Archives For Dotterel

By Kath Inwood, Partnerships Ranger, Nelson

The Motueka sandspit is an internationally significant site for shorebirds, providing roosting and nesting space for variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel, and temporary lodgings for the bar-tailed godwit. Being so close to town, however, it is a popular spot for Motueka dog owners to walk their dogs.

A variable oystercatcher.

A variable oystercatcher

Ranger Ross with some dogs.

Ranger Ross and some of the dogs

To improve awareness of the birds in the area, we got together with Tasman District Council and Birds New Zealand to try out an Australian idea – the Dog’s Breakfast. This event provides dog owners an opportunity to learn about the birds of the foreshore and sandspit over a bacon and egg butty (sandwich).

Around 50 dog walkers turned out to breakfast with their dogs over a two and a half hour period on Saturday 8 March.

With the smell of sizzling bacon in the background, David Melville from Birds New Zealand explained that variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel are key inhabitants of the sandspit area, along with the better-known bar-tailed godwits, who make the 11,000km flight between New Zealand and Alaska.

The crowd at the Dog's breakfast.

The crowd gathers for the dog’s breakfast

The purpose of the breakfast was to raise awareness of dog owners about the significance of this area for shorebirds, and to enable them to be more informed about how they can minimise the disturbance to wildlife, while enjoying the benefits of an area such as this to walk their dogs.

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Callum Lilley, Biodiversity Ranger in Taranaki.

At work

Callum Lilley holding a dotterel. Photo: Emily King.

Feeding time for New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu

Some things I do in my job include… marine reserve monitoring, maintaining marine reserve infrastructure, compliance, marine mammal work, making recommendations on a range of things such as Resource Management Act consent applications/renewals, permits, seismic survey impact assessments, writing management plans, reports, public relations material, providing advice and information on marine matters, liaising/working with community groups, iwi, other stakeholders, bird rescue, assisting with fire responses, and helping out in other areas when called upon.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… helping to look after our natural heritage, and working with others to do so too.

The best bit about my job is… getting out on the water (particularly if marine mammals or diving are involved), and the occasional opportunity to go away on an adventure.

Callum deploying video equipment off a boat. Photo: Bryan Williams.

Deploying baited underwater video equipment, Tapuae Marine Reserve

The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… a pest fish scare. The threats team in New Plymouth thought they would invite the Taranaki Daily News along to watch them catch a “koi carp” (to raise awareness about pest fish). The orange shape they had previously observed in a murky river turned out to be a road cone. It was an amusing article and it took up half of page (including a large colour photo). The rest of the office got a lot of mileage out of it.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Bill Fleury. There are so many people I could choose from, but one of them is Bill. I appreciate his understanding of all levels of the Department (having worked in positions ranging from on the ground to providing strategic advice on a myriad of matters). He has exceptional analytical skills and great demeanour (as an aside, some say that I model my desk on Bill’s).

Callum surfing a wave in Fiji.

Surfing tropical waters, Frigates – Fiji

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley.

My stomping ground is… coastal Taranaki. It’s where I grew up and where I love to spend time. It has good fishing, isolated beaches, great waves, the Stony River/Hangatahua, a friend/whanau base and the best view of Maunga Taranaki.

My best ever holiday was… a three week trip to Fiji a couple of years ago. Emily and I busted out of a cold Taranaki winter into the tropics for some epic diving, surfing, fishing, eating, drinking and exploring.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to… start a microbrewery.

Before working at DOC I… studied (BSc – Zoology, MSc – Marine Science), worked on a computer help desk, worked as a block-layer’s labourer building a rugby stadium, and taught English in South Korea.

Mount Taranaki in the background at dusk.

View of Mt Taranaki from “Graveyards” surf break

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “Give the laziest person the hardest job and they’ll find the easiest way to do it”. Not sure who first said it, or whether it is really true, but a great quote none the less.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… be nice to people.

In work and life I am motivated by… people that are fun to be around, whilst still cracking on and getting a job done.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… live modestly and outsource less. Grow your own food, cook from scratch, brew your own beverages (reuse glass and no longer worry about what the neighbours think on recycling day), pickle and preserve, hunt and eat pests… as much as you can, go back to basics.

A Southern right whale and her calf off the coast of Whanganui.

Southern right whale/tohora mother and calf, Whanganui

Question of the week…

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up? A pilot or an electrician, until I was told they were no longer options as I was colour blind. However, I wanted to be a marine scientist from when I was about 10 years old.

A sea lion by Callum's boat in the Auckland Islands.

Um… could we please have our boat back? Hoiho survey, Auckland Islands

It started with a broken dotterel egg on a traffic ridden Far North beach.

New Zealand dotterel at Ahipara.

New Zealand dotterel at Ahipara

A heartbroken Ahipara local phoned the Kaitaia Area office to report that children had smashed some New Zealand dotterel eggs on Ahipara Beach. Doug Klever and his wife Jackie were devastated. They had been watching the dotterels struggle to breed on the beach for three years. Each year, the eggs were either washed away by high tides, or broken by children or vehicles.

One of the little dotterel chicks.

