Shorebirds of Northern New South Wales


This report is an edited version of a report by Sandpiper Ecological Surveys (Dr David Rohweder) ‘Shorebirds Data Audit – Northern New South Wales’ which was prepared for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW and funded by the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority.

Shorebird (suborder Charadrii) data for the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (CMA) region was collated with a view to establishing a baseline dataset that can be used for planning and management.

The Northern Rivers CMA region was divided into three primary habitat types: major estuaries (12 locations), minor estuaries and ICOLLs (13 locations) and coastline sections (14 locations). Each major estuary was divided into roost and foraging sites.

Shorebird data collation

Forty-nine data sources were identified and data were collated from 41 sources. The majority of systematic survey data available within the region was collated. Several additional data sources are identified. These include both systematic and point locality data.

Data were collected for all major and minor estuaries and coastline sections, but the amount and quality of data varied substantially across the Study Area. Robust datasets were collated for the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence estuaries. These included surveys at high and low tide.

Long-term datasets were collated for the Brunswick (28 years), Hastings (27 years) Clarence (26 years), Nambucca (24 years), Richmond (23 years) and Tweed (23 years) estuaries. There was a notable deficiency in sampling effort in the Macleay Estuary and generally along the coastline south of Bonville Creek. Further surveys are recommended for these areas.

There is substantial variability in data quality between locations and studies, and it is strongly recommended that data be vetted before use on any future projects.

The collated dataset would be complemented by undertaking a nest site data audit, by auditing other known datasets, and by undertaking targeted surveys in the Macleay Estuary.

Data summary and baseline analysis

Collated data were used to undertake a baseline comparison of shorebird population estimates and species diversity between locations in each of the three major habitats, and to identify important habitats for threatened shorebirds.

The baseline assessment highlighted the importance of the Clarence and Richmond estuaries, but also emphasised the contribution of numerous locations to the overall abundance and diversity of shorebirds in the Northern Rivers CMA region.

A similar trend was recorded for populations of 12 locally ‘abundant’ species. While many species were most abundant in the Richmond and Clarence estuaries, other major estuaries provide important habitat for some species. The Hastings, Macleay and Tweed provide important habitat for the common greenshank, whimbrel and eastern curlew. Smaller estuaries, such as Corindi, Wooli, Nambucca and Sandon, provide important habitat for red-capped plovers.

Important locations for threatened species were determined by averaging population estimates during the ‘summer’ period (i.e. October–April). The Clarence and Richmond estuaries and intervening coastline were the priority areas for the pied oystercatcher, greater and lesser sand plovers, Terek sandpiper, great knot and sanderling.

Priority habitats for the sooty oystercatcher and beach stone-curlew were more widespread. Populations and breeding pairs of sooty oystercatchers peaked in the vicinity of Coffs Harbour, while beach stone-curlew priority habitat was distributed between several long-term breeding sites and a small number of recent breeding sites.

The outcomes of the baseline population and threatened species assessment emphasise the importance of the Clarence and Richmond estuaries and intervening section of coastline to the shorebird population in the Northern Rivers CMA region. The value of many smaller estuaries, such as Sandon, Corindi, Wooli, Nambucca and Bonville — particularly for resident shorebirds and little terns — and the more natural state of these estuaries contribute to the environmental values of the study area.

Pilot roost site prioritisation, Clarence Estuary

A preliminary threat assessment was undertaken to assess the level of threat experienced at shorebird roosts in the Clarence Estuary. Thirty-six potential threats from five threat categories were used to predict the level of threat experienced at 24 roosts in the lower estuary.

The threat assessment was combined with an assessment of roost values to obtain an overall threat ranking. The overall threat status of each roost was ranked as very high, high, medium and low. One roost, Dart/Hickey Island was classified as having a very high threat level, and two roosts (Peninsula and Prawn Farm) had a high threat level. Numerous roosts had a medium threat level including several in Bundjalung National Park. These roosts are regarded as priorities for management in the Clarence Estuary.

Pilot shorebird habitat mapping, Clarence and Sandon estuaries

Geographic information systems were used to map shorebird roost and foraging habitat in the Clarence and Sandon estuaries. Roost mapping in the Clarence was supported by summary data on each roost, enabling roost values and management priorities to be viewed using GIS.

The preliminary mapping program emphasised the value of combining summary data on shorebird populations with GIS mapping to assist with local and regional scale planning and management.

Conclusions and recommendations

Shorebirds of Northern New South Wales (shorebirdsfinalreport.pdf, 1.3MB) has summarised a substantial amount of data on shorebirds in the Northern Rivers CMA region. Nonetheless, there are a small number of additional data sources that should be explored, and a nest site audit would complement the collated data. View detailed information on species locations (shorebirdsdata.xls, 1MB) and report appendices (shorebirdsappendices.pdf, 97KB).

Focusing management and conservation initiatives on the Clarence and Richmond estuaries and intervening section of coastline would protect most shorebird values in the Northern Rivers CMA region.

A state and national perspective should be considered when assessing management priorities. Recommendations have been prioritised.

For further information please contact

The Manager
Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation Section
Office of Environment and Heritage
Level 7, 24 Moonee Street
Coffs Harbour NSW
Telephone: 02 66 515946

The format and structure of this publication may have been adapted for web delivery.

Page last updated: 11 March 2014