Despite welcome rain earlier this week, many of our creeks and rivers are still parched - mere trickles of their normal flow at this time of year.
Over recent weeks this column has received several emails from readers concerned about not only the low water levels but also the impact of this on native plant and fish species.
"I've never seen Kambah Pool this low," states Larry Appley of the well-known swimming spot on the Murrumbidgee River, adding "many of the casuarina trees are dying".
"With such little water one can only imagine the impact on the poor fish," pleads Rose Higgins, also of Kambah, and a regular visitor to the 'bidgee for the last 40 years.
Earlier in the week your Akubra-clad columnist checked on a couple of this column's favoured haunts along the river, to see just how low water levels were. It was depressing, especially at Tharwa beneath the village's iconic four-span Allan Truss bridge, where the once mighty Murrumbidgee was reduced to barely a series of ponds.
However according to Mark Lintermans, a freshwater scientist at the University of Canberra's Institute of Applied Ecology, when compared to many other waterways in the region, the Murrumbidgee isn't faring that badly.
So low are the flows in some of the tributaries to the Lachlan River near Gunning, including the Blakney and Urumwalla Creeks, that for several months Lintermans and his team of fish ecologists have been rescuing fish from the last remaining pools he says "have been drying up before our eyes".
"They may not flow all year round, and it is natural to dry down to waterholes, but not for those waterholes to completely dry out," reveals Lintermans, who has been rescuing Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis), and rushing them to holding tanks at a NSW government fish centre at Narrandera.
According to Lintermans, the perch only exists in three spots in NSW, and if the drought continues the species may be pushed to the brink of localised extinction.
So what about our native fish in the Murrumbidgee? While the situation isn't as dire as on the Lachlan, the reduced flow and drying up of some waterholes is having an impact on native fish, especially the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) and its close relative, the native Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis).
"To escape the hot water on the surface of the river these fish retreat to the bottom of deeper pools," reports Lintermans, adding "but unfortunately these holes often have lower levels of dissolved oxygen, forcing the fish back to the surface to more oxygen-rich but hotter water, stressing them further."
You'd think record-high temperatures and the drought would be enough for our fish to have contend with. But according to Lintermans the recent fires could also have a detrimental impact on some native fish, especially if thunderstorms like we received earlier this week wash ash from denuded fire grounds into the river.
"The ash can smother their gills and kill them," warns Lintermans, adding "but the severity of the problem all depends on how much ash is washed into the waterway".
"It all depends how much of the catchment is burnt and how quickly the rain falls", he explains.
There are also possible longer-term impacts of fires on our native fish population. According to Lintermans, "if an area has been denuded by fire, heavy rain can cause gully erosion, resulting in gravel and rocks washing into the river and filling up the deep pools that the fish use as a refuge from high water temperature or predatory birds".
"This is exactly what happened in 2003 after the Canberra bushfires, especially along part of the Cotter River," he explains.
However, there's one waterway that Lintermans isn't taking any chances with when it comes to storms washing in ash from nearby firegrounds - a tiny section of the Tantangara Creek in the Snowy Mountains.
In fact, at the first sign of rain on the forecast late last week, Lintermans raced down to rescue some Stocky Galaxias (Galaxias tantangara) - a tiny native fish that only lives in a three-kilometre stretch of the alpine stream.
"The upper section of the Tantangara Creek is separated from the remainder of the creek by a seven-metre-high waterfall which introduced trout (who prey on the Galaxias) haven't penetrated," explains Lintermans, who was worried that large amounts of ash entering the tiny stream (just one metre wide and 10 centimetres deep) would bring the fish one step closer to extinction.
Luckily Lintermans and his team arrived just before the cloud burst, and by their expert use of electrofishing (a harmless technique in which fish are momentarily stunned, allowing them to be collected) caught 142 fish and transported them to the Gaden fish facility near Jindabyne where, according to Lintermans, "they are tucked up securely in a temperature-controlled aquarium".
