Volunteers looking out for threatened dotterels
October 25, 2018
A volunteer group in Eastbourne is doing its utmost to protect a threatened native bird found on its beaches.
Mainland Island Restoration Organisation (MIRO) is working to protect the banded dotterel, a small, camouflagable bird that breeds on beaches, riverbeds and estuaries.
Though relatively unknown, the banded dotterel is a nationally vulnerable bird – as threatened as the great spotted kiwi, or whio, the blue duck.
MIRO volunteer coordinator Parker Jones said it was difficult to know the numbers of banded dotterel in the country, because they were such an understudied bird.
“The estimates are anywhere from 5000 up to 20,000, the one thing we do know is they’re in decline, sadly.”
Banded dotterels have been found on the Eastbourne foreshore and at the Parangarahu Lakes region nearby.
They have started to return for the breeding season, which runs between August and February.
Jones said the likely reason for the dotterels steady decline were threats from predators and human activity.
Over time, dotterels have evolved to camouflage themselves from one of their main threats, the black back seagull.
They now face attack from mammalian predators such as hedgehogs, stoats and weasels.
Because the dotterels nest on the open shore of beaches, they are also vulnerable to surging storm tides and human activity.
MIRO has a permit from Department of Conservation to catch and flag the dotterels in the area, so they can track and research the birds.
“Some of the questions we are trying to find out is do they come back to the same area to breed, do their chicks come back to the same area to breed, and what their life survival is,” Jones said.
“Over the two years, we have answered one of those questions – they do come back, and in fact one of our birds has come back to the exact same spot two years in a row now to nest.”
A recent report from Blenheim-based researcher Wildlife Management International showed that during 2017-18 season, banded dotterel hatching rates at Eastbourne foreshore were 41.6 per cent and 57.3 per cent at the Parangarahu Lakes.
Jones said it was a sign the group’s prevention methods were working.
“With the work we are doing for predation control and keeping human influence off, the nest sites now have 22 times more likely to succeed than they were four years ago.”
All the work was being done by a dedicated group of volunteers, Jones said.
With Greater Wellington Regional Council and Hutt City Council, MIRO has set traps, built fences and put up signs in nesting areas.
Jones said the efforts to raise public awareness had been particularly effective. “Two years ago you would have seen a lot of bikes, footprints and cars [at the Parangarahu Lakes], now with our signage we’ve seen encroachment down to nil.”
MIRO volunteer George Hobson agreed. “The locals have been really awesome and co-operative, they’re often looking out for loose dogs running along the beach.”
The 14-year-old volunteer monitors the dotterel population at the Eastbourne foreshore each Tuesday. He said observing, and learning about the bird was the highlight of his week.
“The banded dotterel are such an understudied and underfunded bird, and it’s mainly community groups, volunteers and individuals that are collecting this data at the moment.
“I’m really passionate about contributing to that data and creating more data to back up the conservation of the dotterels.”