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April 2014

Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust News

Words and photography by Marie Ward, Trustee
Winter is coming

We are now at the end of summer, and the breeding season for the northern NZ dotterel and variable oystercatchers (VOCs) is almost over for another year.  We have only a few VOC chicks that have yet to fledge at Omaha, and one northern NZ dotterel chick at the southern end of the sanctuary that should be ready to fly sometime in the next 2 weeks.  There have been 5 NZ dotterel chicks fledge at Omaha this season, from 13 breeding pairs.  Provided all goes well, our last little chick will make it 6 fledged.

It has been a great pleasure to see this last little dotterel chick grow sturdy and strong under the watchful eye of its devoted parents.  The chick’s male parent was colour banded by Dr John Dowding in 2010, so it is easily identified, and its activities have been regularly monitored since then.

Please note: You can click on the photos to view fullsize.

NZ dotterels pair for life..

..unless something happens to one of them, and this particular pair are well known to me.  Although they have made many attempts over the past few years, they have not until now had a chick hatch, let alone survive to fledge.  This season, they laid their first 3-egg nest at the end of August, but those eggs were lost during the storm, causing a lot of damage, and all nests were lost.  Most breeding pairs of dotterels and VOC’s lost no time in nesting for a second time.  The parents of our little chick laid another 3 eggs, this time nesting in the grass on higher ground.  They had obviously learnt from seeing their first nest washed away.  I’m not sure what happened to the eggs from the 2nd nest, but they disappeared one by one over a period of several days, and by the 19th October all 3 eggs had gone from their second clutch of the season.

During the September storm the predator proof fence was damaged near the Eastern gate, and although the fence was repaired promptly, it is possible that there was a predator incursion occurred at this time.  However, our little dotterel pair promptly tried again, this time laying 1 egg in a nest tucked tightly against one of the low sand fences where it was very hard to spot.  However, again, by the 2nd November this egg had disappeared and the nest was abandoned.

Fourth time lucky!

I thought at this stage, after 3 unsuccessful attempts, the dotterel pair had given up on the idea of breeding this season.  But no, on 27th December I saw that the female again had a 1-egg nest.  This time she had chosen an exposed spot for her nest, on the beach just above the high water mark, but outside the taped off area.  The nest was vulnerable, not only to the spring tides forecast for early January, but also to foot traffic entering the spit by the Eastern gate, and I did not hold much hope that it would be successful.  However, our wonderful Working Group volunteers hurriedly extended the taped area to include the nest, and set up a watch over it during the nest few weeks.  Unbelievably, around the 19th January the egg hatched and when I visited the following weekend the dotterel parents were devotedly protecting their chick which was happily pecking about and foraging for food.  Fingers crossed that this special little chick will survive to fledge.

Such a lot of effort goes in to raising just 1 chick per breeding pair per season.  Without the efforts of our volunteers, the tireless work of our Working  Group, and the support of the public, the NZ dotterels at Omaha would be unlikely to survive for very long.

For more information and details of how you can help visit www.omahashorebirds.co.nz

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