Booragoon Lake is a tiny freshwater lake located within a 13.5 hectare reserve in the middle of suburbia. It is surrounded by residential housing and bordered by Leach Highway, a major road with heavy traffic. The water in the lake is derived from a surface expression of the Jandakot mound aquifer and is replenished by stormwater runoff in the wetter months.
The water level of the lake fluctuates seasonally and it often dries out entirely during the summer. In years past, the City of Melville attempted to maintain a constant water level by supplementing the natural supply with bore water.
This strategy was abandoned in 1980 when it was realised that a constant water level was potentially detrimental to the diversity and structural integrity of flora and fauna suites adapted to water level fluctuation. The condition of the lake is far from pristine with greatest threats to habitat being water pollution, invasive species and fire.
Water quality tests indicate high levels of heavy metals which presumably originate from heavy traffic on surrounding roads. Significant effort has been applied to eradication of weeds and re-vegetation of the shoreline and surrounding bush-land by various local environmental groups. It is however, a difficult task, and some areas of the reserve remain dominated by intrusive weeds such as Kikuyu and Buffalo grass which form thick suffocating mats that run to the waters edge.
Despite these issues the lake is home to many animal species. Diversity is assisted by the nearby location of Piney Lakes Reserve, Blue Gum Lake Reserve, Bibra Lake, North Lake and the Swan River. Large species bird species such as Heron, Egrets, Ibis and Spoonbills will move between these sites depending on feeding conditions at each location.
I started photographing birds at Booragoon Lake about three years ago. Overtime it has become one of my favourite spots. Why? There are several reasons. The small size of the lake and surrounding area has allowed me to build up a good knowledge of the species that inhabit the reserve and develop an in depth understanding of their movements and behaviour. Such knowledge increases predictability and therefore the probability of obtaining good shots. It takes time and a lot of consistent observation to know nature. The many obsessive hours I have spent at this tiny lake have greatly helped my understanding of Goshawks, Black Shouldered Kites, Hobbies, Night Heron, Spoonbills, Swamphens and White Necked Heron. Such knowledge is extremely valuable to me. It builds slowly. Each observation, each understanding is another piece in a far greater puzzle. It helps me take better photos, but, more importantly it is how I find meaning, it is how I connect and it is how I make sense of my life.
I love seasonal change and in such a small lake it is concentrated and easy to observe. Water levels fluctuate dramatically throughout the year and correlate to changes in the species that are present and the vegetation in and around the lake. As the species change so does the behaviour and interactions of individuals. When the lake is full there is an abundance of Night Heron, Ducks, Grebes, Swamphens, Ibis and Swans. In these times the different species and individuals compete for nesting sites and space on the water. There are many passionate and sometimes violent skirmishes between individuals from the same species and sometimes those from different species as resources are divided up.
All of these species breed at the lake, so there are many opportunities to photograph courtship behaviour and to watch as birds create nests nest and young emerge and grow, slowly becoming independent.
As the water level drops, Heron, Egrets and Spoonbills move in, preying on fish, frogs, worms and baby turtles trapped in the shallow water. The waters edge is a valuable feeding ground and the lake becomes a temporary home to large numbers of Great Egrets and Spoonbills. I have observed as many as fifteen Great Egrets feeding close together in the shallows. When the levels drop further, smaller waders such as Stilts and Plovers turn up and work the muddy shores.
In late spring and early summer the Kingfishers and Rainbow Bee Eaters arrive. The trees surrounding the lake come alive with Honey Eaters, Silver Eyes, Fairy Wrens, Wattle Birds and Lorikeets all competing for space and insects. The boardwalk that extends out over the lake is an ideal place to sit and observe these smaller birds doing their thing.
When the lake dries entirely the long green reeds wither and dry turning yellow, covering the lake bed with a protective layer of dead grass. A new habitat is created. One that harbours mice, lizards and insects and becomes the hunting ground of raptors. Black Shouldered Kites move in, the Hobbies become active, Whistling Kites circle overhead, Goshawks lurk in the undergrowth while gangs of Ravens harass anything that moves. I find summer in the lake fascinating. Raptors are my favourite birds. I love their intelligence, I love observing them in action and I love the challenge of photographing them in a way that captures their behaviour and personality.
The lake is surrounded by thick Paperbark and Eucalypt trees which provide clean, uncluttered and blurred out backgrounds with an interesting array of colour and texture. Overtime I have learned how to use the vegetation to my advantage in images. Experimenting with different aperture settings and slowly learning the effect of distance between the background, the subject and myself has been an extremely valuable learning experience.
When the lake is filled with reeds the colour pallet is dominated by rich apple green. Somehow the mass of reflected green colour works to soften and enhance the quality of light, creating images where detail and texture are enhanced and backgrounds are beautiful.
Finally, the most practical reason for loving Booragoon Lake!! I work in an adjoining suburb so it is easy to stop by the lake on my way to or from work or spend my lunch hour in its muddy confines. It is easy to hide at Booragoon Lake. The thick overgrown vegetation create a lot of little hidey holes where I can simply disappear for a few hours and sit by myself, surrounded by nature in the middle of suburbia.