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Bird Count 4 by John Ogden

 

Diving Petrel - Dick Vietch courtesy DoCThe original plan was to have the fourth bird count in April, but, due to my impending departure overseas, other people being busy too, and the Harataonga road being “off limits” due to the Castaways activity, I postponed it. So, the sixteen observers turned out instead on September 8th, over a year since the first count. It is most encouraging to see the level of support and enthusiasm being sustained—thank you all—especially the D.o.C contingent who again devoted spare weekend time to this community-based initiative. To those past participants who were not contacted I offer my apologies —I have all sorts of genuine excuses.

The ‘five minute counts’ all went much as usual, and the results will be summarised in the report. Although giant geese (moas?) have recently been reported from Tryphena by Peter Edmonds (better known for his cartoons), nothing spectacular occurred in the counts! As I have said before, the value of these data lies in their quantitative and objective nature — they will form a basis for comparison long into the future—rather than in the specific birds seen or heard at any one place. After an early start, hearty breakfasts were eaten (by some) at Claris Texas. However, the day was noteworthy for another reason.

Jenni Ogden went to count the Dotterels and Oystercatchers on Awana beach. It turned out to be a scene of carnage—with dead sea-birds scattered along the beach—many of them missing their heads. I later counted the mortality: 13 fluttering shearwaters; 2 penguins, a white-faced storm petrel, a gannet and a little shearwater. Twelve of the 13 fluttering shearwaters were headless. No signs of heads or beaks anywhere. Breasts, feathers and meat, were mostly intact. After much cogitation I have discounted my first theory of a head-hunting beach-combing cat, and concluded that the decapitation must have occurred at sea—in which case dolphins seem the most likely culprits. However, I’d really like to hear from anyone who can comment on this!

The little shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) was an important find, as this bird was recorded as abundant by Hutton in 1868, but apparently has not been seen on Great Barrier since then. Hutton’s identification was questioned by Ogle in 1981. In the hand, little shearwaters are readily identified by their lilac-blue feet, although the smaller diving petrel also has blue feet. Little shearwaters nest on the Mokohinaus, Hen and Chickens, Poor Knights and the Mercury Group, but the birds usually stay well off-shore. Being the smallest of the shearwaters they are very susceptible to predation by rats and cats, so although Hutton may well have been correct, it is unlikely to breed anywhere on Great Barrier now.

Other observations of interest since the last count include the confirmation of spotless crake at Awana (Amanda Yates, Emma Hunt and myself), long-tailed cuckoo at Awana in March (Alan Gray), Bittern at Claris in August (Peter Edmonds, Christina Spence) and Reef Heron at Okupu (Emmy Pratt).

The spring will soon be heralded by the first shining cuckoo (make a note of the date!) and then it’ll be nesting time for Oystercatchers and Dotterels. I hope you’ll all encourage your guests and associates to refrain from taking dogs onto the beaches to give these birds a better chance. Even when dogs are controlled, unfortunately the birds don’t know that, and they still leave the eggs, often unprotected and cooking in the hot sun.