email a friend
printable version
Location Australia, Northern Territory
Central coordinates 135o 38.90' East  18o 49.02' South
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4ii
Area 226,236 ha
Altitude 200 - 212m
Year of IBA assessment 2009

BirdLife Australia

Summary The IBA has supported small breeding colonies of the near threatened Letter-winged Kite and more than 1% of the global populations of the congregatory Plumed Whistling-Duck, Grey Teal, Hardhead, Little Black Cormorant, Australian Pelican, Straw-necked Ibis, Eurasion Coot, Oriental Plover, Gull-billed Tern and Flock Bronzewing. The IBA also provides habitat for the near threatened Australian Bustard. The IBA is an ephemeral wetland system, and holds significant numbers of waterbirds only when inundated. When fully inundated, the IBA may support 500,000 to 1,000,000 waterbirds.

Site description The large ephemeral Lake Sylvester system is located on the Barkly Tableland 180 km north-east of Tennant Creek. The IBA comprises of Corella Lake, Lake de Burgh, Lake Sylvester, an unnamed basin to the west of Corella Lake, and a surrounding network of interconnected wetlands. It includes two semi-permanent freshwater billabongs, Corella Hole and Big Hole, which are located upstream from the deltas that mark the meeting points of Corella Creek and Corella Lake and Brunette Creek and Lake Sylvester, respectively. Corella Lake, Lake de Burgh and Lake Sylvester are ephemeral freshwater lakes. They are seasonally inundated, but can retain water for more than 12 consecutive months after substantial floods. At normal capacity, Corella Lake (10,000 ha), Lake de Burgh (30,000 ha) and Lake Sylvester (15,000 ha) are discrete water bodies. In wetter years, excess water from Corella Lake flows into the unnamed basin to the west (5000 ha), and all four basins can become full and connected. During exceptional flood events, such as that which occurred in 2001-2002, all water bodies present in the system can merge to form a single massive lake with an area of up to 200,000 ha. The Lake Sylvester system is situated on deep-cracking grey clay that supports sparse to open shrublands dominated by Northern Bluebush and Lignum, sparse to open woodlands and scattered specimens of Coolibah, stands of Belalie, tussock grasslands dominated by Rat's Tail Couch and Pepper Grass, carpet-like patches of Annual Verbine, and mats of the aquatic species Nardoo, Spiny Mudgrass and (infrequently) Potamogeton tricarinatus and Myriophyllum verrucosum (DEWHA 2007; R. Jaensch pers. comm. 2007).

Key Biodiversity At least 65 species of waterbird have been recorded in the Lake Sylvester system (Wetlands International unpublished data provided by R. Jaensch). Waterbirds recorded in notable but sub-threshold numbers include Freckled Duck (observed on all three named lakes, with up to 56 birds on Corella Lake, and breeding at Lake Sylvester; the only confirmed breeding locality in the Northern Territory), Great Egret (1000 pairs at Lake Sylvester in 2006), Intermediate Egret (1000 pairs at Lake Sylvester in 2006), Glossy Ibis (3000 pairs at Lake Sylvester in 2006, the largest documunted inland colony of this species in the Northern Territory and one of the largest documented colonies in tropical Australia), Oriental Pratincole (more than 15,000 individuals at Lakes Sylvester and de Burgh in 1993), Australian Pratincole (1350 individuals in 1995) and White-winged Black Tern (1700 individuals counted in 2002 but real total possibly many thousands). Little Curlew have been recorded in moderate numbers, but the species is difficult to survey and actual numbers are therefore likely to be globally significant (Jaensch and Bellchambers 1997; R. Jaensch pers. comm. 2007). Sub-threshold numbers of Nankeen Night-Heron, Royal Spoonbill, Little Black Cormorant, Pied Cormorant, Australasian Darter, Magpie Goose, Caspian Tern and Whiskered Tern are recorded to breed in the system (Wetlands International unpublished data provided by R. Jaensch). Yellow Chat occurs in aggregations of tens if not hundreds of birds (R. Jaensch pers. comm. 2007). There are historical records of the vulnerable Australian Painted Snipe from the Lake Sylvester system, Brunette Creek and Playford River. Evidence suggests the Australian Painted Snipe may still occur at least occasionally in the IBA: suitable habitat for the species is abundant at Lake Sylvester and in 1993 a positive sighting was made at Lake Woods, in habitat similar to that which occurs at Lake Sylvester, and breeding was documented at Tarrabool Lake, which lies approximately 60 km north-west of the Lake Sylvester system (Jaensch 2003; R. Jaensch pers. comm. 2007).

