Hunter Estuary

Trial Site - Installed April 2019


The Hunter estuary is considered one of the most important coastal estuaries in New South Wales and supports an abundance and diversity of bird life. This was the primary reason for the original gazettal of the Kooragang Nature Reserve and its subsequent Ramsar listing in 1984. At least 37 migratory species listed on the EPBC Act have been recorded in the park.

The Hunter estuary is listed as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International however some roost sites may be jeopardised by disturbance, mangrove incursion and altered hydrology.

The Hunter Bird Observers Club has been monitoring shorebirds in the Hunter Estuary for 20 years and have championed much of the conservation managemetn work in the area to date.

Hunter Local Land Services (LLS) came on as trial partners after a proposed South Australian trial was stymied by land holders.

This trial is funded by Woodside Energy Australia

SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES (oldest at the bottom).


Tuesday April 9, We’re afloat! Hunter is ready and waiting for the birds return.

Aboard the SS Redmayne; Emily, Rob and Craig set out on a mission to install the 4 floating Roosts across three sites in the Kooragang Nature Reserve.

Navigating the barge into through a shallow break in the levee the team was racing the clock to install two roosts within Kooragang dykes before the tide dropped and trapped them - one adjacent to the dyke itself (a popular rocky high-tide roost) and the other on the leeward side of a stand of mangroves. This second site was selected as sanctuary from occasional howling Hunter Northerlies which may cause considerable discomfort at other roosts.

The barge reloaded and chugged up to Fullerton Cove and install a smaller roost adjacent to “Barry’s Beach” - Rob and Craig braved the mud to wade out with the lines from the boat as the water was too shallow at this point to install directly from the boat. 

Finally the team made its way to Stockton sand spit, where Rob and Emily adjusted some of the bags and attached a new flotilla of buoys after an opportunistic local helped themselves to the last set. By now it was close to low tide the mud on their legs was drying and the thirst was enormous.

With the roosts complete Gavin and his troupe from the Kooragang Wetlands volunteer group set to installing informative signs introducing the project to local water users and land lovers alike.

All we have to do now is wait for our target market (migratory shorebirds) to return from their winter honeymoons in the northern paelarctic. God’s speed winged warriors we look forward to welcoming you back in October!

*Jump over to the Geum Estuary roost blog to see what the birds are up to on migration.

Tuesday March 12,

With the day of installation quickly approaching Emily joined Gavin and his team of Kooragang wetland volunteers at Rob Redmayne’s Swan Bay oyster farm for a morning of fun filling our bags with oyster shell.

The use of oyster shell in the bags is the closest and cheapest way of replicating the structures used in commericial operations and fulfills two objectives:

  1. Shell weighs the bags down so they remain partially submerged and are less prone to flipping on the lines.

  2. The complex relief of the shells become colonised by intertidal and marine invertebrate communities (similar to an oyster reef), providing a food source for birds using the bags and those feeding in the water column around them.

While the oyster shell may increase local feeding opportunities for shorebirds, the Kooragang crew had to resort to sandwiches and muesli bars to sate their appetites on the day as they shovelled kilo after kilo of empty shell without tasting a single oyster.

Update 15/3: Final install has been delayed due to medical reasons. Watch this space

27 Feb 2019, Hunter anchor install

With final approvals to work coming through on the 26th we swung into action to begin the Hunter installation. That night I jumped a plane to Newcastle, with a bag full of Norway’s finest inflatable Buoys a sack of galvanized screw anchors and a backpack full of D-shackles. After some gentle baggage check-in diplomacy and a having my laptop stolen in the carry-on X-ray checkpoint, I was finally winging my way to the stunning Hunter Estuary.

Greeted by Emily and local Swan Bay Oyster guru, surfer and nice guy Rob Redmayne we got to work the next morning. Gavin from Hunter LLS and his team of dedicated volunteers ferried us out to the the Korrangang Dykes with our bounty of equipment. Although an artificial structure, which no doubt changed the natural hydrology of the estuary for the worse, the dykes, now breached, provide sheltered, relatively undisturbed roosting sites for birds on high tides. The rock walls are often lousy with Pacific Golden Plover Eastern Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper to name a few.

Selecting 2 sites which would provide shelter from two of the most prevailing winds Rob opened his endless tub of elbow grease and wound our anchors into the sediment as we muled the gear through the thick mud.

Next stop was the famous Stockton Sandspit where we caught up with HBOC shorebird doyen and conservation management warrior Tom Clarke. Tom gave us the lie of the land at the site, which is custom made (and maintained) for migratory shorebirds. Parting battalions of Soldier Crabs as we went we installed another 3 lines just beyond the sandspit.

Our 3rd and final stop was to Barry’s Beach on Fullerton Cove. A large intertidal cove lined with mangroves, shorebirds feeding in the area either move out of the Cove at high tide or retreat to a number of small beaches including Barry’s. After a brief chat with 5th generation farmer… Barry, we got our final anchors deployed and I jumped a plane back to Melbourne with empty luggage but at least 10kg of Hunter mud and salt onboard.

Now that the sites are marked out, our aquatic consultants will assess the marine ecology pre-install and we will deploy the bags shortly after. Unfortunately we will miss the belly of the shorebird season but the roosts will be in place ready for their return in October.

12 Feb 2019, Hunter Estuary recce

After only becoming involved in the trial late in 2018 Hunter have hit the ground running. BirdLife staff met with Hunter Bird Observers Club shorebirds experts, Hunter LLS staff and oyster farmers to scope out the three proposed installation sites.

Welcomed by a heavy 39 degree north westerly, conditions probably couldn’t have been worse for bird watching… however they couldn’t have been better for our install team to experience the worst the estuary could throw at our roosts! (We were also able to cook several small quiches on the bonnet of the car).

While the chop was felt on the boat in the estuary, waters were calmer within the Kooragang dyke where shorebirds currently roost on the rocky levee. Across the other side of the river, at Stockton sand spit and Fullerton Cove mangroves dull wave action and provide some shelter from the wind however their height hinders predator surveillance and deters shorebirds from roosting too close.

Golden Plovers, Eastern Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Whimbrel were all present and are all great candidates to take up a spot the roosts.

Welcome to the flock Emily Mowat

BirdLife is excited to welcome Emily Mowat to the Floating Roost Project. Emily is be spending most of her time working on local implementation of woodland bird conservation planning but will be working a day a week as local coordinator for the roost trial. For more information contact

BirdLife’s Emily Mowat and Zapco’s Tim Brown on the SS HLLS skippered by Gavin Farley

BirdLife’s Emily Mowat and Zapco’s Tim Brown on the SS HLLS skippered by Gavin Farley

Chris Purnell