Pelican landing at Boat Harbour

Boat Harbour at Hurlstone Park is a man-made rectangular-shaped harbour on the Cooks River on the eastern side of the heritage Sugar Factory building.  It was built for Sea Scouts in the 1960s. The surrounding parklands are particularly lovely & Boat Harbour is a gorgeous, peaceful place that is a haven for waterbirds.

Next to Boat Harbour & opposite the Sugar Factory is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river & the newly created Cup & Saucer Creek Wetland is just a short stroll away towards Canterbury.  If you haven’t been to this area, it makes for a really nice walk or bike ride with plenty to see.  There is plenty of angled parking on Hutton Street which I have never seen full.

Hunting as the water level drops

Pelicans, Darters, Cormorants, Pacific Black Ducks & Seagulls like the area beside & beneath the bridge because an island of rocks & tree branches is exposed at low tide, allowing them to perch more naturally & be together. In reality, there are few places along the river where waterbirds can perch as most trees do not hang over the river & any side branches have been removed. There are very few things on the river itself where birds can sit.  A floating rubbish collection boom curves out from the mouth of Boat Harbour into the river & it is not unusual to see 10 Darters & Cormorants lined up here all facing into the wind.

During some visits to the Boat Harbour many people spoke happily to me about the presence of birds at Boat Harbour. They are always excited about this & usually we have a discussion about how wonderful it is to have so much birdlife in this section of the river.

Boat Harbour has 2 grassy points: a short one on the eastern side of the mouth of the harbour & a peninsula on the western side.  Birds congregate on both points watching the tide until it is time to fish.  The peninsula is the most popular place as it is a long way from people, making the birds feel safe. It is not unusual to see Pelicans, Masked Lapwings, Pacific Black Ducks, any number of Darters & Cormorants, plenty of pigeons, Magpie Larks, a few Ibis, seagulls & other birds that I cannot identify all sitting on the peninsula.

Because the river is tidal, Boat Harbour empties completely. I estimate that it is about 1.50 metres deep when full.  As the tide goes out, Magpie Larks start picking at the exposed riverbed & they do this for hours. Ibis & White-Faced Herons arrive & start digging for crabs. Ducks come too.  The Masked Lapwings & another bird I can’t identify start to look like soldiers scanning the water & the fish start jumping, but they are not big fish.  I’m convinced the fish are trying to see what danger is around because they have to leave Boat Harbour before it empties completely.  It’s a risky business for a fish to get through the mouth of Boat Harbour with all the birds waiting & if the pelicans are in the water, even more dangerous.

Like any watercourse, it changes depending on the tide, but it is always shallow & the opening to the river gets smaller & smaller as the tide goes out. It slowly narrows to less than a metre.

I’ve watched Pelicans waddle over the exposed mud to a deep pond left as the tide goes out & have an entrée of all the fish who got left behind.  When the tide is really low, that’s where the real fun starts.  Some Pelicans leave for somewhere upstream while usually three others stay behind to swim back & forth across the diminishing mouth of Boat Harbour to catch their food.

It really is a wonderful sight. Even if you are walking or riding by, it is nice to look over & see all the birds at this location.  I know that the community is very happy to see so many birds coming to live on the Cooks River.  Even Royal Spoonbills, a bird that doesn’t like disturbance, are being sighted more & more.

Damage done just this week by cars driving to the riverbank

Unfortunately, this is being threatened.  Fishing by humans is starting to impact on the bird life in Boat Harbour in particular.  Unfortunately, people have started driving their cars right into the park to park directly next to the river instead of parking on the road and walking 50-metres down to the riverbank.  Their wheels churn up the grass & native violets leaving deep furrows, as this area is always a bit wet.   The cars also scare away the birds & the presence of cars changes the ambience of the park.

Not all people who come to fish drive in, but they are setting up on both the points of Boat Harbour & often putting up multiple fishing lines.  I’ve watched while holding my breath, little ducks swimming amongst the fishing lines probably looking to see if the people there are interested in throwing some bread to them.

A local told me a white duck was recently found decapitated. Whether this had to do with fishing I don’t know, but there is a feeling in the community that the duck was caught in a line & had its head chopped off.  I was told that its body was untouched & the cut was clean. There is distress in the community about the death of this duck as it was a friendly spirit & because of its colour, very noticeable when it was around.  Even if fishing was not the cause of this duck losing its head, it is only a matter of time before a bird does get injured in this location by nylon lines.

I’ve debated even writing about fishing in this area as I do have thoughts that people should be able to fish where they like. However, I have come to the conclusion that there should be at least one area of the Cooks River that is a no fishing zone & that it should be Boat Harbour for the following reasons.

Pelican & Masked Lapwing on the peninsula at Boat Harbour.

All the Councils along the Cooks River are trying to increase biodiversity by improving the health of the river.  Increasing the bird population is a very good thing & an indicator that the effort to rehabilitate the river is working.  The presence of water birds brings beauty & wonder. Watching the birds teaches people about the river & how it works.  Their presence can result in people respecting the river more. My experience is that the presence of these birds makes people feel happy & in touch with nature.  I have written enough on this blog about how green & nature has a substantial & positive impact on mental & physical health. An active river is a no-brainer. We do benefit from this.

The places where birds congregate on the river from Tempe to Canterbury can be counted on one hand.  There are relatively few ‘natural’ places that are both comfortable & safe for birds to just hang around & watch the river, which is part of their natural behaviour.

Two very significant & naturally safe places for birds are the 2 points of Boat Harbour. Human activity, such as fishing from the points, takes away from the birds the opportunity to do what is natural & essential to them. That is, calculate the tides & fish for their survival. This is deeply concerning because the impact has the potential to get substantially worse.  If the birds cannot fish, they don’t eat. If they can’t find enough food they will leave to somewhere where they can & we will be left with a river depleted of birds.

Yesterday, a very nice man (I spoke to him) set up a number of fishing poles & sat with a rod at the end of the peninsula.  3 children sat with their rods on the other point while their father fished a few metres away on the other side of the rubbish collector boom.  Pelicans & other birds waited with no hope in sight on the boom watching the tide go out. As the people were too close, the birds felt it was far too dangerous for them to fish in the mouth of Boat Harbour. So I guess they went hungry last night.  Is this right or is it just the birds’ tough luck?

I & the birds, I am sure, were thinking that these people could well set up their fishing place just 50-metres away from the points of the harbour so that everyone could be happy.

As an aside, the Bolivian government recently passed the ‘Law of the Rights of Mother Earth’ which gives nature equal rights to humans.

I made a short video of the pelicans fishing at Boat Harbour here – http://bit.ly/whtq6z

3 groups of people fishing, one with multiple lines. 3 Pelicans & a Darter are waiting on the rubbish collection boom as they would usually be hunting for fish at this time. There are 2 ducks swimming around the fishing lines at the mouth of the harbour.

Google map of Boat Harbour. Click to enlarge.

I watched this Dusky Moorhen running back & forth building a nest on the rubbish collection boom. Unfortunately the tide took it all away by the following day.

Showing Boat Harbour emptying. The white dots are birds. There are also ducks & a Heron or two that can't be seen in this shot.

 

 

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