Non-bird biodiversity: The Lake Sylvester system supports two plant species, Bergia barklyana and Goodenia cylindrocarpa, which are endemic to the Mitchell Grass Downs bioregion (Harrison et al. 2009). A number of plant and vertebrate species recorded in the system are largely confined to cracking-clay grasslands within the Mitchell Grass Downs bioregion (Fisher et al. 2002). Four plant species present in the system (Commelina tricarinata, Senecio depressicola, Iotasperma sessilifolium and Urochloa atrisola) have a restricted range within the Northern Territory (Harrison et al. 2009).

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Plumed Whistling-duck Dendrocygna eytoni resident  1993  15,000-26,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Grey Teal Anas gracilis resident  2002  60,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Hardhead Aythya australis resident  2002  14,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis resident  1995  13,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus resident  2001-2002  7,700 breeding pairs  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris resident  2002  17,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Letter-winged Kite Elanus scriptus resident  uncommon  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis unknown  1998-2008  frequent  A1  Least Concern 
Common Coot Fulica atra resident  2002  160,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus non-breeding  1993  1,034 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Sterna nilotica resident  1995  8,720 individuals  medium  A4i  Not Recognised 
Flock Bronzewing Phaps histrionica unknown  1993  100,000 individuals  medium  A4ii  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2008 high not assessed not assessed
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agriculture and aquaculture livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - agro-industry grazing, ranching or farmin happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Natural system modifications fire & fire suppression - increase in fire frequency/intensity happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Grassland Tussock grasslands  major
Savanna Acacia open woodlands; Eucalypt open woodlands  major
Wetlands (inland) Ephemeral  major
Shrubland Chenopod shrubs, samphire shrubs and forblands; Other shrublands  major

Land ownership Pastoral lease (Brunette Downs) managed by Australian Agricultural Company.

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
rangeland/pastureland 100%

Protection status None.

Access/Land-Owner requests Access can be arranged by contact with Brunette Downs station.

Acknowledgements Roger Jaensch of Wetlands International provided review comments and interpretation on the habitat and waterbird information.

References Bamford, M., Watkins, D., Bancroft, W., Tischler, G. and Wahl, J. (2008) Shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway: population estimates and internationally important sites. Canberra: Wetlands International - Oceania.

DEWHA (2007) A directory of important wetlands in Australia. Lake Corella - NT009. accessed on 6 September 2007. Fisher, A., Baker, B. and Woinarski, J. (2002) Biodiversity audit - bioregional case study: Mitchell Grass Downs, Northern Territory. In J. Woinarski, ed. Biodiversity audit - bioregional summary. Report to the National Land and Water Audit. Darwin: Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. Harrison, L., McGuire, L., Ward, S. Fisher, A., Pavey, C., Fegan, M. and Lynch, B. (2009) An inventory of sites of international and national significance for biodiversity values in the Northern Territory. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts & Sport, Darwin, NT. Jaensch, R.P. (2003) Recent records and breeding of the Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis in the Mitchell Grass Downs and Sturt Plateau, Northern Territory. Northern Territory Naturalist 17: 31-37. Jaensch, R.P. and Bellchambers, K. (1997) Waterbird conservation values of ephemeral wetlands of the Barkly Tablelands, Northern Territory. Unpublished report to the Australian Heritage Commission and Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. NRETA (2005) Draft Northern Territory parks and conservation masterplan. Darwin: Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts. Ward, S. and Harrison, L. (2009) Recognising sites of conservation significance for biodiversity values in the Northern Territory. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts & Sport, Darwin, NT.

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Lake Sylvester System. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife