Shorebird strategy 2017
Macleay River Estuary Migratory and Threatened Shorebird Species Management Strategy

Cover of Macleay River Estuary Migratory and Threatened Shorebird Species Management Strategy

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Summary

Shorebirds are in global conservation crisis. Their numbers have seriously declined over the past three decades. In Australia, at least 73% fewer migratory shorebirds have been recorded returning from Russia, east Asia and Alaska via the East Asian-Australasian Flyway each spring on our beaches, estuaries and wetlands. Once a relatively common species, the Bar-tailed Godwit - a bird that has flown an avian world-record 11,680 km from Alaska to New Zealand in 9 days - has now become ‘near-threatened’ (see www.abc.net.au/news/science/2016-06-17/flying-for-your-life-ann-jones/7459288 ). The large-scale loss of tidal flats to coastal development along China’s Yellow Sea is a key driver of this decline. This habitat is vitally important to waders to re-fuel and rest during their arduous annual migration. The impact of a changing global climate is also implicated in this broad-scale loss of shorebird numbers.

This decline in migratory shorebird numbers appears to have been also experienced at the local level. The Macleay River estuary and its coastline support a rich and diverse avifauna but the results of two systematic surveys undertaken as part of the project and other data may support this trend. Poorly studied compared with the Hunter, Clarence, Richmond and Tweed Rivers, the Macleay River estuary is part of Hastings-Macleay Important Bird Area. It provides foraging, roosting and/or potential nesting resources for 19 listed threatened shorebird species. Three nationally endangered species are among the threatened shorebirds that occur in the area. Two of these birds - Far Eastern Curlew and Curlew Sandpiper - are listed as critically endangered while the third (Australasian Bittern) is endangered. Three other threatened aquatic species - Little Tern, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Eastern Osprey were recorded during the surveys. Three other species are residents but are also listed as threatened within NSW - Beach Stone-curlew (Critically Endangered), Black-necked Stork (Vulnerable) and Brolga (Vulnerable). The latter species was recorded during the spring 2016 survey. A total of 26 shorebird species listed under international migratory bird protection agreements occur in Macleay River estuary.

This project was initiated by Kempsey Shire Council to obtain baseline data on migratory and resident shorebird species in the Macleay Estuary and coastline. Information on shorebird species occurrence, abundance, use of habitat, key threats and conservation management requirements were obtained through systematic field surveys in spring 2016 (26 sites) and summer 2017 (28 sites) and associated GIS mapping.

A total of 1,653 birds from 50 aquatic species were recorded during the surveys. Of these, 273 individuals were shorebirds from 16 different species. These included 10 long-distance migratory species and 6 resident or dispersive species. This result was affected by record high summer temperatures and 34% below-average rainfall received in the area during the survey period. Other records were used to augment the survey data. A number of significant shorebird foraging and roosting sites were recorded based on direct observations made during the surveys and from discussions with local bird observers.

This report is presented in three parts - shorebird ecology and conservation, the shorebird management strategy, and recommendations. Recommendations present a set of practical and prioritised actions to protect shorebirds and their habitat over time in the Macleay River estuary and along the coastline within Kempsey Local Government Area. These are based on the results of the field surveys, discussions with local bird observers and landholders, and habitat mapping and habitat/disturbance and threat risk prioritisation assessments. As always, the potential for successful uptake of these actions depends on some key ingredients. These include adequate resourcing, local community support and engagement, especially to reduce the impact on shorebird habitat of key threats such as 4WD and trailbike access, fox predation and dog incursion into foraging, roost and nesting sites, and a commitment to further monitoring across the study area.