The season of rain and storms is upon us and I always feel sorry for the birds hunkering down in all that weather. As the seasons change so do the waders. The godwits have left and are now breeding in Alaska and experiencing 24 hours of daylight as they rush to complete their breeding cycle during the short high-latitude summer. But not all – a small flock – 14 at the last count – are with us this winter. These are probably young birds that didn’t quite make breeding condition in time so are staying put. They usually roost at Karepiro, either on the beach or in the adjacent hay paddock in front of the Weiti development. The hay paddock is a great hit with the birds at the moment who can be seen enjoying the juicy worms from the wet soil while the high tide covers the mudflats.
And the royal spoonbills/kotuku ngutupapa are back. These large and elegant birds like to roost in the hay paddock and can also be seen feeding in the Okura estuary and the lagoon at Stillwater, where they wade through shallow water moving their heads side to side sieving out food from the disturbed mud. Their population has grown exponentially over the past 40 years. I remember taking biology classes to Miranda in the 80s when seeing 4 spoonbills was a highlight. You can now go to Ambury Park in the winter and see a flock of over 300. The spoonbills first appeared in our patch a few years ago and have steadily increased in numbers with 9 birds present now. It’s only a matter of time before they stay all year and start to breed locally.
Thee three pateke/brown teal (a male and two females) are back on the lagoon behind the Weiti chenier. They raised two broods of youngsters this year (4 and 2 ducklings from each of the two females). Apart from the great success in terms of number of fledged youngsters, this was a unique example of polygyny in a normally strictly monogamous species.
The pied oystercatcher flock grew to 400 as the birds returned north from their southern breeding grounds during the late summer and early autumn. The flock has reduced to just over 200 birds who can be seen feeding on the Weiti and Okura estuaries and roosting at the Weiti chenier and Karepiro beach. Why the flock has reduced is not known, it may be limited food supplies or the birds may be using wet paddocks in the Long Bay Regional Park or other sites over the high tide when the counts are made.
The closely related but larger variable oystercatcher/torea, which breed locally around the coast, have now formed their post-breeding winter flocks with 30 or so birds regularly roosting at Karepiro. The New Zealand dotterel/tutuiwhatu also forms post-breeding winter flocks and up to 17 birds have been recorded this winter. I suspect it won’t be too long before these winter flocks start to break up, with the birds pairing off and defending breeding territory. It always amazes me that these very stroppy birds manage to coexist over the winter without too much strife.
Don’t forget August 7th when a planting day is being run and some of us are working on the Weiti chenier to repair the damage done to the fencing. See you there.