Plea for awareness of ‘invisible’ birds
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.
Banded dotterel with chick.