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Migratory shorebirds arrive in the Hunter Estuary

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Hundreds of shorebirds are expected to arrive in the Hunter Estuary this month from their long journey, as far away as Alaska and Siberia, to escape the northern hemisphere winter.

As the birds converge, Hunter Bird Observers Club members will continue to undertake the National Shorebird Monitoring Program.

Life member Ann Lindsey said the initiative allowed the organisation to compare numbers of bird arrivals over the years.

Sadly, for many of the species, there has been a drastic decline due to habitat loss, in particular.

“The Hunter Estuary is the most important site in NSW for migratory shorebirds,” she explained.

“And, it’s a key location both nationally and within the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

“There are more migratory shorebirds in the Hunter Estuary than there are elsewhere in the state.

“The rehabilitated wetlands are of high habitat value for feeding and resting.

“Migratory shorebirds come here with one key objective – to gain enough weight to sustain them on their long flight back to their breeding ground.

“They must eat as much as possible and, when not eating, they must rest to conserve their energy for the arduous return journey at the end of our summer.”

Birds move around to Stockton Sandspit, Kooragang Dykes and Tomago Wetlands with the tide cycle.

“As it falls, sandflats in the north arm of the Hunter River are the first feeding areas exposed,” Ms Lindsey said.

“At low tide, the main feeding area is Fullerton Cove.

“As it comes in, birds move to the mudflats behind the dykes.

“Then, at high tide, they head to their roost areas where they will stay for 4-6 hours.”

Bar-tailed Godwits.

A number of species are expected to be seen arriving this month including Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Latham’s Snipe.

“Of these, the vulnerable Bar-tailed Godwit is the world record holder for non-stop flight,” Ms Lindsey said.

“They have been recorded travelling 11,000km from Alaska to New Zealand in only eight days, flying at an average of more than 50km/h.

“The birds lose almost half of their body weight along the way.

“Once they arrive in the Hunter Estuary, they use their impressive bill to dig up crabs in the mudflats.

“A critically-endangered species, the Eastern Curlew is the largest of all the world’s shorebirds and they breed in Russia and north-eastern China.

“On passage, they are commonly seen in Japan, Korea and Borneo.

“Small numbers visit New Zealand.

“But, about 75% of the world’s curlews winter in Australia, so we have a particular responsibility to protect coastal wetlands for this species.

“While the birds can be seen at Stockton Sandspit, it is very important to not disturb them – and only view them from a distance with binoculars.

“Feeding and resting over the next six months is imperative for the birds to be in good condition to make the migration back to the northern hemisphere.”

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