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Location Australia, Victoria
Central coordinates 144o 1.59' East  35o 47.29' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i
Area 6,028 ha
Altitude 75 - 80m
Year of IBA assessment 2009

BirdLife Australia

Summary This extensive series of wetlands supports populations of the endangered Australasian Bittern and the near threatened Blue-billed Duck. The wetlands have supported more than 1% of the world populations of Freckled Duck, Straw-necked Ibis, Black-fronted Dotterel, Banded Stilt and Red-necked Avocet but only the last two are regular in these numbers.

Site description The North Victorian Wetlands IBA is located approximately 300 km north west of Melbourne and are part of an extensive wetland system of over 100 wetlands in the Loddon-Murray Region. The IBA is defined as the series of individual wetlands which have supported significant numbers of birds (defined here as at least 0.25% of the world population of a species for which the IBA has supported 1% of the world population) in recent years (defined here as since the last ‘wet’ year in 1993): Round Lake (Wildlife Reserve; Blue-billed Duck), Middle Lake (Water Supply Reserve; Grey Teal and nesting ibis), Reedy Lake (Water Supply Reserve; Straw-necked Ibis), Lake Bael Bael (Red-necked Avocet), Lake Cullen (Water Supply Reserve; many species), Lake Tutchewop (Salinity Disposal Reserve; Red-necked Avocet, Banded Stilt), Lake Meran (= Lake Meering; Red-necked Avocet), Lake Kelly (Salinity Disposal Reserve; Banded Stilt), Lake Murphy (Freckled Duck), Hird Swamp (east and west; 344 ha wildlife reserve; Australasian Bittern, Australian Painted Snipe), Johnsons Swamp (411 ha wildife reserve; Australasian Bittern) and Kow Swamp (2724 ha irrigation storage; Australasian Bittern). The majority of the lakes are regulated and linked to the irrigation system. Those regulated wetlands which receive Environmental Water Allocations (Lake Cullen, Hird and Johnsons Swamps) can also receive floodwaters that are manipulated through the irrigation system and delivered via the channel system. Many wetlands are significantly affected by soil salinity through land clearance and irrigation practices which have resulted in raised groundwater levels. Changes in hydrology have resulted in most of the irrigated land being underlain by highly saline watertables. Introduced Eurasian Carp have greatly reduced numbers of waterbirds in many permanent wetlands. All except Round and Kow are in the 9419 ha Ramsar site which covers 22 wetlands; the additional wetlands which are excluded from the IBA because they either never supported significant numbers of birds or because they have declined in value since listing because of reduced freshwater inflows and/or increased salinity are: First Marsh, Second Marsh, Third Marsh, Stevenson Swamp (State Wildlife Reserves), Third Lake, Little Lake Charm, Lake Charm, Racecourse Lake and Kangaroo Lake (Water Supply Reserves), Lake William (Salinity Disposal Reserve), Tragowel Swamp and another three unnamed wetlands on Crown Land. Historically, the Avoca floodway, other floodplains and other small wetlands were of global significance for birds, including Australian Painted Snipe, but these areas have not been included in the IBA as they have flooded very irregularly, and with decreasing regularity, in recent years, with the last ‘wet’ year in 1993. Total counts of waterbirds across much of the Ramsar site were regularly over 20,000 in the ‘wet’ years, with peaks of 299,000 in 1987 and 107,000 in 1993, but no higher than 22,000 (in 2002) subsequently (DSE 2006). Bird counts before 1994 are listed in the notes above but not in the maximum figures for the species. The declining value of these wetlands has been summarised by Corrick and Cowling (1975), Lugg (1989) and DSE (2006). Many wetlands currently excluded from the IBA may qualify for inclusion in times of good rainfall, including Lake Charm, Golf Course Lake, Lake Elizabeth, Lake Gilmour, Lake Leaghur, Lake William (historical counts of up to 3000 Banded Stilt [DEWHA 2008]), Lake Yando, Lake Boort (with recent records of Australasian Bittern and Blue-billed Ducks; S. Starr in litt. 2007), First, Second and Third Marshes (23,479 waterbirds in 1985; DSE 2006), Stevenson Swamp, Back Swamp, Town Swamp, Cemetery Swamp, Fosters Swamp, and the saline Lake William (one old high count of Banded Stilt; 7929 waterbirds in 1987; DSE 2006).

