Next time you're on the Federal Highway, north-east of Canberra, look for the birds on Lake George

The birds are back on Lake George

Lake George is watery again. After years of driving past and wondering why on earth that arid expanse was called a lake, you now see why.

The birds know. They're back in their thousands: black-winged stilts, teal, waders, silver gulls, swans and ducks of every stripe, from the Pacific black duck to the Australian shell duck.

The flocks and the avian loners are at their most numerous on the eastern side where the deeper water lies. The snag for humans is that the birds - sensibly enough - are on the furthest side from the highway.

But more are expected as the season changes and more migrate.

"These last two years have been a blessing for water birds. At long last, they can breed up in numbers," the recognised expert on the birds of Lake George, Michael Lenz, said.

Ornithologist Michael Lenz back with the birds on Lake George. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Ornithologist Michael Lenz back with the birds on Lake George. Picture: Keegan Carroll

"The lake has been drying for many years and I thought I would never see it full again but I am now very happy that I can see an almost full lake."

Mr Lenz is part of the Canberra Ornithology Group and he's been monitoring birds at the lake since 1979, through wet and dry. He was a birdwatcher as a boy more than half a century ago in Germany.

He says that there would be even more birds on Lake George at the moment if it weren't so wet in other parts of Australia.

Heavy rain over a wide area means more choice of water for water birds.

Lake George in wetter times during the 1990s. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

Lake George in wetter times during the 1990s. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

"When it's drier inland and the lake is wet, the birds come for food and rest, and then when the inland breeding grounds get rain, the birds migrate," Mr Lenz said.

Some birds breed elsewhere and then head to Lake George to moult and change their plumage.

"The breeding season is finished so they have raised their young, and now they change their main plumage and they gather here - up to 2000 of them - they come from as far South Australia and Tasmania.

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"At the moment, it's good for birds. In the recently flooded areas, there's more release of nutrients so they find more food."

In the past, he has seen pelicans on the lake, attracted by fish.

"The lake has many fish. It has six creeks which run into it," the ornithologist said.

And in drier times. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

And in drier times. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

On top of that, fish were once released in the hope of encouraging sports fishing - but then the water levels fell and the hopes of finding fish dried up.

Even the current water level falls short of what might be. At one time, the lake lapped the edge of aptly-named Lake Road.

It has something of a mystique to Canberrans. It feels like part of an ancient land - because that's what it is, formed some five million years ago when the escarpment rose up to enclose it.

When it's full, it stretches to 30 kilometres and 11 kilometres wide, with a depth of seven metres. It can be misty when it's sunny and clear in Canberra.

Racing on Lake George in the Canberra Yacht Club's opening regatta on October 1, 1961. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

Racing on Lake George in the Canberra Yacht Club's opening regatta on October 1, 1961. Picture: Tim the Yowie Man

Even the towering wind turbines on the eastern side give it a kind of mystery like some sort of giant presences waiting to walk forward.

Weereewa, as Lake George is called in the local Indigenous community, was known for its bad spirits and a bunyip, a mythical creature of Aboriginal legend which haunts swamps and billabongs.

In modern times, it had a more prosaic reputation, as a place for speedsters who diced with death and lost the gamble. The straight road along the western shore was adorned with impromptu memorials.

There are myths deep in the water. It's a site for alien landings, according to some. Others are said to have seen a mysterious girl in white, only to be told that exactly such a girl drowned 30 years earlier.

The ghosts and aliens are as thin as air.

But the mystique of the lake has not vanished - nor have the birds.

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This story The birds are back on mystical Lake George first appeared on The Canberra Times.