By Johannes Bauer | 29 November, 2015
The farmland outside of 4hills is turning yellow. The grasses have seeded and have died off. There are not many sheep in the hobby landscape around and this is good because if there were, it were only two weeks with no rain away from a ‘summer desert landscape’ as I call it. As long as there is some dense grass cover-however dry- there might be a fire danger but the dry winds will also dry out the soil much less.
Driving through this landscape yesterday on my way to the Global Climate March in Orange (101 people, 7 kids, 5 dogs) I see, between O’Connell and the Lagoon, some 200 or so Straw-necked Ibis foraging in the grey-yellow landscape. They look stunning with their beaky heads as they stand in rows-watching, amongst the sheep- or was it the other way round. I find out why when I get out of the car- lots of little small locusts around 1st to 4th instar I’d guess. They oblige and fly off, circle, make a turn, land again, fly off again. A stunning display as their white and black plumage transforms the pasture and sky. I have ample time to watch and sketch and take some camera shots.
Here on 4 Hills we only had a few sightings over the past 25 years of that magnificent species, always a single transient bird having a brief stop at our little farm dams , but down in the valley when we get out of the farm large flocks of up to ~500 birds can occasionally be seen in summer, once it gets hot and dry further west and they move towards the wetter regions. They also come when there are many grasshoppers around and this year there are signs that populations of the latter have successfully bred and hatched and are building up. Every time I see a flock of straw-necked Ibises I feel I have seen something special. They might not be storks or even cranes, but then they are every bit as interesting and almost as impressive. They also seem to do better in our agricultural landscapes and thrive unlike the former. That makes them special. They might not be as magnificent or as elegant as a crane, or even a stork, but what they have, in abundance – in the true sense of the word- is NUMBERS. Not a common feature of most animals in our modern world. To see large numbers of a large and strikingly coloured species such as the SNI is a magnificent sight.
They and ‘good’ sheep farming are a marriage in heaven as they can, in dry summers when food is getting scarce- and locusts are on the rise, remove a very serious grazing competitor of sheep as our farmers know well. So, having good wetlands and swampy meadows to have good populations of Ibis is very much in the interest of farmers. Some might think they could get the last water out of the swamps to irrigate paddocks, but the subsequent poor breeding success and low numbers of Ibis, which cannot feed on locusts, makes probably that advantage rathe redundant.
~ Johannes Bauer
29 November, 2015