Narran Wetlands is located on the Condamine-Balonne River System, which originates south-west Queensland, breaks into a number of river systems and eventually flows into the Murray Darling River.

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    “You’ll see them rising thermals in big flocks and the helicopter will be up at 200-300ft and they’ll still be above you,” says photographer Josh Smith of the straw-necked ibis colonies he photographed in March.

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    In 2008 there was about 70,000 nests at Narran Wetlands, and in each year after there have been about 20,000 – each attached to a mating pair of birds. It means that between 40-140 thousand birds have made their way to the 8447 hectare park to mate.

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    To protect the nesting birds Narran Lake Nature Reserve is not open to the public. Only those undertaking scientific studies and rangers have access. “Narran would be one of the best wetlands, certainly in the Murray Darling Basin and in Australia, for colonial nesting water birds,” says Rob Smith the regional manager of Northern Plains National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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    The Narran Lake Nature Reserve contains Clear Lake and Back Lake, which will usually still have water for 4-6 months following an inundation. Rob says that the birds may have dispersed and where they go is still not completely understood. “More could be done to find out what happens after a breeding event,” he says.

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    Straw-necked ibises nest on lignum “a large spindly type of bush” that sticks up above the water,” says Rob Smith the regional manager of Northern Plains National Parks and Wildlife Service. They beat it down and the water protects them from predators he explains.

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    The nature reserve is an internationlly recognised wetland, according to the Ramsar convention, important for its colonial waterbird events and as a drought refuge.

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    “It’s a phenomenal spot and over the last four or five years particularly it has been quite wet through parts of the Murray Darling Basin. The Narran Lakes have had some quite successful breeding events going back to about 2008ish,” says Rob Smith regional manager of Northern Plains National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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    The nature reserve supports 40 migratory bird species, including pelicans says photographer Josh Smith. “The locals tell me that pelicans come here to die, which is interesting. You also see baby pelicans – it’s that life and death thing.”

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    “We tried not to disturb them by getting too close to the nests,” says photographer Josh Smith, who went out to photograph the birds from a chopper in March following the floods in northern NSW and southern Queensland in January and February.

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    Narran Lake Nature Reserve has some of the largest expanses of lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii) – a flood zone bush that survives underwater on which straw necked ibises nest – in NSW.

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    “[E]very piece of lignum will have one… two nesting sites and right next to them you’ll have another one. It’s like a little urban community springs up, full of birds, and what happens is other species tend to come and sit inside the nesting site,” says Rob Smith the regional manager of Northern Plains National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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    Straw-necked ibises have home ranges of up to 20,000km.sq and may follow landscape cues back to their breeding grounds in wet years – these grounds remarkably remain in the same small area.

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Gallery: Migratory birds in Australia

By AG STAFF | August 8, 2012

A few wet years have brought tens of thousands of migratory birds to NSW wetlands.