After more than two decades without substantial rain, parched salt lakes and claypans in parts of Western Australia’s Murchison region are once again teeming with life, and wildflowers are beginning to bloom.
- A two-decade wait for winter rain is finally over for some pastoralists
- Full lakes have attracted bird life to the Murchison
- There are predictions of a bumper wildflower season this year
Following the winter rain, water birds including black swans and a variety of ducks have flown inland to make their homes on temporary water bodies, while dormant species like shield shrimp have woken from beneath salt lakes.
At Challa Station, south-east of Mount Magnet, pastoralists Ashley and Debbie Dowden said this season had so far delivered the first “decent” winter rainfall in more than 20 years of 153 millimetres.
While they said the drought which had gripped the region for years had not yet broken, it was a “good start” and ended a series of seasons with below-average rainfall.
The fifth-generation pastoralists said that, importantly, rain had fallen in May, which had germinated winter feed for the property’s Santa Gertrudis-Droughtmaster cattle herd.
Mrs Dowden said usually rock-hard lakes had filled, triggering shield shrimp to emerge from dormancy, swans to appear, and small snail-like creatures to wash onto the banks.
“The whole place just comes to life … it’s just lovely,” she said.
Some pastoralists in the Murchison have still missed out on the rain, while others, including the Dowdens, say it is vital more rains come to allow a depleted seed bank to re-establish itself.
Wildflowers to excite tourists
The Mid West and Murchison is famous for its wildflowers, and while early blooms are appearing already, tourism groups say this season has the potential to be the best for some time for wildflowers further inland around parts of Yalgoo and Mount Magnet.
Long periods without rain in some parts, however, may have taken a toll.
“We’re not sure what the seed bank is like, the seed bank might have been depleted, but if the wildflowers are ever going to grow they’re going to grow this year,” Mrs Dowden said.
At Nalbarra Station, 80km south of Mount Magnet, 183mm of rain has fallen for the year.
It has germinated feed for the dorper damara sheep flock on the property, and lifted the spirits of station manager Rob Lefroy.
Nalbarra operates a station-stay accommodation business, and Mr Lefroy said visitor bookings were filling up for the upcoming wildflower season.
“It gives you a bit more hope. I’ve been on pastoral properties all of my life, and this would have to be one of the driest areas I’ve ever come to,” he said.
After the rain, Mr Lefroy said, the station had been inundated with ducks and swans, which had dispersed across claypans on the sheep station.
“They’re quite amazing birds, where they come from and how they sense where the water is, it’s quite incredible,” he said.
“Bird life at Nalbarra is good … I probably get used to them and say, ‘That’s just a mob of birds’ but birdwatchers have been here and they reckon the species here is quite remarkable.”
While the rain has revived pastures, Mr Lefroy said wild dog attacks remained as the major impediment to sheep and goat production in the region.
A change in spirits
For livestock, winter feed growth is preferable, however with more than two decades without substantial winter rain, pastures in the region have been surviving on summer rain from tropical systems.
Mr Dowden said while the rain had brought them relief and revitalised the region, their cattle were also much happier.
“You can see the changes in spirits when you see them,” he said.
“Just this morning there was a mob of about 20 and there were two or three little calves skipping and bucking and kicking and frolicking.
“It’s something I haven’t seen for a long time.
“Our biggest concern now is that we’ve not seen the germination that we would expect from the amount of rain that we’ve had. I would be expecting a lot more germination of winter feed.
He said it was essential that the region received more than one consecutive winter rainfall season for the seed bank to replenish itself.
“Twenty years without a significant winter rainfall is a long time for that little seed to sit in the ground, and we just hope that we do get another one or two in a row.”