Key Biodiversity Counts from individual wetlands suggest that Grey Teal numbers could approach or exceed threshold: maximum counts in recent years include 9000 at Lake Cullen and 7075 at Hird Swamp (DSE 2006); there are also large historical counts of 17,000 at Lake Bael Bael in 1977, 85,000 at Lake Cullen in 1987 (DSE 2006) and 80,000 (of a total 113,000 waterbirds) at Middle Lake in 1988 (Lugg 1989). Similarly, individual wetlands have supported large numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper: maximum counts in recent years include 1500 at Lake Tutchewop in 2004, 400 at Lake Kelly and 600 at Hird Swamp in 2005, and 400 at Lake Murphy in 2006 (S. Starr in litt. 2007); there is also a historical count of 8000 at Lake Cullen in 1987 (DSE 2006) and an observation of large numbers at the Avoca floodway in spring 2005 (S. Starr in litt. 2007). Several Australian Little Bitterns have been recorded calling and breeding at Hird Swamp when wet. Species counts which are of regional significance include: Australian Shelduck (8000 at Lake Cullen and 4500 at Lake Bael Bael dates unknown; 5000 at Lake Cullen in 1987), Australasian Shoveler (2400 at Lake Cullen date unknown), Australian White Ibis (6000 on Hird Swamp in 1993 and 5000 at Middle Lake in 1991 and an estimated 10,000 at Hird Swamp and 15,000 at Middle Lake in 1979-80), Hoary-headed Grebe (6500 at Lake Cullen date unknown and 1000+ in 2004 and 2006 at Lake Tutchewop), Eurasian Coot (35,000 on Lake Cullen in 1987), Whiskered Tern (6000 on Lake Cullen in 1987), Black Swan (8000 on Lake Cullen in 1993), Pacific Black Duck (1100 at Lake Cullen, 3000 at Hird Swamp and 2000 at Johnsons Swamp dates unknown), Pink-eared Duck (5000 on Lake Cullen in 1987 and 1992), Double-banded Plover (109 at Pyramid Saltworks in 1995), Red-kneed Dotterel (usually in small numbers but 1000+ at Lake Tutchewop in 1983 and perhaps 1000 at Hird Swamp in 2002), Red-capped Plover (1338 in 1982 and 500 at Lake Tutchewop in 2004), Marsh Sandpiper (200 at Cullens Lake and Lake Kelly 1994, 1997 and 2005), Red-necked Stint (800 at Lake Tutchewop in 2004) and Black-winged Stilt (up to 1000 at Lakes Meran and Tutchewop and many hundreds at many other lakes) (Robinson 1984; DSE 2006; S. Starr in litt. 2007; DEWHA 2008; AWSG database). A high historical count of 50,000 Hardhead on Third Marsh and Kangaroo Lake in 1975 and 436 Freckled Duck at Third Marsh in 1985 (DSE 2006). Australian Painted Snipe breed in the IBA with up to 13 recorded at Hird Swamp in recent years (S. Starr in litt. 2007).

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa non-breeding  1994-2007  250 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis unknown  1994-2007  300 individuals  good  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis resident  1994-2007  10,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus resident  1994-2007  10 individuals  good  A1  Endangered 
Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus non-breeding  1994-2007  7,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae non-breeding  1994-2007  4,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Black-fronted Dotterel Elseyornis melanops unknown  1994-2007  170 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

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

Climate change and severe weather drought happening now whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration high
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
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - abstraction of surface water (agricultural use) happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Cullens Lake Natural Features Reserve - Wildlife Reserve (hunting) 719 protected area overlaps with site 586  
Hird Swamp Natural Features Reserve - Wildlife Reserve (hunting) 433 protected area contained by site 433  
Johnson Swamp Natural Features Reserve - Wildlife Reserve (hunting) 467 protected area contained by site 467  
Koorangie (The Marshes & Avoca Floodway) Natural Features Reserve - Wildlife Reserve (hunting) 3,256 protected area overlaps with site 462  
Lake Murphy Conservation Park 551 protected area overlaps with site 136  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Ephemeral; Freshwater lakes & pools; Permanent herbaceous swamps & bogs; Saline lakes  major

Land ownership Victorian State government and managed by: Parks Victoria, Goulburn-Murray Water, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Shire of Gannawarra and Lower Murray Urban and Rural Water Authority.

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
hunting minor
Notes: Duck hunting is permitted in some of the wetlands.
nature conservation and research major
Notes: Hird and Johnsons Swamps are Wildlife Reserves.
tourism/recreation major
Notes: The wetlands are used extensively for land and water based recreation activities including tourist driving/sightseeing, camping, picnicking, swimming, sailing, waterskiing, boating, fishing, hunting and nature study/appreciation.
water management major
Notes: Specific lakes are used for irrigation water storage and others for saline water and sewerage disposal.

Protection status Several - see separate section.

Acknowledgements Chris Coleborn, Tom Lowe and Simon Starr kindly provided their personal knowledge of this system. Data and comments were provided by Richard Loyn at ARI and Janet Holmes at DSE; Rob Price at DSE; North Central CMA Wetlands Officer; Murray Rohde at DSE in Swan Hill.

References Corrick, A. H. and Cowling, S. J. (1975) A survey of the wetlands of Kerang. Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife paper, No. 5.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (2004) Kerang Wetlands Ramsar Site Strategic Management Plan. Melbourne: Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (2006) Description of the ecological character of the Kerang Lakes Ramsar Site. Melbourne: Department of Sustainability and Environment.

DEWHA (2008) A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. accessed August 2008.

Lugg, A. (1989) Report to the Kerang Lakes Area Working Group. Report No. 4. Waterbirds of the wetlands of the Kerang Lakes area. Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, Bendigo Region.

Robinson, D. (1984) Victorian Bird Report 1983. Bird Observers Club, Melbourne.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: North Victorian Wetlands. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016

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