PM -
An Australasian Bittern in a Coleambally rice crop. Credit: M.Herring

There have been 44 individual bitterns spotted in rice crops so far this season, further emphasising the significance of the population and the value of rice crops as habitat. Most are again in Coleambally but this is likely due to the fact that the core study is being undertaken in this area. There have been a few reports of Bitterns in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Irrigation Areas and ecologist, Matt Herring is very confident that there are at least several hundred bitterns in Riverina rice crops, even though the total crop area is considerably lower this season.

It is becoming clear that that birds don't arrive in the crops until the rice is about 30 cm high, so in mid-December, that meant a smaller proportion of sites supported them. From where they came once the crops were tall enough, we can only speculate. It's intriguing. There are already a few sites that now have rice above 70cm and if last season is any indication, the males will quieten by about mid-February, so there are only three or four weeks of the survey window remaining.

On another positive note, 80-90% of randomly selected rice farmers are aware of the work being done through the Bitterns in Rice project and the significance of the species. This level of awareness is quite incredible and a real testament to the success of the project beyond getting bittern data.

All rice farmers are asked to keep their ears and eyes out for bitterns, especially on dawn and dusk. Sightings can be reported online via the Birdlife Australia website (birdlife.org.au/projects/bittern-project/bitterns-in-rice-project), or by contacting Neil Bull (0428 603 557 nbull@rga.org.au), Andrew Silcocks (andrew.silcoks@birdlife.org.au, 03 9347 0757), or Mark Robb of Coleambally Irrigation (mrobb@colyirr.com.au, 02 6950 2850).

The Bitterns in Rice Project is a collaboration between the RGA and Birdlife Australia, with key support from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation; the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation; the Murrumbidgee and Murray Catchment Management Authorities; Coleambally, Murrumbidgee and Murray Irrigation; Coleambally and Murrumbidgee Landcare; the Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists club; and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.