People problem plagues precious locals
As sun, surf and summer holidays creates an annual population explosion in Mangawhai generating a surge in cash-flow and traffic woes, for one small group of locals the amplified human presence also brings an increase of danger to their actual survival.
A late breeding season, possibly caused by unseasonal weather, means that fairy terns, New Zealand’s rarest bird, and other wild birds, are just now getting down to the business of procreation.
Co-coordinator of Fairy Tern Charitable Trust [FTCT], Jane Vaughan, says there is concern for the endangered bird’s mating success with an increased human and animal presence along the beaches.
Nests have been located and recorded by Department of Conservation [DOC] workers, FTCT members and volunteers throughout Mangawhai’s Wildlife Refuge, which stretches along the length of Te Arai beach and up to the sandspit.
“If parent terns are disturbed they’ll fly off and, if kept away from their nests for more than 20 minutes, the unborn chicks could either freeze or cook in their shells,” she says. “If chicks are separated from parents too long they are in danger of getting picked off by predators.”
Vaughan says the terns’ defense mechanisms offer valuable protection from flying predators but have not as yet adapted into defending against potential threats on the ground. While adult birds fly away, their young freeze, blending easily into the sand due to their camouflaged feathers – ideal defense for a hovering, hungry bird but a behavior that leaves them vulnerable to stoats, weasels and cats as well as busy, active feet.
“When hatched the chicks are only as big as a bumblebee so difficult to spot on the sand and easily trampled on,” she says. “We’re just asking for visitors to Te Arai and the Spit to take extra care and please do not go behind the taped off areas which contain the nests.”
Dogs are banned from the Wildlife Refuge but are allowed at Te Arai Poit beach, the Domain and have free range in an allocated zone at Mangawhai’s surf beach. Horses, fires, guns and vehicles are also not permitted in the reserve.
However Terns are far from being entirely defenseless and mere victims of anything that threatens their existence.
“They are feisty little birds,” Vaughan says. “I’ve seen adults take on the much larger Harriers in defense of their young, which is like a spitfire chasing a 747 really… Harrier feathers have fallen after a flying chase.”
Terns have also been known to dive-bomb and ‘poo on your head’ if people get too close to a nest. Walking calmly away in a different direction is the best thing to do, Vaughan says.
“Do not wave your arms around to try and frighten them off, remember they are just defending their babies,” she says. “They may not be a cuddly, sexy bird like the Kiwi, but they deserve our care and protection… they are still an iconic New Zealand bird.”
n If you see anything in the refuge that troubles you, please do not hesitate to contact DOC Warden Laura 027 271 7898, or volunteers Heather 021 052 0622, 431 5413 and Jane 021 268 5856, 431 5828.
DISTURBED: Spot the Tern chicks; great camouflage but easy to get trampled underfoot.