by John Ogden on behalf of Awana Beachcare

Most of us who live on Great Barrier are aware that New Zealand dotterels nest on the eastern beaches (Medlands, Kaitoke, Palmers, Awana, and Whangapoua/Okiwi Spit). They try to nest at Okupu also. The species is found only in New Zealand and is in the ‘nationally vulnerable’ category. Great Barrier Island is one of the North island’s strongholds for the species. Annual counts since 2000 show that the Great Barrier New Zealand dotterel population fluctuates around 48 birds.

Leg banding has shown that the island has some exchanges with birds from the Coromandel peninsula, but overall the number has remained consistent for many years. However, the research also shows that our current population is only just hanging on – it wouldn’t take a big increase in chick or adult mortality to tip the population into decline. This is where you, your dog, and your summer visitors, come into the picture, because the birds nest on the beaches just where you and they want to spend the summer. So what can you do? The key thing is to keep disturbance of the birds to a minimum – the longer the birds are off the eggs the more likely are the latter to get ‘fried’ in the hot sun. The more disturbance to the chicks, the more time they spend running about wasting energy and the less time they have for feeding and growing. These are just two of the many risks in the precarious business of breeding on beaches. Figure 1 clearly shows that people walking near the nest, and especially people with dogs, drive the adults off the eggs at a greater distance (‘flush distance’) and for a longer time (‘time off nest’) – thus increasing the probable death of the eggs before hatching. On busy beaches, such as Medlands and Awana from Christmas to after New Year, the situation is worse, although some birds do ‘adapt’ to people they still leave the nest as soon as a dog appears within 100 metres (see vertical scale on Fig1(a)) . So this article is a plea to all readers: please keep away from dotterel nesting areas (often marked off with orange tape by DOC rangers or beachcare groups), and more importantly please keep dogs away from October to February. If you really do want to take your dog to the beach, then please stay within the dog exercise areas, which are clearly marked on Medlands (south of Memory Rock) and Awana (area to left of access up to first rocks only). Dogs are banned on Whangapoua beach and most of Kaitoke, so please respect that – these are key dotterel nesting sites. Thanks – after-all these birds have been using these beaches for a lot longer than we have!

Fig. 1. Effects of people on beaches walking, running, or walking with a dog on dotterel behavior. 
From: A. Lord, A., Waas, J. R., Innes, J. and Whittingham, M. J. (2001).