​​Helping the endangered Black-necked stork in Hexham Swamp​

An exciting new project is underway to install a nest platform for the endangered Black-necked Stork in Hexham Swamp. The project - a partnership between Hunter Local Land Services and Hunter Bird Observers Club (HBOC) - aims to provide a home for the pair of Storks that has been residing in Hexham Swamp since 2018. Hunter Local Land Services is funding the project as part of its Hexham Swamp Rehabilitation Project through Hunter Catchment Contributions.

Amanda Hyde from Hunter Local Land Services said implementation of the rehabilitation project began over twenty years ago and has gradually restored tidal inundation to Ironbark Creek resulting in the re-establishment of a mosaic of wetland habitats including saltmarsh and open water.

Amanda continued “Through ongoing environmental monitoring we have seen the project restore fish and prawn habitat.

“A recent survey of aquatic fauna in Hexham Swamp has shown habitat improvement has successfully increased the abundance of fish and eels and it is thought the availability of this important food source for the Black-necked Stork has been a contributing factor to pair continuing to reside in Hexham Swamp.

“Since 2020, the resident pair has bred each year and has been closely monitored by members of HBOC.”

The proposal to install a nest platform was first raised in a paper published by HBOC member Ann Lindsey, ‘Fourth and fifth confirmed breeding records of Black-necked Stork in the Hunter Estuary near Newcastle, NSW.’

Anne said the breeding biology of this species is not well understood and as, it is classified as Endangered under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, it is important that information about its breeding behaviour is documented.

Anne said, “The Black-necked Stork is known to breed as solitary pairs in often difficult-to-access places, making detailed breeding studies a challenge and this region is regarded as the southern limit of its the breeding range.

“Because the large birds build a nest that is up to two metres wide and one metre deep, there is a lack of suitable nest trees in the swamp to support this size.

“Two years ago, a nest was blown out of the tree in a storm, resulting in the death of one of the two chicks which is why we are installing constructed nests to help the storks to successfully breed.”

Amanda continued, “With HBOC members expertise, we are working together with a local Newcastle industrial designer to construct a nest platform from aluminium that is large and robust and will be secured to a tripod.

“The platform will be embedded around a paperbark tree that was previously used by the storks as a nest tree and has since fallen into disrepair.”

In coming months, the team will continue to overcome enormous challenges in supporting the breeding of this endangered species. Due to the sensitive nature of the wetlands, the environmental assessment recommends transporting the nest by helicopter to the tree, as the method of least impact. Installation is planned for early July, prior to the upcoming breeding season to encourage the pair to make use of it.

The project is the first of its kind for Black-necked Stork in Australia and will contribute to the knowledge of this endangered species. Hunter Local Land Services and HBOC are looking forward to further successful breeding seasons in Hexham Swamp because of the partnership.

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