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Shocking Christmas Day Discovery Waihī Beach – Vandalised, Significant Native NZ Dotterel Nesting Site

Over the last four years, Waihī Beach residents have been taking good care of their highly endangered native Northern NZ Dotterels, who are shockingly deemed more at risk of extinction than the Brown Kiwi. This year has seen the largest nesting colony of the dotterels in NZ situated at the North End at Brighton Reserve.

An unprecedented number of the Dotterels are nesting in one small area on the southern slope of Brighton Reserve. A double cordon has been erected, with signage asking residents and visitors to keep dogs on leads, to tread carefully and to respect this endangered species. Residents have even taken great lengths to relocate their cats over the 5 weeks in the vicinity or keep them inside at night.

Ongoing collaboration with the Dot Watch team, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the Department of Conservation has ensued, and the organisations have carefully considered how these endangered birds will successfully fledge chicks when an overwhelming number of visitors hit the beach in summer. Waihī Beach swells from 4000 to 25,000 for the 5 weeks of summer and unfortunately at the most critical time during the Dotterels breeding season.

On Christmas Day, Dot Watch volunteer Chris Sloan went down to undertake her usual nest monitoring at Brighton Reserve.

“To my horror, I arrived at the Brighton Reserve to find that the cordons had been ripped out everywhere, the birds were distressed, it just looked like an apocalypse of the nesting site. There was no sign of the newly hatched chick ‘George’ and some of the birds were missing. I didn’t have my phone, so had to try and put back the cordon by myself – something at least three volunteers would have done.”

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“Visitors in the baches just watched me, a pensioner, and didn’t even offer to help. It was a disgrace”.

Chris’s morning visit would normally ensure that all the birds were safe and to spot that chick ‘George’ was still alive, who has been aptly named after local conservationist and lifelong bird enthusiast, 101-year-old George Clark.

George commented “I am extremely upset about hearing this news, I enjoy regular weekly reports about the state of the Dotterels. Our native species are fighting a tough battle against many predators, and only the dedicated efforts of local people who care, give our endangered NZ dotterel any chance of surviving. This is an atrocious act of total disregard towards our precious species, and it saddens me beyond belief. I am 102 in March, and I have never heard of anything like this happening at Waihī Beach before”.

Disturbing protected birds and destroying nests is an offence under the Wildlife Act 1953 and can result in imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000. Due to the seriousness of the vandalism and the fact that nests had been destroyed, and ‘George’ could not be located, the Police had to be called out on Christmas Day.

“Dot Watch is devastated; we lost our first nest at Flat White to a cat destroying the eggs just as the chicks were hatching. Now we are seeing complete disrespect for these small birds [one small 50-meter Sq. cordon] within the 34kms Sq. here at Waihī beach, fighting the fight of their life trying to survive. Volunteers put 100’s of hours in every year to help protect the species, to have someone come and destroy all that hard mahi in a short time, is just mindless disrespect for our natives”.

Dot Watch is a small group of like-minded individuals, including former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, which was formed to protect the endangered New Zealand dotterel and its habitat at Waihī Beach and surrounding areas.

Helen is passionate about the dotterels’ welfare and says:

'The threats posed to the dotterels have been overwhelming - and not only from introduced mammal predators. Juveniles and eggs have been destroyed by other bird species, such as spur-winged plovers, black-backed gulls, and pukeko - to name but a few. It has been a constant battle to protect the birds, with the added challenges of some people using the nest cordons as football goals, and dotterel eggs being destroyed by golfers and golf balls and now this”

“Dot Watch is determined to see that these endangered birds have a chance to survive, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that and stop this behaviour. I would like to offer four important pieces of advice for visitors and residents alike:

· Please be mindful of any signage about protecting dotterels, and leash your dogs at least 50m from nest sites, even if you are walking your dogs on the dog-walking beach (Albacore Avenue to Plom Road).

· Keep companion cats in at night if you live within 2km of a nesting area. This is a cat's range, and they will potentially destroy the nest and any juveniles, as we witnessed in 2022.

· Keep your distance (50m) as the birds will lead you away from nest sites if you go near them. If the dotterels are incubating eggs and leave the nest, the eggs can get too hot or too cold if they leave the nest. If they have chicks, those chicks could get into difficulty without protection from the parent birds.

· Tell your friends and whānau how they can help.

Dot Watch is very thankful to the Waihī Beach community and visitors who have rallied around to help protect these birds and hope that this incident will not happen again.

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