Celebrating the first year of Bellingen Riverwatch

A warm meal, critter spotting, and interesting talks about birds, bats and water bugs were all part of the one year celebration of Bellingen Riverwatch held at the Point on Friday evening.

Those assembled enjoyed hearty soups and bread, applauded the citizen scientist volunteers who have been collecting data in the Bellinger and Kalang catchments since August, and heard that the health and diversity of our rivers is “excellent”.

The crowd then split into three groups and spent fifteen minutes at the bugs, bats and birds stations,  each one manned by a different scientific Peter.

Aquatic ecologist Peter Serov, who works for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, spoke about how sampling aquatic invertebrates can tell you about the health of the river and showed off some of the bugs he’d scooped up with his net earlier.

At the bat station, Peter Knock used ultrasonic detection and recording equipment, plus a torch, to point out microbats scooting low over the Bellinger River.

We saw at least ten microbats in as many minutes and Peter was able to identify the different types based on the frequency pattern of their calls, as recorded by his equipment.

One species flashing by was the Fishing Bat, which weighs about 15 grams and captures insects and small fish by raking the surface of the water with the curved claws on its large feet.

Peter said the microbats roost during the day in places such as caves and tree hollows, and also congregate on old timber bridges, so care has to be taken when such bridges are being maintained.

Finally there was professional ornithologist Peter Higgins, who didn’t have any birds to hand but discussed how land clearing that had left only isolated remnants of habitat meant resident populations were vulnerable and were likely to crash when they encountered adverse conditions such as droughts.