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Whilst many folk are doing their best to be seen on our beaches this summer, some of our more secretive residents are struggling with the crowds.

I’m talking about the NZ dotterel (tuturiwhatu) which nest in sand scrapes on many of our North Island beaches.

NZ dotterel sitting on a simple sand-scrape nest

These birds and their nests are well camouflaged and often invisible to the untrained eye, leaving them vulnerable to disturbance by unwary beachgoers, their dogs and vehicles.

Today I’ve had a report from a member of the public about people walking through the fenced off nesting site at Matakana to relieve themselves and to sit in the sun.

It’s true that sometimes the birds choose to nest in places that are inconvenient to beach users, but in the scheme of things, I’d suggest that the inconvenience of having to walk an extra 100m is a small price to pay for the survival of this species which numbers just 1700 individuals in NZ (and the world!)

A tiny, very sand coloured dotterel chick is easy to miss

and the results can be devastating – this chick was crushed by an unwary motorist

When dotterel adults are disturbed off the nest while incubating, the eggs are at risk of overheating. Young chicks, when disturbed, can die from exhaustion as they cannot eat in time, or get to their feeding grounds at the water’s edge.

Here in Tauranga we have major dotterel nesting sites on Matakana Island and Maketu spit that are protected through the efforts of Ranger Witana and the Port of Tauranga at Matakana and community volunteers at Maketu whom control predators, monitor breeding success and fence off the nesting areas in an effort to protect them from being disturbed.

Birds bred at Matakana last year have recently been seen at beaches around the Coromandel and East Cape.

So as you enjoy the beach this summer, please spare a thought for the shy locals (even if you can’t see them) and give them a little space.

For more information about NZ dotterel, please visit our website.

Blending in with the driftwood

DOC staff working with local volunteers to rescue the stranded whales

I didn’t expect to be flying up to Coromandel to help with a whale stranding when I woke up this morning, but at 9.30am, that’s exactly what I was doing.

63 pilots whales stranded in Colville Bay at about 5.30AM this morning and it didn’t take long for the DOC team up there to leap from holiday to emergency mode and start working towards  rescuing them.

Sadly about 20 of the whales expired pretty early, but thanks to the efforts of locals, iwi, holiday makers, Project Jonah volunteers, the Harbourmaster and our own staff, the rest were kept wet & comfortable until they could be refloated at about 2.30pm. 

Pilot whales get pretty disoriented when they strand, so it took a while for them to ‘find their fins’ and each other, plus they paused for one of the females to give birth to a calf before heading into deeper water.

Dr Ingrid Visser was keeping an eye on them as I left this afternoon.  Here’s hoping they stay out there tonight.

The sad losses

This has got to be the best office in the world!!!!

The sunrise view of South East Bay from my bunk

I’ve just spent a week with 14 other staff, four volunteers and two owners on Tuhua (Mayor) Island.  Whilst the view of the sunrise from my bunk each morning was a great way to start each day, it was certainly no holiday. 

Each day we loaded our gear and set off on a range of tasks all over the island, returning at the end of day to eat and fall into bed, exhausted but excited to have made a dent in the long list of jobs we had to complete.

Our hard work was rewarded by regular sightings of rare birds, plants, lizards and marine mammals.  Here are just a few of the locals that we saw.

We’ve been working in partnership with the owners (Tuhua Trust Board) for many years to restore the pest-free island and now we’re helping them to make it more accessible for people to enjoy.

I spent three days with our botanist and weed specialists spraying and searching for weeds all over the island, including one day of wading through a wetland, pushing through head-high walls of vegetation in search of the invasive royal fern.  

Spray unit loaded and off to spray weeds

The wetland we waded through










My last day was spent helping to fix the floor of the caretakers cottage and shifting firewood.

Eveyone’s skills and expertise were used around the island – upgrading buildings, tracks, water supply, removing massive fallen pohutukawa logs from where they had fallen on top of buildings, cleaning up the ammentity areas, killing weeds, patrolling the Marine Reserve, searching for springs in preparation for our orange-front parakeet transfer coming up in December and checking on the pateke (brown teal) and kiwi that have been released on the island.

Rope & chainsaw skills got put to the test

Dave checked out a cliffside kiwi nest

Chris and John fixed the floor

Tawara cleared the track

Dean & Alastair built a huge firewood pile

As inviting as the water looked, I only managed one swim – the cool water and 2m shark we saw swimming in the bay on our first evening were a little off-putting.  But when I did get wet, I took mask & snorkel with me and got to see some beautiful kelp beds, big angel fish and incredibly glossy obsidian.

Click here to find out how you could visit Tuhua – Tauranga’s piece of paradise.