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Location Australia, New South Wales (and ACT)
Central coordinates 151o 43.08' East  32o 50.99' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i
Area 8,453 ha
Altitude 0 - 43m
Year of IBA assessment 2009

BirdLife Australia

Summary The estuary and swamps support the endangered Australasian Bittern and more than 1% of the world population of Chestnut Teal, Red-necked Avocet, Eastern Curlew and sometimes Latham's Snipe, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Straw-necked Ibis.

Site description The IBA contains the adjacent lower Hunter Estuary (with the boundary including all intertidal areas and swamps used by the key shorebirds and Australasian Bittern) and Hexham Swamp. The Hunter Estuary is recognised as the most important area in NSW for shorebirds (Smith 1991). As many as 4,800 migratory shorebirds have been recorded by Straw (2000). The IBA contains the Ramsar listed 2926 hectare Kooragang Nature Reserve, the North Arm of the Hunter River, from Hexham to Stockton Bridge, and associated wetlands. A large shallow circular bay to the north, Fullerton Cove, provides the main shorebird foraging site in the estuary. The North and South Arms surround Kooragang Island, an important foraging and roosting area for shorebirds and waterfowl. The Kooragang Dykes and Stockton Sandspit, located immediately upstream of Stockton Bridge are the most important sites for the majority of roosting shorebirds in the estuary. Most of the estuary is covered by tidal ponds, saltmarsh and mangoves. Tides at Kooragang Island range from 0.1m to 2m, average annual rainfall at Williamtown is 1088 mm and annual mean temperature ranges from 12 to 23 oC. Hexham Swamp is one of the largest freshwater swamps on the coast of New South Wales, and comprises about 45 per cent of all the remaining freshwater wetland habitat in the Hunter Valley. This section of the IBA is estimated to cover 2100ha. The swamp also contains estuarine habitat (eastern part adjacent to the Hunter River) which forms a strong ecological link with the western end of Kooragang Nature Reserve through Ash Island. Hexham Swamp Nature Reserve comprises about 900 hectares of Hexham Swamp. Freshwater swamps in the nature reserve are contiguous with Pambalong Nature Reserve to the west, The Hunter Wetlands Centre to the southeast and Newcastle Wetlands Reserve also to the southeast.

Key Biodiversity Major non-breeding foraging site for migratory waders such as Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Pacific Golden Plover, Double-banded Plover and Latham’s Snipe. Non-migratory waders include Red-necked Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Red-capped Plover, Pied Oystercatcher, Sooty Oystercatcher and occasional Australian Painted Snipe. Terns include Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Caspian Tern. Waterfowl include Australasian Grebe, Hoary-headed Grebe, Musk Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Blue-billed Duck and Freckled Duck. Raptors include Osprey, Wedge-tailed Eagle, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Whistling Kite, Swamp Harrier, Spotted Harrier, Brown Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Australian Hobby, Brown Falcon, Black Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, and the most southerly occurrence of the Brahminy Kite. The Black-necked Stork is an occasional visitor. Red-backed Button-quail and Grass Owls have been recently recorded; both are at their southernmost limit of occurrence. Thousands of Australian White Ibis and a lesser number of Glossy Ibis roost at Hexham Swamp, which supports breeding colonies of Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Australian White Ibis and cormorants, small numbers of Magpie Geese and a roost of Rufous Night-Herons.

Non-bird biodiversity: Remnant dry littoral rainforest, small stands of Casuarina forest, extensive and expanding mangroves and decreasing saltmarsh. The endangered Green and Golden Bellfrog. Many species of microchiropteron bats. A variety of fish and decapod crustacean species. Hexham Swamp hosts 53 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 11 frog species, 6 prawn and shrimp species and 32 fish species.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Chestnut Teal Anas castanea non-breeding  2001-2005  1,000-1,600 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis non-breeding  2005-2007  11,856 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus unknown  2002-2007  6 individuals  poor  A1  Endangered 
Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae non-breeding  2000-2006  104-4,960 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Latham's Snipe Gallinago hardwickii non-breeding  1997-2007  7-475 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis non-breeding  2000-2006  383-786 individuals  good  A4i  Endangered 
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata non-breeding  2002-2007  1,800 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2008 medium not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases problematic native species/diseases - named species happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - small dams happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Residential and commercial development commercial and industrial development likely in long term (beyond 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads likely in long term (beyond 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) moderate to rapid deterioration low

