Last Tuesday afternoon I drove to Mannum for a meeting. This lovely little town on the banks of the River Murray is about a half hour drive north of our home in Murray Bridge. A local community group called The Friends of the Mannum Walking Trails has asked me to write a pamphlet giving visitors to Mannum a guide to bird watching in and around the town.
It was a good meeting and we were able to deal with the business in a reasonable time. This allowed me about an hour to do a little birding and photography before heading home again. On the northern outskirts of the town there is a bird sanctuary right next to the caravan park. This is usually an excellent birding spot with a good variety of water birds. On this occasion I was a little disappointed and there was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen.
My attention quickly shifted from the birds to the clouds. All afternoon a series of spectacular storm clouds built up over and near the town. These clouds became the focus of my camera.
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Over the last few days I have written about the picnic lunch we had at Swanport Reserve recently. This reserve is a few minutes drove from our home and not far south of Murray Bridge in South Australia. This is a popular picnic area which also attracts people who are birders (like myself – see Trevor’s Birding blog), anglers, tourists and people keen on a variety of water sports.
Adjoining the reserve is the Murray Bridge Sailing Club and the Aquatic Centre. The centre is run and staffed by the Education Department and has a dedicated camping area with cabins for visiting students. School groups come from a wide catchment area to use the facilities here. The activities are mainly water based, teaching the students skills in sailing, skiing, small boat handling, surf boarding, rowing and canoeing. The centre is in high demand.
I had a small stake in the development of the centre in its very early days. About twenty years ago my class grew some trees and bushes for planting out in the grounds of the centre. We also followed this up with boat trips on the river looking at both the natural environment and the historic background of the use of the river in this part of the country.
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On our recent visit to Swanport Reserve we observed several houseboats travelling on the River Murray. This is not unusual on this part of the river. In fact, houseboat holidays in South Australia are very popular and there are hundreds of houseboats for hire, ranging from small boats suitable for two people through to floating mansions catering for up to twelve people (or more). In most cases, all that is needed is a current driver’s licence to operate one of these luxury craft.
Most are fitted out beautifully with en suite bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, entertainment systems with the latest DVD and sound systems, sun deck, barbecue facilities and sometimes even a dinghy and canoes. Some even allow the hiring of a power boat for water skiing, though to drive such a boat requires a special small boat handler’s licence.
I have been on several houseboats over the years but have never driven one, nor have I stayed overnight on one. That dream still waits to see reality – someday soon I hope.
Swanport Reserve is just south of Murray Bridge in South Australia. This small park on the banks of the River Murray is one of our favourite picnic spots. Being a ten minute drive from home is an added bonus.
This park is popular with locals for picnics, barbecues, fishing and various boating activities like canoeing. In the warmer months is also a popular swimming spot, the small beach being a relatively safe area for swimming. (Many other areas along the river are dangerous due to hidden rocks and other objects like the roots of the large trees that line the river.)
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Over much of last year and all of this year the media in Australia have highlighted the terrible plight of the River Murray. The concern is for the whole of the Murray-Darling basin which makes up one-seventh of the continent. A large percentage of Australia’s population relies directly on this vast basin for its water supply or the food produced directly from the water taken for irrigation.
The plight of this river system really came home to me a few days ago when we had a picnic lunch at Swanport Reserve just a few kilometres south of Murray Bridge. The reserve is a ten minute drive from home. The above photo clearly shows that the water level has dropped about a metre below its normal level.
Now a drop of a metre may not seem very much compared with most other river systems, but in this case it is indicative of a very serious problem. Last month, the inflow into the river system was the lowest ever recorded for over 80 years. That lowest ever figure comes after more than 12 months of record low inflows.
The river system is fast running out of water. Some major reservoirs are at all time record low capacities; two of the largest are below 10% capacity.
Severe water restrictions in many parts of Australia are having some effect. Some decent falls of rain in recent weeks have not really eased the situation. What is needed is three to five years of above average rainfall coupled with significant snow falls in the catchment areas.