Change of Seasons

It seems a bit strange to talk about a change in seasons having just visited the Weiti chéniers and Karepiro during a howling easterly gale with the waves crashing up onto the dunes and with a decided chill to the air, but the birds definitely think spring has arrived.

The pied oystercatchers/tōrea have largely dispersed southwards to their breeding grounds, with just a few non-breeders remaining. This is part of the species’ yearly rhythm but has happened about four to six weeks earlier than the long-term average for this site. July was the warmest on record and this early departure may well be a response to changing conditions. The young oystercatchers probably feed on invertebrates in their inland breeding sites, like most wader chicks, and the availability of vertebrates is temperature sensitive. The variable oystercatchers/tōrea pango are starting to pair up but most remain in the winter flock and show no sign of breeding yet.

The big flocks of pied stilt/poaka have long since broken up as birds paired off and are likely producing the first crop of young as I write this. The spur-winged plovers are another early breeder and there have been at least three pairs that have produced chicks at Karepiro already. This species has rapidly increased in numbers since their self-introduction from Australia in 1932 and establishment in the Auckland region in the 1980s. Although the Department of Conservation considers their impact on other shore birds to be minimal, I do wonder what negative effect that the high numbers found at Okura and Weiti have on other shorebird species.

The brown teal/pāteke have moved to a less accessible territory and are being monitored using a trail cam. No sign of any ducklings yet but maybe soon! Unfortunately one of the resident banded rail/moho pererū was found dead at Weiti recently. It appeared in good condition and hadn’t been eaten so may have been knobbled by a cat or dog.

No sign of any returning godwit/kuaka yet, but they can’t be far away and some are probably winging their way over the Pacific now. It’s very important not to disturb roosting birds over the high tide as they need their rest to help recover form nine days of continuous flying and fasting.

The great news is that a pair of New Zealand dotterels/tūturiwhatu are now nesting at Karepiro. I recently attended a dotterel minders course at Pūkorokoro/Miranda and learned many fascinating things about them. I didn’t know they mate for life (albeit with a bit of partner swapping occasionally) and that their name translates as ‘fat-bellied pebble turner’ – a bit rude I thought. Both parents share nesting duty, with the female keeping the eggs warm during the day and the males taking over at night. The young take about twelve hours to dry out after hatching and then independently feed themselves, all the while being guarded and guided by the parents. Dog disturbance can result in the young being unable to feed and starving even if they don’t get eaten. Last season produced six fledged young so hopefully this season will be even better.

Keep warm, spring really is here.

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