27 Sep 2019

Dotterels give up beach to nest in Auckland construction sites

12:25 pm on 27 September 2019

An empty paddock next to a big box shopping development is the last place you'd expect to see a New Zealand dotterel nest - or is it?

Dotterel minders Gwenda Pulham and Noel Ward.

Dotterel minders Gwenda Pulham and Noel Ward. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

In Auckland's Westgate, more and more pairs of the usually beach-dwelling birds are making a home for themselves amongst the dirt and rubble of soon-to-be construction sites.

Veteran dotterel minder Gwenda Pulham - a bird enthusiast for more than 40 years - said flat, empty paddocks with damp patches of rushes were often the perfect spot for dotterels to nest.

"The dotterels always seem to put their eggs down in damp patches close to a good food supply for their very young chicks," she said.

Tim Lovegrove from Auckland Council's biodiversity team said as the coastal population grows, some dotterels are heading inland to breed.

"Motorway construction sites, for instance along the North Shore busway we had dotterels there and we carried out mitigation works to provide habitat for them, and certainly they're popping up in all these construction areas quite frequently now around Auckland."

A dotterel nest in Westgate, Auckland

A dotterel nest in Westgate, Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Noel Ward

People walking dogs off their lead posed the biggest threat to the nesting dotterels and their chicks, Ms Pulham said.

"They just think it's an empty paddock, so the dogs are allowed to run loose, that's why we need to put signage up so at least they are aware there are some important birds nesting here."

But Ms Pulham said construction sites and paddocks did have their advantages.

"People come here and park their car and go to the shops, it's not like a beach where the whole idea is to wander around and have a nice outdoor experience."

In other words, the dotterels are left to it.

"The birds are not dumb, they choose to lay their eggs, they weigh it up, there's a good food supply here and there's enough food to get our chicks through to almost fledging."

Mr Lovegrove said nesting dotterels didn't necessarily pose a big problem for construction projects.

Once the eggs have hatched and the chicks are old enough to fly, work can carry on.

"If the construction workers are alerted well in advance, they can just phase their work appropriately to try and avoid the dotterels areas if they can and everything is well and good."

A dotterel incubating on Westgate Drive in Auckland

A dotterel incubating on Westgate Drive in Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Noel Ward

As the dotterel population grows, they could start popping up in these sorts of places more frequently, Mr Lovegrove said.

He even reckons they could start nesting on farmland, sharing paddocks with sheep.

"That's somewhere they could possibly go in future and if we achieve really good pest control, there's no reason at all why big swathes of our farmland couldn't become dotterel habitat."

The New Zealand dotterel population has increased to around 2500.

Earlier this year, their conservation status was improved from 'threatened' to 'at-risk and recovering' - thanks in part to the efforts of dotterel minders like Ms Pulham.

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