Target Species: Swamp Harrier
Hexham Swamp is located a couple of hours north of Sydney, right near Newcastle. It is an inter-tidal wetland that has undergone drastic changes and is a token of success for large-scale environmental rehabilitation. In the early 70s, saltwater was forbidden from entering the plains in order to make the lands more suitable for agriculture, decimating the ecology of the swamp and changing the natural ebb and flow an intertidal wetland needs to survive. The area became freshwater swamp and agricultural land, losing its ecological value, with evidence of declines in crustacean and bird numbers. An initiative driven by landholders and industry groups urged the governments to work collectively to restore the natural balance and allow saltwater to once again infiltrate the system. The area is now a nationally recognised wetland, with flocks of summer migratory birds appearing again from as far places as Siberia. The crustacean numbers have shown to be increasing in recent years. Local native fish numbers appear to be back on track. The saltmarsh ecosystem has since been restored. The site itself is returning to its former glory.
To enter the site, we came in along Pipeline Road to the north and followed this the 3 or so km along the dirt track. It was easily permissible with my AWD car Subaru. We were pleasantly greeted by a Buff-Banded Rail, standing motionless as we passed by. The swamp itself yielded me a new species to add to my list, the Red-Kneed Dotterel. Deemed reasonably common and although occasionally abundant, there were only 15 or so, wading close to the road in the shallow feeding.
Hexham Swamp is a regular haunt for many raptor species and this day did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to see 5 Swamp Harrier, Black-Shouldered Kite and Nankeen Kestrel with the Kestrel hunting for insects close by. We were also lucky enough to have the Black-Shouldered Kite perch right in front of us, maybe having a break from peering through the thickets of Samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) and Seablite (Sueda australis) or awaiting a new snack. Unfortunately for me, only once I had looked over the photos I had taken did I see that on the next post was a White-Fronted Chat! A new bird for me! Ah, like a mouse blinded by the food in a mouse trap, I was too focused on the Kite itself only failing to notice the chat itself! Ah well, another to add to the list I guess!
I really enjoyed wandering around the swamp itself. The birdlife is abundant, the scenery exceptional. It is an ecosystem that is rarely wandered and explored but its significance to the greater ecosystem is unparalleled. On the surface, places like this can look quite inconsequential, when in reality, they are quite on the contrary. Only once you delve deep into the myriad of lifeforms that call this place home and explore the significance it can have on the ecology of the entire region, can you truly understand and appreciate the true beauty of places like Hexham Swamp.