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Monday, May 10, 2021

Migratory shorebirds leave Hunter estuary for northern hemisphere

Rehabilitated shorebird habitat in the Hunter estuary is vitally important in the East Asian-Australasian flyway, according to the Hunter Bird Observers Club (HBOC).

Birds breed in Siberia, North China and Alaska in June and July and migrate thousands of kilometres south to Australia and New Zealand for the southern summer, with staging sites in the Yellow Sea.

The bar-tailed godwit makes the longest-known non-stop flight of any bird – flying an incredible 11,000km from Alaska to New Zealand.

“The journey is quite remarkable, with some birds returning to the same site year after year,” HBOC member Ann Lindsey said.

“The Hunter estuary supports about two-thirds of all the migratory shorebirds that migrate from the northern hemisphere into NSW over spring and summer.

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

“Migratory shorebirds come here to avoid the northern winter.

“One key objective is 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.

“As the autumn weather sets in, they head off northwards on the arduous long flight from now throughout April.”

Ms Lindsey said more than 200 species of birds live in or visit the Hunter River estuary.

“About 45 of these are shorebirds and 34 are migratory shorebirds,” she explained.

“They can be seen feeding at low tide searching on mudflats and saltmarshes and gathering on roosts at high tide.”

HBOC volunteers have conducted regular surveys of waders at Stockton Sandspit and Ash Island consistently over 22 years.

The records indicate a decline in species’ diversity and abundance.

In the 1970s, more than 10,000 shorebirds were reported in the Hunter estuary.

“Now, we have only about 4,000,” Ms Lindsey said.

“And, the number of species of national significance has decreased from 13 to seven.

“The major threats include habitat loss, disturbance and predators.

“Australia is signatory to three migratory bird treaties, with Japan, China and South Korea.

“A major threat to habitat is the reclamation of mudflats for various developments in Australia, South Korea and China.

“Mudflats serve as important staging sites where birds need to stop and rest midway on the long migratory journey.”

HBOC volunteers are actively involved in habitat optimisation in the Hunter estuary.

Community education is also very important to ensure wader habitat is protected.

During the summer, visitors are welcome to use the bird hide at Stockton Sandspit to view shorebirds including the bar-tailed godwit, sharp-tailed sandpiper and red-necked avocet.

With a keen eye, you may be fortunate to see the critically-endangered curlew sandpiper, eastern curlew or great knot.

For further information about Hunter Bird Observers Club, visit the website www.hboc.org.au

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