The call of the Bell Frog

“Since the heavy rains put out the fires in East Gippsland, wetlands of the Gippsland Lakes have enjoyed a welcomed flow of water, with some sites having been dry for many years.”

Martin Potts is a Project Manager for Greening Australia in the East Gippsland Region

The Macleod Morass, sitting on the banks of the Mitchell River south of Bairnsdale, is one of these wetlands that has once again undertaken one of nature’s transformations of wonder. With the arrival of water, the birds return feeding on emerging water bugs, aquatic plants germinate reaching for the light through the water providing their life-giving oxygen and filtering the excess nutrients helping to keep our lakes waters clean. An abundance of life returns.

The Macleod Morass

The Macleod Morass

As the days warm and the life in these wetlands begins to grow, it’s a reminder how frogs calls are one of the heralds of a change in season, a small team from Greening Australia are out listening for the call of one very important species, the Green and Golden Bell frog, otherwise known as Litoria aurea. With less than 20 of these frogs known to live in the over 200 hectares of the Macleod Morass, waiting for the calls is the best chance the team has to find them. These frogs are recognized as a key ecological indicator of freshwater habitat health and this team is there to lend them a helping hand as this is the only wetland they are known to live east of Lake Wellington within the Gippsland Lakes system.

In an island of reeds and rushes in the center of the Morass on a warm October afternoon, the first of the frogs were heard. ‘Cr-a-a-awk crok crok’, ‘Cr-a-a-awk crok crok’, not one or two, but 10 individuals were heard in the one location and as with frogs, only the males call so the female presence is estimated giving a total population of 10-15 frogs calling this island home. What a great find of most of the whole known population at once.

An environmental health indicator – the Green and Golden Bell Frog

But as the frogs called and the waters warmed, around them the waters were darkening, as was the vegetation as the European carp numbers grew and the wetland was becoming hostile for the Bell Frogs. The carp, breading very rapidly, feeds on the aquatic plants digging up their roots and turning the soil, leaving the waters dirty and uninhabitable for plants and life. The carp also eat the frogs in all forms of their life cycle, so it was very important that this small population of frogs were found so soon.

Thanks to the support and funding by The Ross Trust, this team guided by the national Bell Frog recovery team, is being led by Greening Australia and the EGCMA with the help of Gunaikurnai Land and Waters and Parks Victoria have been on a plan to help turn this fate around. Armed with fence gate like panels and star pickets, the team ferried these frames to the last of the aquatic vegetation surrounding the frogs island to establish bell frog habitat plots. These carp exclusion plots will effectively triple the habitat area available to the frogs and in time it is hoped that the frogs will move in to call these plots home.

Constructing the carp exclusion plots

Constructing the carp exclusion plots

As there is no known way to rid the site of the carp, all that is available to the team is to help reduce their destruction. In the next few months now that the plots are established, the team will be out looking for signs of frog movements and vegetation returning. Water plants the frogs love will also be planted into the sites to help establish these new frog friendly homes and in time give rise to a large and louder chorus of the truly beautiful song of the Green and Golden Bell Frogs.

Our work in the Gippsland Biolink