Seaham Swamp

Written and compiled by Micheala Gilligan with thanks to
the research and writing of the late Brian Gilligan and the late Dr Max Maddock

“A small wetland gem”  Dr Max Maddock

Seaham Swamp, about 11ha in area, lies on the floodplain of the Williams River near the bridge in Seaham. Previously common, most of the original permanent coastal wetlands of this type have been destroyed by drainage for either agricultural or floodplain mitigation purposes. Despite it’s small size the wetland is significant as waterbird habitat.

Some of the attributes which make it a valuable waterbird habitat are:

• A water level (mostly less than 1 m deep) is more stable than for most of the other remaining wetlands in the district. This makes it favourable and productive feeding grounds for wading and dabbling birds.

• A wide range of roosting and nesting sites including both mature and young paperbarks, and floating rafts of vegetation.

• A sheltered position on the narrow western floodplain of the Williams River.

Originally the swamp was Crown Land and a Permissive Occupancy had allowed for drainage and grazing in the late 1960s. In December 1971 the land was listed for auction. Following representations from local resident Brian Gilligan, the local state member Milton Morris, MLA, took the matter up with the Minister for Lands and the auction was cancelled at the last minute in January 1972. The NPWS gazetted the swamp as a Nature Reserve in 1975.

In 1976 – 1977 there were 38 waterbird species using the swamp, 15 of them breeding there. The littoral zone was the one most intensively used by most species. The swamp was used as a drought refuge by some inland species especially when drought conditions inland coincide with a dry period on the coast.

Thirty eight of the observed species are classified as waterbirds.

Latham’s Snipe

Seaham was a key habitat for snipe in the 1980s. This snipe is a migratory wader which breeds in Japan (hence it had earlier been called Japanese Snipe) during our winter and usually arrived at Seaham in August/September, and departed again for the breeding grounds by mid-March. It is protected under the Japan and China Migratory Birds agreements. In September 1978 Brian Gilligan “flushed 105 snipe in a 5 minute walk along 200 metres of the north-west edge of the swamp”… “this concentration was certainly exceptional”.

Magpie Geese

In 1987-1990 Shortland Wetlands Centre initiated a Magpie Geese re-introduction program. Numbers of these birds increased at Seaham as they made frequent visits from Shortland. Up to 40 birds were recorded at one time, most of them spending the day at Seaham after overnight  roosting at nearby wetlands.

In recent years the birds have been mostly absent, often only single birds recorded. Loss of vegetation such as the birds’ favourite Water Ribbon has most likely caused the Magpie Geese to abandon Seaham.

Cattle Egrets

In the late 1970s Cattle Egrets were spectacular in quantity during winter at Seaham. They arrived in late February or early March and all had usually gone by early November for their migration to southern Australia. Their numbers continued to increase with more birds arriving earlier and staying longer. In 1978 for the first time some birds stayed through summer to breed at Seaham. In January 1979 there were 42 egret nests in use. The cattle egrets did not often feed at the swamp but rather split into groups of 15-20 birds which associated themselves with grazing cattle on farms several kilometres away. The groups flocked back at dusk to roost. The broad leafed paperbarks around the swamp provided the roosting and nesting sites.

The egrets at Seaham generated a great deal of interest for passing visitors who saw the magnificent spectacle of trees covered with white birds and stopped to wonder and admire


Seaham School, with a view over the swamp, was inspired to take on a stylised egret design for the school logo.

Max Maddock – Project Egret Watch

Max initiated Project Egret Watch out of the Shortland Wetlands Centre, the aim being to study the breeding biology, ecology and migration of the birds. Beginning in 1985. He led a team of volunteers from the Wetlands Centre and pupils from Seaham School who leg-banded and wing-tagged Cattle Egrets. This work enabled the recognition of individual birds and the tracking of the behaviour and movement over their lifespan. The results of the research have been published in scientific literature.

Observations at Seaham and in the nearby areas of the Williams Valley have provided strong evidence of the importance of our wetlands as part of an inter-dependent national network of migratory waterbird habitat.

Seaham Swamp

Seaham swamp circa 1970

Bird Observation Hut

Ten Years in the Making

Max Maddock’s regular visits to the swamp, observing bird activity, allowed him to observe other things as well. In 1989 he noticed that PSSC was dumping hard fill next to East Seaham Road north of the swamp, and he saw that as a golden opportunity to provide an observation reserve. He and local resident Anne Heinrich met with an engineer from the Council to suggest forming the material into a platform suitable for a future reserve. Council obliged and tipping and forming began.
In April 1996 a Seaham Landcare Group was established. A steering committee was formed with representatives from the Shortland Wetlands Centre, PSSC, NPWS, Native Animals Trust Fund, Friends of Seaham Quarry and local residents. The committee was to oversee the establishment of the reserve and roofed observation facilities. PSSC agreed to convert the platform of fill into a picnic reserve. Grants were successfully sought from NSW Catchment Management Enhancement Fund and from Hunter Catchment Management Trust Landcare Support Scheme to re-vegetate the bank in front of the reserve, and from the National Heritage Trust Scheme to build two roofed observation platforms.
In July 1996 NPWS organised a working bee to plant tube stock paperbarks in the egret colony, and PSSC started work on the picnic reserve. On Anzac Day 1997, 55 volunteers rolled up to plant trees to re- vegetate the bank in front of the reserve.
Finally in 1999 (after long delays due to ill health and bureaucratic difficulties over public liability) the roofed platform was completed. Interpretive panels were installed to provide information for the public.
The building is not a traditional bird hide, rather ‘an all weather observation vantage point overlooking the swamp’. It is testament to what can be achieved with vision, persistence, patience, hard work and Government agency co-operation.
  • Waterbirds of Seaham Swamp

  • Hoary-headed grebe (Podicephalus poliocephalus)
  • Australasian Grebe (rachybaptus novaehollandiae)
  • Australian pelican (Pelecanusconspicillatus)
  • Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
  • Little black cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
  • Little pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos)
  • Pacific heron (Ardea pacifica)
  • White-faced heron (Ardea novaehollandiae)
  • Cattle egret (Ardeola ibis)
  • Great egret (Egretta alba)
  • Little egret (Egretta garzetta)
  • Intermediate egret (Egretta intermedia)
  • Rufous night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)
  • Black-necked stork (xenorhynchus asiaticus)
  • Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
  • Sacred ibis (Threskiornis ethiopica)
  • Straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)
  • Royal spoonbill (Platalea regia)
  • Yellow-billed spoonbill (Platalea flavipes)
  • Plumed whistling duck (Dendrocygna eytoni)
  • Black swan (Cygnus atratus)
  • Pacific black duck (Anas superciliosa)
  • Grey teal (Anas gibberifrons)
  • Chestnut teal (Anas castanea)
  • Australasian shoveler (Anas rhynchotis)
  • Pink-eared duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceous)
  • Hardhead (Aythya australis)
  • Maned duck (Chenonetta jubata)
  • Buff-banded rail (Rallus philippensis)
  • Australian crake (Porzana fluminea)
  • Dusky moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa)
  • Purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
  • Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
  • Comb-crested jacana (Irediparra gallinacea)
  • Masked lapwing (vanellus miles)
  • Black-fronted plover (Charadrius melanops)
  • Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
  • Latham’s snipe (Gallinago hardwickii)