A contribution by The Department of Conservation
6 September 2022
Residents who live on the Coromandel coastline year-round are being urged to add their eyes and ears to protection efforts for the area’s vulnerable tūturiwhatu/dotterel population.
The Department of Conservation’s Coromandel District team has put out the call for informal volunteer “dotterel watchers” as the shore-dwelling birds’ breeding season gets underway.
Amy Blair, DOC’s Coromandel Supervisor, says the search for residents keen to become dotterel watchers coincides with Conservation Week, which this year puts an emphasis on giving back to nature, and the work of volunteers who make a vital contribution to conservation work across the country.
New Zealand’s wildlife is still in crisis, with more than 4,000 of our native animals and plants
threatened or at risk. Conservation Week is a chance to bring everyone together to do something, big or small to create change.
“The dotterel breeding season is upon us, running from September to March – and that’s why we need the extra surveillance from our communities,” says Amy Blair.
“We can’t monitor the beaches where dotterels are found all the time, so having volunteer dotterel watchers in our seaside locations is vital to protecting these precious little birds and their offspring.”
There are 43 sites across the peninsula which are either monitored by DOC, volunteers, or a combination of both. Coincidentally, there are also 43 dotterel-watching volunteers supporting DOC’s efforts – but not all beaches are covered, and more volunteers are needed.
The main objectives of the dotterel programme and its volunteers are to fence off nesting sites, install signage to warn and educate the public and, most importantly, provide a fledgling count at the end of the season to gauge productivity.
Once chicks can fly at around six weeks old, they tend to fly away to flocking sites at quiet, food-rich beaches and bays. Amy Blair says if watchers don’t see them physically fly for more than 10 seconds, it’s difficult to prove they have fledged successfully.
“Dotterel Ranger Frouk Miller and I can only make it to each beach once a week so it’s easy for us to miss this vital milestone, which is why our volunteers are so important,” says Amy Blair.
“Most of the volunteers are living near the beach they patrol, and some of them can manage all of the manual labour just fine, so myself and Frouk just check in weekly with each volunteer.
“Others leave the fencing and signage up to us, and they just keep an eye on things during their daily walk along the beach. The programme would be nowhere near as successful without the volunteers, they are our eyes on the beach. Some have been doing it for decades!”
There are six locations around Coromandel identified as flocking sites for dotterels, with good food supply: Coromandel Harbour, Colville, Matarangi, Opoutere, Pauanui/Tairua, and Whangamata.
Coromandel residents interested in contributing to the dotterel watch programme are asked to contact the Whitianga DOC office in the first instance, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’ll have a chat about how and when you can contribute, and provide some guidance on a small but very important time commitment. A key aspect of this volunteering is advocacy – letting people know how their behaviour on the beaches can support protection of the dotterels.”
The easiest way for beach goers to help protect these tenacious birds is to give them plenty of space - and keep their dogs under control at all times.
Domestic cats should be kept inside at night, as an adult bird incubating eggs or an unfledged chick make easy prey. People and dogs should not linger near fenced areas, while adults are distracting the ‘threat’ exposed eggs and chicks can quickly perish.
For more information on www.conservationweek.org.nz