Fieldwork lies at the very core of HBOC’s activities. We take great pride in the range of field studies that we have underway, and in the broad spectrum of people (mostly but not exclusively Club members) who have contributed their time and their passion. We are also very pleased about the numbers of papers and reports that have flowed from our field studies program and the extra knowledge about birds which has eventuated.

We organise several core, long-term field studies programs. Also, over the years we have committed to various others one-off or short term field studies projects. Below is a summary.

Members who are interested in any aspect of the field studies program are strongly encouraged to volunteer to help with the Club’s efforts. Contact Alan Stuart in the first instance.

Hunter Estuary Surveys

Monthly surveys are conducted by HBOC members at a large number of sites around the Hunter Estuary). The surveys commenced in 1999 and the results now form a major database. We record all waterbirds present although the main focus is to count shorebirds. The Hunter Estuary is the most important site in NSW for shorebirds and a key location both nationally and within the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Birds move through components of the estuary in accordance with the tide cycle. As the tide falls, sandflats in the North Arm of the Hunter River are the first feeding areas exposed. At low tide the main feeding area is Fullerton Cove. As the tide comes in, birds move to the mudflats behind the Kooragang dykes. At high tide they move to their roost areas where they will stay for 4-6 hours. The majority of shorebirds roost on the Kooragang Dykes with more than 2000 birds present during summer. Stockton Sandspit is another important high tide roost site plus there are many other roost sites around the estuary. The readily accessible Stockton Sandspit is probably the best place to observe shorebirds, particularly as the tide begins to recede each cycle. Two important sites have recently emerged, following rehabilitation projects to re-establish tidal inundation. They are Tomago Wetlands (which has restricted access) and Hexham Swamp. See the Birding Routes section for how to access Hexham Swamp.

The common migratory shorebird species in the Hunter Region include Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Great Knot, Red Knot, Red-necked Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover, Latham’s Snipe, The common non-migratory species are Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Red-capped Plover, Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-kneed Dotterel and Masked Lapwing. Many other shorebird species are recorded less frequently in the Estuary.

The survey dates are given in the calendar (see under Activities). They mostly occur on a Saturday morning – the start times vary according to tidal conditions. In the event of bad weather the survey may be changed to the following day instead. It is therefore important for prospective participants to contact a survey team leader before the event, just in case the date has been changed for some reason.

Port Stephens Surveys

Twice per year (targets being February and July) we survey waterbirds in the whole of Port Stephens. The surveys, which commenced in 2002, are done by boat (6 boats are used). They are carried out in collaboration with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, with assistance also from the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Parks Authority. Monthly surveys are also conducted by HBOC members at Gir-um-bit NP, an important high tide roost site on the western side of Port Stephens. These surveys are carried out at the same day/time as the Hunter Estuary surveys.

Other Shorebird/Waterbird Surveys

A team of Club members does surveys at sites around the entrance to Lake Macquarie each month, on the same date as the Hunter Estuary surveys. Also, some members in collaboration with NPWS survey the Worimi Conservation Lands (along Stockton Bight) most months, on the day before the scheduled Hunter Estuary survey.

Rufous Scrub-bird Studies

A population of the southern species of the Rufous Scrub-bird occurs in the Gloucester Tops (within the Barrington Tops and Gloucester Tops IBA). Members of HBOC monitor this population through targeted surveys of calling males at their territories, supplemented by sonogram studies and territory behavioural studies. Contact Alan Stuart if you are interested in assisting. Several papers have been produced detailing results from the study.

RSB background notes.pdf
RSB Observers instructions.pdf
RSB Organisers guidelines.pdf
RSB survey sheet.pdf
RSB Sep 2010 interim report.pdf
RSB Oct 2010 interim report.pdf
Rufous Scrub-bird Interpretation of Surveys.pdf
RSB Monitoring in Gloucester Tops IBA 2010_11.pdf

Sonograms Birdsong and You.pdf

An excellent step-by-step tutorial in learning to read spectrograms, which is at the same time a step-by-step tutorial in how to listen to and describe bird sounds, can be found at

Broughton Island Terrestrial Birds

After feral animals were successfully removed from Broughton Island, we conducted a series of spring and autumn surveys to establish baseline data about the Broughton Island non seabird population, so that future changes to the population can be readily identified. There is a paper about this in The Whistler and prior to that there were two interim reports:  Broughton Island 2012-2014 report.pdf; Broughton Island Land Birds – Year 1 Results.pdf. The monitoring program continues and is now supplemented by a bird banding study, involving quarterly visits.

Other Field Studies Projects

      • In 2019 we trialled the use of a drone for monitoring shorebirds and waterbirds in the Hunter Estuary (Hunter Wetlands NP). Here is a link to the report:  HBOC Drone Trial Report July 2019



      • In 2010 we conducted surveys at the “Belltrees” Homestead (via Scone), a place of great historic importance in early Australian ornithology. Belltrees Surveys May 2010.pdf


      • After fires destroyed an area of saltmarsh on Ash Island in 2012, members made monthly visits over a 3-year period to monitor how the area recovered. There is a paper about this in The Whistler.


Annual Reports about the Field Studies Program

The reports below also appear as an Appendix to the HBOC Annual Reports. Since 2015, the annual Field Studies and Data Management reports are embedded into the HBOC Annual Report and there is no stand-alone version.

Field Studies and Data Management Report 2014.pdf

Field Studies and Data Management Report 2013.pdf

Field Studies and Data Management Report 2012.pdf

Field Studies and Data Management Report 2011.pdf

Field Studies and Data Management Report 2010.pdf