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Hexham Swamp Nature Reserve 908 protected area contained by site 900  
Kooragang Nature Reserve 3,358 protected area contained by site 2,926  
Newcastle Wetlands Reserve Nature Reserve Nature Reserve 40 protected area contained by site 40  
Pambalong Nature Reserve 34 protected area contained by site 35  
The Hunter Wetlands Centre Nature Reserve Nature Reserve 45 protected area contained by site 45  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial Improved grassland & pasture; Other urban & industrial areas  19%
Forest Casuarina forests & woodlands  3%
Wetlands (inland) Freshwater lakes & pools; Permanent herbaceous swamps & bogs; Salt marshes  42%
Coastline Estuarine waters; Intertidal mud, sand & salt flats; Mangrove wetlands  36%

Land ownership Hunter Estuary: NSW State Government, Regional Land Management Corporation, private. Hexham Swamp: Hunter Central Rivers CMA, Newcastle City Council, Shortlands Wetlands Centre Ltd, NPWS (NSW State govt), Hunter District Water Board, Australian Rail Track Corporation, Broadcast Australia Ltd, State of NSW, private ownership.

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
fisheries/aquaculture minor
Notes: prawn and crab fishing supports several boats
rangeland/pastureland minor
Notes: cattle grazing
nature conservation and research major
tourism/recreation minor
Notes: boat trips and fishing
urban/industrial/transport minor
Notes: power transmission lines

Protection status Kooragang Nature Reserve

Hexham Swamp Nature Reserve

Pambalong Nature Reserve

Newcastle Wetlands Reserve Nature Reserve

The Hunter Wetlands Centre Nature Reserve

Access/Land-Owner requests 

Acknowledgements Hunter Bird Observers Club and Max Maddock have collected much of the bird data. The nomination was prepared by Chris Herbert and Elizabeth Crawford.

References Crawford, E.A. (in prep) Shorebird Surveys in the Hunter Estuary 1999 - 2006.

Kingsford, R.T., Ferster Levy, R., Geering, D., Davis, S.T. and Davis, J.S.E. (1998) Rehabilitating estuarine habitat on Kooragang Island for waterbirds, including migratory wading birds (May 1994 - May 1997). Unpublished report: National Parks and Wildlife Service.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (1998) Kooragang Nature Reserve and Hexham Swamp Nature Reserve Plan of Management (unpubl.)

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (2004) Pambalong Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management.

Shortland Wetlands Centre Consultancy (1995) Review of Environmental Factors Stockton Bridge Sandspit - Migratory Shorebird Habitat Rehabilitation. Report for Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project and National Parks and Wildlife Service (unpubl.).

Smith, P. (1991) The biology and management of waders (Suborder Charadrii) in NSW. NSW NPWS Species management report number 9 (unpubl.).

Straw, P. (2000) Hunter Estuary Wader Habitat Investigation Stage 2. Unpublished report: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Stuart, A. (1998) Hunter Region of New South Wales Annual Bird Report (1997). Hunter Bird Observers Club.

Stuart, A. (2004) Birds of Ash Island. Hunter Bird Observers Club Special Report No. 2.

Stuart, A. (2005) Hunter Region of New South Wales Annual Bird Report (2004). Hunter Bird Observers Club.

Stuart, A. (2006) Hunter Region of New South Wales Annual Bird Report (2005). Hunter Bird Observers Club.

SWC Consultancy (2002) Distribution of the Australasian Bittern in the lower Hunter. Report for Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project and Port Waratah Coal Services.

Todd, M. (1998) Feeding ecology of Latham's Snipe Gallinago hardwickii in the lower Hunter Valley, NSW. Unpublished report: Australasian Wader Studies Group.

WBM Oceanics Australia. (1998). Environmental Impact Statement for the rehabilitation of Hexham Swamp. WBM Oceanics Australia.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Hunter Estuary. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016

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