Thursday, 22 November 2007

Wild Blueskin: Hoki mai nga kuaka

Sunday November 18 was a special day in the ornithologist's calendar;
the day all the kuaka/godwits in New Zealand were counted. Godwits
have a high profile this year - they even made it onto Campbell Live
with the return to Miranda in the Firth of Thames of a female carrying
a satellite transmitter that had recorded its 55000 km round trip from
NZ to Korea, on to Alaska then back non-stop across the Pacific to New
Zealand. Here at Warrington spit, the first sixty or so kuaka had
arrived back by September 25. By October 7 there were about 180, by
the tenth 290. Numbers reached a record for Blueskin Bay of 730 on the
Sunday census day. Amongst them were a dozen or so young who have
flown non-stop from Alaska for the very first time at the tender age
of 4 months and 15 or so birds which were colour banded two years ago.
Two, banded in Australia, have been returning to Blueskin Bay for at
least 5 years and we also saw a small male (males are a lot smaller
than females) who was photographed last autumn in an estuary on the
Korean Chinese border, on his way back to Alaska.

It felt like the second day of summer and the surf clubbers were out
in force, picnickers were picnicking and walkers and their dogs were
out on the beach too. The godwits snoozed in the sun over high tide as
people strolled quietly past and it was great to see the dogs keeping
their owners under control well away from the nesting oystercatchers.
In contrast, Saturday afternoon, the first day of summer, was one of
the scariest ever for the Blueskin Bay birds. A trail bike was doing
wheelies around the oystercatcher nesting sites at the end of the
spit, and something out of Star Wars, resembling a black airborne
ride-on lawnmower, swept low across Rabbit island and Warrington spit,
terrifying everything in its path. We thought it may have been the
armed offenders' squad looking for Waitati insurgents, but it was only
an airborne human, enjoying the fine weather in his own way, like the
rest of us.

We are coming up to the most stressful season for toreapango/black
oystercatchers which have paired off and are squabbling over their
patches of beach. A few younger birds look as though they might try
nesting nearer the surf club, while the older established pairs have
grabbed the best real estate with the finest views, right on the end
of the spit. Unfortunately come a sunny weekend and everyone agrees
with their choice and oystercatchers, dogs and vehicles don't go
together well. They all seem to prefer the same wide open habitat and
the same summer season. An oystercatcher's nest is a simple scrape in
the sand and the eggs sit there for a month, then the chicks take 6-7
weeks before they fly. That's two and a half months during which
virtually everything will have a go at them; they can be run over or
eaten by dog, stoat, black-backed gull or harrier. No wonder the
parents appear so neurotic.

We are lucky to live in this beautiful landscape and to share it with
so many other creatures. Understanding the habits of godwits,
oystercatchers and other species adds to our own enjoyment of the
area. For example, godwits fly to the end of Warrington spit at high
tide to rest after feeding in the estuary. It's an amazing site to see
them gracefully lifting up and circling around as the tide goes out,
but they deserve a sleep at high tide; they have come a long way and
have another unbelievably long journey ahead in five or so months.
Oystercatchers need a safe place to raise their young, and it would be
great if vehicles stayed away from the end of the spit, and if your
dog is bouncy, it should be on a lead; one out of control dog can ruin
one years nesting in a second or two and toreapango will not try again
until next summer. There are only about 1200 of these birds in the
whole of the South Island so we need to look after our resident
regular nesting pairs.

Could we make the end of Warrington spit a "give way to godwits and
oystercatchers" area for the summer?

by Derek Onley and Rosemary Penwarden

From and 'Blueskin News' published by Blueskin Media:
voluntary/non-profit community publishers in Blueskin Bay (Seacliff,
Warrington, Evansdale, Waitati, Doctors Point), Dunedin, New Zealand.
All our material is "copyleft" and may be freely re-edited and
republished. If you want to credit the source it's "".

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