Leaving Glenrowan, we drove a few km west to an area now called the Winton Wetlands. The area was formerly called Lake Mokoan – a dam built in the late 1960’s, but decommissioned in 2009 and left to revert to the natural wetlands that stood there before.
We found the Winton Wetlands in our walking guide and thought that it sounded good and the perfect place to find some birds. We learned that the wetlands are the largest wetlands restoration project in the southern hemisphere and one of the world’s most significant environmental missions. The area used to be a wetlands/swamp area teeming with life until it was flooded in 1971 to make an ill-conceived dam for recreation and water storage. Only problem was the area was too flat for it ever to work properly and much of the water ended up evaporating and it suffered frequent outbreaks of blue-green algae. They also needed more water to put back into the dying Snowy River that they mucked up with the Snowy Hydro scheme!!!!!!
The flooding killed an estimated 200,000 trees, some of which were several hundred years old, so today much of the area is covered in eerie tree skeletons which made it quite atmospheric to camp in there. In recent years about 50,000 trees have been replanted. It is expected that the area will take hundreds of years to be restored to its former beauty.
The restoration project includes promoting tourism and as part of the attraction, several unique art installations have been setup – some shown in the cluster below. A particularly intriguing involves several tree skeletons that have been carefully painted so that they form the image of fish when lined up. We ended up camping on what the car GPS system still showed as an island in the middle of the lake – again demonstrating the impressive water crossing abilities of the Prado.
In contrast to the more well known Winton in Queensland, which we visited earlier (Winton and the dinosaurs) and which is also no doubt still well and truly wet after the recent flooding, the Winton in Victoria was almost totally dry. Although the area floods naturally to produce the wetlands, these frequently dry out as was the case when we visited. However despite the lack of water there was still plenty to see and we enjoyed a couple of good walks: one in the late evening along the former dam wall where we could look down on the few remaining bits of water and a second the following morning which ran along the eastern shore of what would have been the largest wetland area (if it had water in it) or what would have been either underwater or on a long skinny island when there was a dam – rather confusing.
Although the campsite appears dry and dusty, it was a welcome contrast to have hot weather and an open sky overhead after several days of camping in valleys and/or under trees. I just had to include the beautiful toilets here. They are the best long drops we have come across on this trip. Big, clean, fresh smelling and with tap water to wash your hands. Something to sing about really.
Even when dead, the trees were still offering shade to some desperate kangaroos. On the right is a shot taken through an old water tank on its side. There seemed to be a lot of birds of prey here possibly due to all the dead trees
Views from the evening dam wall walk looking into the wetlands. Most of the grassy areas flood naturally, but in dry times like these only a few small pools remain – mostly in holes that we created to build the dam wall. Mt Buffalo can be seen in the distance with the horn, which we climbed a few days ago on the right.
Farmlands and dust bathing alpacas down stream of the former dam.
Galah (left) and (right) roosting red rumped parrots (also spot the eastern rosella at the top which seemed to be upsetting the parrots)
It was a good feeling to be briefly back in what felt like dry central Australia – a wedge-tailed eagle silhouette.
Some birds near our camp – brown falcon, brown tree-creeper and black-faced cuckoo-shrike
The lookout over the main wetland area on our morning walk from an old photo showing it full of water.
This is what it looks like dry.
Some more art installations on our morning walk. The one on the left represents a long-necked turtle and was built by 3 of the local Yorta Yorta aboriginal people. On the right is an image of one of the early European settlers – Hilda Bain
Birds seen on the morning walk – red rumped parrot; cockatoo and brown falcons playing/fighting/trysting?
The 700 year old red gum left behind! This one was fortunate to be just high enough to not be flooded, but the high water mark from the former dam does seem to have eroded around its roots and it looks a bit sickly – hopefully it will survive. On our travels we just keep finding beautiful places that we have destroyed and where we have lost plants/ animals or birds forever.
Despite the dead look of this place we saw more birds and kangaroos/wallaby’s here than in the heavily wooded high country. There just always seems to be more birds in dry areas, as long as there is a bit of water around.
A good news story though is the turquoise parrot which we learned a bit about here . We will write about this one in a later blog.