Conserving Corop’s identity (The Brolga) and the value of the region to waterbird conservation

The following is a 2001 article by Matthew Herring, who studied Brolgas across southern New South Wales and northern Victoria for his honours project at Charles Sturt University, Albury, visiting more than 90 different wetlands. More than 200 people, including many from the Corop region, helped keep tabs on the whereabouts of Brolgas for his study. The title of his thesis was “The Brolga (Grus rubicunda) in the New South Wales and Victorian Riverina: Distribution, Breeding Habitat and Potential Role as an Umbrella Species”.

The Corop region has long been synonymous with the majestic flight and trumpeting call of the Brolga, Australia’s most graceful and famous waterbird. Unfortunately though, Corop is in danger of losing its identity. Brolgas are still relatively common across northern Australia (e.g. Kakadu National Park) but the two populations remaining in south-eastern Australia are in big trouble. The south-western Victorian population (including the far south-east of South Australia) still supports around 750 birds but just over a century ago single flocks of over 1400 brids were recorded. The Riverina population (southern NSW and northern Victoria) supports less than 250 birds, including three distinct groups in northern Victoria (Kerang–Echuca–Dingee, Corop–Stanhope–Rushworth and Yarrawong–Katamatite–Dookie), which together comprise only about 100 individuals. The Corop region itself was known to support hundreds of Brolgas as recently as 50 years ago.

The dramatic decline of the Brolga is primarily a result of habitat lass. However, they were once so common that they were shot and poisoned. And now, not only are we cursed with such low numbers in the south, but there is also a paucity of younger birds, with only one out of every 25 Brolgas being less than two years old. The Corop wetlands are by far the most important area for Brolgas in northern Victoria, with around 40 resident birds. However, the significance of these great wetlands for Brolgas is not just restricted to northern Victoria. For example, it appears One Tree Swamp is the only wetland in Victoria that consistently supports more than one breeding pair.

Not only are the wetlands around Corop important for Brolgas but they also provide habitat for more than 60 other waterbird species. Quite a few of these are also threatened with extinction. Others are migratory shorebirds (waders), which come from other countries to visit Australia, like the Red-necked Stint that comes from Siberia each year to spend summer here. Wetlands with open mudflats are essential for many of these migratory shorebirds. Large remnant Canegrass (Eragrostis australasica) wetlands (which often have Lignum, Spike-rushes or Cumbungi present as well), like One Tree and Two Tree Swamps, not only provide breeding habitat for Brolgas but also support other rare or threatened birds that are dependent on wetlands. Last year, such species included Australasian Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Freckled Duck, Blue-billed Duck, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern and White-bellied Sea-Eagle. In fact, the Corop wetlands are comparable to the well-known and internationally recognised Macquarie Marshes in NSW.

In July last year Lake Cooper [2000] supported at least 320 Double-banded Plovers, a species that only breeds in New Zealand and winters in Australia. This is a nationally significant count, representing greater than 1% of the entire population wintering in Australia. It warrants the listing of Lake Cooper as a wetland of international significance under the RAMSAR wetland convention, which will be a great honour for region. More attention should be given to protecting the remaining wetlands in the region and developing appropriate water, grazing and fire regimes, couple with fox control programs. The wetlands around Corop are remarkably special and a wonderful asset to the local community and all Australians. They deserve our attention and require efforts to adequately protect and manage them for future generations. I am indebted to all those who have helped me with this study. Waterbrids are one thing but the Corop region also supports a wonderful community of kind people. Thanks for having me.

Matthew Herring