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BOP Shorebirds on the Mend

BOP Shorebirds on the Mend.

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Two years ago shorebirds in the Bay of Plenty had to content with the problems caused by the oilspill from MV Rena. They were fortunate in that the bulk of the oil came ashore away from most of their nesting sites, but significant damage was done. The New Zealand Dotterel, a threatened species found only in New Zealand, was particularly badly affected, partly by the oil and partly by being taken into ‘protective captivity’ to ensure that they were not more affected by the oil, more that 10% of the bay’s population was lost as a result.

There are only around 2400 New Zealand Dotterels in the world, and some 150 of them live in the Bay of Plenty, with a significant concentration between Waihi Beach and Opotiki. So we are an important area for them and the fact that the Rena oilspill occurred in the middle of their breeding season increased the impact.

Some of the funding provided by the Ministry for the Environment for the Rena Recovery Programme, has been targeted at helping the dotterel recover from the effects of the Rena, and recent information from around the Bay indicates that they may have recovered well.

The recent newsletter of the BOP Shorebird Programme, which is funded and supported by MfE, DOC and Forest & Bird, showed New Zealand Dotterel nesting at 22 or more locations along the coast with more that 60 pairs breeding. If you add in the non-breeding birds, then there are probably up to 150 of this threatened species in the Bay, a significant increase over the estimated 120 that were here when the Rena went aground.

The BOP Shorebird programme is coordinated by Julian Fitter, who also helps to run the Maketu Ongatoro Wetland Society, Maketu has the biggest single colony of dotterel in the bay with some 12 pairs nesting on Maketu Spit, and a further 7 pairs at Pukehina and Newdick’s Beach.. The programme is only possible because of the help provided by many volunteers who perform three functions.

Trapping is a major part of the programme, Dotterel are ground nesters and very vulnerable to a wide range of predators including rats, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, dogs and feral cats. By setting out a number of traps close to known breeding sites we are able to keep the number of potential predators down which improves the survival rate of the chicks who having survived 4 weeks in an egg, have to survive another 6 weeks before they can fly. Most of the traps in the eastern bay are set out by DOC as they are double traps and quite heavy to handle. The traps are baited either with an egg, or with dried rabbit meat.

The second element of the programme is erecting fencing and signage. In most places this is temporary and just erected for the season to advise people not to walk in that area as it is easier to tread on a nest without realising it. At Pukehina we have erected a much more sturdy fence as we are trying to encourage the dune grasses to grow back. Previously quad bike owners would drive all over the spit, which not only endangers nesting shorebirds, but also kills small plants that are just starting to develop and hold the sand. The results here have been excellent, though we have had to move the fence a couple of times as the main channel in the harbour has moved and eroded the spit from the inside.

The third task performed by volunteers is monitoring, this is important as Dotterel often breed in very unusual places, we have just had one in Bowentown, near Waihi Beach, nest on the edge of the carpark, amazingly the chicks have hatched and we hope will make it to adulthood. In other places the fences have to be moved or enlarged to include a nest outside the fenced area. If there is bad weather in the offing and there is a dotterel nest right on the high tide line, then it is possible to move the nest higher up the beach to avoid it being washed away.

It is encouraging to see an increase in the number of sites where dotterel and other shore birds are breeding, this may be an indicator that the population is growing and that the work of the shorebird programme and its many volunteers ins bearing fruit.
Apart from the new site in the Bowentown carpark, they have also started nesting in the newly created Athenree wetland, on the sand quarry at Sulphur Point, on Newdick’s beach near Maketu and on the sand island off Piripai Spit at Whakatane.

Another aspect of the programme is education, it has two objectives, protecting shorebirds and education the public, especially through a programme of presentations to schools, often working with Coastcare to ensure that children grow up with a better understanding and appreciation of our natural environment. Birds are not the only animals that are found on the beach, but they are a very good indicator of the state of the environment. If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy those beaches, then we need to look after them and the birds and plants that live there.

As a visitor to our beautiful beaches, you can do your part to protect these delightful and iconic species.

Vehicle drivers cannot see the well camouflaged eggs on the sand and may run over the nests, or simply drive the birds away from their nests. There should be no vehicles on the beaches where they nest. People, pets, and horses also pose a major threat through trampling of nests, and disturbance during breeding.

When walking on the beach you can play your part by not disturbing any nests - keep below the high tide mark, keep dogs on a short leash, and preferably leave them at home. If you see a bird feigning injury or acting as if it objects to your presence then please move on quickly as the bird probably has a nest nearby. The bird will not return to the nest until you have gone and the neglected eggs may be stolen by a predator or suffer from excessive heating or chilling.

Known nest areas are often roped or fenced off – please stay well clear of these areas and leave the birds in peace. They are dedicated parents but need all of our help.

The BOP Shorebird Programme is an excellent example of a partnership between national and local government, NGOs and the community. The programme has only been running for 2 years, but it is already bearing fruit.

If you would like to volunteer and become part of this great program, or want further information please do contact:

Julian Fitter, julianfitter@xtra.co.nz


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