At around 1700 individuals, the New Zealand dotterel//tūturiwhatu is among our rarest birds, it’s officially ranked as ‘nationally vulnerable’.
Constant disturbance from humans—and the animals that accompany us—prevents many chicks from reaching their preferred feeding habitat, the mid-tide zone, causing them to die prematurely. Post-mortems on some chicks have revealed that they have starved to death.
Dotterel Watch is a partnership between DOC, community volunteers and the Newmont Waihi Gold mining company. The partnership is making a huge difference to the New Zealand dotterels’ survival.
The sponsorship from Newmont Waihi Gold enables the employment of a full-time dotterel ranger over the six month breeding season. The ranger provides technical, logistical and operational support for the network of volunteer dotterel minders.
Local communities have made the programme succeed, that’s where all the volunteers come from—often, they’re retirees. Then, they talk to their neighbours, who end up filling in the odd shift for them; next thing, they’re involved too!
The countless hours that volunteers have put in watching over the birds has resulted in some valuable behavioural observations and some innovative hands-on management lessons.
The northern dotterel population is counted every seven years. Thanks to minders, the roping-off of nest sites, predator control and active management, breeding success on Coromandel beaches has improved from an average of 30 chicks fledged per season in the 1990s, to over 120 in good seasons. They nest at 48 different sites along the coast.
Dotterel Watch has expanded from protecting one site, Opoutere Beach, to today protecting over 70 per cent of their breeding habitat.
The dotterels themselves are starting to show up at new beaches, which hints that the population is beginning to expand.