"There's probably less than 2000 fish in the creek, so if it all turns to custard and we lose the population in the wild then hopefully those we have rescued will eventually breed and we can re-establish a population in the creek," Lintermans says.
Unfortunately, the fish are also threatened by the impact of feral animals such as horses, which erode and muddy stretches of their creek. But that's a story for another day.
For now, let's be thankful that Lintermans and his team have managed to give this little native fish every chance possible to avoid extinction.
Did You Know? Other rare species of Galaxias are facing the same challenges, especially near the top of the Tuross River (Galaxias brevissimus) and in the shadow of Mt Kosciuszko (Galaxias supremus).
The other Pooh's Corner
While Pooh's Corner on the Kings Highway at Clyde Mountain is one of our best-known and most-loved local landmarks, the proliferation of bears has spread to another roadside stop on the way to the coast - in a cave along the Nerriga to Nowra Road.
"About five years ago a couple of teddies mysteriously started to appear, but no one knows why," states Phil Smith, publican of the Nerriga Hotel, adding that since then their numbers had grown and grown and it's now a popular photo stop, especially for those travelling with children.
If you are heading down the coast, the teddies are located at the Bulee Gap, a rocky sandstone outcrop complete with cliffs and pancake stack rock formations located not far past Nerriga. Look out for the sign "Old Wool Road Heritage Area, Next 4 km".
Given we already have a name for the Kings Highway teddy hang-out, I think we need a different name for this copycat cave, which like its Clyde Mountain cousin mostly survived the fires. Any ideas?
The walk with no name
Still on names, several readers answered this column's shout-out for suggestions as to what to call the proposed 600-kilometre, 400-beach walk along the South Coast from Bundeena, near Sydney, south to the Victorian border (October 12, 2019).
Jeff Allen, a self-confessed "coastie", likes the idea of "Nature Coast Walk". Malcolm Grieve is a fan of "The George Bass Coast Walk". And Tom Bartlett, who has already walked the route in its entirety and "despite a lot of sand, loved every bit of it", suggests "The Very Great South Coast Walk".
However, not everyone is a fan of the concept.
"This proposal is not a win-win for all," writes Greg Marks, who believes "it will probably lead to commercialisation and overuse".
"I think we need to be a little circumspect when it comes to such proposals," says Greg, who argues "there is more than enough boosterism around these days".
WHERE IN CANBERRA
Clue: The $750 stairway
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Last week: Congratulations to Sue Hogg of Red Hill, who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as a bronze statue of French explorer La Perouse, who landed in Botany Bay the same week as the First Fleet, and which has been standing watch over the Red Hill shops since 2014. Sue just beat Ian McKenzie, Greg Royle and Amanda Horne, the latter of whom points out "many streets in Red Hill are named after maritime explorers and ships", to the prize.
If you look closely, there are scorch marks on the back of the sculpture. These are the result of a fire which broke out in the studio of Braidwood artists Suzie Bleach and Andrew Townsend during the statue's creation.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday January 25, 2020, will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.
They've been adorned in all sorts of clobber, from partisan football jumpers to Santa Claus outfits, and now Moruya's infamous roadside Stumpies have been dressed in home-made orange uniforms as a tribute to the service workers during the recent fires.
As previously reported in this column (July 13, 2019), last year the Stumpies' outfits were stolen on several occasions, rendering the wooden stumps naked. Given the widespread support for volunteers involved in both firefighting and recovery efforts, let's hope the Stumpies stay resplendent in their orange uniforms for many months to come.
For the uninitiated, the Stumpies are located on South Head Road, Moruya.
Sign of the times
Earlier this week, a welcome notice was spotted on the blackboard outside the Robertson RFS shed in the Southern Highlands. Instead of announcing fire bans and fire emergencies, scrawled on the board were the jubilant words "Back Soon, Out Jumping Puddles". Love it.