Published on 29 September 2017

Babysitting NZ Dotterels at Piha

A few months ago, Auckland Council advertised a volunteer position to monitor the pair of New Zealand Dotterel nesting at Piha. Since I like shorebirds and I live a few minutes away from the beach, it would have been silly not to come forward. This is what happened after.

But before, let me tell you a few words about these awesome birds. NZ Dotterels are an endemic shorebird species of Aotearoa New Zealand. There are two different subspecies (or species, depends who you ask), the Northern, found in the North Island, and the Southern, currently only found in Stewart Island and the southern tip of the South Island. According to DOC, the current status of the species is at risk, but recovering. This classification is arguable, since the NZ Southern Dotterel is known to breed in a single spot and its population is quickly declining. The page on the NZ Birds Online site has plenty of information that you may want to check out.

NZ Dotterel

A dotterel roaming around the nesting area

As most of the shorebirds of this country, dotterels are under threat. Introduced predators, coastal development and human activity are their main enemies. Huge efforts have happened to bring this species from the brink of extinction. The Department of Conservation and several community-driven organisation have managed to increase the NZ Dotterel population, mainly on the east coast of the North Island. Continuous monitoring and management of the species, especially during breeding season, has been the key for this to happen.

As the population numbers increase, birds are starting to fly to new areas in search of new territories to live and breed. Last year was the first in many that a pair nested and successfully fledged a chick here in Piha, a coastal village in Auckland's west coast. To encourage the birds to keep coming to Piha, a couple of us were lucky enough to get training to monitor and manage the birds during the breeding season.

The council's biodiversity team were kind enough to enroll us on a training course at Pukorokoro Shorebird Centre. This intensive course is aimed to anyone interested in NZ Dotterel management and in NZ shorebirds in general. This course has been going for several years and it's taught by John Dowding, the number one expert in NZ Dotterel here in New Zealand and probably the whole world. It was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to meet people who do a similar work across the North Island.

After the course, Sean (the other Piha volunteer) and I felt quite confident and ready to start the work. The council provided us with some signs that we put up across the nesting area. We got ahold of a good amount of wood posts and rope to design and build a fence to protect the nesting area. We started regularly visiting the site and keeping an eye in the birds behavior. So far we have identified a mating pair and a third individual that appears to be alone. It could be the juvenile that survived last year but we are not 100% sure as these birds are not banded.

Cordoned area between the Marawhara and the Wekatahi stream

Informative sign in the cordoned area between the two streams at mid Piha beach

We expect the birds to nest soon and to lay some eggs not long after. Piha gets very busy during the summer months, and it would be great if at least we get a fledged chick before the Christmas Holidays.

If you visit Piha, please respect the signs and keep disturbance in the nesting areas to a minimum. If you wanna keep track of the Piha Dotterels during this season, make sure to check my Instagram account, where updates are posted regularly. Thanks!