One of the little dotterel chicks

Ahipara Beach is an area with a history of ongoing complaints about careless driving and irresponsible behaviour. DOC and Northland Regional Council (NRC) have been working together over the past five years to run beach safety and driving awareness campaigns, with some success. However, locals had been reluctant to get involved.

Doug wanted to raise awareness about the dotterels’ plight. Community Relations Programme Manager, Carolyn Smith, sent out a media release, which was picked up by the local papers.

Carolyn recalls the second phone call she received from Doug – this time it was good news. The dotterels had laid three more eggs.

Kaitaia Visitor Assets Ranger Kerry helps man the NRC stall.

Kaitaia Visitor Assets Ranger Kerry helps man the NRC stall

Another media release was written and a local plumbing firm donated some pipes for the dotterels to hide in. The dotterels managed to keep the eggs safe this time, and three little chicks soon emerged.

When word got out that the eggs had hatched, dotterel fever hit the Far North. The local newspaper editor devoted front page space to stories and photos, and DOC launched a ‘Name the NZ Dotterel chick’ competition on the DOC Far North Facebook page.

The community had fallen in love with the cute little chicks. When the police were called by a resident, who spotted a boy chasing the chicks with a net, a police officer immediately rushed to the beach to make sure no harm was being done to the little chicks. Locals joked that you can wait hours for the police to respond to a call, but look out if a dotterel chick is in danger!

Carolyn then introduced Doug to Laura Shaft, Northland Regional Council’s (NRC’s) Coast Care Coordinator, to see how she could help.

Coast care kids filling up their water bottles  - saving dotterels is thirsty work.

Coast care kids filling up their water bottles – saving dotterels is thirsty work!

Laura and Carolyn helped Doug set up a community meeting, and from that a fledgling Coast Care group was formed. Funding was obtained from NRC, and a planting and fencing programme begun to restore the degraded dunes around the dotterels’ nesting site.

Kaitaia Community Relations Ranger, Denice Gillespie, accompanied Doug to Ahipara School to talk about the project. It was a timely visit as the school had already been using resources from DOC and NRC to teach pupils about dotterels. The children were excited about getting involved and set about designing signs to educate people about the precious dotterels, and how to help them survive.

Haami Piripi with his family.

Haami Piripi with his family

Doug was also keen to work with the local hapu, and so Denice talked to Te Runanga O Te Rarawa CEO and Ahipara elder, Haami Piripi.

“Haami met with Doug and was immediately sold on the project. Te Rarawa decided that a Punanga (sanctuary) would be placed over the area that the dotterels were breeding in, restricting vehicles and skurfing.”

And so, on a stunning spring morning in November last year, DOC, NRC, Ahipara School, local residents and iwi gathered at Ahipara beach, alongside Doug and Jackie, to erect signs and carry out karakia over the Punanga.

Since then, apart from a few minor problems with people ignorant of the new rules, the dotterels’ future in their new sanctuary is looking bright!

Doug says nowadays any locals that cause trouble on the beach get a visit from Haami.

“Haami explains to them what the Punanga is about. Once people understand, they are supportive.”

Te Rarawa, along with two other Te Hiku (Far North) iwi, has recently signed their final deed of settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. Part of the settlement includes the establishment of a Te Oneroa a Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) forum to manage the beach, consisting of Iwi, District Council and DOC. Haami says once this happens (possibly 2013), iwi will be in a position to enforce the rules that the community and iwi want over the beach.

“We need to take responsibility as Tangata Whenua of this place and take up the leadership role on these sorts of issues.  I will be advocating for no vehicles at all on the stretch of beach where the Punanga is because it’s not necessary to drive here,” Haami says.

Carolyn shared the story with Radio New Zealand reporter, Lois Williams. So Lois interviewed Doug, Haami, and some of the Ahipara school children. The story aired just after Christmas, and is an inspiring and heart-warming tale of how a community is coming together to make positive change.

Doug, Haami and the Ahipara with some of their signs.

Doug, Haami and the Ahipara with some of their signs

For Carolyn, the story highlights how change can come from within a community, without the need for agencies to take over. “I’ve always been clear that our role is to support.

As for Doug—our dotterel lover is now known locally as ‘Dotterel Doug.’ His story is best summed up in a statement he gave to Lois;

“There are now footprints in the sand where there used to be tyre tracks.  I would never have believed this was possible!”

And a final update on the three dotterel chicks—all three fledged successfully!

How cute is this Christmas fairy tern. Unfortunately they won’t be as easy to spot this summer, given that there’s only 31 of them.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit with coloured wings and Santa hat.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit

If you’re around Mangawhai, Waipu and the Pakari River, have a read of these suggestions (they also apply to dotterel breeding areas as well):

  • Leave the dog at home/don’t take it to the beach, or at least have it on a leash.
  • Stay out of taped-off nesting areas, and don’t linger while parent birds are doing distraction displays or appear agitated – while they are preoccupied with you they are not tending to their eggs or chicks.
  • Fishermen should bury their scraps to avoid feeding and attracting black-backed gulls.
  • Walk below the high tide mark, to avoid standing on nests, which are higher up on the beach.
  • Motorbikes and four-wheel drives on beaches are not good for shorebirds, and prohibited in many places anyway.
  • Keep away from birds doing dive-bombs cause that means they’re agitated.
Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek.

Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek

Fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff.

A fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff

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