Plea for aware­ness of ‘in­vis­i­ble’ birds

Kaikoura Star - - OUT & ABOUT - PIPPA BROWN

The coast be­tween South Bay and Peketa looks like any long stretch of east coast shin­gle beach.

It can be an un­for­giv­ing en­vi­ron­ment, es­pe­cially for the vul­ner­a­ble colony of tiny banded dot­terel which live just above the line of drift­wood and sea­weed at the high tide mark brought up by the re­lent­less pound­ing of Pa­cific Ocean waves and southerly storms.

From Au­gust re­searcher Ailsa Howard pa­trols the small patch of beach east of State High­way 1 mark­ing small de­pres­sions in the ground with twigs which have been ‘‘scraped’’ out by nest­ing par­ents.

Howard said the birds have ’’evolved to be phys­i­cally in­vis­i­ble’’ and it would be easy to step on the light grey eggs cam­ou­flaged on the stoney beach or ride over a nest with a quad bike they are so hard to spot.

Dot­terels which typ­i­cally nest on braided rivers and coastal beaches were once ex­tremely com­mon.

‘‘They are con­sid­ered vul­ner­a­ble and de­clin­ing rapidly and we have one third of what we had 10 years ago,’’ said Howard.

Howard has been mon­i­tor­ing the nest­ing birds here for three years. From late Au­gust she’s out there in all weather. In the first year pro­duc­tiv­ity only 1.8 per cent, or two chicks per 100 eggs.

Last year it was 11.4 per cent and 10 chicks fledged. Nest vi­a­bil­ity needs to be about 40 per cent for the birds to sur­vive long term.

‘‘The chop­per dis­tur­bance made a big dif­fer­ence af­ter the earth­quake be­cause no chicks sur­vived af­ter that.

‘‘This year is track­ing well and pre­da­tion rates have been quite low.’’

Events like Seafest and The Kaiko¯ura Hop bring peo­ple who can light fires on the beach.

‘‘Peo­ple ag­i­tate and stress the birds and un­in­ten­tion­ally crush their nests,’’ Howard said.

‘‘Guy Fawkes is com­ing. That’s a ter­ri­ble event for dot­terels with crack­ers on the beach.’’

Th­ese vul­ner­a­ble chicks which ‘‘evolved to be in­vis­i­ble’’ fight off nu­mer­ous preda­tors, in­clud­ing roam­ing cats, stoats and hedge­hogs.

If the par­ents are scared off the nest it gives time for gulls to swoop in for the kill and if there’s too much in­ter­fer­ence the par­ents will aban­doned the nest.

Howard said the ded­i­cated birds were so de­ter­mined to re­pro­duce they would try again.

‘‘They in­vest ev­ery­thing and give it their all.

‘‘It’s such a big part of their life for three or four months, be­fore they head off to other parts - or Aus­tralia,’’ she said.

Howard asks peo­ple to be vig­i­lant and to keep away from the nest­ing ar­eas, keep dogs on lead, use quad bikes only on the tracks and for peo­ple who have cats to keep them in­side at night, and for home­own­ers to help trap stoats and hedge­hogs.

Although they are dif­fi­cult to see, Howard said the best way to avoid a nest is to watch your feet and lis­ten for the chick and par­ent call­ing to each other.

‘‘The birds come here be­cause there’s such a nu­tri­tious food sup­ply but they fail so we have a plum­met­ing species.’’

‘‘We have a high den­sity of th­ese birds on South Bay beach be­cause Kaiko¯ura is con­sid­ered a very nu­tri­tious area and a ‘‘hot spot’’ for life.’’

‘‘Kaiko¯ura is a rich and mag­nif­i­cent en­vi­ron­ment and it’s about ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple so we can live side by side in this place.

‘‘I think the rea­son peo­ple come to Kaiko¯ura is be­cause of the wildlife.’’

Howard would like to see the beaches gain wildlife sta­tus so peo­ple be­come more aware of the bio­di­ver­sity and value it.

PHOTO/ AILSA HOWARD

Banded dot­terel with chick.

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