Date: 16 November 2012
An early spring for Northland means it's time to watch out for our endangered dotterels, breeding on a Northland beach near you.
The Northern New Zealand dotterel, of which there are only about 1,500 remaining, nests just above the high tide mark, in shallow holes dug into the sand.
"That, combined with the dotterel's colouring, means it's easy to miss seeing the nests," says Department of Conservation Bay of Islands Area ranger Cinzia Vestena.
"As a result eggs and even chicks can be run over, or trodden on, so we ask that while you enjoy the beach, please tread lightly in areas above the high tide mark."
Dotterels are pale-grey on the back and off-white underneath, which flushes rusty-orange in winter and spring. Although the birds have prominent heads, large brown eyes and a strong black bill, their colours merge with the sand, shells, and dune vegetation. Their 'chip-chip' call is often heard before dotterel are seen.
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Beach-goers are asked to watch for "Birds Nesting" signs and to stay out of areas, which have been fenced off.
"We also ask that people keep dogs, vehicles, and boats off the beaches and sand spits where dotterel are nesting, especially during the September – February breeding season," says Cinzia.
If a bird is pretending to be injured, that means it's trying to lure you away from its nest.
"Please move away from the area quickly – the birds will not incubate until you have gone, and there is a risk that the eggs will over-heat, or become chilled.
Intensive land use, predators, and disturbance by people are the main reasons for the decline in numbers of the wading bird.
Survival of the dotterel in Northland is mainly reliant on individuals and community groups who have been trained in managing dotterels.
"These groups help by taking time and energy to put up rope fences around breeding sites, put up signage, trap for predators, move nests when a storm or a high tide coincides with a low pressure system, and generally keep an eye out for the birds, " says Cinzia.
This breeding season many of the beaches around Northland will display progress signs to inform how many breeding pairs of dotterels are on each beach, and how many nests, eggs, chicks and fledglings there are.
Long-term research is ongoing, to provide information about how long dotterel live, their movement patterns and their breeding success. Many dotterel have coloured plastic bands on their legs, placed there so that they can be individually recognised.