First ever comprehensive waterbird census of Lake Hawdon North completed

Over the 9th and 10th November, with help from Friends of Shorebirds SE (FoSSE) and the University of Adelaide (UofA), NGT undertook the first ever comprehensive waterbird census of Lake Hawdon North in the South East of SA. At over 2,500 hectares in size, and long recognised as a regionally significant wetland, this survey was long overdue! NGT was engaged to do this work through the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin On Ground Works project, investigating the feasibility of wetland restoration work at Lake Hawdon North. 

The census targeted shorebirds and waterfowl and focussed on the habitat types favoured by these guilds; that is, open water and shallow mudflat habitats. We also opportunistically counted birds within the other habitats of this wetland, such as swamp paperbark shrublands and Gahnia sedgelands, but confident counts were obtained only for the species favouring open water and mudflats.

The survey methodically recorded waterbirds in 220 cells encompassing the entire Lake Hawdon North.

To understand how waterbirds are using Lake Hawdon North we divided the wetland into 220 “cells”, each 400 by 400 m in size, and obtained a count for each. The cells were aligned so that none straddled Drain L, which runs through the central wetland from east to west, to make counting easier. The census included a wetland immediately north of Lake Hawdon North that is hydraulically connected to it much of the time.

Our team of surveyors covered many kilometres on foot, carrying spotting scopes and wearing waders as approximately 40% of the wetland was inundated at the time of the survey. It was tough work but also rewarding to get out and see this expansive and under-studied site up close.

Vicki Natt (FoSSE) setting up the spotting scope.
A flock of sharp-tailed sandpiper feeding.

The census recorded 69 bird species, of which 28 were species of open water and mudflats – and for which confident counts were obtained, and 41 other species were recorded opportunistically.

Species counted
Australasian shoveler22
Australian shelduck2786
Australian white ibis11
banded lapwing5
black swan159
black-winged stilt1313
Caspian tern1
cattle egret2
chestnut teal116
common greenshank47
great cormorant2
great egret2
grey teal1394
hoary-headed grebe11
little egret27
masked lapwing153
musk duck5
Pacific black duck330
pink-eared duck2
red-capped plover140
red-necked stint331
royal spoonbill1
sharp-tailed sandpiper674
silver gull702
straw-necked ibis1
whiskered tern1834
white-faced heron123
Species recorded opportunistically
Australasian pipit 
Australian hobby 
Australian magpie 
Australian raven 
beautiful firetail 
black-tailed native-hen 
brown falcon 
brown songlark 
brown thornbill 
collared sparrowhawk 
common blackbird 
common bronzewing 
common skylark 
common starling 
crested pigeon 
European goldfinch 
golden whistler 
golden-headed cisticola 
grey butcherbird 
grey currawong 
grey fantail 
grey shrike-thrush 
Horsefield’s bronze-cuckoo 
little grassbird 
little raven 
Nankeen kestrel 
raven sp. 
singing honeyeater 
spiny-cheeked honeyeater 
striated fieldwren 
superb fairy-wren 
swamp harrier 
wedge-tailed eagle 
welcome swallow 
white-browed scrubwren 
white-fronted chat 
willie wagtail 

These numbers provide a baseline against which we can compare future surveys under similar water levels and/or time of year. If the restoration of Lake Hawdon North is undertaken, subject to current feasibility investigations, a comparison of these waterbird abundance data with future surveys post-restoration will provide one measure of restoration outcomes.

NGT is very grateful for the assistance provided by FoSSE and UofA. Thank you:

  • Maureen Christie (FoSSE)
  • Vicki Natt (FoSSE)
  • Cath Bell (FoSSE)
  • Holly Prest (FoSSE)
  • Josie Doyle (FoSSE)
  • Graham Doyle (FoSSE)
  • Micha Jackson (UofA)
Maureen Christie (FoSSE) takes a break from counting on an abandoned black swan nest. Photo: Josie Doyle.

This project is part of the South Australian Government’s Healthy Coorong Healthy Basin Program which is jointly funded by the Australian and South Australian governments.

Ben Taylor