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Winter 2013

Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust News

What are the Shorebirds Doing?

As you cross the causeway into Omaha when the tide is low you may think that the exposed sand flats look rather boring.  However, for the shorebirds which make the Omaha spit their home the sand flats look like a McDonald’s restaurant.  While the dotterels peck at crabs and sand-hoppers, the oystercatchers use their long orange beaks to probe deep in the mud for worms and shellfish.  You can also often see the elegant black and white pied stilts wading in the shallow water with their long red legs which they trail behind them when they fly.  While most of the local flock of about 400 godwits have departed on their long migration to Alaska to breed, there are still about 40 young birds wintering over and feeding on the Whangateau flats.

Some of the other birds seen feeding on the estuary are white-faced herons and kingfishers which perch on the power lines and swoop down to snatch crabs on the wing.  Shags can also be seen at low tide, standing on the sand banks with their wings out-stretched drying in the sun.  Recently there were royal spoonbills on the sand island over towards Whangateau.  These strange and spectacular white feathered birds have a huge black spoon shaped bill which they sweep from side to side filtering food from the water.

So the sand flats of the Whangateau harbour are the main food resource which attracts the wonderful population of resident and migrant shorebirds to Omaha.  There is a concern that the spread of mangroves in the area south of the causeway will encroach on the area of sand flats suitable for the birds to feed and this problem is one which is being tackled by the Omaha Beach Community.

At high tide many of these birds congregate in the sanctuary of the North Omaha Reserve to rest and digest, and in the case of the dotterels and the oystercatchers, to nest in the spring.  During this time they are vulnerable to disturbance which is the reason that no dogs are allowed in the Sanctuary and visitors are requested to keep away from the nesting areas indicated by the tape fences. The resting and nesting birds can also be subject to attack from mammal predators such as rats, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs and cats.


Pest Proof Fence Update

The Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust and Auckland Council last year installed the pest proof fence which has been successful in preventing the incursion of predators.

However it is known that cats have been able to intrude around the end of the fence along the shore line on the western side at low tide.  It is hoped this will be rectified before the next breeding season but in the meantime residents are reminded to keep their cats inside at night.

The pest proof fence is provided with two sets of pedestrian gates, at Walkway 1 and at the rock groyne on the ocean side.  The mechanism of the gates has proven to be unreliable due to the extreme environment of sand and salt spray and there have been reports that visitors have been unable to enter or exit the sanctuary.  The mechanism has now been disconnected so that the sliding doors operate independently which should prevent this problem.  However visitors should ensure that one door is closed before the other is opened and that both doors are properly closed once they have passed through.

The shorebird sanctuary is a unique feature of Omaha and should be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

Cats!!

It might have been a popular musical but the real life creature is a deadly threat to the birds everywhere and, particularly at the Omaha Shorebird Sanctuary.

Although the pest proof fence, completed in August 2012, and the intensive trapping programme maintained by Friends of the Trust have been successful, cats are invading the sanctuary at low tide along the estuary side of the Spit at night.  These incursions have been recorded on camera and the remains of predated dotterel have been found in the Sanctuary.

A variety of traps have been deployed by the Trust in an endeavour to live capture these cats.  As well, with the co-operation of Auckland Council an attractive and informative flyer was designed and circulated by Friends of the Trust, asking residents to keep their cats indoors at night and feed them adequately.  Although the local community has been generally supportive of the fence project, some short term visitors to Omaha bring their pets with them and some locals may not be heeding the request.  Locals could do more to restraint the nocturnal movement of their cats as those sighted appear to be domestic cats.

Cats are indiscriminate and effective killers of birds.  The shorebirds have no chance of evading them particularly at night when the adult birds are on their nests. Young chicks that have not learnt to fly are ‘easy meat’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, the trapping programme continues with a variety of traps, mostly outside the fence, being inspected daily by a trapper and results recorded by the Trust.  Predators caught year round on the outside of the fence include stoats, weasels, rats and possums.  When the weather warms up, hedgehogs (they eat eggs) will also be caught.

NZ Dotterel Breeding Results

Last nesting season four NZ dotterel chicks survived and fledged.  That is the best result in recent years.

When you consider that up to 16 pairs of NZ dotterel can nest on the Spit and there are usually 3 eggs in a nest, mortality of eggs and chicks is high.

However, with continued trapping and a solution to the incursion of predators around the estuary fence end, results should improve.

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

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