The godwits/kuaka are starting to return to Aotearoa from their breeding grounds in Alaska, a sure sign that spring is here. There has been a small flock overwintering this year – an average of 12 birds – so I was surprised to find 25 kuaka when I visited Karepiro on the last day of August, with some of the birds still showing a bit of colour from their breeding plumage. Two days later there were 32 birds, so expect the flock to build up to its normal number of between 100 and 200 over the next month or so as more adults and then juveniles return. The annual migration of kuaka is one of the great stories of bird migration, not least because the birds complete their 11 000 km return trip flying non-stop for 7–8 days. If you see the birds roosting at high tide – usually by the southern of the two streams – please take the mown ‘inland route’ if accessing the southern part of the beach so as not to disturb them.
The returning kuaka are not the only sign of spring with the NZ dotterels/tuturiwhata changing into their breeding plumage and starting to pair up. There are two pairs taking up residence on the newly refurbished Weiti chenier at Stillwater, still 9 birds at Karepiro with at least two pairs showing some early signs of breeding behaviour, but no sign of the resident pair on the Okura chenier. Hopefully they will return soon following their breeding success last season. The pied stilts/poaka have long since paired off and will be busy sitting on eggs by now. I think there are 3 pairs nesting in the (very wet) ‘hayfield’ behind Weiti beach. The variable oystercatchers/torea pango are still mainly in their winter flock, although I notice that the ‘bonhomie and good will to all’ vibe is wearing thin, with the usual squabbling and strutting around increasing. It won’t be long before they pair up and get down to the serious business of breeding.
Lastly, the three pateke (a male and two females) are back on the Weiti lagoon again this year. This is a very unusual breeding arrangement for pateke and it will be great if this rare endemic species produce two sets of ducklings again this year.