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Stay away from the dotterel

BEACH-GOERS, especially quad bike riders and dog walkers, are being asked to stay clear of areas where there are endangered New Zealand and Banded dotterels, now nesting.

Most of the dotterel nesting sites in the East Coast region are in areas around rivers and streambeds from Hicks Bay to Te Wherowhero, Department of Conservation (DoC) biodiversity ranger Jamie Quirk says.

Dotterel will nest anywhere from the high tide mark to the base of dunes or riverbeds. They lay two or three eggs which are well camouflaged therefore easily destroyed by unsuspecting beach users.

The eggs, which are laid on the ground in nothing more than a shallow, scraped nest, are difficult to see. They are vulnerable to being found by dogs, trampled on by people, or being run over by quad bike users.

Mr Quirk says the problem is an annual one. Over the years, DoC has tried several means of ensuring the eggs are better protected but without much success. Advertising the location of nests often unfortunately draws unwanted attention to them.

People can help protect the dotterel by keeping:

— Below the high tide mark

— Noise to a minimum and not getting too close

— To marked tracks and paths wherever possible

— Dogs on a leash

— Vehicles off beaches and sandspits.

These are small and effective measures to give these birds a fighting chance this breeding season, Mr Quirk says.

He is keen to hear from anyone with a good initiative for further safe-guarding the eggs and helping secure the future of our dotterels.

It is hoped beachgoers will heed the presence of dotterels and avoid going into nesting areas for at least the next six weeks or so.

There are two species of dotterels, New Zealand and Banded (tuturiwhatu pukunui). Both are considered vulnerable and threatened.

The bulk of the North Island dotterel are on the East Coast’s white, sandy beaches. The birds are increasingly prone to coastal development and human recreational activities.

According to the DoC website, the endangered New Zealand dotterel was once widespread and common. Now there are only about 1700 birds left.

The birds often nest close to residential or developed areas. Their breeding habitats are at risk to development and subsequent erosion.

When adult birds are disturbed while incubating and leave the nest, the eggs are at risk of overheating. (Dotterel will attempt to distract intruders — often faking an injury to draw intruders away from their nest.)

When young chicks are disturbed, they can die from exhaustion as they cannot eat in time, or get to their feeding grounds at the water’s edge.

Uncontrolled dogs running through nesting areas can crush eggs, disturb nesting adults, and kill chicks. Many beaches have dog restrictions and owners should be aware of these — respect and obey them.

Hedgehogs, stoats, cats and rats are the most common predators of eggs and chicks. Hedgehogs are a major predator as they can move up to two kilometres in one night, eating eggs from nests along the way. Hedgehogs and stoats are controlled by trapping.

Cats and stoats also kill some adult birds, especially during the breeding season. Unfledged chicks are easy prey for cats. In some areas, live cat traps are used in the area surrounding prime breeding sites. These traps are checked regularly.

In some areas, other birds are threats. Black-backed gulls and harrier hawks are two common predators.

A good source of additional information about the New Zealand Dotterel is NZ Birds Online. Go to http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

NO GO: The accumulation of forestry slash on East Coast beaches and around river mouths, which has concerned environmentalists, is ironically serving to keep some human activity, particularly quad bikers, at bay. Nonetheless some bike riders are determined to enter these areas regardless. putting vulnerable dotterel nests further at risk. Picture by Sarah Curtis
Dotterel eggs are difficult to see and well camouflaged among forestry slash and other debris that wash up on East Coast beaches. Picture by Sarah Curtis