Two pairs of rare NZ dotterels are nesting on the front lawns of Manly beachfront homeowners.
It’s not often that you find birds as rare as these on private property, and the people involved are excited and taking their role as caregivers seriously.
The first thing to do was alert the lawn mowing contractor as he started work at Kathleen Bunting’s bach unaware of the nesting dotterels.
Kathleen was not there at the time, but her neighbour, Johnny Lind, took immediate action and the nest, which is on the boundary between their properties and contains three eggs, was saved from the mower’s blades.
Johnny, a keen birdwatcher, and environmental planner Kathleen are doing all they can to observe and protect the birds.
They have been treated to displays of nature in action, right on their doorsteps.
The birds are very protective of their nests and Kathleen and her family watched a dramatic aerial fight between plovers and dotterels during which the dotterels attacked and killed a young plover.
Both Kathleen and Johnny have been advised by the experts to scare away the plovers and any roaming dogs or cats. They also keep their distance from the nest, watching through binoculars and telescopes.
“They even came up on my deck once,” Johnny says. “So while I’m keeping my distance, they seem curious about me.”
Kathleen’s family spends Christmas at their bach. “It’s exciting to think we could have chicks hatch in time for Christmas,” she says.
Another Manly bach owner, Julie Avery, has a dotterel nest right in the middle of her lawn, and plovers are nesting on her property too.
“We’ve had the place since 1962 and have never had dotterels or plovers nesting before,” she says.
Both species are keeping their distance and protecting their nests.
Julie says she hasn’t had much to do with birds before and is finding it fascinating.
“At my old age of 80, it’s great to be learning new things,” she says. “I feel lucky to have them.”
Dotterel fact check
NZ dotterels are found only in this country and there are only around 2600 left. • Their official status is ‘At Risk, Recovering’ and ‘Conservation Dependent’, which means the population is only increasing because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers to protect them. Without this, numbers would likely be falling. • Dotterel usually lay three eggs in a slight depression in the sand, often at a slightly raised area where they have a good view around the nest. They also use paddocks and, as in the Manly case, lawns. In recent years pairs have nested on building sites where construction has not yet started, such as behind the Silverdale Park and Ride. • Each year around 5-8 pairs attempt to breed in Shakespear Regional Park, but even in that protected area, many nests are lost to predatory gulls and disturbance by visitors. • The Manly pairs have a lot of humans on their side. Volunteers overseen by Hibiscus Coast Forest & Bird’s Jenny Hanwell are keeping a close eye on them. John Stewart of SOSSI and trained dotterel minder volunteer at Tawharanui, Jan Velvin, have provided expert advice. DOC and Auckland Council are also aware. • Both nests have three eggs, with hatching possible by Christmas.
Just after this paper went to print, two dotterel chicks hatched and were soon seen on Manly Beach.
Forest and Bird’s Jenny Hanwell says the chicks will forage for food among seaweed on the beach and in the dunes, and the birds can get very distressed if people walk between the chick and its parent.
“The important thing is to give the birds space,” she says. “And put your dog on a lead when you see the dotterel signs. It’s not a large section of the beach, so we hope dog owners will understand.”
The eggs in the other nest are yet to hatch.