December 2010


The breeding season at Omaha is off to a very good start with an estimated 15 pairs of NZ dotterels. Some of these pairs have already hatched chicks, while others are incubating their eggs; a few are in the early stages of nesting for the second time this season, perhaps after predation of their first clutch of eggs. Dr John Dowding visited Omaha at the end of November and banded four dotterel chicks, three of which were very close to fledging. If you are walking about the spit, you might notice these young dotterels with shiny new metal bands on their left legs. Two small chicks were also seen at this time. Approximately 20% of the NZ dotterels at the spit have coloured leg bands, which helps us to keep track of the population from year to year.

If you are walking about the spit, please remember to keep below the high tide line, and outside of the taped off areas. Another dotterel chick from the area south of the first groyne was close to fledging when last seen at the beginning of November. Unfortunately, the dotterels nesting in this area are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance, and two of the three chicks that hatched in early October did not survive. The tracks to the beach on either side of this area are very popular with locals exercising their dogs. Even when the dogs are on leashes, the constant disturbance can mean that the parents are kept from the nest, or their chicks, for long periods.

There are also a large number of variable oystercatchers (VOCs) nesting at Omaha, and I noticed several of the young chicks feeding alongside their parents at the edge of the tide when I visited last weekend. The VOC are very protective of their young, and can be quite intimidating to any humans that venture too close. Both the VOCs and the dotterels have quite distinctive behaviour when they are protecting their nest, or their chicks. They will try to lead you away from their young, often feigning a broken wing. You should humour them if you notice this behaviour, and follow them out of their territory.

A large flock of bar-tailed godwits can be seen resting at high tide, either on the sandy "bulge" on the Whangateau harbour side of the spit, or on the shells between the first (southern) & second rock groynes. They huddle in close together, usually standing on one leg only with their long bill and head resting on their shoulder. I always try not to disturb them when I'm moving about the spit, and usually I can get past without them "lifting off" by walking slowly and quietly. Although a small group of young godwits remained at Omaha for the winter this year, the majority arrived in the spring after a marathon flight from the northern hemisphere breeding grounds. If only they could talk, what tales they could tell! Their purpose whilst visiting our shores is to feed and grow fat in preparation for their long haul flight back to their breeding grounds again next autumn. If you look carefully you may see that at least two of the birds in the large group have orange "flags" attached to their legs. I was lucky enough to photograph one of these birds a few weeks ago, so that the code could be clearly seen. I was then able to report the sighting and find out that M-7D was a godwit banded as an adult at Mann's Beach, Corner Inlet in Victoria, Australia, on 10/02/2010.

Marie Ward