The 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
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.